Have you ever been in a social situation, and even had a good time, but then hours later started to obsess about what you had said, and what people would think of you for what you had said? It didn’t seem all that important at the time, but those few words became colossal giants of stupidity in your mind after the fact. Perhaps you frequently find yourself feeling ashamed, and beat up on yourself long after conversations are over with.
Or, you worry constantly that people will misconstrue something that you did or said, and that they will be critical of you in speaking to other people. In fact, you are sure they will say something unkind about you to others. Maybe you don’t speak much in gatherings, not because you have nothing to say, but because you would rather not give anybody something to take hold of and use against you. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt,” right? Or, if you want to get really spiritual, you justify yourself with Proverbs 17:27, 28 – “He who has knowledge spares his words … he who shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
It is the fear of man, and it is crippling. It takes many forms, and has many complicated twistings and turnings to it, but if we are feeling insecure about how other people view us, or if our focus has gotten off of Jesus and onto other people, the fear of man is the culprit behind it all.
I had to deal with the fear of man in my own life recently. I did not initially recognize what it was. I thought I was having problems with people being critical of me (and some were), and I thought people were attempting to intimidate me (and some were), but what I did not realize, until the Lord began to speak to me about it, was that the problems I was encountering were only symptoms of the deeper problem – the fear of man in me.
This is what the Bible says about the fear of man and how we are to respond to it:
Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.
Psalm 56:11 – In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid of what man can do unto me.
Hebrews 13:6 – So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
Most of the time, when we fear that others are thinking or speaking negatively of us, they are not. It is all in our own imaginations. Think about it – do you spend all that much time obsessing over what other people say or do? Most of us don’t ponder the actions and words of those we come in contact with, to any great degree.
There are times, however, when even good Christian people do criticize or try to intimidate us. What then? We do not have to submit to what they say or do. They are often unwitting agents in the devil’s plot to hinder our ability to move forward in what God has for us. We must firmly resist the temptation to be intimidated by the tactics of others who are not behaving rightly. They are responsible for their actions, and we are equally responsible for our response to them.
The fear of man often begins very subtly as negative imaginations centered around how we think others perceive us. As we indulge such imaginations, the evil one begins to get a foothold in our thinking, and pretty soon we find ourselves developing a pattern of worry over how others view us that is difficult to break. The imaginations come around more and more often. We start to focus on the body language and voice inflections of the person(s) we are afraid of, and begin to read things into them that may not even be there. We eventually respond outwardly in a negative fashion toward those we fear, whether it is open hostility or simple avoidance of them. As the fear of man progresses, it tends to affect all our relationships. We expect to be rejected by others, and begin to exhibit that fear of rejection to a widening circle of our acquaintance. It hinders us from living the emotionally healthy lifestyle that is our inheritance as children of God. It becomes a stumbling block to us being effective and productive in God’s kingdom.
Next time we will talk about how to overcome the fear of man.