The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. – Proverbs 29:25
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Like many of the verses in Proverbs, there is a parallel format: two lines, one stacked on top of the other. The first one is usually negative and the second one is positive. If you were to diagram the two lines, it could look something like the following infographic. Notice the parallel.
Fear of Man 1
In the diagram, you see the starting point as a heart of fear. When this happens, there is only one result—a snare (Galatians 6:1). Though your goal may be to be safe, you cannot get there from a heart of fear. Fear always leads to enslavement, not safety in Christ.
To be safe and secure you have to deal with the heart of the problem first, which is your fear. Within the human heart, there is always a tension between fear and faith. When fear wins out, the person will struggle with various forms of insecurity.
The insecure person wants to be safe but is held back by a fear of other people. Will they hurt me? Will they reject me? Will they like me? As the person becomes more securely established in the Lord or at least when they become characterized and controlled by faith, the Lord will be large and safety will be assured.
I say “characterized by faith” because none of us live perfectly in faith. We regularly oscillate from fear to faith and back to fear again. No one has perfect, uninterrupted faith, though our general disposition should be faith in God.
The two “person components” in the infographic are other people (man) and the Lord. When sinful fear is operative in the heart, the person will be influenced and controlled by others.
When faith is operative in the heart, the person will be primarily influenced and controlled by the Lord. It is our choice as to who or what will influence and control our thoughts. We are not victims, though we can feel more victimized than empowered when around certain people.
If that is the case with you, please find help. Being manipulated by others is not what the Lord wants for you.
Fear of Man
Fear of Man 2
When you are addressing a fear of man issue, it is important to address it at its root. Though you will perceive the manifestations of fear in the outward behaviors, its roots will not be as evident because they are in the heart.
If you do not take the fear out of its root, it will continue to resurface throughout a person’s life. Heart theology is a basic understanding of how sanctification works. Do not be fooled when you see the manifestations of fear in a person’s behavior. Outward behaviors mean the motivations of the heart are entangled (James 1:14–15).
Though I am talking about fear in the heart, you want to address the real culprit, which is unbelief. Whenever fear rears its sinister head, it means the person is not trusting God. Fear thrives in the soil of unbelief.
This kind of disbelief does not mean the person is an unbeliever. It could mean the person is an unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24) or a practical atheist. Believe it or not, believing Christians struggle with unbelief, and when they do, fear will be entangling the heart.
Fear of Man 3
In real life what you will see is something like what the infographic represents. The fear-motivated person will be looking for approval from someone. It does not mean they will be looking for approval from everyone.
Fear of man is not an across-the-board, I-am-afraid-of-everyone kind of sin. You can be free from some relationships, but in others, you find yourself craving approval, acceptance, respect, or the other side of the craving coin, which is a fear of being rejected.
Perhaps you have friends with whom you are entirely comfortable, but then there are others who tempt you to crave their approval (or you fear their rejection). In such cases, they control you. The graphic is analogous to a marionette who is controlled by the strings of those we want to accept us.
The real idolatry in the infographic is not the big person. The big person is merely the idol carrier—the one who can give you what you want. I listed some of those idols for you.
These are synonyms: approval, significance, love, acceptance, respect, and rejection are six ways of saying the same thing. You can pick the one that speaks most closely to your heart.
As you glance at the bottom right of the infographic, you will notice the biggest problem of all. Can you see the word, God? The smallness of the word contradicts the bigness of the problem. A small God leaves room for a heart to fear.
There is something broken in the heart of the person with a little God. There is a distortion as they experience, understand, discern, think about, and know God. This condition is a theological breakdown or what I call a small God disorder.
What began as shyness, introversion, or peer pressure has now been diagnosed as a weak to a nonexistent relationship with the Lord. It is important to see this major problem with God.
The issue is not primarily about other people; it is about God. If this issue cannot be discerned and diagnosed, it will be impossible to change. Let me say it this way: if you do not know what to put off, this essential first step to the change process will keep you from ever being free (Ephesians 4:22).
Fear of Man 4
The solution is not for the person to become bigger through an elevated self-esteem. The people who are wrapped up in fear of man spend too much time thinking about themselves. Thinking about themselves is their preoccupation, so to think more about themselves will only further their enslavement.
Fear always leads to morbid self-evaluation and introspection. Rather than being preoccupied with self-estimation, it would be better to esteem God and others more (Philippians 2:3–4).
The goal is to have a bigger God, which means bringing people down to size. No person should have manipulative power over someone else, even though we too often give that power to others.
When we crave things like approval, acceptance, love, or respect from people, we will allow them to have the ability to control us. To change requires a reorientation of the mind: the only opinion in the world that should control us is God’s opinion.
What do you need? What drives your cravings? What makes you tick? Do you need people’s approval? The way you answer these questions will determine how you will relate to others and how you will live your life within those relationships. Either you will live to please people, or you will live in the freedom that God provides through His gospel.
You will notice I inserted the name Jesus in the infographic because He is a perfect representation of what life looks like when the Lord controls you rather than others. Though He was despised and rejected by men, other people did not control Him with their disapproval (Isaiah 53:2–3).
The opinion of His Father controlled Him, and we know how the Lord thought about Him. The Father’s love for Jesus was off the charts. Mark described the dynamic relationship between the Father and the Son when he said,
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
The Father was perfectly pleased with Jesus. He could do no wrong. The Pharisees and other knuckle-headed people could say and do all kinds of things to Jesus, but He would not allow them to control Him.
He moved through our world unbothered and untethered by what man could do to Him. He was a man under the authority of Almighty God. That is your goal. If you place your faith appropriately in the Lord, you will not be controlled or manipulated by what others may try to do to you.
Free from the power of the people is the only way to live. Imagine being completely untethered from the opinion of others. This kind of experience with God is one of my lifelong goals regarding my sanctification. I long to be truly free in Christ.
Jesus was 100 percent untethered from others, but He was not distant from or rude to others. He was free from others, but He was not apathetic about the depraved condition of others.
Being free from the opinion of people and caring deeply about people is perfect relational symmetry. There is no contradiction here. Not controlled but always loving is the only way you can fully, faithfully, and successfully pull off the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36–40).
Fear of Man 5
Submitting yourself to God is the only option you have if you want to be mature. Either other people will capture your heart because of your desire to be accepted, or you will be resting in the truth that God’s opinion of you is positive, unchanging, and satisfying.
How do you know God’s opinion of you is always positive, always unchanging, and always satisfying? It is the gospel. Because of the gospel, any Christian finds assurance by knowing God likes them and will always be for them (Romans 8:31–39).
To be accepted by God, you have to accept the works of Jesus. God will never accept you based on your works (Ephesians 2:8–9). If you had to please God through your works to be accepted, you would never please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Your inability to please God is one of the ironies regarding fear of man.
The difference between the Lord and people is the Lord gives you another way to gain His approval. You can accept the works of His Son. People typically do not give you another option. You will always be a slave to those with whom you crave approval. What you did today to win someone’s love will not be enough tomorrow or next week.
Seeking the approval of others is an endless, exhausting cycle. It is also breaking the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). The worship of other people’s opinions is putting other gods between you and the true and living God.
It is an idolatry that makes you a puppet to the vacillating opinion of the person you hope will like you. Worshipping God is not that way. Winning His forever approval was finished through Christ (John 19:30).
A way was opened up through Jesus after He lived, died, rose, and ascended to heaven. All a person has to do is get in the Son to be free. In the Son is the place to feel and experience the full pleasure of the Father.
The only way to please God is by having faith in His Son. Get in Him and feel God’s pleasure. It is odd—though I do it, too—for a Christian to continue to strive for the approval of others when God is holding out the free blessing of full acceptance through Jesus.
The Father poured out His wrath on His Son. Christ became the satisfying sacrifice for anyone who wants it. He took our place. All we have to do is believe. As Moses told the folks who were being attacked by the fiery serpents, “Look and live,” that is all we have to do (Numbers 21:8; John 3:14).