Life is not simple. So language is not simple. Different situations in life call for different ways of living. The language that describes those differences can be very confusing.
For example Paul says he tries to please people and he doesn’t try to please people. (Same Greek word for “please” both times.) Wise listeners are slow to judge. They assume he’s not speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
He says to the Corinthians, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32–33).
And then he says to the Galatians, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:9–10).
And here is a real life concrete illustration of both commitments: to please and not to please.
When Paul called Timothy into his service he had him circumcised. Why? Here’s his answer:
“Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:3)
In other words, Paul sought to avoid unnecessary stumbling blocks in his evangelism among Jews. He was free to circumcise or not. So he did. In that sense he sought to “please” them.
But in Jerusalem, where people were requiring circumcision in order to be saved (Acts 15:1), Paul saw that the very gospel was at stake. So he says, “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek” (Galatians 2:3).
In other words, he did not please those who wanted Titus circumcise. Why didn’t he yield? He answers: “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).
This calls for great gospel discernment. We do not want to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of the gospel. To please or not to please? Yes. And one way we know which is by asking: Will the gospel be advanced? Will the gospel be compromised?