Every Thursday we’ll post something to do with relational or emotional concerns. Hope it helps.
The Scare Snare
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe. - Proverbs 29:25
“Wimp” is a hateful word, one of the worst you can hurl at a man. It’s an accusation of weakness and cowardliness combined, associated not only with low testosterone, but lowness of character as well. Nobody admires a wimp.
But nobody’s immune from fear, either, because there’s lots to fear, and no guarantees that our worst fears won’t be realized. Whatever we value – life, family, comfort, income, reputation – we also tend to fear losing. (Truthfully, I didn’t know what fear was until I had kids, and then the million and one What-If’s kicked in) So while complete fearlessness may not be a realistic goal, “fear not” is a phrase directed at believers at least 62 times in scripture. Clearly, then, fear isn’t meant to play a dominant role in our lives, as Paul plainly said: “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (II Timothy 1:7) Contrast this with Christ’s specific command to fear God (Matthew 10:28) and the Proverb that extols fear of the Lord as “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7) and we get a clearer picture. There are things to properly fear – God Himself, primarily – and things not to fear, such as lack of provision (Matthew 6:26) or death itself (Psalm 23:4). And one of those boogie-men we’re not to give place to is also, to my thinking, one of the commonest: The fear of man.
That’s not to say people are inherently scary, but their disapproval, hatred, or behavior can be frightening stuff. We’re relational, after all, created that way and wanting to be approved of, valued, loved. People have a God-given capacity to bestow or withhold those things from us, and that’s where the Scare Snare comes in. I like getting along, being agreed with and respected, all of which leaves me feeling great. No crime there, unless and until my love for those warm fuzzies overrides my willingness to make tough choices that may not enhance my popularity. True, I can’t realistically be indifferent to what people think of me, but if I let their opinion dictate my actions and life, then I’m operating with a crippling case of the fear of man.
(Full disclosure: Before posting this I took a few minutes to remember the times I’ve given more weight to the approval of others than to my own conscience and insight, knowing what I believed I should do but taking another direction because I dreaded letting someone down, or risking their rage. It wasn’t pleasant. So I’m ashamed of myself as I write this, but appreciative of how easy this trap is to fall into.)
To truly love people without dancing for them, so to speak, is no small challenge. On the one hand, greatness in the Kingdom requires serving all (Mark 10:44); Paul referred to himself as willingly becoming a universal servant (I Corinthians 9:19); and love is, according to Jesus, largely determined by its sacrificial element. (John 15:13) Yet Jesus was also at times brutally independent, using the worst of language when even a close friend disapproved of His direction (Matthew 16:23), and ole’ Servant-of-all-Paul asked, rhetorically and wisely, “Do I now seek to please men?” (Galatians 1:10), stating plainly that if he did, he shouldn’t be a servant of Christ.
Loving people, then, doesn’t necessarily mean giving them what they want, agreeing with their positions, or saying what they’d like to hear. When cooperation doesn’t violate conscience, great. So much the better. But when faithfulness to God’s expressed will and/or our own conscience means rocking the boat, then God forbid we confuse our priorities. The desire for man’s approval and affection is normal; the fear of man, expressed in unwillingness to risk his disapproval even when conscience demands it, is a debilitating snare, exacting way too high a price.
God grant us the wisdom today to know when and where lines need to be drawn, and the courage to draw them, fearing Him first, and craving His approval the most.