I sat on the couch chewing my fingernails. What if I said something wrong? What if they think I meant something else by what I said? I fidgeted with my phone as minutes ticked by and sweat broke out on my forehead. Should I message them and try to “fix” what I said? But how do I even fix it if I’m not sure what I did wrong? I opened my messaging app, wrote a long message, reread it several times, backspaced it all, and left the messaging app in one sitting.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found themselves in this situation before, though it may look different for you. Maybe you drove home from a meeting rehearsing the conversation and all you wished you had said (or didn’t say). Or you had coffee with a friend and might have said something stupid—so you spent the rest of your day fretting about it. Or you brought up a touchy subject at the supper table with friends last night and now you wish you could rewind and keep your mouth closed.
Perhaps you don’t have this issue because you don’t dare to speak in these situations. You never deal with awkward topics or have those difficult conversations because you are too filled with fear.
These are prime examples of fear of man.
Where does this vicious beast come from? How do we find freedom from its anxiety?
The Root of Fear of Man
Why do you fear people? Why do social settings make you nervous? You want people to like you. We are afraid of people because they will decide to either like us or dislike us. For that reason, we toil to make sure they are given a good impression.
That’s the trunk of the tree—but what’s the root below that? Pride.
Fear of man puts up a nice appearance; we say kind things, we work hard to help others, and we always say yes. But these acts of kindness do not come from a loving heart—rather, a self-serving attitude. I will treat them well so they will like me.
There’s a second problem with this kind of thinking: We care more about our reputation than we do about God’s. As we strive to attain a good standing before people, we neglect to bring glory to God. Our fear of man can lead to actions that disobey God because we are more willing to obey people than God.
Fear of man puts up a great presentation, but underneath it’s tattered and stained with sin.
Learning to Love and Fear God More
The solution to fear of man is to love and fear God more.
If we love God more than we love ourselves, our focus will change from gaining others’ approval to pointing them back to Christ.
If we love God more than our own reputation, we will obey him even when it costs us our relationships.
If we love God more than making people like us, we will serve them from a genuine heart that seeks to glorify him.
In order to heighten our love for God, we need to know him better. As we grow in our knowledge of his character, we will also grow in our love for him.
Resting in God’s Love
Fear of man comes from a desire to be loved by others. We want our friends to spend more time with us, people to speak kindly about us, and our family to adore us.
Fueled by this motive to find complete love from people will only lead to disappointment. Maybe they will love you well for a time, but eventually they will fail you, or you will fail them. Pursuing perfect love from others is a hopeless and endless task.
Only God loves perfectly and eternally. That’s why we people-pleasers need to rest in God’s love. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7 ESV).
God demonstrated this love at the cross: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9 ESV).
We were wretched sinners who hated God and rebelled against him. We may think we wouldn’t have taken part in his crucifixion—that we would have seen it’s injustice. Instead, we would have stood alongside the scoffers. Before we were saved, we were enemies with God; we loved sin and deserved his full wrath.
Rather than allowing us to receive our punishment, God sent Christ to bear our condemnation on the cross. He then rose on the third day from the dead and promised to return to take his followers home to eternal life.
God opens the eyes of sinners such as us to see this act of grace and mercy, to see our blackened hearts of sin, and trust in Christ for salvation. We are given the promise to be taken home to eternal life and have the presence of Christ living inside of us through the Holy Spirit.
Friend, dwell on this love. Remember this great act of love and mercy shown to you when you believed in Christ. When you know this kind of love, no other love can compare.
When we grow to love God more and understand his love better, he takes our fear away and realigns it. In those anxious moments turn to God, remind your heart of his character, and remember his love for you. Allow these truths from Scripture to change your heart to fear man less and fear God more.