“Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” – Jn. 12:42-43.
Have you ever found yourself nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, uh huh” to someone talking to you when you had no idea what they were really saying? Do you sometimes appear like everything’s going “fine,” when inside you feel like you’re dying? Have you ever sat on a bus and felt a gentle nudge from the Lord urging you to talk to the person next to you about Him, but you couldn’t even look them in the eye? Don’t feel alone. I’ve found myself many times in that place, until the Lord began to show me what was really happening.
The rulers mentioned in the above Scripture from John also had a tremendous fear of man, so much that they even went against what they believed in order to remain in favor with the men around them. We would be wise to learn from their ungodly example.
Part 1 – What is the Fear of Man
The Scriptures say, “The fear of man brings a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), and it really does! The fear of man is caring so much about what others may think, say, or do, that it keeps you from living up to your true convictions. It’s wanting others to think better of you than you really are.
In the cartoons whenever you see a bull, he always has a big ring in his nose, and for a long time I didn’t really know why. But bulls are so wild, even in captivity, that you have to do that in order to keep them under control. It’s so painful when someone pulls on the ring that they can lead the bull wherever they want, and he won’t put up a fight. Being afraid of what people think is just like having a ring going right through your nose. As soon as anyone reaches up and yanks on it, they can lead you any way they want you to go.
Concerned About How You Look
The outward appearance is one of the most important things to someone who fears the opinions of others. Your car, your clothes, your house, your hair, your make-up, your music – everything has got to be “in.” I mean, you wouldn’t want to be seen in some off-brand jeans, would you?
We always think of junior high kids as being in this rut, but “mature” businessmen do the same thing. When was the last time you saw a lawyer in a three-piece suit wearing sneakers? Sneakers are much more comfortable than a lot of those black dress shoes – but what would everyone think? See what I mean? It’s really a kind of “social Olympics,” only this race is never over and there are no winners.
A person who’s afraid of what others think is almost always pleasant to be around – they’re everyone’s friend. They’re full of compliments, too… because they know how much everyone likes compliments. But if they see a friend becoming hard in their heart and walking into darkness, the “man-pleaser” won’t utter a word of warning, for fear that he himself might be rejected. He never corrects or rebukes – that is, unless others would really approve of it.
Afraid Of What Others Think
A man-pleaser is easily embarrassed, too. Let’s say you pull up to a gas station in the middle of some city for directions. The attendant says, “Go up two blocks, turn left at the second light across from the T.V. store, go right on Eujenski Avenue, take the right fork a ways up past Kelly’s, hang a left on Doolsbury Street, and you’re there. You can’t miss it!” You smile and say, “Thanks,” and drive off. After all, you wouldn’t want the gas station guy to think you were some kind of idiot who couldn’t understand directions – even though you didn’t – and so you fake it. The fact of the matter is that you’re just as lost as you were before, only you’re not going to let him or your passengers know it. That’s the fear of man.
Man-pleasers are embarrassed if they stutter, if they strike out at bat, if they slip on a stair, if they burn the waffles, if they do anything that others might not like. They’re even embarrassed when they don’t make a mistake, because someone might think they did. If they say, “Hey, there’s an eclipse tomorrow at noon!” and someone raises an eyebrow and says cynically, “Are you sure?” …they feel embarrassed even though they’re telling the truth.
Worried About Your Image
Along the same lines they’re very defensive (of themselves, that is). They’re quick to speak and slow to listen because it’s important for them to look good to others. Even when they know they’re guilty they defend themselves as if they were innocent. “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15).
Those who fear men must lie all the time to keep up their image. They are constant liars, although they might not call it “lying” – just “bending the truth a little.” Does this sound familiar? You do something wrong at work and the supervisor walks across the room – he’s coming toward your desk – he’s clearing his throat!! You’ve already got a great excuse on the tip of your tongue that’s sure to get you off the hook, but not off God’s hook, though. So you lie to protect your position, your image, your standing, your job, YOU! Meanwhile, the Lord’s heart sinks and He is shamed because you call yourself a Christian. We exaggerate our abilities, our accomplishments, our values of righteousness and holiness (“I’d never do that!”), and minimize our sins, our failures – all for the sake of our image. Why lie? Because for the moment (and I can’t emphasize that enough) it makes us look good in the eyes of others.
Easily Influenced By Others
A person like this is absolutely faithless and untrustworthy because they are so easily manipulated. “Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him” (Mark 6:20). However, Herod’s wife wasn’t too excited about this prophet, as he had a habit of letting the whole city know about her adulterous marriage to Herod. Her moment came when Herod made a foolish vow to his stepdaughter to give her anything she wanted. Well, (at her mother’s bidding) she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Because Herod was right in front of his distinguished birthday party guests, he gave orders to lop off John’s head – even though he really didn’t want to! He knew it was wrong, but for him it was worse to be seen by others as a man who didn’t keep his word – than to be true to his convictions.
Herod’s wife knew about that ring in his nose (remember the bull?), and yanked on it to get what she wanted … she got it too.
Doing The Right Things For The Wrong Reasons
Now don’t start patting yourself on the back if you think you don’t fall into the above categories. Those who are concerned with how others view them can also do many “Christ-like” things – but all for the wrong reasons. Would you go to a prayer meeting if no one knew you went? Do you get more joy out of another Christian “discovering” you reading your Bible than actually reading the Bible itself? At church these people seem to know just the right Scripture at just the right time, and have that “firm” Christian handshake. But when they’re away from the Christian atmosphere, away from people who know who they are, then what are they like? What are you like? Man-pleasers will find themselves slipping into sin quite easily when there’s no one around to see them.
Sometimes they’ll act like they don’t care what others think at all, and be the “super bold witness” – that is, when there are other Christians around to see them. You see, they’re afraid that people might think they’re afraid of what people might think. It gets kind of confusing as you can see!
Part 2 – What Is The Fear of God?
Now let’s look at the other side of this coin. Although the fear of man brings a snare, the Proverb goes on to say, “But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Prov. 29:25). Simply stated, the fear of God is caring more about what the Lord thinks than anything else, and the source of this is a true and deep love for Him. One who fears God has a sense of the overwhelming greatness of the Lord and His constant presence. They know that what God thinks has a much greater value than what anyone thinks.
The Outer Man
Those who fear God don’t have to have the latest in name-brand fashions – decent clothes at a fair price will do the job. And they don’t have to conform to the constantly changing standards of everyone’s opinion. Now, you won’t find a truly godly person who doesn’t care at all what people think, but they give appearance its proper value and go on to more important things.
These kinds of people are not always saying pleasant things, but they’re always saying right things. You see, they really love God, and you too, so they say those things that will help you (even if it’s bad news to you at the time). Because of this, they can be kind of uncomfortable to be around. When you’re going down the freeway at 70, they lean over to you and say something like, “Don’t you think you should be going 55?” They seem to really spoil all the fun! But down in your heart you know that they love you. The godly servant knows, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts (Proverbs 20:30).
Some may think that to be godly is to be hard to get along with, but that’s far from the truth. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Even when a Christian has to confront sin or rebellion face to face, he needs wisdom from God to season his words with grace. Paul, a man willing to stand up for the truth and suffer for it said, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). Without a true love for others like this, all stands for righteousness become “self-righteousness.”
The First Streaker
Instead of being embarrassed at every little thing, the godly man has his eyes on God, committed to His every command.
Take Isaiah, for example. God told him to take off all of his clothes and walk around stark naked! (Isaiah 20). The Lord doesn’t even appear to tell him why, either! Then, three years later, He tells him to prophesy against the people using his example as a witness against them. Can you believe it??? What do you think his friends must have said? “I guess he’s really lost his marbles this time! Too much religion – it must have gotten to him!” (Please – don’t get any crazy ideas about “God’s will.” This was a special word from the Lord for a specific purpose!)
Someone who fears God is quite defensive – of the Lord, that is. If God is slandered in any way, they will speak up, explaining that the Lord really is as good as the Scriptures testify. They trust the Lord to defend them, and devote themselves to speak out in His defense.
He’s very careful to speak the truth, even if it costs him something – even if it costs him his life! Micaiah was commanded to give a nice, “positive” prophesy to the king of Judah about the upcoming battle (1 Kings 22). After all, everyone else was giving the king the big “green light,” so why rock the boat? But Micaiah told the king the truth – that he was headed for disaster – because he loved God, and loved the king as well. Sure enough, the king was furious with what he said, and threw Micaiah into prison … but the king was killed that day, the battle was lost, and Micaiah had to pay a price for his honesty.
Built On The Rock
Unlike the man-pleaser, a truly godly person can’t be manipulated. Not being self-centered, the world has no lever to move him. In fact, nothing on this side of heaven motivates him at all, so it’s no use trying! What do you do with a bull without a ring in its nose?
The true God-fearer would rather suffer anything than to shame the God he loves. Even when a whole nation was forced to bow before a king’s golden statue, three men of God refused (Daniel 3). When the outraged king threatened to throw them into a flaming furnace, they confidently replied, “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Daniel 3:17-18).
These men are totally faithful, unshakable, unable to be coerced into anything. They have taken to heart the words of the Lord – “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).
As far as “spiritual” things go, they don’t act spiritual – they are spiritual. They don’t make a point of letting people know how many chapters they’ve read that day, because they don’t care if you know, God already knows. They enjoy spending time with God, speaking and listening through prayer and Bible reading. And when no one’s around to see them, they act just the same.
Those who are concerned about how they look to God don’t spend much time polishing the outside of their cup, but you’ll find the inside very clean. Since they want to please God, they have dealt with and gotten rid of the deep things of their lives that hurt Him. They’re surprisingly open about their own sins and failures. They don’t fear being judged by mere men or being seen as they really are. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31).
The Test Of Praise
What do you do when someone really compliments you for getting your life together? Do you say, “Thank you. I’ve been trying much harder lately and believe I’ve got things under control now…?” The God-fearing man trembles at the thought of stealing from God, stealing the glory that belongs to Him. “The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and a man is tested by the praise accorded him” (Prov. 27:21). How you respond to praise can show you very well where your heart is.
As a matter of fact, these people hardly notice when they’re not publicly thanked for a job well done – his praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom. 2:29).
But because of the wickedness of men’s hearts, the more closely a man follows the Lord, the worse people tend to speak of him. So if you love God, in this world, you’ll be swimming upstream.
When someone has truly given up their life, what can you take from them? This kind of totally committed person really frustrates the devil – they don’t care about their social image, they don’t care if they’re laughed at, they don’t care if you take their possessions, and they don’t care if you take their life – they only care that their Father in heaven is pleased with them!!
They see Christ as their only judge, and know that they will be held accountable to Him alone in the end. The opinions of people don’t add up to much in comparison. The disciples continued to reply to their persecutors, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge!” (Acts 4:19).
The Walking Dead
In past years there has been the development of a nuclear weapon called the neutron bomb. This weapon has advantages over others because it gives the enemy soldiers a lethal dose of radiation without destroying the buildings and military equipment. Yet there’s one major drawback. Those men who are slightly outside of the immediate area of the blast will receive enough radiation to die, but not for a few days. How would you like to fight against an army that knew for certain that they would die in the next few days???
Why, they’d come running over your lines with grenades clenched in their teeth and machine guns blazing in each hand! They would be willing to take every risk, because they’d know it would be useless to try to preserve their lives.
This kind of abandoning our own lives is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25). That’s why the disciples were able to turn their world upside down! They’d given up their lives and gone all out for the Lord! That’s what Paul meant when he said, “…the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
The Real You
What so many fail to see is that when they put up any kind of “front,” whatever it is, and others accept it, they still haven’t accepted you, because they haven’t met you. They’ve only accepted the cardboard image of what you wish you were. On the other hand, when we are accepted by the Lord, we’re free to serve Him without being torn in different directions. You see, the man-pleaser falsely sees man as his judge, but on the last day all the opinions of all the men of all time added all together will equal… nothing! It’s only what God thinks that will matter.
Ironically, those people whose ultimate goal is to please everybody in every way they can think of are, in the end, rejected by both man and God. Both Pilate and Herod bent their knees to the wishes of the people and everyone liked it – at the time. They wanted honor, but instead they became lasting examples of dishonor. Have you ever heard of a kid named “Herod” or “Pilate”?
Having A Single Standard
The Lord is looking for men and women who have set aside the cares and worries of what everybody else is thinking, and have their hearts set on serving and pleasing Him. When you give God the honor He deserves, you will find Him to be a closer and better Friend than you had ever imagined.
Decide in your heart to yield to the urgings of the Spirit of God, no matter what it may cost you, no matter who might laugh, no matter what the temporary consequences might be for you, no matter what! And the Lord will be with you and strengthen you in every righteous deed!
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the Gospel according to the power of God.” – 2 Tim. 1:7-8