The more I contemplate cultural and societal trends and scrutinize the times in which we live, the more I realize that we – a nation founded on the fundamental right of religious freedom – have forgotten God in our pursuit to create new idols we deem worthy of our worship. Secularization has a firm grip on our nation, to the point where it has even contaminated the Church. It is a sad truth that secularism, the “religion” of the Left, has had a much greater influence on the culture and the Church than any influence Christians have been able to exert on the culture or within the Church.
The fact is, too many Christians have been rendered ineffective, or have been paralyzed, and/or have allowed themselves to be bullied into silence and inaction by what Scripture proclaims as the fear of man. We cower in fear of man instead of being rightly guided by its antithesis, the fear of God.
Lest there be any confusion, when I refer to the fear of God or the fear of man, the word fear does not mean that we are afraid or scared or trembling. Rather, the fear of God is defined by awesome respect or deep reverence – admiration and adoration – which grows out of the knowledge of His greatness and power – knowledge that we gain by reading and studying His Word and by walking in faith and obedience.
Having made that clarification, I feel a self-assessment is in order. Are Christians in America today: “motivated more by the fear of God . . . or the fear of man?” An honest consideration of this question, compels us to admit that the fear of man has too great of an influence in the Body of Christ and, quite possibly, in our own lives as well.
In a similar vein, Scripture encourages us to: Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Perhaps, through self-assessment and Spirit-led examination, we will come to the realization that the fear of man does have an undue influence in our mind and life, as it certainly does in the culture at large.
Most assuredly, the more we learn about God, the more we will fear and respect Him. If we believe He is: omnipotent – all powerful, omnipresent – all present, omniscient – all knowing, omnis sanctus – all holy, we will have abundant reason to revere Him.
On the other hand, the fear of man is the deference and devotion to man and his corrupt opinions and responses. This fear includes not only the fear that people will hurt, humiliate, ridicule, or reject us, but it also encompasses our yearning to impress others or to be admired.
Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible defines fear of man as:
“inordinate fear of harm or mischief from men, which is fitly opposed to trust in God, because it comes from a distrust of God’s promise and providence . . . .”
No doubt one of the Scriptures which informed Poole’s definition was Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
While the world – the powers, principalities, and the rulers of this dark age – wants us to fear man, Christians and the Church must know and believe that the antidote for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. Knowing, understanding, obeying, and serving God must be preeminent in our hearts, minds, and actions. Nothing else can be more important.
In the 8th chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus rebukes impudent Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus’ words cut right to the heart of the matter: Peter is focused on the wrong things! Rather than focusing on God’s plans, established before the foundation of the world, Peter was placing his own plans and agenda ahead of the Lord’s. And, if we are honest, shouldn’t we admit that we are often guilty of doing the exact same thing?
Please do not fool yourself – preoccupation with the things of man leads to the fear of man, which can lead us to sin against our perfect, holy God. Saul knew this all too well when he confessed to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:24)
The prophet Isaiah adds another layer of understanding as he declares it is a kind of pride to dread what man can do while disregarding the goodness, promises, and purposes of God. Speaking for God, he asks,
“… who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker? (Isaiah 51:12)
God is speaking plainly through Isaiah, and His message is this:
Don’t. Fear. Man.
If we keep our focus on the Lord, on His character and His power, the fear of man that once loomed so large in our lives will diminish and, in its place, God will enable us to speak with confidence and boldness as we address the moral issues and false teachers of our day.
Scripture gives us excellent models of faithful servants of the Lord who were able to set aside any qualms about offending or being “too aggressive” as they confronted family, friends, neighbors, and enemies. Consider Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Nehemiah, David and the armies of both the Philistines and the Israelites, John the Baptist and the religious and political leaders of his day, the Apostle Paul, and finally, our Lord Jesus Christ – all of these zealously demonstrated their fear of God, without entertaining thoughts of compromise or considering the opinions of man.
Ultimately, the issue is not whether we will serve God. The issue is which God/god will we serve and honor with our very being? Will we succumb to our fear of man, a fear that is often palpable, and serve a false idol of our own making or will we rightly fear and serve the Living God?
Brothers and Sisters, we need to pray for one another! The fear of man has far too much influence in our lives, in the Church, and in our culture. Pray that we would delight in the fear of the Lord and be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and conviction.
Pray for boldness for every believer, and especially for Christian leaders and workers who are on the front lines in the public square. Pray that we would be intentional to teach and model the fear of the Lord to the next generation. And finally, pray for the Body of Christ, that through our words and actions, our zeal and boldness, the world will recognize, fear, glorify, and revere God.
May the Lord God, whom we love, serve, and fear, be gracious to hear and answer our prayers. Amen!