Early on in my Christian walk someone, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was able to spot this weakness and gave me a verse from Galatians which has forever haunted me to this day: “Am I now trying to please men or God. If I were still trying to please men I would not be a servant of Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 1:10 – I didn’t need to look it up). Fear of men/people is a real stumbling block not only if we want to lead a church like Paul (and me), but if we want to get anywhere in our Christian walk. It is a real hindrance to maturity and one which we (I) must battle to the end. I love this quote from the Fathers which, I believe, drives the nail further in:
“A brother came to Abba Macarius and said to him: “Abba, give me an edifying word on how to be saved!” The elder said to him: “Go to the cemetary and revile the dead.” The brother went, reviled them threw stones at them. When he returned he told the elder what had happened. The elder aske him: “And did they say nothing to you?” “Nothing,” he replied. The elder told him: “Tomorrow go back and praise them.” The brother went and praised the dead, saying: “Apostles, saints, righteous ones!” Then he went to the elder and said: “I praised them just as you told me to.” The elder asked him: “And did they not answer anything?” The brother said: “Nothing.” The elder told him: “You see how much you reviled them and they said nothing, and how much you praised them and they said nothing to you. So you, if you wish to be saved, be like the dead and do not think about the insults of people, nor the praises of people, and you can be saved.”
The battle lines then are clearly drawn, if we want to follow Jesus we must first pick up the cross – the means to putting someone to death – and then deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24-25) We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24) for, warns Jesus, we will either hate the one and love the other. ‘I’ must not come in the way of following Jesus as my master. In fact ‘I’ can become a major stumbling block to my own salvation. If I try and save my life I will lose it, but if I lose my life for Jesus and the gospel, I will find it. Hence Abba Macarius’ advice to “be like the dead”, dying to self through taking up the cross ( the means to putting my ego to death) and then following Jesus.
So pleasing myself is out. In the list of priorities ‘I’ must slip further down. It’s God at the top and me at the bottom. There is no other way to salvation and wholeness.