From the Pastors' Desks

"I Fear People"

Thirty-five years ago, I was sitting on the steps of my college fraternity house and reading these words written by the apostle Paul: “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). It was a well-timed word that cut like a knife; I had just become a Christian, and the Holy Spirit was wasting no time in confronting my idol of choice. My ongoing fight against “people-pleasing” remains ferocious, but one biblically wise, Christ-centered book has proved especially helpful to me: When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch, a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

In what follows, I’ve tried to summarize what Welch says in 225 pages. If you find yourself living for the approval of people, or if you know someone who does, let me encourage you to read the book and put it to work in your life and ministry. And if you’d like to sit down and talk things through with a fellow people-pleaser in need of Christ’s mercies, I’d welcome the conversation!

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To one degree or another, all of us experience the snare of what the Bible calls the “fear of man” (Proverbs 29:25); that is, we hold other people in awe in place of God, so much so that our lives are controlled by other people instead of God. To move beyond the prevalent but mistaken explanations of causes and cures set forth in our day, we must reexamine this problem in the light of Scripture (Chapter 1).

Biblically speaking, how and why we fear others is answered from two directions: On the one hand, the fear of man is rooted in the heart of man; ever since humanity’s fall into sin, our hearts exalt people as if they had god-like powers to bless and to curse; as a result, we fear not only exposure before their eyes (shame-fear), but also vulnerability in the wake of their disapproval (rejection-fear) (Chapters 2-3). On the other hand, the fear of man is provoked, intensified, and encouraged by influences from the outside world; while some of us may have suffered at the hands of the verbally abusive or the physically violent (threat-fear), all of us generally and the psychologies specifically imbibe and nurture worldly assumptions that enthrone the self in place of the true and living God. But the prevailing therapeutic movement is increasingly called into question, meaning the door is opening for the church to set forth the better cure for this fear that ails us (Chapters 4-5).

To overcome the fear of man requires that we look at life through the lens of Scripture; as we do, we increasingly gain an accurate, Holy Spiritualized knowledge of God, of ourselves, and of people around us. First, the Spirit opens the eyes of the heart to see God as the Creator-Redeemer that he truly is; and as he does, behold, a fire is kindled, a new affection is born: the fear of man gives way to the fear of the Lord, the worship-fear of the Holy One who reigns! To be sure, the world, the flesh, and the devil will do everything within their powers to shut the eyes and douse the flame. But as evidenced throughout Scripture, the Lord is pleased to reveal his supremacy; as we make diligent use of Word and prayer, his Spirit will grow us up to fear no one else but him (Chapters 6-7).

Secondly, the Spirit opens our eyes to see ourselves as we truly are—not as an “empty cup” made to be filled with love from people, but as the “image of God” designed to glorify God as servants who overflow in love to people. Consistent with this God-given identity, the Spirit cuts in order to heal: On the one hand, his Word pierces as deep as the intentions of our hearts, helping us see that our so-called “needs” for people are, in truth, “lusts” for things we hope to obtain from people in order to feel good about ourselves; of this God calls us to repent, acknowledging our spiritual (not psychological) poverty. On the other hand, his Word brings comfort as far deep as the curse is found, showing us the wonders of God’s love—holy love that gives nothing less than God himself; in this God calls us to rejoice, for in this fullness we find true cover, acceptance, and protection (Chapters 8-10). 

Thirdly, the Spirit opens our eyes to see people around us as they truly are: As enemies, whom we are to love nonetheless, since, while we were once enemies, God loved us; as neighbors outside the visible church, whom we are to love, since we too were once aliens and strangers to the covenants of promise; and as brothers and sisters, whom we are to love with special fervency since they are our Father’s beloved in Christ. Of these relationships, our community in Christ is of utmost importance; as each member pursues the other in love, we not only (corporately) image the Triune God, but also (corporately) expel the fear of man (Chapters 11-12).

Finally, as important as it is to have our knowledge shaped by Scripture, we come short of our duty unless we put our knowledge to good use, for God expects the fear of the Lord “worked in” to be “worked out” in our specific life-situations. This is no pie-in-the-sky-way-of-life to which man-fearers are called; rather, it was and is a reality for ordinary men and women who come to live under the transforming gaze of the Holy One who reigns (Chapter 13).


In His Service,

Pastor Greg

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