Fear of Man
6 August 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Fearing God: Fear of Man
Because the Bible provides everything we need for living godly, it makes sense that it would say a lot about fear: sinful fear and godly fear. We’ve looked at how trusting God is essential to fearing Him rightly. That laid a helpful foundation for us as we turn our attention to what is probably the most common form of sinful fear—the fear of man. God calls us to trust Him and to not fear people. And He tells us a lot to help us better understand what the fear of man really is.
Solomon does this for us in Prov 29:25 saying, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” So what is the snare? When you fear people, you will act unwisely because you are not operating by faith. You will be anxious, trembling on the inside, eaten up with dread. You may be so terrified that you become paralyzed. Or if you do act, it will be irrationally and will make the situation worse. However, if you trust in the Lord, Solomon says you will be set on a high place. You will be able to remain calm and respond rationally to will make wise and godly decisions.
When we fear people, we are afraid of what they think about us. We are afraid that their opinions about us will be less than flattering. We may even fear their actions against us. We want to be accepted but we are afraid that people might reject us. What if they make fun of us? What if they despise us? Let’s look at a few examples from Scripture of people who feared other people.
Of course it all started in the Garden. In Gen 3:7 Adam and Eve had their eyes opened after they had sinned and being naked was now terrifying. Their bodies and their souls were now exposed, so they made quick coverings. For the first time, they feared each other. Of course, those fig leaves couldn’t hide them from the gaze of their Creator. When God came to visit them, they hid themselves. When God asked why, Adam explained, “I was afraid because I was naked” (Gen 3:10).
Later in Genesis, we find that Abraham, struggled with fearing people. In Gen 20 we find him lying about his wife being his sister because he thought people would kill him to get her. He passed along this same fear to his son Isaac who we find in Gen 26:7 lying about his wife, Rebekah.
When we think of fearful people, Gideon comes to mind. In Judges 6, God told him to tear down the altar to Baal and build an altar for Yahweh and offer a bull on it. Gideon did obey, but he did it at night because he was afraid of the men in his father’s household and the men of the city (v. 27).
Another terribly sad episode occurred in the reign of King Saul. God commanded Saul to kill every person and animal of the Amalekites. However, Saul and the Israelites kept alive King Agag and the best of the animals. So, God took the kingdom away from Saul. When Samuel confronted the king, Saul replied, “I have sinned: I have indeed transgressed the command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice” (1 Sam 15:24).
You know, we tend to think that people with power have no fear. But here is the king of Israel, fearing what the people thought of him. And his fear of people led him to disobey God. If you fear people, you do not fear the Lord as you should. Let’s look at a few NT examples.
Mark tells us in Mk 11:32 that the chief priests and scribes were afraid of the multitude and wouldn’t answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist. John told about that blind man’s parents when they were being interrogated by the religious leaders. They wouldn’t answer, being afraid that the Jewish leaders would put them out of the synagogue if they said anything to support Jesus (Jn 9:22).
But what about people who have been saved for a long time and have served in ministry for years? We find in Gal 2:12 that Peter, who was typically fearless, was “fearing the party of the circumcision” and stopped eating with Gentile Christians because of what those influential Jews might think.
In this lesson, I want to answer a few questions about fearing people. Why is it so serious? Why do we do it? And what can we do about it? (We’ll only start to answer that third question)
So why is it so serious if we fear people?
Fearing people means that you don’t fear God as you should. Fearing people is rebellion against the Lord. Fearing people is sin. Let’s look further into the account of Numbers 13 and 14. We have read Numbers 13 already and did you notice where the people went wrong? In Numbers 13:31 they lamented that the people of the land “are too strong for us.” While that may have been true, what’s wrong with that statement? It left God out of the equation. No nation is too strong for the Lord! And think about what the Israelites said in Numbers :1333, that they felt like grasshoppers next to the giants in the land and that those giants considered the Israelites as grasshoppers. They worried about what other people thought. But to God, even giants are less than grasshoppers! So let’s see how they handled this. Look at Numbers 14.
Because the Israelites did not fear God as they should, they feared the people of the land. Moses referred to their fear of people as rebellion against the Lord (Num 14:9). Their fear of people led them to disobey the Lord and to rebel against Him, even though they saw Him deliver them from a far mightier Egypt. As we saw in the Prov 29 passage, their fear of people caused them to become anxious, overcome with dread and behaving irrationally. They panicked, they talked about stoning their leaders, and then when they realized they sinned, instead of repenting, they tried to go fight their enemies without God’s help. Of course, it was a disaster.
Why do we fear people?
Ed Welch suggests several reasons why we fear people: we are afraid of them, we hold them in awe, we are controlled by them, we worship them, we put trust in them or we need them (When People Are Big and God Is Small, p. 14). Maybe you see one or more of those in your experience.
Job’s friends suggested that his problems may have come from him hiding some secret sin in his heart—a sin that he hasn’t repented of. Job denies it because it wasn’t true. Job asks them if they are accusing him of doing what is typical of many people. People typically hide their sin because they are afraid of other people who might treat them with contempt if they knew the truth (Job 31:34). He even used Adam as an example of this, who went hiding after he had sinned.
What do we do about our fear of man?
We’re going to discover a lot more later about how the Bible helps us, but we need to understand something else about our fear of man. You know, it isn’t always sinful to be afraid. If a bear is chasing you or if enemy soldiers are shooting at you, it is normal to be afraid. But again, Ed Welch helps us understand what is going on here. He explains, “The fear of man is the sinful exaggeration of a normal experience” (Ibid., p. 59, italics his). It is natural to be afraid when threatened, but the fear of man is natural fear run amok. That helps.
Welch then instructs us that natural fear needs to be “regulated by faith” (Ibid., p. 60). Otherwise it will turn into the fear of man. Whenever a natural cause for fear intersects our life, we are presented with a fork in the road. The road of faith leads to trust in the Lord. The road of unbelief leads to fear run amok. Fear of people lays out a snare for us. It will lead to bad decisions and even sin.
What we must do is to bring our faith to bear on the situation. That is, we must recall those truths about God that apply to the situation so that we keep God in the equation. Faith reminds the soul that God is in absolute control, is good, is wise and is faithful to His promises.
Think here again about Ps 56:3, 4, 11. Because of his trust in Yahweh, David chooses to trust in Yahweh and he takes the road of obedience. Can you hear his faith: “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Or think about David in Ps 3:6. David first reminds himself that Yahweh personally is a shield around him. Can you hear his faith, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about”?
We’ve only begun to uncover the Biblical help in dealing with the fear of man. First, you must choose to fear the Lord. Fearing anyone else is sin. If you fear the Lord, you will trust Him. And when you are faced with the temptation to fear people, remind yourself of WHY you trust the Lord. Recite the facts on which your faith is built. Recite how great and good is your God!