Overcoming the Fear of Man
Proverbs 29:25 (NLT)
25 Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.
Fearing man goes beyond fearing physical harm. Many fear rejection, ridicule, or disapproval. Some even become “approval addicts,” obsessively pursuing human approval at whatever cost and anxiously brooding over what others think of them. As a matter of fact, the Message version paraphrases the above verse, “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.”
That makes me wonder how much we in the Body of Christ – believers and leaders – have been paralyzed and had our potential minimized due to fearing man. A classic example of “the fear of man” is found in the way certain individuals responded to Jesus.
John 12:42-43 (NLT)
42 Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.
When individuals are ruled by the fear of man, they will shrink from their convictions and violate their own conscience. We can see from this verse (and perhaps from our own experiences and observations) that “peer pressure” doesn’t simply affect teenagers. If we are overcome by the fear of human opinion, it is probably because we’ve magnified man and minimized God in our thinking.
Isaiah 51:12-13 (NLT)
12 “I, yes I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? 13 Yet you have forgotten the LORD, your Creator, the one who stretched out the sky like a canopy and laid the foundations of the earth.
When we reverence God properly in our lives, and realize that His opinion is the one that ultimately matters, we will avoid the snare, disability, and paralysis that comes from cringing before the potential disapproval of man. Paul’s maturity in this regard was evidenced in the following:
1 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NLT)
3 As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.
Paul wasn’t arrogant, but neither was he apologetic. He was assertive, though, in his walk with God, and this confidence was based on knowing God and not fearing man.
Commenting on these verses in “Growing Up Spiritually,” Kenneth E. Hagin said, “Paul had grown in grace to such an extent that he sought only to commend himself to God. He was not influenced or affected by what others thought of him. He did not get in bondage to anybody. It was not a carnal independence – but a saintly dignity.” He went on to say, “The mature believer is God-conscious. And ever conscious of what God’s Word says about him and to him. Because he is able to testify with Paul, ‘It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man’s judgment,’ he is free to walk in and voice his convictions.”
Jesus followed this same pattern even when He was twelve years old. When His parents finally found Him in the Temple, Mary really unloaded on Jesus with much emotion. Luke 2:48 (NLT) records her saying: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
Not everyone responds well to such a statement, but Jesus’ response reveals much.
- He did not respond with arrogance. Arrogance would have said, “I’ll do what I want, when I want, and how I want, and I don’t want any lip from you.”
- He did not respond apologetically. An apology would have said, “I’m so sorry. I’ll never do anything ever again that upsets you.”
- He did respond with assertiveness. Jesus simply said (Luke 2:49), “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” He was so secure, calm, comfortable, and confident in God’s acceptance and approval that He did not need to bristle with arrogance or cower in intimidation.
If we are insecure in the Father’s love and acceptance, we will often try to fill that void in our life by the approval of people. The fallacy of this is revealed when we recognize that man’s love and approval is typically conditional, fickle, and temporal. As a result, we are never truly secure because man’s love can be very subject to change. However, the love of God is unconditional, unchanging, and eternal. In Him we find true security. That’s why it is so much better for us to walk in the reverential fear and awe of God than to be on the emotional roller coaster of seeking man’s approval.
Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)
5 …God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”
This is the type of confidence every child and ever servant of God should have.
It is important to realize that this freedom from the fear of man does not mean that we should have the kind of attitude that says, “Bless God, I don’t care what anybody thinks or says about me.”
It is one thing to be so secure in the acceptance of God that you do not cringe before human rejection or disapproval. It is another thing to have a rebellious, arrogant, and carnally independent attitude that leads one to disregard and disrespect others.
To properly understand what our position should be, we not only need to observe Paul’s perspective in 1 Corinthians 4:3 (… it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you), but we also need to hear the balancing wisdom he expressed later in the same book.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (NLT)
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Did Paul just contradict himself? We know that Paul said elsewhere (Colossians 3:22) not to be a people-pleaser, but now he’s describing how he always tries to please everyone. This may be a bit paradoxical, but it is not contradictory. Paul is actually talking about two entirely different issues.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul is not describing an insecurity or fear-based pursuit of approval for his own benefit, but rather, a love-based effort to serve others for their benefit.
Notice Paul’s qualifiers:
- First, he says we should do things for the glory of God.
- Second, he says we should avoid giving offense, or being an unnecessary stumbling block that would keep others from God.
- Third, we see he seeks to please others (not just himself). He does this not for his own personal benefit (to meet a need in his own life) but for the benefit of others that they might be saved.
When we look at the harmonious blend of all these Scriptures, it becomes clear that we are not to insecurely fear man. But having found our security in God, we are to proactively seek to remove stumbling blocks and express a love-oriented, confidence-based servant’s attitude toward others. May God help this be realized in all of our lives.