The school bully runs the halls like a cruel dictator. His followers trail behind him, assisting him with the day's intimidation tactics. Nerds and other students considered low on the school's social hierarchy cower behind their lockers. They avoid eye contact as the bully and his henchman seek to control and claim power for themselves.
Meanwhile, in the outside courtyard, it is lunchtime for some of the grades. Parker meanders away from his table of friends and is lured toward the cool kids. He meets them in the staff parking lot, a restricted area for students. They laugh, joke, and gossip. Parker stands in their circle, awkwardly chuckling with them. The cool kids pull out flasks, stolen from their parents' stash, and drink the alcohol inside. They offer some to Parker, and he, afraid of their rejection, does the same.
Then, in the field across from the parking lot, a track-and-field athlete is working on her speed. She has skipped lunch to practice. A top performer every year, Jade does not want to lose her spot, so she is working endlessly to remain the best. There are new team members this year, and she feels threatened. Though she is fatigued, Jade pushes through. She has an anxious drive to succeed–at all costs.
Each of the characters in the description above exhibit a heart issue that the Bible calls "fear of man." Fear of man is defined as holding others' opinions about you as supreme. Fear of man is expressed in timidity and shyness as well as control and competitiveness. Whether one is the oppressor or victim, both act in ways to hide their faults and to appear more than what they are to another. Fear of man can be easily evident in a school setting. I remember being too self-consciousness to raise my hand in class, wondering what classmates thought of me when I sat by myself at lunch, and working for perfection to avoid disappointing my teachers. But, despite no longer being in school, my fear of man issue still lingers in my heart. Whether at work or at home, I find myself avoiding people to dodge conflict, questioning if I am measuring up to people's expectations of me, and quieting my ideas to prevent rejection. A key issue the Bible exposes, fear of man can express itself in any relationship. Fortunately, Scripture also provides insight on how to overcome. Proverbs 29:25 states, "The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected" (CSB). The only way to overcome fearing man is fearing God instead. When we come into knowledge of who God is, our reverence for Him calms our uneasy desire to boast ourselves before people. Others' opinion will not govern us as we hold to the love and lordship of God.
Trusting in God's Love
Fear of man leads to working for another's approval. In this way, our actions or surface appearances are tied to our identity. We pursue this approval with restlessness and anxiety, hoping that people will love us how our hearts long to be loved. But our desires are never satisfied. After we earn their affection, people may enjoy us for a time, but disillusionment and disappointment will follow. No matter what impressive merits we achieve or how attractive we appear, we are still fallible and imperfect. Fear of man brings insecurity, but the love of God gives us rest. Through Jesus Christ, God has shown His love for the lowly. God knows we are weak–morally incapable of earning His favor. He has seen and grieved the downcast and dreadful state sin has brought upon us. So, God does not make us put on pretenses as one does in fearing man. Instead, He calls us to cling to His love.
As seen when He died on the cross, Jesus loved us despite our imperfections and moral failures. Through His death, Jesus defeated the power of sin and reconciled us to God the Father. When we trust in the saving work of Jesus, we are clothed in His perfection. God looks on us with delight, not because of our beauty and righteousness but through the beauty and righteousness of His perfect Son. No longer based in pleasing man, our identities become adopted children of the King of Kings who rest in His embrace. In His satisfying love, we can face rejection from others, knowing God's love is superior and unbreakable (Romans 8:38-39).
Submitting to Christ's Lordship
Fear of man causes us to place ourselves or others above the lordship of Christ. In the former, pride is the sin, as we attempt to control how we are perceived. We do not want to be embarrassed or looked down upon, so we assert dominance and claim our own lordship. For instance, gossiping is a result of this type of fear of man. Gossiping brings another down in order to boast self by contrast. On the other hand, in the fear of man type that elevates others, idolatry is the sin. The disciple, Peter, encountered this fear when confronted by people who recognized him as one of Jesus' followers. Allowing their thoughts to govern him, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Therefore, he put them above the lordship of Jesus.
In both types, fearing man leads us away from God. Hebrews 13:6 states, "Therefore, we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" The author of Hebrews recognizes that not only is God our refuge but man withers away like grass (Isaiah 51:12). We must flee the pull toward pride or idolatry and draw near to God when we fear man. When people make us insecure, we can set appropriate boundaries for ourselves and others to maintain humility and right worship. Christ is Lord above all. Tie your heart to Jesus, and let Him be your guide.