How do we please God? - The Outward Life.

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The Pleasing and Displeasing of God.

How do we please God? Part Two - The Outward Life.

by I Gordon

Eph 5:8-10 'You are light in the Lord; walk as children of light...trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.'

This is the second part in the 'pleasing and displeasing of God' series. The first part, and I hope you have read it first, concentrates on the inward attitudes of the heart that please God. This study focuses on our outward lives and in what ways they should please God. The key verse for all of this, as mentioned in the first study, is Phil 2:13 '... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.'

We see from this verse that God is working within us - on our will so that we would want to do what is pleasing to Him, and also on the 'do' part. That is, giving us the courage and strength to actually do that which He wills. Our part in all of this is to work hand in hand with God so that the inward workings of our salvation can be manifested out through our lives for all to see. Now just as I concentrated on four inward attitudes that pleased God, so the Bible presents four main outward ways in which our lives can please God.

1. Our Sanctification

1 Thes 4:1-5 '  Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God  , as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.  It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable  ,not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.'

To be sanctified means to be 'set apart'. I have put this verse first for a good reason. In the first study we saw that faith was the over-riding inward principle for everything that we do. Well, sanctification is the over-riding outward manifestation for pleasing God. It means to set apart for God and this covers all of the smaller issues in which we can please God. In this verse we read that Paul has already instructed the believers on how to live in order to be pleasing to God, but he stresses the key point here again for them. That is, that it is God's will for them they be sanctified or set apart for Him, avoiding sexual immorality and controlling their bodies in a holy and honourable way. Lots of people desire to know the will of God, but scripture declares two definite things which never change concerning His will - Firstly, that which is stated here in that it is always His will that you be sanctified. And secondly, that you give thanks in all circumstances. (1Thes 5:18). Concerning these things we just don't need to ask! So why does sanctification please God? Several reasons, but they all stem from the fact that God's very nature is holy, righteous, and good. When God's spirit is restored to mankind at salvation, we are told that once again we have 'the hope of glory.' (Col 1:27) Glory in the bible can be used in different ways, but in this passage it speaks of the nature and character of God - the very thing we have all sinned and fallen short of. (Rom 3:23) Without God, we don't have a choice as to whether we will sin. We may chose the 'when and where', but not the 'if'. But when God works in a believer, He works toward producing His nature in that person, and through dependence, we have a choice between sin and righteousness. It is the heart of God's plan that His nature is reflected through us. Unbelievers should not only hear the gospel, but also see the difference it has made in our life. Paul said, 'If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who would prepare for battle?' Likewise, how confusing would the message be if we speak one thing and live another? No, it is pleasing for God to have people set apart for Himself.  [1] 

2 Tim 2:20-22 'Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things  , he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master  , prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.'

Paul also wrote this to the believers at Colossae:

Col 1:10-11 'And we pray this in order that  you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work  , growing in the knowledge of God,being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.'

It is always the will of God that we live a life worthy of Him, pleasing Him, bearing fruit, growing in our knowledge of Him, and being strengthened by his power so that all of these things may take place.

2. True unashamed testimony about God

1 Thes 2:2-4 '...  with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition  . For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary,  we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts  .'

In these verses we have a different aspect of our sanctification for God. In part one of this series, we mentioned that one of the inward attitudes that God is seeking to install in our lives is a fear and awe of Him. That is, that in our hearts we would set apart (sanctify) Jesus as Lord and be more concerned with what He thinks, than what men think. How is this attitude outwardly manifested? One of the most important ways is in our witness and testimony for Jesus. In this passage, Paul writes that he 'dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition'. Ever been there? You may not face physical persecution like Paul sometimes did, but I think most of us have faced verbal opposition from a world opposed to the knowledge of God. So here is where the rubber meets the road... Lets say you are in a situation where you want to share the truth of God's word with someone, but you know they probably won't like what you say. Could be to a non-Christian, witnessing the truth that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Could be a Christian brother in need of correction. Can you think of an example where this has happened? How did you react? Did you just clam up and not say anything? Did you let something out but water it down so that it no one was offended? Or do you speak the truth in love? Paul states that 'we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.' God has entrusted us with His precious gospel - the good news of what Jesus did on the cross. He has entrusted us to speak that truth to other people! I'm starting to convict myself just writing these things!  [2]  And so we speak, Paul says, not 'to please men, but God, who tests our hearts.' When we speak to please men, we water down the truth so that we will still be popular and won't offend anyone. When we speak to please God, we say as accurately as possible what the word of God teaches  [3]  , and leave the consequences up to God. To the Corinthians Paul wrote:

2 Cor 2:14-16 'God...  through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him  . For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?' 

That is the attitude we are to take in our testimony about Jesus. We are to speak the truth and spread the knowledge of Him. To some, it will be the smell of death. And that's not exactly pleasant! They won't like what we say, but we speak as those who want to please God, not man. Yet to others, it will be life! A sweet fragrance, and the very answer for which they have sought. As Paul concludes - 'who is equal to such a task?' Why would God entrust something so precious (the gospel) to you and me? Let us ask the Lord to be our confidence, so that in our witness about Him, we may seek to please Him and not man.

3. The praise of God through trials. (Songs in the night!)

Psalm 69:29-31 'I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me  . I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox  , more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.'

Ever been in a hard trial? What was your attitude towards God? More than likely, 'Lord, get me out of this. Go on! Please get me out of this!' Maybe you told Him you would read your bible more, pray more, or be a better Christian if He did. If so, then you're offering Him an ox! You are trying to do something religious to twist God's arm so to speak. Do you want to know what does please God in the midst of distress? 'I will praise God's name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving' the psalmist said, and that is the best attitude to take. It is a further aspect to your sanctification, that in the midst of uncertainty you would remain undivided in your praise and confidence. But have you really been in a hummer trial? If so, were you able to praise Him? Lets be real and say here that even the ability to do this is God given. We have to commit our life into His hands, and renew our minds with the truth about who God is. But only God Himself can give us the courage to stand steadfast in the face of great uncertainty and still praise Him. In scripture this is called a 'song in the night.' Job was a man in a wee-small trial! And while he was given a lot of bad advice, Elihu did well when he said to Job

Job 35:9-10 ' Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out; They cry for help because of the arm of the mighty. 'But no one says,'Where is God my Maker, Who gives songs in the night.'

Now 'songs in the night' are more than just singing in the early hours of the morning! It speaks of an attitude where you have decided to still praise God in the midst of a dark uncertain time  [4]  , where you cannot see one step ahead. Elihu told Job that everyone cries out to God when they are oppressed (which is true), but no one looks to Him to be able to praise in the midst of that oppression. And this is something that pleases God the psalmist said. Maybe you've known someone who had a song in the night. Someone who was still able to praise God when circumstances say they shouldn't be doing that! What an encouragement it is to other Christians. What a witness it is to the world that God is alive! In the first study of this topic, we saw that faith is the over-riding principle that pleases God. But it is worked out in your life through 'night season' times and manifests itself as a song of praise to God.

Heb 13:15-16 '  Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God  , that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name... for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.'

To be pleasing to God we are to be sanctified. That is, set apart for Him. And that is in both the good and the bad times. Praise from your heart is always a sacrifice in which He is well pleased.

4. Our Giving

Phil 4:18-19 'I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.'

Now that's not something you hear everyday! Paul receives a gift from the church at Philippi and he says 'Ok, that's enough. I don't need any more. Thank you - I've got more than I need!' Imagine a televangelist saying the same thing! Imagine them coming on T.V and saying 'thanks so much for your giving. You have been very generous and I really don't need any more. Keep your money!' Not likely. But anyway...seeing that we are talking about pleasing God, I'll try not to get sidetracked. The gifts that this church gave are said to be 'a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.' In scripture there seems to be only three sacrificial offerings that are said to be a fragrant aroma to God. Firstly, the Old Testament sacrifice of a ram as a burnt offering (Ex 29:18). Secondly, the death of Jesus Himself on our behalf. (Eph 5:2) Then finally here, where gifts, or money, are given to help Paul in his work of preaching the gospel. They are said to be well pleasing to God! That's awesome. It gives us a glimpse, does it not, of the importance that God places on giving to missions. I'm not talking here of giving to churches so that they can have the flashiest buildings in the city. Another sure sign of Laodicea! I'm talking about giving to missionaries in the front line, as Paul was, or missionary organisations that support those giving out the gospel. Let us not forget however that even in our giving, God examines the heart. For our giving to be acceptable and pleasing to God, it must come from the right motive. I know of no better motive than what Jesus said - 'freely you have received, freely give.' We do not give so that we will get something back, either from God or man. Nor should our giving not be reluctant, or from compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)  [5]  But with these attitudes in place, then our giving is an extension of our sanctification, and pleases the heart of God.


Paul tells us, in the main scripture of this study, to work outwardly that which God is working inwardly. He says that the Almighty God actually takes pleasure in working in us, and also in having those attitudes openly manifested through the different avenues of our life. The inward attitudes (faith, our heart desire, reverence for God, humble and real) are the most important for without these the outward changes (sanctification, witnessing, praise in trials, our giving) are merely religion and cannot be pleasing to God. But nor should the inward heart attitudes be separated from our outward life for when God is at work, the two go hand in hand. So with these things in mind,

'...let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame...'

[1] ↩  Sanctification is not just being set apart from sin, but being set apart for God. He wants you! All throughout the Bible God has desired a people that would be His own. A people that would not run after other god's or idols (in whatever shape and form they come in), but a people who would love Him and be devoted to Him. We see this in the Old Testament where Israel is repeatedly portrayed as an adulterous wife, causing great sorrow, yet one whom He loves. (Hosea 3, Ezek 16). Likewise the church in this age is the bride of Christ. So our sanctification is not just for ourselves, or for those around us. It's for Him and His pleasure. 'Your maker ', Isaiah tells us, 'is also your husband.' (54:5) And no husband should ever have to share his wife.

[2] ↩  I can think of quite a few times when I have felt the need to say something, but through fearing men more than God, I have remained silent. Not exactly something to be proud of! But, reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has done helps us to block out those fears. We need to remember that just as it 'pleased the Lord (the Father) to crush Him (Jesus)' so that we could be forgiven and made righteous, so it now pleases God when we testify accurately about what Jesus has done, so that others may find eternal life.

[3] ↩  Just quickly, there is a passage in the Old Testament that confirms that God is pleased with accurate testimony about Him. Jer 9:24 '...let him who boasts, boast in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,' says the Lord.

[4] ↩  I first heard of the term 'songs in the night' by reading a sermon by Charles Spurgeon, preached over 100 years ago. 'Any man can sing in the day' he wrote, 'but only God can give songs in the night!' Moses' song in Exod 15 was a song in the day, (when everything was sweet! If he had written that before the red sea then it would have been a song in the night.) But Hab 3:17-19 is a song in the night - a song when everything was going wrong! Those that wrote the Psalms also knew what songs in the night were. Please read Psalm 42, noting his anguish, but also his confidence in verse 8. Also read psalm 77 noting verse 6.

[5] ↩  The main text on giving in the New Testament is in 2 Cor 8 and 9. From there, the following points could be made about correct giving - 1. True giving should not be from compulsion, is not a command, but should come from our own accord, cheerfully given. (8:2,6 9:7) 2. True giving is an expression of the sincerity of our faith, and something we should abound in (8:6,7 9:13) 3. It is for support of the saints and based on the knowledge of what Jesus has done for us (8:4,9) 4. God is able to make sure we are looked after so that we will always have something to give (8:14, 9:6,8,12) 5. It will lead to glory for God and form a bond between the person who has received the gift, and the giver. (9:11-14)