One of the most helpful books written about relationships in the last couple of decades is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The author’s argument is that we all have one of five ways in which we prefer to give and receive love. The five he lists are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Knowing your own particular love language and knowing your spouse’s love language enables you both to relate to each other in a way that is mutually encouraging.
Although Chapman’s book was addressed specifically to married couples, his advice can be applied to relationships generally. What creates connection with one person is not the same as what creates connection with another. For some a word of encouragement or affirmation is priceless. For someone else, practical help creates the connection. A gift given or received unlocks joy in some – perhaps many! -people. For others it’s quality time. And of course, some people value a hug more than anything else.
In Romans 15.2, Paul says: “Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.” Paul reinforces his exhortation in the following verse by citing the example of Jesus: Jesus didn’t please Himself, far from it.
For some strange reason in the church, we have often been left with a kind of “just do the right thing” notion or even “I have to love you but I don’t have to like you” kind of approach to relationships. This verse in Romans could not be further away from that kind of soulless thinking.
Paul is urging the Christians in the church at Rome to aim for something a bit more meaningful, a deeper connection. The word translated “please” carries the idea of an emotional connection. People who are pleased with something have had their heart touched. It’s the language of emotion.
Paul goes further and says that there is a purpose to pleasing them: it’s for their good and to build them up.
The question is what is going to create that kind of connection? That’s where Chapman’s five love languages might be of help. If you know a person well enough to know how to unlock their heart, then you are two thirds the way to a powerful connection. And that is what builds people up.
If you want to follow Jesus, you have to be a people pleaser. I know that taken without qualification that statement is untrue. However, if we have no desire to unlock people’s hearts we can forget about trying to turn people into disciples of Jesus. On the other hand, if we are prepared to learn how to please people in a way that builds them up, we might just find that we become agents of transformation where God has placed us.