Have you ever been afraid of someone’s perception or opinion of you? I have. Fear is a very powerful emotion. To tell others about Jesus and to spread the gospel in our culture, we must be free from fear. The fear of man or, more precisely, the fear of what other men or women might think about us, is a crippling force indeed. I once heard a preacher say, “If you really knew how little people actually think about you, you wouldn’t worry so much about what they think about you.” The truth of that statement can bruise our ego just a little bit. Nonetheless, the fear of man is one weapon that the enemy has successfully used to silence many Christian voices from speaking out in public.
Let’s face it. We want to be liked by our friends and peers. We want to be invited to the right parties, and rub shoulders with the right people. Virtually everyone grows up craving recognition, popularity and respect. Our reputation is something that we cherish and want to preserve at all costs. There is nothing wrong with wanting others to think well of you. After all, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1 NIV).
The writer of Proverbs uses a very vivid illustration to define the fear of man. The word says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25). The word snare is very interesting here in this verse, because when we speak of a snare, we usually think of a small trap with some bait laid in it to attract and capture an unsuspecting animal.
With the fear of man comes tremendous social pressure to conform to the opinions and expectations of others. We must be willing to lose and forsake anything and everything that contradicts God’s will and purpose for our lives. Surrendering to God means surrendering our desire to be accepted and to pick up our cross, every day (Matt 16:24).
People can easily find themselves in the mainstream of society, unknowingly influenced to conform to the forces of the culture around them. Being swept along by “the course of this world” It is not until someone fully realizes the dangerous consequences of giving into this social pressure that they begin to grasp the urgency to cast off the fear of man.
Six Symptoms of the Fear of Man
1. Fear of Public Speaking.
By definition, glossophobia is an abnormal fear or dread of speaking in public. This is one of the main fears that people have. Studies have revealed that most people report their fear of public speaking ahead of their fear of snakes, heights or even of death. The thought of putting yourself on the line before others can be paralyzing and even crippling. We care about how other people rate us because we are profoundly social beings.
Why all this anxiety about public speaking? It might be because we are intuitively attuned to the fact that there is a lot at stake when we step out and put ourselves, our appearance and our thoughts on public display. We are afraid that our performance could affect our reputation, social status and future happiness. Our perceived self-image and public standing is of paramount importance because it relates directly to our sense of security.
2. A Tendency to Avoid Confrontation.
To have healthy relationships it may be necessary to confront someone about an issue that needs to be addressed in their life. This could be with a spouse or family member, or with a co-worker or friend. Confrontation is one of the most difficult things we need to do. Many people avoid confrontation for fear that their relationship will be damaged. Others avoid confrontation out of the fear that they will be rejected by the other person.
Rather than confront the person directly, those who are battling the fear of man will often vent their frustrations by telling a third party about their relational “problems” (usually a perceived hurt or offense) and further complicate the issue.
When people have hurt us, or when the people closest to us require our input to change and achieve their goals, we must not be afraid to lovingly address them with the issue, even if what we are saying things that can be taken in a negative way. The fear of man combined with the desire for self-preservation creates a force that urges us to run from confrontation, avoiding the maturation process, resulting in weak, unfruitful lives.
3. The Inability to Take an Unpopular Stand.
Another reason people tend to avoid sharing their faith is because they do not want people to reject or dislike them. Very few people find pleasure in being labeled as an outsider or criticized by the majority for being “different.” This inability to take an unpopular stand is known as the fear of being rejected, and it can be a powerful deterrent for speaking the truth.
When it comes to fears, the fear of rejection and the fear of man are a bit like Siamese twins. They are phobias that deify public opinion. Jesus’ disciples understood that sharing their faith was not an option. These are the words that Jesus had to say about this to His first followers:
Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15: 20-21).
4. Telling Others, What You Think They Want to Hear.
People like this become man-pleasers, trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of them. Conforming your life to meet other people’s expectations can be exhausting and simply impossible. People who suffer from being men-pleasers have chosen to deny their own voice just to get approval or promotion. They can become codependent personalities, often attracted to more dominant personalities, who will gladly speak for them, thereby rescuing them from the natural maturation process. We do not want to fall into the trap of serving our own personal interests by being a man-pleaser that bows to the consensus.
5. A Peace-at-All-Costs Philosophy.
There is a deep psychological need in every person to have a sense of security and peace. For example, I know that I sleep better at night when my doors are locked securely. Over the years I have had many security alarms installed to protect my possessions, not to mention the money I have spent on insurance plans. Somehow, as human beings, we think doing these things will keep us safe and free from the storms of life, but true security comes from a life of faith and obedience to the Lord. True peace will never be achieved by passively adapting to the world’s system. God has not called us to compromise our Christian values just to quiet the accusations of the opposition. I might step on a few toes, here, but could passivity just be a ruse for laziness?
People who struggle with the fear of man are also very often indecisive. As James, the head of the church in Jerusalem wrote.
“For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8).
Double-minded people are afraid of what others will say or think about them if they make the wrong decision. This literally means that they are of two minds: one voice being that of doubt and fear, the other voice of truth and reason. Being double-minded is not only crippling, but it is also mentally tormenting. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down” (Proverbs 12:25).
The Solution: The Fear of the Lord
The Fear of the Lord is the most powerful force for a person’s life. Walking in a healthy, reverential fear of the Lord will keeps one’s steps in line with the will of God and away from the suffocating fear of man.
The book of Proverbs, one of the greatest collections of wisdom literature of all time, records: “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27).
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).
“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).