Culture News & Commentary

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

"It is incumbent on us to seek to make things right when we know we have sinned. It is not incumbent on us to make sure everyone who is upset with us is placated when we know we have done the right thing."

You may have heard it said that if someone has something against you, then you need to sort it out. That you need to get together with them and talk it over. 

But think about this for a moment. This is an impossible standard. As a preacher, writer and author I often say things in direct ways, because this is part of what I am called to do. And there is no doubt that this offends people, often. In fact, it is unavoidable. Does this then mean that I am supposed to spend a fair chunk of my time making sure things are OK with those who I am certain “have something against me”?

The reason I ask is because I was talking about this with a person who was incredibly stressed that they had a family member they knew was upset at them. They had not sinned against this person, the other person was simply offended at being challenged by them. They were burdened by the thought that maybe before they did any more ministry they needed to try and sort it out.

This would be hard for them because the person who is upset at them is easily offended. Are they to live under such a burden? Constantly concerned about the other person’s happiness with them? Are they to carry this concern with them constantly? 

No. God’s standard is high, but it is not unreasonable. Such a standard would break most people. Let’s see what Jesus says on the issue:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” 

Matthew 5:23-24

This is the passage that had this person’s conscience tortured. Because most people remember this part, and because of the way we use the phrase, “has something against you”, a lot of people may think that it is incumbent on them to make sure others are OK with them. As we noted this is an impossibly soul-killing standard, because how can you achieve this?

But this is not what the verse means anyway. “Has something against you” is being used by Jesus to refer to evidence or testimony. He is not saying, worry about everyone who has a problem with you. He is saying worry about the person who has a credible accusation against you. Perhaps because you have wronged them, or they saw you wrong another. If you know someone can produce something which condemns you, then seek to reconcile with that person. 

This is a much more realistic standard and a far lighter burden. Do you think Jesus was going around stressed about how many of the Pharisees or turncoat followers were upset because he offended them? No, not at all. Do you think Paul was constantly stressing out about making sure his Pharisee ex-friends weren’t upset at him? No, he was concerned with their salvation, but not their emotional state of mind because he offended them. It was what it was. Truth can be offensive. 

The context of Matthew 5 helps to solidify this reading:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:23-26

It is incumbent on us to seek to make things right when we know we have sinned. It is not incumbent on us to make sure everyone who is upset with us is placated when we know we have done the right thing. This is not even remotely achievable. 

You will upset people, you will drive people away, and this will not always be because you did wrong. Sometimes it is because the person you drove away is not healthy enough, humble enough, or honest enough to hear what you are saying. Maybe they just see things differently? Maybe they have been convinced by lies that you are in the wrong? But you don’t have to stress over this. 

If you seek to be real with people and if you genuinely stick to the truth as best you can, this itself will cause division. As Jesus said, he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Even Jesus could not be at peace with everyone, nor did he stress out that this was the case. And neither should you.