“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Scripture teaches us time and again that the fear of the Lord is of great importance in our hearts and lives. That should be in our view. That should be in focus and daily practice. For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and is wisdom and the beginning of it (Job 28:28, Proverbs 9:10). It’s the “whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The fear of the Lord is the church’s treasure (Isaiah 33:6). Yet, do we really understand the fear of the Lord? Is there evidence of it being our treasure? Is it evident as we grow in knowledge and wisdom?
In a right frame of mind and looking through a godly set of lenses, we recognize that God is supreme and on the throne. We seek to obey and please Him. We desire His approval. In fact, we have His approval in Christ. However, one of the temptations we face is fearing men and not God. Such temptation turns godly fear upside down, making people big and God small in our minds. Our desire for approval is no longer focused on Him, but on them. We put them and their approval of us on the throne in our hearts, so to speak. Our minds spin and spin about what they would think, or say, or do – in many times and occasions, so much so that it paralyzes and cripples us.
Dr. Ed Welch noted in his book, When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, “1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us. 2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us. 3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us. These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.”
The fear of man is, as John Bunyan put it, “the fear of losing man’s favor, love, goodwill, help, and friendship.” It truly is a snare, a trap. It exposes us to many temptations. We make the approval of men an idol in our hearts. Such idolatry leads to compromise in order to gain approval. We give in to sin in order to gain acceptance and peace. Beloved, the fear of man comes at a terrible, slavish cost.
The good news is that Christ has freed us from being enslaved to man’s approval. He took the road of the cross to bear the wrath that we deserve for the sin of our fear of man. Though the temptation to fear man may rear its head in our hearts, Jesus has broken its grip. If you wrestle with this, it may feel like it has an encompassing presence in your mind. You’ve tried and tried, but can’t break free. Look unto Jesus, my friend. He has overcome. Trust Him and you will be safe! The Holy Spirit is about the glorious work of returning our focus to our awe, reverence, and worship of Him. He returns our focus to His transcendent majesty and holiness, thus turning our fear right side up – where it should be – fearing the Lord and Him alone.