“Fear of Man” has become a recent buzz phrase in Christian circles. Christian literature has been written about how some people care too much what other people think and thus put them on a pedestal. They see people as more worthy of honor than God, which is idolatry. I agree with this assessment, but I’d like to add to it.
The thing about fear of man is that everyone has it. We are designed by God, made in His image, so there’s something in every one of us that holds other humans in high esteem. We should. It keeps us from squashing each other like bugs on the sidewalk. The Bible commands: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Counting others more significant than yourself does not mean you hold them in such high regard that you are willing to sin in order to receive their approval. There’s a vast difference between honoring people and idolizing them.
I love that Paul uses the word “humility” in this verse. It brings us back to our original definition of the fear of God. When we see God rightly, we are humbled and begin to see ourselves rightly – made beautifully in His image but placed far below Him. And seeing ourselves rightly must include seeing other humans rightly as well. The playing field is level. No human is worthy of greater esteem than God. He alone deserves worship. So when Paul says we should humbly consider others more significant than ourselves, he means we must look on others in honor and choose to regard their desires above our own.
Paul gives us a case study in Philippians 2 for what this type of humbleness and honor looks like. He describes Jesus, who chose to make himself a slave in order to bring humans into God’s kingdom. He did not regard His own position (as equal to God) but took a lowly position for the benefit of others.
Let’s compare this to our fear of man. When we idolize the opinions of others, we’re not honoring them at all – we’re only honoring ourselves. We want to be held in high regard, so we seek to gain the approval of other people in order to feel better about ourselves. We may even try to control and manipulate others to get what we want from them, which is the absolute opposite of humbly honoring them.
Some believers have legitimate things to fear. In many countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith and have to be careful what they say in order to preserve their lives. In America, we have no such things to be afraid of. However, we do have layers and forms of persecution in our culture. Many of us are shunned and ridiculed because of our faith. Paul encourages us to press on and stand boldly in our faith despite persecution, because God’s reward is greater than any earthly reward we may receive (2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 16-17). When faced with temptation to cower in fear at the possibility of persecution, God calls us to look to Him and trust in His provision for us.
But let’s face it: most of the time you’re not afraid of persecution because of your faith. You’re afraid someone won’t like you. You’re afraid you might not be the smartest or funniest or most popular. So you work hard against this fear of rejection by seeking to attain the praise of man. The Holy Spirit is beckoning you in that moment, if only you will hear Him.
Stop looking at others to make you feel good about yourself. Look up and see a God who is infinitely more beautiful than you are. You actually don’t need to feel good about yourself – that’s not the answer. You need to gaze upon the Father who has adopted you. See the love in His eyes, the delight He has in you. You have value because you belong to Him, not because other people think you’re smart or pretty or accomplished. “In love he predestined us for adoption” (Ephesians 1:5).
Questions for Reflection:
- Who are the people in your life who you are tempted to idolize? What actions do you take in order to receive their approval?
- In what ways does your desire for approval hinder the fear of God in your life?
- Meditate on Philippians 2:1-11. Talk with a Christian friend about what the Lord is saying to you through the passage.