What is fear of man? Fear of man is when you are more concerned about what people think about you than what God thinks about you.
Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety. — Proverbs 29:25
“Dangerous,” and “trap,” are not words most of us want characterizing our lives. So sum it up to say fear of man is bad. However, before we can work through some solutions, let’s do a quick check with our fear-o-man-ometer. Give yourself a point for each one of the following statements true of you:
- You often worry you said the wrong thing.
- You’ve never had a 100% conversation with someone.
- No one who knows the darkest details of your life, or you have a secret you have never shared.
- You always talk about your past sin instead of your present sin.
- You often make excuses for why something is the way it is or why it can’t change.
- You resent people when they are not impressed by you.
- You get angry when others do not agree with you.
- Your energy level shoots up around certain people but plummets around others.
- You avoid certain people or situations and make excuses for avoiding them.
- You try to put yourself in someone’s path or think about how to get them to notice you.
- You often wonder if you have offended someone.
- You say you do not care if you offended someone.
- You spend more time talking about a conversation than you spent on the actual conversation.
- You replay a conversation in your mind, thinking of all the ways it could have gone better.
- You overreact when someone says something negative about you.
- You skew the facts or lie about something you did.
- You confess to God but not to others.
- You only confess to others, not to God.
- You fall apart when someone falsely accuses you.
- You often over work. It reveals you have something to prove to others.
- You have no close friends because of the potential pain involved if the friendship doesn’t go well.
- You manipulate others, events or social media to get affirmation or attention.
- You often give ultimatums to people. “If you can’t do X, then I’m not doing Y.”
- You say you don’t care what other people think, attempting to minimize your need for approval.
- You mock other people because of their flaws (pride) or their success (envy).
Now time for the results. Count up your points and find your category:
18–25: What others think paralyzes you.
10–17: What others think severely impacts your emotions and decisions.
5–10: You can function effectively despite what others think.
0–4: You need more self-awareness.
If you answered 0–4, it is likely that you are unaware of what influences the decisions you make, or you grossly misinterpret your own motives.
If you find yourself in the 5–10 range, you are in a sweet spot. Remember the goal is not to disregard what others think, or pretend their feedback or input doesn’t matter, but it is to keep a healthy perspective and value what God thinks more.
If you scored in the 10–17 range, this isn’t necessarily bad, but means you probably have work to do to ensure you are making wise and correct decisions instead of choices that only please others.
If you scored in the 18–25 range, you are likely more stressed after an event or interaction. You might deal with a high level of anxiety or worry.
It’s confession time. You know how I came up with that list? I typed out 25 things true of me. I originally scored a 25/25. After two years of working on it, I’m currently scoring around an 18. In a couple more years, I hope to be around a dozen.
Confession is good, but confession without repentance is dangerously close to what we call emotional abuse. So, what do we do about all the items on the list? We start repenting.
Repentance means doing the opposite. What is the opposite of fearing people? Luckily for us, Jesus gives us the answer. Check out Matthew 10:28:
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Jesus’ solution? Fear God more. When you fear someone, your approval or value is tied them, because what they think and what they say matters to you. Look at what Jesus says in John 5:41–44:
41 “Your approval means nothing to me, 42 because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. 43 For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. 44 No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.”
Jesus is not saying that honor or approval from others is bad. God tells us multiple times in the scriptures to encourage one another, challenge each other and “build each other up.” On the deepest level of our soul, we need approval. The problem comes when we value other’s approval over God’s approval. This is called fear of man. Jesus told the religious leaders that they gladly honored each other, but did not care about the honor that came from God. Remember that whole ‘fearing people is a dangerous trap’ thing that mentioned in Proverbs?
The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in Galatians 1:10: Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. He frames fear of man and fear of God as opposites. Think of a spectrum. On one end, we have fear of man. On the opposite end is fear of God. If I were to make a fancy diagram to illustrate, it might look something like this:
Fear of Man <— — — — — > Fear of God
The point is, you are always somewhere on the spectrum. The extent that you are fearing God, you are not fearing people. The extent you are fearful of people, you are not fearing God.
In chapter six of John, Jesus delivers a challenging sermon and as a result he loses a significant amount of followers. He told the people a hard truth they didn’t want to hear. I believe it is the most vulnerable moment in his ministry.
66 At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
Picture the scene: Many of Jesus’ disciples leave. Out. Gone. Done. He turns to the twelve who were closest to him — the people on the planet who knew him best — and asks, “Are you also going to leave?” It is a fascinating moment. And what does Peter do? He affirms Jesus. In a moment of discouragement, Peter reminds Jesus of the truth.
And Jesus didn’t say, “Your approval means nothing to me,” like he did to the Jewish leaders in the previous chapter. Neither did he put his confidence in what Peter thought about him (as we know by his next words):
70 Then Jesus said, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray him.
Jesus’ response is interesting. As much as I’ve contemplated it, I’ve come away thinking it’s an acknowledgement of his responsibility and trust in the Father. In my modern-casual-southern-eisegetic paraphrase, it sounded something like this:
Thanks Pete. It’s pretty dang disappointing that all those folks just left. I mean, you tell people the truth because you love ’em, but lots of times the truth ain’t what they’re looking for. One of you is more rotten than a soggy apple at the bottom of the bushel, but I picked ya'll and that’s on me. But guess what? My Father told me to do it and I care more about what he thinks than what anyone else thinks. And since his opinion matters most, I think it’ll all work out.
Jesus has affirmed you are valuable — so valuable he gave his life for you. If you put your confidence in him, he will reward you and say in front of all the angels and others, “Well done my good and faithful servant”. That is the affirmation and influence you really want because it is the only affirmation that matters, and the only approval that lasts eternally.
As you think about fear of man and how it drives you, here are some passages of scripture I’ve found helpful. They remind me I need to fear God above all, which is monumental in repenting of fear of man.
29 What is the price of two sparrows — one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
1 Thessalonians 2:3–7
So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery. 4 For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. 5 Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! 6 As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. 7 As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.
No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
Mr. Taylor spends his days cultivating children, herding cats, loving an amazing woman and leading a recovery ministry in the personable town of Greenville, South Carolina. He writes more sermons than fiction, to expose the heart, inspire the spirit and provoke the mind. You can find him on goodreads and @itsjimnotjames on Twitter.