Fear of man and fear of God

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“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

Have you ever found yourself distracted by other people’s opinions of you, afraid of their disapproval? Recently I found myself dealing with some dealing with some anxiety over a situation and began to suspect that fear of man was the root of it. In my search to understand the topic, I learned that this fear can mean to be afraid or intimidated, but it can also mean to revere or respect. Scripture gives us some markers we can use to know whether we fear God or fear man:

Markers that indicate agreement with fear of man/lack of fearing God:

  1. Decisions motivated by the approval of people. What we fear reveals who we love and whose approval matters most to us. In an article entitled, Lay aside the fear of man|Desiring God, {9.16.16} author Jon Bloom explains it this way: “The person(s) to whom we ascribe most authority — to define who we are, what we’re worth, what we should do, and how we should do it — is the person(s) we fear the most, because it is the person(s) whose approval we want most. God designed us this way, for it reveals who and what our heart loves.” See also 1 Samuel 15:24
  2. Taking Flight when the heat is on can also indicate when fear of man is present. Examples of this would be when Elijah (normally a man of great courage) ran from Queen Jezebel (1 Ki 19:1-3) or when the Israelite army ran from Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:23-24)
  3. Passivity when doing the right thing would require action.
  4. Mistreating others, exploiting their weaknesses/handicaps (Lev. 19:14), taking advantage of others because you can, (Lev. 25:15) treating subordinates ruthlessly (Lev. 25:43) or withholding kindness from a friend in distress (Job 6:14).
  5. Tolerating unholy domination
    • Allowing others who do not have God-given authority in your life to act as if they do (posturing authority) (1 Sam. 15:24)
    • Allowing someone who does hold a legitimate position of authority in your life to over-step the realm of legitimate authority. In Esther 3:5 we see Haman attempting to exercise unholy domination over Mordecai, but Mordecai refused because he feared God rather than man.
  6. Pride (Psalm 36:1-2)
  7. Finding refuge in places other than God (Psalm 31:19-29)
  8. A pattern of foolish actions/decisions (Proverbs 9:19)
  9. Hiding (1 Samuel 10:22; 15:24-25)

Markers of agreement with the Fear of God:

  1. Decisions are motivated by approval from God rather than people. Examples would be the midwives who refused to obey the King’s command to kill the newborn Israelite babies (Exodus 1:17-21)and Queen Esther going before the King in order to save her people at the risk of her own life. (Esther 4:15-16)
  2. Finding refuge in God (Psalm 31:19-20; 55:19;61:5) The reality that everyone needs refuge at times seems to be assumed in scripture. Not only do these individuals recognize their need for a refuge, but they tended to verbally express their need to God.
  3. Obeying God’s commands, even in the face of danger. (Eccl. 12:13-14, Job 1:9)
  4. Hating evil (Job 1:9)
  5. Idols in your life have been cast down (2 Kings 17:33-37)
  6. Treating others with justice and honor (Lev. 25:17; 19:14;25:35)
  7. Your life demonstrates wisdom, understanding, knowledge (Proverbs 9:19,Micah 6:9, Psalm 111:10)
  8. Remember the mighty acts of God (Deut. 7:18)

How to come out of agreement with Fear of man:

  1. Repentance
  2. Forgive those who have intimidated, threatened or harmed you
  3. Lean and obey God’s commands
  4. When you need refuge, go to God
  5. When obeying God involves risk, be willing to take a leap of faith
  6. Use your sword (the word of God) when intimidated
  7. Topple any idols in your life.
  8. Remember the mighty acts of the LORD

There are many benefits and promises for those who choose to fear the Lord rather than man, including:

  • The Lord will confide in you (Psalm 25:14)
  • You will rest satisfied (Proverbs 19:23)
  • You will be hidden from the conspiracies of man, sheltered from the sharp tongues of others (Psalm 31:19-20)
  • You will lack nothing (Psalm 34:7-9)
  • God will fulfill your desire (Psalm 145:18-19)
  • And many more!