The most frequent command in the Bible is some form of, “Do not be afraid.” Over and over again, God’s people are told not to fear kings or armies or rumors. In fact, the only thing they are told to fear is God himself. The fear of God is said to be the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and the whole duty of mankind (Ecclesiastes 12:13). It is vital to a godly life.
One of the key implications of a proper fear of God is that the fear of man goes by the wayside. By “fear of man” I mean the desperate quest for the approval of other people. If we are going to fear God, this means that we will make decisions based on the reality of God, the commands of God, and the priorities of God.
This means that we will be incapable of living for the approval of other people. We must choose. The fear of man, therefore, is a competitor of the fear of God. In this post, I will suggest three practical ways that we can fight against the fear of man.
Soak in the Reality of God’s Judgment.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-4 Paul writes to people who are unimpressed by his physique and his speaking abilities. To them he says, “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” It is striking that Paul cares nothing about whether or not he is judged and disregarded by other human beings. This is not because he thinks that only his own judgment counts. He doesn’t say, “I don’t care what you think of me; I only have to please myself.” In fact he says that his opinion of himself doesn’t even matter. The only judgment that counts is God’s.
It may be daunting to think of God’s judgment. But also consider that, for believers, God’s judgment is already in. There is no condemnation for those who belong to God through Christ. Because of this, believers can freely disregard the condemnation of others. God has received us! The more we soak in the reality of God’s judgment, the more we will be able to throw off the fear of man. We should revel in God’s judgment. We should celebrate it. We should read about it, pray about it, and thank God for it. God has judged us righteous in Christ, and we are now free to live for him and not for the approval of others.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario.
When we crave the approval of others, it is often because we fear what will happen if they disapprove of us. Jesus invites us to imagine the worst-case scenario of this happening and then to realize that we can survive it. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The worst thing that someone could do to us is to kill us. Jesus says that this should not phase us.
In essence he says, “You can survive being killed.” After all, we all die, and God’s judgment is all that matters in the end. Don’t live in fear of those who can only kill you. Fear the one who has the final say over your eternal destiny.
Often we are afraid of people who pose no real physical danger. What do we fear? We fear that they will mock us. We fear that they will destroy our reputation. We fear that they will stop being our friends. Maybe we fear that they will fire us. Jesus invites us to imagine a world in which these things happen. When we do this, it breaks the power that these people have over us. When we realize that they have limited power, we are freed up to fear God alone.
Pray for Those You Fear.
In John 5:44 Jesus says, “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” He is saying that we cannot seek the glory of God if we are obsessed with the approval of men. We must stop fearing people!
But if we no longer seek the approval of others, will this make us cruel and selfish and conceited? Not at all. Jesus was free from the need to get approval from others, and he was the most loving and selfless man who ever lived. This is because we cannot truly love and serve people if we need their approval. If we want to be free from needing the approval of others, I suggest that we pray for them. When we pray for others, it is an opportunity for us to remember that they too have needs. It breaks the illusion that they are all-powerful. It also is a selfless act that doesn’t bring any immediate benefit to us. Pray for those you fear, and you will find God setting your heart free from the need for their approval.