I have recently been looking at what it means to fear the Lord. In Proverbs I counted 19 times that the term “fear of the LORD” is used, one time Proverbs says “have no fear” and one time it refers to the “fear of man.” Since the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and understanding, I thought it would be a wise thing to look into for further study. There is a lot to get into with the fear of the LORD, but right now I am going to focus on one small aspect of fear that actually impacts a large portion of our everyday life.
Sometimes the Bible displays examples of what not to do so we can understand what to do. The one aspect of fear I want to put the spotlight on is the fear of man. Only once in Proverbs does the specific term “fear of man” come up. Proverbs 29:25 “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” Proverbs uses a poetic way of writing to display its wisdom. In the first section of the sentence it talks about the fear of man, then after the comma it shows what would be the complete opposite of the fear of man. Fearing man is in opposition to trusting God. The term “snare” is actually the word môqêsh which means a noose for catching animals, or a hook for the nose. The word “safe” is actually the word śâgab which means to be inaccessibly high, or in an inaccessibly position. Also, it means to be exalted of God. I find it interesting how a noose or a hook in the nose could be used to pull an animal (or a human for that matter) in any direction the captor pleases. The captor is in complete control of the one snared, and the one snared is held to the mercy of his captor. In contrast, trusting the Lord can put us into such a safe place that it is inaccessible to those who want to do harm to us, like the devil. Those who put their trust in the Lord are people who fear God rather than fearing men, and they are put into a protected place by God. Proverbs 14:26 “He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”
But I want to get back to what fearing man looks like because I know this is something I battle with daily. We find a good example of what the fear of man looks like in John 12:42-43 which says, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”
Wow, many people believed but would not confess their belief because of fear. What was it they feared? They were afraid the Pharisees would kick them out of the synagogue, which would mean they would have no place to go and worship God. They had made an idol out of mans approval and held the praise of man above the praise of God. Is this a problem? Yes it is, God is the Creator, and man is the Created. Holding praise from Created man above the praise of Creator God is making an idol out of something that has been Created rather than worshiping the Creator God.
Not only that, if they had been kicked out of the synagogue they would have lost their reputation among the people of the town. This is shown in the last statement of the verse that says, “…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” Getting kicked out of the synagogue was a big deal. They would have been rejected and treated poorly. It is interesting that we tend to see the praise of man more than the praise of God. Why? Well, praise from man is a more tangibly experienced thing that we can hear and feel. We can hear the clapping of hands, the words of approval, and feel a pat on the back. Praise from man means that we are lifted up among our peers, and we become someone subjected to the worship of man. We also start to worship ourselves and we make ourselves out to be an idol, and put ourselves on a pedestal above God. But what does the praise and glory from God look like? It looks like Christ. As believers Christ is our glory, he is the one we praise. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” The contrast of these two different praises is quite startling. In order to get the praise of man, we lift ourselves up in pride and are worshiped for something we did or accomplished. But when someone comes to Christ, they must acknowledge that they are sinful and in need of help. Receiving the glory of Christ requires humility rather than pride because we are accepting what Christ did for us and giving him praise for his work rather than being praised for our own work.
Jesus states in John 5:44 “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” Jesus makes an excellent point, as always. If we accept the praise of a sinful man, we are worshiping both the acceptance of man and worshiping ourselves. When we fear man rather than fearing God we are inclined to self worship rather than the worship of Creator God because we are more concerned about what people think of us than what God thinks of us. When we worship something other than Creator God we are caught in the sin of idolatry and have cast our eyes off of God and onto something that has been created.
The fear of man is in direct opposition to the fear of the Lord. The fear of man is steeped in self worship, idolatry, and pride. Now I have to start asking myself some really tough questions. How do I fear man more than fearing my Lord? Do I fear the rejection of a friend? Being rejected by a man is nothing compared to being rejected by God. Do I fear being made fun of or persecuted? We are called to be like Christ who was persecuted, beaten, and nailed to the cross. Christ was then lifted to the right hand of the Father and glorified. I must overcome my pride and overcome my sense of reputation in order to better serve my Lord.
Paul writes in Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Paul is not concerned about what people think of him. He is living with an audience of one, that one is God. As soon as we start living to please men, we are serving men rather than God, and we are no longer a servant of Christ. Our time on earth is short and unique. This is the only time we will be surrounded by people who do not know Christ. The rest of eternity we will be with fellow believers and with God. Let us use our time wisely and serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So who is it that we fear? Do we fear man or God?