Paul was not a people Pleaser
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (1:10)
Gar (for) has numerous meanings, which are largely determined by context. It can also be translated “because,” “yes, indeed,” “certainly,” “what,” and “why.” It can also sometimes mean “there,” which is a helpful rendering in this verse. For is not an incorrect translation, but “there” seems to follow better the flow of Paul’s argument in this context. “There,” he is saying, referring back to the strong anathemas of the previous two verses, “does that sound like I am a people pleaser? Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?” Obviously, Paul’s pronouncing a curse on men (v. 9) does not fit with the accusations of the Judaizers against him. Rather, it unquestionably seeks to honor God, whose truth was being perverted.
If I were still trying to please men refers to the days when he did seek to please his fellow Jews by zealously persecuting Christians, assuming he was being faithful to God while concentrating his effort on favoring traditional Judaism. But in light of what he taught and the way he had lived since his conversion, the idea that he was still trying to please men was preposterous. If that were true, he would not be a bond-servant of Christ. He had surrendered his life entirely to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and that surrender had cost him dearly in human terms. At the end of this epistle Paul reminds his readers, “For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (6:17). Some of those marks he had received in Galatia, where, in the city of Lystra, he was once left for dead after being stoned (Acts 14:19). Suffering at the hands of people who were not pleased with him was a common occurrence for him and was the price of honoring God.
By nature, people pleasers are not martyrs. The desire to escape ridicule and trouble is one of their hallmarks. Pleasing men does not bring the severe persecution Paul endured and is totally incompatible with being a bond-servant of Christ.
It was rather Paul’s Jewish accusers who were men pleasers. It was “to make a good showing in the flesh” that they tried “to compel [Gentile believers] to be circumcised,” for the very purpose of not being “persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:12). Paul’s first purpose was “to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). And pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ meant that he had every right to pronounce a curse on anyone who tried by a doctrine of works righteousness to detract from the gracious finished work of the Savior (cf. Gal. 2:21). His second purpose was to see men saved and that required strong denunciation of any false gospel that would damn them by its deceit.
10 The relationship of v. 10 to the surrounding verses is debated. Some suggest that v. 10 belongs with vv. 11–12 as a literary transition from vv. 6–9 and to vv. 13–17. Others see it as an emotional outburst following vv. 8–9 and therefore standing alone.
But understanding v. 10 as a part of the letter’s exordium allows us to recognize that Paul is here attempting to gain or recapture credibility with the Galatians by suggesting that his words are trustworthy because he is a servant of God and isn’t concerned with pleasing other people. Together with reinforcing the notion of his apostolic authority, this verse reminds the Galatians of Paul’s character as a preacher of the gospel and prepares the way for his spirited defense of his apostolic authority and the truth of his gospel (cf. 1:11–2:14). Paul does not “please men,” because his gospel was given him by the risen Lord Jesus as was his commission to preach that gospel. He will now defend himself and his message on the same terms.
1:10 / Paul continues in verse 10 by defending himself against what is likely a charge against him—that he is a people pleaser. Those who have come into his churches to teach that observance of the law is essential may have been presenting Paul’s law-free gospel as a sign of his weakness, saying that he wanted to make the gospel as palatable as possible and so to win the approval of men. Paul says to the contrary that he is a servant of Christ. This, as he makes clear at the end of the letter (6:17), is not a role that curries favor with people but rather it entails suffering. Paul insists that he is not one to bend his shape in order to gain favor from others, saying that what he has just now said proves that he cares only about the truth. He implies that his former way of being did concern itself with trying to please men but now being a “servant of Christ” makes such a stance impossible. For Paul, serving Christ is about only being for the gospel. As his gospel is not of human origin it will be offensive or discomfiting to people.
In other letters as well (1 Thess. 2:4) Paul claims that his focus is on pleasing God. In some instances Paul says that pleasing other people is appropriate (1 Cor. 10:33), but concerning the integrity of his gospel Paul sees things in either/or terms. To be a servant of Christ is mutually exclusive of pleasing people.
In the opening of his letter (1:1–10) Paul has emphasized the divine origin of his apostleship (1:1), signalled his disapproval of the current faith of his converts (1:2b), expressed his bewilderment at their actions (1:6–7), denounced his rivals (1:8–9), and taken umbrage at unfair criticisms of himself. Before we modern readers even know exactly what Paul is upset about, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the apostle’s emotions are raw as he writes to his Galatian churches.
1:10. Paul’s critics accused him of preaching “easy believism” because he did not include the law as grounds for salvation and Christian maturity. They claimed Paul watered down the gospel, by omitting the law, to increase his popularity among the Gentiles. Through two rhetorical questions, Paul adamantly denies the charge and states clearly that his motive is to please only God. He was concerned with preserving truth not increasing his approval ratings. To please people is to desert Christ. You must choose: serve people’s fickle pleasures or serve the faithful Christ.
10. Paul has used forceful language. That gives him an opportunity to answer a charge of the opponents. He writes: There! Is it the favor of men that I am now seeking to win or of God? Or is it men whom I am seeking to please? Here one detects an echo of the opponents’ accusations and insinuations, on this order: “Paul is trying to win human, rather than divine, favor. He tries to please everybody, so that everybody may follow him. Among his own people he preaches circumcision (Gal. 5:11; cf. Acts 16:3), for he knows that they believe in it. But he withholds this rite from the Gentiles because they welcome exemption from it.”
Paul answers: “Would a popularity-seeker hurl anathemas at people? Is it not clear that it is not men’s but God’s approval in which I am interested, and that I am seeking to please my Lord?” Continued: If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Two misinterpretations:
- a. “I never yield to human customs and traditions.”
Total indifference on this score would not have been like Paul. It would bring Gal. 1:10 into conflict with 1 Cor. 9:22. Tactfulness is not a vice but a virtue when paired with honesty and truth. The apostle desired to be “all things to all men, in order in one way or another to save some.” Hence, among the Jews he was willing, during this transition period, to observe certain traditions (Acts 16:3; 21:17–26; cf. 18:18), as long as these were not considered means unto salvation, for on that issue he was adament. When Judaizers tried to force circumcision upon Gentiles, declaring that otherwise salvation could not be obtained, the apostle invoked God’s curse on these distorters. In Paul’s religion there was room for flexibility, but ever within the limits prescribed by the gospel.
- b. “If I were still, as formerly, trying to please men,” etc.
This supposed reference to the apostle’s unconverted state is out of line with the present context.
The true interpretation is this: “If, in spite of my claim that I am Christ’s servant, I were still, or nevertheless, attempting to please men, my claim would be false.” One who trims his sails to every breeze of opinion and bias, cannot be a servant of Christ. Paul, on the contrary, is such a servant, for he joyfully acknowledges Jesus as his Redeemer, Owner, and Lord, and is fully surrendered to him. It was this very Christ who said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Paul realizes that for himself this life of complete loyalty means persecution (Gal. 5:1), but he glories in such affliction. Not Paul but his opponents are trying to avoid persecution (Gal. 6:12). They are the men-pleasers (Gal. 6:13), a type of conduct reprehensible even in slaves (Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:22). Paul’s chief concern is God’s glory.
1:10. Apparently the Judaizers had charged Paul with teaching freedom from the Law in order to curry the Gentiles’ favor. But the tone of this letter, specifically the harsh language Paul had just used, was hardly calculated to win the approval of men. Men-pleasers simply do not hurl anathemas against those who proclaim false gospels. Indeed, if the apostle had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ. Elsewhere Paul affirmed his purpose to please God, not men (cf. 6:12; 1 Thes. 2:4).
Review of accusations (1:10). Because most of Paul’s epistles were occasional letters (prompted in response to problems existing in the churches addressed), we are placed in a position similar to one who eavesdrops on one side of a telephone conversation. Often we must reconstruct the sense of the whole conversation with only a few clues upon which to proceed. Such is the difficulty here. Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions, each with an intended negative answer. They give us an indication of the types of accusations which were made by those who discredited his view of the gospel and/or his apostolic authority.
The Greek grammar of verse 10, with the use of the term gar (for) as a connective from the previous thought, indicates that Paul’s questions are prompted by his previous pronouncement of anathema. Paul appears to be reviewing accusations, presumably from the outside agitators (v. 7), that his preaching of free grace was motivated by an attempt to win a vast following for his ministry. Those who held a view that gave an important place to a righteousness based on good works would quite understandably have believed such a “do nothing” gospel to have been formulated by a desire to be popular among the Gentiles.
Paul’s previous anathemas (which potentially included himself in the cursing, v. 8) were designed to show that it was not popularity he sought, but faithfulness to the gospel. The final statement of the verse indicates that if pleasing men (humankind generally) was his goal, being a “servant of Christ” would not be the most logical way to proceed (v. 10). His words are reminiscent of those said by Jesus regarding the serving of two masters (see Matt. 6:24).
1:10 Paul is probably reminded at this point that his enemies accused him of changing the message to suit his audience, so he asks, in effect, “In insisting that there is only one gospel, am I trying to please men, or God?” Obviously he is not trying to please men, because they hate the suggestion that there is only one way to heaven. If Paul changed his message to suit men, he would not be a bondservant of Christ; in fact, he would be inviting the wrath of God to fall upon himself.
1:10 To please men was neither Paul’s motivation nor the source of his authority (v. 1). Paul continually sought the approval of God. He did not base his decisions on the opinions of other people. Instead he single-mindedly aimed at pleasing God (Phil. 3:14). As an apostle Paul was a leader, but he was always a bondservant of Christ.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1876). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.