What is your greatest fear: Public speaking? Heights? Flying? Spiders? Snakes? Needles? Enclosed places? Death? We humans have many phobias, but I believe the most common and the greatest fear of all is the fear of man.
Some cannot open their mouth to share the gospel because they are choked with anxiety over what people might think. Many will remain silent in a just cause, shrinking from the repercussions of speaking out. Others refuse to discipline their children because they desperately want their children’s approval. And there are others who dread rejection so much that it keeps them from living up to their own convictions.
“The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:25). To put it another way, the fear of man sets a TRAP. Once caught in this insidious snare, the door is open to a multitude of problems—it is the gateway to captivity.
What Is The Fear Of Man?
The fear of man is a morbid concern about what other men may think about you, say about you, or do to you. The fear of man is Bible language for “insecurity.” Insecure people derive their personal worth from the affirmation of others. They insist that you agree with them and cannot stand it if you don’t. They constantly critique and judge others by comparing themselves with other people. Guess who always comes out on top in these comparisons!
Why would anyone attempt to derive security from a fellow, frail, and fallible human being? Why would anyone seek sanctuary in things that can be taken away? Especially when just about everything can be taken away. Think about all the things that can be taken away: wealth, health, ministry, sanity, capacities, personality, family, friends, and even life itself. The only secure refuge in time and eternity is the Lord Jesus and His unchanging Word.
We must see the fear of man for what it really is—an outgrowth of pride. It is the epitome of independence, or autonomy from the only source of safety. Cherishing the horizontal above the vertical is the consequence of a misplaced focus. When we see people BIG and God small, we have lost our way. We are not walking in the “fear of God.” People who fear God pay no attention to “Opinion Polls.” They only want to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Listed below are a few more definitions and depictions to aid us in understanding the nuances of this snare. The fear of man is…
- Valuing the opinions of men more than the opinion of God.
- Craving the favor, friendship, and the applause of men.
- An obsession to find approval from people.
- The dread of being ridiculed, persecuted, or censured.
- When you are more concerned about your public appearance before men than your personal appearance before God.
- An over-the-top reverence for human hierarchies and a slavish compliance to human customs.
What The Fear Of Man Does
What is the fallout from the fear of man? It deadens the conscience, debilitates the mind, seals the lips in witnessing, opens the door to temptation, and paralyzes the work of God.
Bulls are so wild by nature that they are uncontrollable. Farmers discovered they could manage these beasts by placing a ring in the bull’s nose. When someone pulls on the nose-ring, it is so painful that the bull can be easily lead anywhere without a fight. The bull becomes compliant and will do almost anything to avoid the discomfort. The fear of man is like a “nose-ring.” When anybody reaches out and yanks it, we become immobilized and will go along without resistance.
Let’s look at nine snares that result from the fear of man.
Abraham’s heart was gripped by fear. As they were about to enter Egypt, he instructed Sarah to lie. She was so beautiful that he thought they would kill him and keep her for the royal harem. So Abraham told Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was his sister. Sure enough, the princes of Egypt commended Sarah to Pharaoh’s house. But, God miraculously protected Sarah and plagued the Egyptians. Abraham was justly chastised by Pharaoh for his dishonesty and sent on his way. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister, but more importantly she was his wife. A half-truth is still a total lie! People will lie either to gain an advantage or avoid punishment. Fearing man often weaves a web of deceit.
Anyone who is under the spell of the fear of man is double-minded—forever changing directions to suit the circumstance. Deceit is contagious and can be an inherited trait. Issac did the same thing that his father had done. The men of Gerar asked Issac about his wife. And Issac replied, “She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon” (Gen. 26:7). Only grace can deliver from the snare of guile, which is a consequence of a man-fearing spirit.
Nicodemus came to Jesus under the shadow of night (John 3:2). Perhaps it was his trepidation that caused him to wait until nightfall to approach Christ. Many of the Jewish religious authorities believed on Jesus, but would not confess their faith for fear of being displaced from the synagogue (John 12:42). Loss of position trumped the witness they felt in their hearts. They feared the loss of status more than what they desired from, and believed, about Christ.
Jesus anointed a blind man’s eyes with clay. Then He gave him further instruction to wash in the pool of Siloam. This blind man followed through and was miraculously healed on the Sabbath. Having testified to this marvel, he was brought before the Pharisees for questioning. The hierarchy was divided in their opinion as to whether this man was really blind, so they called in his parents. Note carefully these verses: “His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:20-22). These parents feared their removal from the house of worship more than banishment from heaven. Which is more important to you: fidelity to Christ or your religious affiliation?
When the fear of reprisal is greater than the fear of God, bad decisions will be made. The fear of losing friends, position, a job, or even respect lands individuals in the trap of social convention. But losing courage is greater than any loss that may be incurred from the hands of men. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1).
Moses was on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, and the people were growing impatient. So they approached Aaron (the appointed leader) requesting he make them a “god” to lead them. The people desired a “fabricated god” instead of the God of Israel. Aaron collected the gold earrings and fashioned a molten calf with a graving tool. “They said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:1). Aaron chose to respond to the clamor of the people instead of standing up for truth. How easy it is to bend the Bible around the prevailing consensus instead of bending the culture around the Bible.
“Designer gods” are fashionable in American churches. Countless pulpits proclaim an accommodating god of man’s imagination instead of the GOD that really is. The distortion is so ingrained that few even recognize the deep compromises of truth.
No one is so qualified, and so established in their position, that they are immune from the fear of man and its innumerable concessions. The reason we have so much fear of man is because we have so little fear of God. James Foster said, “Cultivate a supreme reverence for God. These two—fear of man and fear of God—are absolutely inconsistent, and cannot subsist together.”
Saul had received clear instruction to destroy ALL the Amalekites and their possessions. But Saul chose to make a couple of “small exceptions” by sparing the king and the best of the cattle. Saul’s disobedience was costly. God spoke to Samuel and he went directly to Saul delivering God’s “eviction notice” from the throne in Israel. Listen to Samuel’s declaration, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Sam. 15:23).
Saul was a model politician. Listen to his justification, “And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD… because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:24). The fear of man cost Saul everything. He lost the kingdom and his comrade Samuel. “And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:26).
Paul addressed those in servitude concerning their responsibilities toward their masters, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). In other words, don’t be guilty of fawning over and courting approval from men only while they are observing you. Let your service be “as unto the Lord” (Eph. 6:6), regardless of who happens to be looking-on.
Men-pleasers are two-faced. They slant their actions and speech to curry favor with their audience. This tactic smacks of hypocrisy and insincerity. It’s all about creating impressions instead of living consistently. People-pleasing and people-worship are idols that will own and dominate you.
Such was the case with Peter in Galatians chapter two. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation” (vv. 11-13). The fear of man caused Peter to withdraw from the Gentiles upon the arrival of the Jews. This in turn had a negative impact on Barnabas as well as others. Rather than standing for principle, Peter was guilty of “man-pleasing.” Paul was quick to rebuke him for his duplicity.
Are you one who second-guesses decisions based on what others think? Is your conduct governed by the “crowd?” Do you ever exaggerate, or understate your position, based on who is listening? Are your responses and actions regulated by possible negative outcomes? Is gaining the esteem of men more important than living out what you believe in your heart? Are you a slave to fashion, fads, or your peers? Paul said, “For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10). You CAN’T please the multitude, but you can please God.
Herod was afraid of John the Baptist because he was a righteous and holy man. But Herodias, Herod’s wife, hated John because he denounced her adulterous marriage to Herod. “For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). This infuriated Herodias. At a party Herod’s stepdaughter danced before a room full of guests. He issued a foolish challenge offering to give her anything she wanted. Her wicked mother, Herodias, influenced her daughter to request the head of John the Baptist on a platter. In turn, Herod ordered John’s death, even though this went against his conscience. He thought it worse to lose the respect of his guests than be true to his convictions. This massive injustice, the killing of an innocent man, happened because of this snare.
The fear of man most often leads to downright, positive sin. It will hamper a man’s usefulness in times of crisis. As in Herod’s case, it caused him to be false to his own principles. Making a foolish pledge was bad enough. Doing wrong as a consequence was even worse.
This is why some of the most outrageous gossip and slanders slide by without a confrontation. Some are so fearful of disagreement that they refuse to do right when others are doing wrong. Spirit-filled people are not contentious, but they are courageous and are at times compelled to speak out.
Snare #7—Denying Christ
The pre-Pentecost disciples all forsook the Lord at the crucifixion. Here is a revealing account of Peter’s denial of Christ.
“Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:69-75).
Under incredible pressure Peter, the Rock, caved and denied Christ three times in succession. To his credit, he later died as a martyr rather deny the Lord again.
No sin has sent more people to hell than the fear of man. No sin has robbed Christians of witnessing opportunities more than the fear of man.
Peter’s denial was verbal and emphatic. Maybe you have never denied Christ with words, but have you ever denied Christ through silence? I think most of us can remember times when we forfeited opportunities to witness for Jesus because of this snare.
Jesus told the story of a man who was going on a trip. He called his servants and distributed his goods to them. One received five talents (money), another received two, and the third received one talent. The first two servants traded and invested the resources and made a profit. Both were commended and rewarded for their productivity. But the third servant hid the money. The master called this slothful servant on the carpet. Notice the reply of the wicked servant: “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Matt. 25:24-25).
His weak-kneed excuse was fear-based—“I was afraid.” He was more concerned about failing than succeeding! So he chose to hide the talent rather than use it. Doing nothing is not an option for followers of the Lamb. Consider the severe consequences of indifference, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 25:29-30).
When the opinions of people loom larger than the opinion of God, bondage is inevitable. “Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Everyone needs someone with whom they can confide, confess, and from whom they can draw counsel. Refusal to shame oneself by bringing the dark deeds of the soul into the light builds a self-imposed prison. The grip of besetting sins can be VERY powerful. Overcoming these faults is often conditioned by confessing them to a brother or sister. These two “one-another” commands, confessing to one another and praying for one another, are essential to victory.
Do you have a trusted friend with whom you can bear your heart? Are you greatly troubled at the thought that some fellow servant should learn about your failings? Darkness cannot be expelled without coming to the light. Bondage-breaking requires a team effort.
Overcoming The Fear Of Man
So, ask yourself, “Why am I so preoccupied with what others think about me?” What’s the deal? Biblically, I am obligated to love people—not NEED them. If you spend your life trying to satisfy self-centered individuals, then you will never love others as you should. Doing God’s will is seldom popular, it put Jesus on the cross. You must do the right thing in God’s eyes regardless of the preferences and prejudices of your fellow human beings.
The first step toward victory is acknowledgment. If you are sensing conviction in your heart about fearing men, ADMIT it. Grace runs toward the humble.
When the fear of man walks in, faith walks out. This snare and stronghold must be demolished by the incredible weapons God has placed at our disposal (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Deliverance comes by going VERTICAL. Our hope and help lie farther than the horizon—it is heaven’s power that we need!
Our mindset must be rebuilt through the Word and the Spirit of God. The resources we need are already in hand (2 Pet. 1:3). But these assets must be appropriated by faith. When fear comes knocking, send faith to answer the door.
Habits are learned behaviors based upon the attitudes we have adopted. Be encouraged! Old habits can be displaced by adopting new attitudes. Roy Hession said, “We are not working forvictory, but from victory.” We must move beyond the horizontal way of viewing life and the issues we face. Cry out to God. Internalize His truth. Rebuild a biblical outlook.
Jesus spoke strong words—“Fear not them which can kill the body, but rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, stop fearing men and start fearing God. John Witherspoon said, “It is only the fear of God that can deliver us from the fear of man.” Esteeming God above men is the proper perspective and the key in overcoming this deadly trap. “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25).
“The Fear of Man”—Video Message by Del Fehsenfeld