A Pandemic of Fear.
Updated: Jan 12
What could you accomplish if you weren't afraid of what other people thought about you? Think about it for a moment.
We fear people. Fear of other humans is addictive. And it can be paralyzing. Consider the ways. Our diets, while avowed under the category of "health"are often dedicated to impress others. We are jealous of others because we fear them. We lie, 'digitally-enhance' our stories, and practice other forms of living in the shadows so that we look better in front of others. We bury natural talents and spiritual gifts because we fear other people's critique. We signal our exemplary love for our neighbors by trumpeting our acts of benevolence and charity in order to impress persons. We don't speak the truth to a friend because we fear losing that friendship. We want our children to be trophies of our good parenting more than patiently (and often publicly) working in the mess to see Christ formed in them. I refuse to confess my pride, rash and foolish choices and sin struggles to others in order to save face. We fear people. And the person I most want to please, controls me.
The person I most want to please, controls me.
Fear has been in our hearts since the juice of that forbidden fruit began dribbling down the cheek of our father Adam. He immediately "hid" from God in fear and shame. For us, living east of Eden, feeling fearful in a fallen world is not always bad. For instance, fear protects us from physical and spiritual harm. However, there is a fear that draws us into danger and enslavement-the fear of other humans. (anthropophobia) This fear of people is often called "peer pressure" among teenagers. It is called "co-dependency" or Dependent Personality Disorder for adults. The Bible calls it, "the fear of man." The familiar, key text in the Old Testament that warns us about the pitfall of fearing people is Proverbs 29:25. "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord is safe."
"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord is safe." Proverbs 29:25
Fearing other humans is a common problem described on multiple pages in the Scriptures.
This is the generation of man fearers: Cain, following the bloody fratricide of Abel, was convinced other humans would try to kill him. By fear, Abraham and Isaac had their wives pose as their sisters. By fear, Saul offered illegal sacrifices in order to please the people. In fear, professed disciples wouldn't confess Jesus openly because they didn't want to be kicked out of the synagogue. In fear of Jewish humans, Pilate condemned Jesus to death. By fear Peter denied that he was a disciple to a middle school-aged slave girl. In fear, Peter and other believers would enjoy eating non-kosher foods with the Gentiles, until members of "team circumcision" showed up. Then, in fear they pushed-back from the table. This spirit of timidity, this fear of humans, is not from God. (II Timothy 1:7) It is part of the fallen DNA of humans and it won't be completely eradicated until the church is "saved to sin no more."
While the fear of man is an ancient sickness, it is now pandemic.
While the fear of man is an ancient sickness, it is now pandemic. What caused the fear of people to infect so many, so quickly? No doubt, the invention of social media in 2004 was a super-spreader event spreading the fear of man rapidly. While the benefits of social media could be outlined here, there are, in my view, relatively few. Social media has magnified the fear of humans to an addictive level. 15 minutes of "scrolling" can pump a user with pride or (more likely) spiral them into comparison and depression, all due to the fear of people. A large, invisible, virtual audience has now been added, 24/7, to a social media user's self-consciousness. It's essentially the fear of humans on steroids.
Social media has magnified the fear of humans to an addictive level.
Add to the social media phenomena the contagious cancel culture variant that is spreading across our world and we understand more clearly why the fear of humans is so contagious today. The fear of being "cancelled" because of something you say or do that doesn't fit the constructed narrative is real. It's the modern day version of being kicked out of the synagogue. Did/do you take masking seriously? Are you woke? Woke enough? Still asleep? Have you had even a little caution about receiving the vaccination? Were you "that guy" who had the ignorant audacity to say that each person is born either a biological male or female? CANCELLED!
As always, our Creator God not only diagnosis our problem, He prescribes a solution to this pandemic of fear. Again, hear the Word of the Lord: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord is safe." (Proverbs 29:25)
The word for "fear" in this passage is not the common Hebrew word we would expect. It is the word cher·dat (חֶרְדַּ֣ת) which means "to tremble, be in awe, or reverence." It's the word we would anticipate in the familiar phrase "the fear of the Lord." Also, note that the word for "man" is a·dam (אָ֭דָם). This indicates that "man" here is not referring to males as contrasted with females but rather to humans in general, as Adam was our federal representative. In addition, this kind of fearing of humans sets a snare or a trap. It's the word mo·v·kesh ( מֹוקֵ֑שׁ) meaning, "to bait, lure, snare or trap." When we put these pieces together, we could translate Proverbs 29:25a this way, "Worshipping the applause of homo sapiens will enslave you..." The fear of humans, according to this perfect word from the Lord, will control us. It will be our task master. You will feel trapped when you fear people. I lose my freedom when I become a hostage to the cheers or jeers of people. The mortality rate for those infected with this people pleasing pandemic is skyrocketing. Have you been lured into its snare?
I lose my freedom when I become a hostage to the cheers or jeers of people.
What is the prescription for recovery from this people-pleasing virus? It is stated clearly in this pithy poem. Hebrew poetry is different than English poetry which often presents rhyme through similar sounds. (e.g. "Roses are red, violates are blue...") Hebrew poetry presents rhyme by meaning. One way is by synonymous parallelism in which a statement is made and then repeated in a different way. (cf. Proverbs 29:22) There is also what's called antithetical parallelism in which a statement is made and then its opposite is stated. (cf. Proverbs 29:23) You probably spotted it, but our text on the pandemic of people pleasing in Proverbs 29:25 is antithetical parallelism. The opposite of fearing humans is given. "...but whoever trust in the Lord is safe."
The opposite of "the fear of man" is not what we might expect. We probably anticipated the opposite to be the "the fear of the Lord." But it is trusting in the Lord. Why is that? The reason is clearly that "fearing humans" is to place our confidence and sense of identity in the affirmation and acceptance of people rather than in the Lord. The antonym for fearing people (trusting in humans) is trusting in Jehovah. The word for "safe" is a visual. The word "safe" is ye·sug·gav (יְשֻׂגָּֽב׃) and it means "to be inaccessibly high." It pictures the name of the Lord as a strong tower and those that trust in Jehovah are up high, inaccessible to any harm from other humans. (Proverbs 18:10) This contrasting poetry further teaches us that these are mutually exclusive options. If you are seeking to please people, at that very moment, you are not trusting God. Personally, If I am seeking to be liked when I am speaking a sermon, at that very moment, I am not trusting the Lord.
The antonym for fearing people (trusting in humans) is trusting in Jehovah
And Plain Reason...
You are completely accepted by God in Jesus. He couldn't be more pleased with you than He is right now. Soak in that.
IDENTITY: What is this "safe place" that protects us from the droplets of the fear of humans virus ? And are there supernatural antibodies that we can have infused into us in fighting it? At salvation we receive "all spiritual blessings in Heavenly places in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3) So, every believer receives all the spiritual resources needed to live the life of faith. We are also "accepted in the Beloved" (Jesus). (Ephesians 1) The truth of our inheritance (all spiritual blessings are ours in Christ) and the truth of our identity (accepted in the Beloved) set us above the reach of human danger. As we regularly rinse and repeat these gospel truths in our minds, we will find progressive freeing from the addiction to people pleasing. You are completely accepted by God in Jesus. He couldn't be more pleased with you than He is. Soak in that.
IDENTIFY: Do you know how to identify the areas that you are enslaved by people pleasing? Have you ever written those areas you identified down? In Colossians 3:22-23 the Apostle Pauls says to "bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." Here Paul gives a specific space in which a believer can be motivated by pleasing people rather than pleasing Christ. That can be at the workplace. In this application it was a slave to his master. In what spaces do we commit "eye-service as people pleasers?" Did you not take that shot in the basketball game because you didn't want to miss the shot in front of people? Did you not share the gospel with your friend because you were honestly afraid of her? Did you post that or not post that motivated to please humans? Do you refuse to step-out and pray in public because you don't want to mess up in front of others?
IMITATE JESUS. Following Jesus' first sign in Cana of Galilee in which he turned 150 gallons of water into delicious wine (a great wedding gift, indeed!) we are told that disciples believed in Jesus because of this first sign. In that same chapter, the miracle-working Jesus went into the temple courts, made a home-made whip, turned over the tables of the moneychangers, dumped out the barrels of coinage onto the cobblestone temple courtyard and then violently drove out the crooked salesmen. Just wow. Everyone likes a miracle-working, wedding-attending, wine-making, Jesus. But, what about this Jesus who was confrontational? What about this Christ who had the "zeal of His Father's house consuming Him?" Here is John's inspired narration following those two divergent works of Christ: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (John 2:23-25) As we are re-made into the image of our Creator by progressive sanctification, our Lord Jesus exemplifies, unlike the Patriarchs and the Apostles, what it means to wholly "trust in the Lord" without fearing humans. Let's follow in His steps.
I am a simple, scared lamb. I'm often frightened by other sheep. The fear of man has shackled me for decades. Father, thank you for choosing me before the creation of the world and for accepting me completely in your Beloved Son. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being my Good Shepherd. True Shepherd, You gave your life for me when You took the punishment for my rebellion, pride and fear of people as my Substitute on the cross. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me when I am hysterically distraught from trying and failing to please people. Even when I am intoxicated with hubris and pride due to human praise and applause, you humble me, Lord Jesus, by your example in "...not crying aloud or lifting up Your voice, or making it heard in the street." Holy Spirit, You have marked me and sealed me until the day that I am saved to sin no more by fearing humans. Spirit, You remind me of my relationship with the Father and of His welcoming smile indicating His complete and free acceptance of me in Christ. Comforter, You shout the words of the Father to my heart, "Brian you are my beloved son in whom I am completely pleased." Such love, grace and mercy is a very high place! It's a tower that I run to for safety, completely inaccessible to the threats of other humans. To You, Triune God, I give all praise and glory. May I seek your glory and pleasure in a fresh way from this day forward.
In the Holy Name of Jesus,