There is a healthy kind of fear that is built into our human nature that protects us from danger – fear of spiders or lions or even fear of the dark. That kind of fear makes sense to me, but Scripture speaks of another kind of fear that is destructive and debilitating – Fear of Man. Look at these Scripture passages that describe the effects of fear of man.
Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. (I Samuel 15:24)
Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him. (John 7:13)
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (John 12:42)
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. (John 19:38)
For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:12)
The fear of man causes us to change our behavior. To do things we wouldn’t normally do. It causes us to disobey God. It causes us to keep our real beliefs hidden. It causes us not to confess what is true. It causes us to act so that we will maintain our reputation or position or privilege. Fear paralyzes us and renders us ineffective. But “fear of man” can look like fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of losing reputation or credibility, fear of hurting other’s feelings, fear of speaking the truth. It is all the same thing with different names, because it comes from the same root.
How do we deal with this fear? Most people would approach this as a faith issue. We simply need more faith to overcome fear. We need to decide to do better. But this is not true. First we have to understand the root of this fear – which is selfishness, self-preservation. My comfort, my well-being, my reputation, is more important than what God wants. My needs trump God’s call.
The solution to fear of man is not faith or will power, but Love. Our love for God must be greater than the love of self. In other words, “Do I love God enough to get out of my comfort zone to do what he is calling me to?” And our love for others overcomes the love of self. Do I love that other person to speak the truth? Do I love them more than I love myself? The problem is that we simply can’t summon up that love from within ourselves. We can’t just fabricate this fear-overcoming love. But here again our Father comes to our rescue.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… We love, because He first loved us. (1John 4:18,19)
… because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
God’s is the only perfect love. And when we are confident in his love for us, when we can rest in Him, when our peace is found in his love, then fear is cast out of our life and we are free to love him in return and love others. It is because we are secure in his love that we can risk “failure”, knowing he accepts us. It is because we know we are loved unconditionally that we can risk looking foolish or being rejected by others or taking a difficult position. It is because his love has been poured into our hearts that we can risk saying difficult things to those we love. It is because he loved us first and perfectly that we can….
Overcoming fear is not a matter of mental decision or will power, overcoming fear grows out our assurance in our Father’s deep affection for us.