You Can’t Please Everybody
You can’t possibly please everybody!
If you ever doubted that, then take Jesus as an example. Thomas Carlyle said that there are two standards of measurement by which we might determine the value of an individual life: how much that life influenced other people and how much that life demonstrated nobility of character. Well, by either of these standards of measurement, Jesus stands supreme. How much did His life influence others? Just for starters, remember that He literally stopped the calendar and started it up again. And what of the nobility of His character? There are countless millions on the face of the earth today who would be willing to stake their lives on the statement that Jesus Christ lived absolutely perfectly. Yet this One who lived the most influential, the most splendid life ever lived, still was unable to please everybody.
He could forgive a prostitute and start her walking on a whole new street in life, but by so doing He angered her lovers and frustrated her accusers. He could cleanse the temple and make it once again a place of prayer—but by so doing He aroused the hatred of those who had made it a profitable marketplace. He could forgive sinners by the power of His Holy Spirit—but by so doing He infuriated those who counted themselves as being righteous. He could reach out and heal a withered, paralyzed Limb on the Sabbath, but by so doing, He disturbed those who put the law about His love.
We can actually hear His sense of frustration about all this when He cries out in Luke 7: “How can I describe this generation?” Then the parable gave Him a way. He said “These people are like petulant children who won’t play any game suggested. They won’t play weddings and they won’t play funerals. They aren’t satisfied with anything. John the Baptist came with his heavily disciplined life and people said he was crazy. Now God has sent His Son, living life to the fullest, and people write Him off as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
So here was One who lived and loved so magnificently that ultimately they killed Him. And if this Jesus who lived and loved so perfectly could not please everybody, then by what wild stretch of the imagination would we ever believe that such a possibility is open to us?
If you stop to think about it for a moment, there are perfectly logical reasons why we can’t please everybody.
In the first place, there are certain individuals who are never going to be pleased by anything. You may have heard the story about the fellow who went fishing one morning. As the long hours wore on, he didn’t get a single bite—not so much as the tiniest nibble. To ease his gathering frustration, he began to nip at a bottle he had brought along. As evening came, he still had had no bites, but he had become rather inebriated. He began rowing a weaving course toward shore. As he rowed, a large, magnificent fish jumped out of the water and happened to land right in the middle of the boat. He picked it up and hurled it back into the water, crying out, “If you’re not going to bite, then you aren’t going to ride!” Some people just won’t be pleased with anything—and that seems to be especially true when they look at the church. If it is stern and demanding, they say, “fire and brimstone.” If it is kind and compassionate, they say, “effeminate.” If it is joyous and alive, they shout derisively, “fanatical.” They declare that the church is full of hypocrites, but if the church takes back a sinner it is said to have no standards. Ministers are too young, too old, too conservative, too liberal, just plain gullible or crafty Elmer Gantrys. If the church is quiet it is labeled, “a monastery,”but if it speaks out it is meddling in politics. The service is too high, too low, too long, too short. All of which, according to Jesus, is a subversive campaign to smear God in order to try to avoid His demands. Jesus understood that there are some people—even some people in the church—who just won’t be pleased with anything.
But a second reason why we can’t please everybody is the fact that we have principles in our lives. If we are willing to sacrifice anything in our lives in order to gain the praise and support of the people, then what is going to be left in our lives that is worthy of praise or support? But on the other hand, if we maintain strict principles in our lives, if we walk a straight path in accord with what we know and believe to be right, then inevitably we are going to come into conflict with those whose opinions and ideas and standards and values are different from our own. Surely the case can be made beyond any: reasonable doubt: we just can’t please everybody. Jesus couldn’t—nor can we.
But having said that, let’s acknowledge that we as Christians are not here to be disagreeable. We are here to make the world a place of joy, not of sorrow—a place of happiness, not of despair—a place of unity, not of diversity—a place where there is peace, not war. So, though it is true that we shall never be able to please everybody—nor should we even try—it is equally true that the Scriptures teach us that we should constantly try to be more pleasing to more people. And the Scriptures tell us how to do that.
Consider this: we should learn to look and to listen in our dealings with people.
Usually when we look at people we think of them in terms of what they cause to happen in our lives—and we measure them by that alone, without even thinking about the things which have occurred in their lives and which have made them the way they are. People are not only causes—people are also results. And it takes a little looking and a little listening to understand them that way.
I think Jesus was perfect in this as He was in everything else. There was about Him a sensitivity which we should emulate. You remember that scene when He was caught in the midst of a great hustling crowd of people. A sick woman in that pressing crowd reached out and gently touched the hem of His garment and she was made well. Now, in spite of the jostling crowd, Jesus was aware of the woman’s touch. The most common explanation of this is that Jesus felt the healing power flow out of Him. I do not doubt that that is true, but I also think there was another factor here. On the basis of my study of the life of Jesus, I would suggest to you that Jesus was so attached to those about Him by invisible filaments of such tenderness and sensitivity that He was always able to sense the presence of someone in great need.
Oh, my friends, terrible things happen when we don’t look at and listen to others as Jesus did. After the Second World War, there was a great victory parade through the streets of Chicago. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the parade route. The first unit in the parade was a massed group of 200 American flags, each carried by battle-weary soldiers. As they passed by, everyone in the crowd began to remove their hats, and to salute the flags—that is, all but one man standing on the curb. His hat stayed on his head. The people behind him, caught up in the emotion of the moment, began to cry out, “Take off your hat! Take off your hat!” The hat stayed in place. The people began to push and to shove: “Make him take off his hat!” They pushed the man from the curb and he fell flat in the street. Several kind people rushed over to help him. As they did, he rolled over and they discovered that he had no arms—and pinned to the lapel of his coat was a “purple heart.”
Yes, we do terrible things when we don’t stop to look and to listen and to understand. If we would learn how to do that, as Christ did, then I’m convinced that our lives will be more pleasing to others.
Then consider this: we need to learn how and when to laugh.
Victor Frankl, the psychologist, was imprisoned for a number of years in a Nazi concentration camp. He attributes his ability to come through that horrifying experience with a still healthy spirit to record things. But one of the most important was this: every day while we was in prison, he forced himself to make up at least one joke or to think of one incident out of the past that had made him laugh. In so doing, you see, he managed to keep a dimension of lightness in his life.
I am convinced Jesus knew how to laugh. You know, it says in the Bible that Jesus wept on two occasions—and I think those times are mentioned precisely because they were so rare in His experience. When you study the teachings of Jesus closely, you begin to see that His life was marked by a quick wit and a remarkable sense of humor. Yet notice, please, that Jesus never used humor to embarrass or to put down or to humiliate another person. He never laughed at people, only with them. There are times when laughter is inappropriate, and there are even times when it is cruel. So we need to learn how and when to laugh.
Do you remember what the Bible says? “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” That is true and that was true of Jesus. I picture Him as the most radiant personality who ever lived. His very presence raised the spiritual temperature of a crowd the moment He entered it. You can almost trace His progress through Galilee and Judea by the trail of joy He left behind. When He passed by, sorrows were lifted, diseases were cured, strained minds and souls were restored to health and happiness again. Joy sprang from His great loving heart, like water from an artesian well, and He poured it into the dry, thirsty (barren lives of unhappy men and women. And He still does.
So let us begin to live with the sheer joy of Jesus Christ radiating from our lives, for I believe that a life so lived will be pleasing to many people.
Now consider this: we need to learn to seek first to please Jesus Christ.
John Gunther, the travel writer, once said that whenever he interviewed the leaders or rulers of other countries, he always began by asking two crucial questions: What is the source of your power, and where does your ultimate loyalty lie? These questions could properly be asked of us. What is the source of our power and where does our ultimate loyalty lie? I am suggesting to you that the person of Jesus Christ is the source of our power, and our ultimate loyalty ought to rest in Him, and in Him alone.
You see, at the center of our faith is not a creed, but a Christ—not a proposition, but a person. An individual’s Christianity is not determined by church affiliation or by ethical conduct or by theological orthodoxy. A person’s faith is determined by allegiance to Jesus Christ. The question is not: “What think ye of this or that?” The question is: “What think ye of Christ?” For when a person says, “Lord, I am sick and tired of being what I am and I am ready to become whatever you will make of me”—when an individual says that, marvelous things begin to happen. An arrogant, brutal, bigoted, hateful man like Paul is turned into one who described himself as “the chief of sinners” and laid down his life to tell others the truth. A loudmouthed, blustering, impulsive, undependable fisherman like Peter is turned into one who was so committed that the early church drew its lifeblood from his confession of faith and his example of discipleship.
I’ve seen the same things happen to people right here in this congregation—people who have begun to radiate the love of Jesus Christ—people who have won you over by their winsomeness—people to whom you joyfully respond simply because they are the way they are. Because they love Jesus, they love like Jesus—and that is always so pleasing to behold.
I watched some 7 and 8-year-old boys playing “Cowboys and Indians” one day. They were so involved in the game, they weren’t even aware of my presence. They had on their cowboy hats and holsters and toy guns. They decided that they were going to tie a little 7-year-old boy to a tree and then leave him to see if he could free himself. One of the other boys said that he didn’t think they should do that. The group immediately turned on him and said, “You’re always spoiling things. We don’t like you. Why don’t you go home?” I was just close enough to see the hurt in that little boy’s eyes and the dejection in the slope of his shoulders. There was a moment of silence. Then the little boy said, “But I like you.” For a moment I hoped that his tender honesty would win the day. But it didn’t. The other boys said, “Tough! We are not going to play with you anymore. Get out of here.” Well, it’s a long way from Orlando to Jerusalem, but as I looked at that little boy, I thought of One who came and said from the bloody beams of a cross, “Yes, but I love you…”
This little cowboy sadly walked off down the street. He hadn’t gone far when a man came up and walked beside him. They began to talk and I heard the little boy call the man, “Daddy.” Then the man reached down, picked up the little cowboy in his arms and they walked off toward home—the little boy in the strong, steady arms of his father.
That scene has stayed with me. For you see, as we play the games of the human experience, there are going to be times when we meet people who say, “We don’t like you,” But if we will stop to look and to listen and to understand them, if we will share with them the joy of Christ that is in us, if because we love Christ, we love like Him, then even in the midst of that experience we shall meet our heavenly Father. He will come to us and pick us up and hold us tightly in His arms and take us home—all the way home…