Nicole's challenging thoughts on appreciation and approval have motivated me to finish off a little post I've had sitting in my file for several weeks. It's about the same topic, but from the opposite side—not so much the praise and approval of man, but the fear of man.
It was Proverbs 29:25 that got me thinking about it: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe”. This is a kind of reversal of the key theme of Proverbs: this is not the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7), but the fear of man, which is the beginning of captivity and ruin.
Misplaced fear leads us into a trap. It appears to be the way of safety. We quaver before the power and threat that someone wields over us, and we back down and submit. Perhaps then they won't hurt us. But giving in to the fear enslaves us; it delivers us into their power. When we yield to the fear of man out of fear of what we might lose, we lose our trust in the very person who can and will save us—the Lord who has revealed his name to us.
Jesus also contrasts the two fears:
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matt 10:26-29).
What do we do when our fear is of man rather than God? My personal list includes:
- Avoiding conflict at almost any cost.
- Being unwilling to offer a plain and honest rebuke when it is necessary.
- Not wanting to speak up for the truth in a group or social situation because of the risk of what people might think of me.
- Being unwilling to bear people's anger for saying or doing what is true and right.
- Using email to say negative or hard things instead of talking to someone in person.
- Softening or downplaying the hard truths of the gospel because I don't want to share in its stench.
- Softening or downplaying the supernatural element of Christianity because I don't want to appear unsophisticated or simple-minded.
There is an answer to all the problems that arise from the fear of men—from seeking their good opinion and avoiding their scorn, ridicule and persecution. It is not greater self-esteem, but a better and greater fear—the fear of him who holds all things in his hands—even the sparrow that falls to the ground.
When are you tempted to fall into the snare that is the fear of man?