RPM, Volume 15, Number 18, April 28 to May 4, 2013

The Fear of Man

By Scott Schuleit

I failed. Rather than speak up to expose the unbiblical statement offered in the study group and offer the biblical alternative, I remained silent. I've done this on many other occasions. It is dishonoring to God and to those involved in the discussion, and could even cause problems within the thinking of certain individuals in the group, and by way of implication, to those unforeseeable others who might in the future be the recipients of erroneous thinking from those who were influenced in the group. Through our action or inaction, the ripples of consequence can spread far and wide. Ideas hold great power. Our tongues hold the power to render truth and goodness as well as lies and corruption. What prevented me from exposing error and ministering truth? It was, simply, the fear of man, which is sin. Even though I probably would have submitted my statement in a gentle manner, I feared the disapproval that could have been the result. I'm not someone who likes to challenge people and break up the flow of what's going on. By nature, I do not like confrontation. Some people, I've noticed, seem to thrive on it. I'm not saying one should always confront when something erroneous is uttered in your presence. That would be ridiculous. There is a balance here and a hierarchy of concern, but getting back to the main issue: What exactly is the fear of man and how can I get over it?

There are different forms that fear can take and many objects could be the cause for its effects. Its effects, though containing a few commonalities can be quite different depending on: the kind of fear, the object of the fear, personality and mental state of the individual undergoing the fear, past experiences, and of course, the intensity and duration of the experience. The fear of man is a very common kind of fear within every aspect of our culture and the world around us.

The fear of man, in the sense that I will be using it, is, of course, unhealthy. There are fears that are, in their proper place, healthy, even, in a very broad sense, the fear of man—that is, a respectful kind of fear at these incredible, spiritual and physical complexities, these mysterious and unique creatures fearfully and wonderfully created by our Lord. The fear of man, in the way that I will be discussing it, could be defined as: A concern with pleasing man to the neglect of obedience to God. This type of sin places a created being, a temporal, finite creature, ahead of the Creator, making him or her out to be, at least temporarily, an idol. Anything that takes the place of our affections for God becomes an idol. Most, if not every Christian, in varying degrees, battles with some kind of an idol (or idols) in their life.

When I'm in a mindset where I fear man instead of God, it produces certain kinds of effects within my mind, warping my sense of reality. The individual (or individuals) of my fear becomes, in a way, an object of worship, which results in a desire to please this particular person or, depending on the situation, a particular group of people. My thinking becomes distorted, my mind directing and filtering my actions in light of how to please my idol, even to the extent of bending truth, denying my own viewpoint and personality, and more seriously, sinning against my Lord. It's rather pathetic, and, honestly, rather wimpy. Not only does it foster delusions in one's mind, but it can also furnish delusions in those you idolize. It also snuffs passion, not only a passion for God, but it would seem a passion for just about anything else.

With regards to the issue of identity in relation to this topic, every single time one gives in to the fear of man, one's true personality and identity becomes more and more hidden, covered in a comfortable blanket of illusion, and can even erode. This kind of pattern of behavior will also make one more and more pliable towards the viewpoints of others, whatever that viewpoint is, whether good or bad. It will often be bad, partly because of the sheer preponderance of error being propagated over truth, but also because the controlling kind of person, whether male or female, is naturally drawn to the easily controlled type of individual for it feeds their lust for worship and drive for power. If they can't rule over a country, why then a household or a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter, will just have to do.

Perhaps it would be of some benefit to the discussion at hand to digress and make a few comments regarding the kind of mindset and atmosphere that can be engendered by a corporate presence—within the kind of society that can be found in companies, governments, movements, or a group of friends. The dynamic of the corporate entity can be used, in general, for good or bad. In its bad form, those who are outside of the society are often regarded as something less than human, as things rather than human beings. This is usually expressed indirectly, by the tone, gestures and choice of words used in referring to outsiders. And of course, there must be, to some degree, others for there to be a group at all. Commenting on the others helps to reinforce the beloved boundaries of the group. These others commonly become subject to gross caricatures, distorted portrayals and subject to all sorts of charges from simple buffoonery to great wickedness. These judgments are often rendered with a cavalier, aloof, or astonished kind of tone and gesture to assure to the others in the group that we are beyond them, superior to them, standing above. How could they be so blind to what is so obvious? The poor, ignorant fools. As illustrated here, a group can fear, in a very intense and reverential way, each other to the extreme neglect of man and God. It is sad to note that an elitist type of posture can sometimes be seen in Christians when referring to non-Christians. Even more strongly, I've seen it by Republicans when referring to Democrats. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Christian and generally conservative in my thinking, but I think we should be listening more to others and the various positions they hold and why they hold them, and perhaps, commenting less, or at least commenting with more intelligence and maturity. The empathetic imagination needs to be exercised more in our attempts to understand others. Certainly our words should be imparting more grace. Having said that, there are times when we should be imparting grace by strongly denouncing with rhetorical force the various attacks against Christianity and our Lord one encounters in the world. One thinks of some of Christ's shocking statements when denouncing the Scribes, Pharisees and other leaders. We do have a strong precedent to take on this kind of a stance, but I think we need to do it more specifically, intelligently and far more articulately than what is commonly occurring in the church today. We tend to react (which can be o.k. as well, depending on the situation) rather than listening, asking questions, thinking and responding.

By nature, or should I say, by our sin nature, people want to be worshipped, they desire to be the center of the affections of those around them. People and groups will often strive to cultivate an atmosphere conducive towards the glory of their own person, or, if in a group, the glory and superiority of the corporate entity, whether it's through their dress, direction of conversation, or innumerable little nuances. This ferocious drive to exalt oneself is in every human heart. It is uncommon for this drive to manifest itself in the manner of a dictator—in the manner of a man striving to propagate his perspective through threat and the fear of death—but not uncommon for him (or her) to manipulate to achieve their ends through more subtle (and sometimes unconscious) stratagems. The dictators are pretty rare, but the heart of the dictator is most certainly not. In general, people want to be inordinately regarded and feared. Upon awareness of this kind of behavior, whether you are fashioning this kind of atmosphere for yourself or playing into the sway of it surrounding others, certain necessary alterations are required. This narcissistic bent towards making oneself the center must be mortified—our self must be denied and our Lord glorified through the daily process of abiding in Christ. Overcoming sin requires one to recognize their utter inability to overcome temptation or a pattern of sin through their own efforts, through the force of the flesh, the strength of their own arm. Truly righteous actions can only be achieved by the grace of God. Recognizing one's radical finitude, one's profound inability to do anything of eternal worth apart from Christ, is essential towards a genuine progression in sanctification and victory over the fear of man.

In relation to the recognition of mankind's supreme inability to perform a good work apart from Christ, it is also crucial that we strive to cultivate a reverential fear, a proper awe towards God. At this point, a couple of often-quoted Scriptures could be given: In Matthew 10:28, Jesus states: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." And Proverbs 1:7 states: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

Fools despise wisdom and instruction." This healthy kind of fear can be strengthened through a variety of activities, including: the study of the Scriptures, Christian fellowship, attending church, worship, prayer, evangelism and through meditating on the Lord and the various wonders of His mighty works. All of these activities should be seen as means towards the ends of drawing closer to God and helping others to either come to know Him or draw closer to Him. In short, to help overcome one's fear of man, become enamored by God.

Becoming enthralled by God shouldn't be difficult to do for He is eternally thrilling. He made the heavens, that grand dance of planets, comets, meteors, nebulae and supernovae, that realm ablaze with stars, suns and other colorful wonders teeming with energy. And there's earth with its natural (though fallen) splendor, its diverse cloud formations, sunsets, thunderstorms, oak leaves, kangaroos, bluebirds, butterflies, horses and grasshoppers. And what about mankind, that most fascinating aspect of creation? Every single individual holds a specific and unique personality, revealing some refracted beam of color, the shadow of some facet among the countless facets, gorgeous and brilliant, contained within our Creator. I failed to mention the wonder of being saved solely by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He saved us from the sure and just sentence of an eternity in hell, and soon we will be with Him amidst the boundless pleasures of paradise. As we grow in sanctification, becoming increasingly enamored by our thrilling God—astonished by the mighty works of our triune Lord—the pull tempting us to fear man will become, weaker and weaker. And paradoxically, as one dies to oneself (and the fear of man) and draws closer to God, one will naturally become more and more truly themselves, becoming who they were created to be before the foundations of the earth were ever fashioned and put into place.

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