November 16, 2011

When People are Big

Every day people make decisions that are controlled by the fear of man.  We often don’t admit it to ourselves and this becomes part of our bondage.  Not everyone who fears people is hiding under their desk.

We need to understand the fear of man in order to shrink its influence.  In When People Are Big and God is Small Ed Welch lists three main reasons why we fear other people: 

1. “People will see me.”

We fear other people because they might find out that we are not who we pretend to be.  We’re too insecure to deal with that.  Think of all the things you don’t try because you don’t want people to see that you aren’t good at it.  Maybe your brave at basketball, but you would be terrified to open your mouth at a Bible Study. 

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned we’ve been hiding in shame.  Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves; we try to cover ourselves with our false self-images.  We try to present ourselves to the others like we’re something we’re not.  We have a wide variety of masks we wear depending on who we’re around and what we think they expect.  

We’re posers, we know it, and we’re terrified that eventually someone will see through our masks.  So, we keep people at a safe distance.  We fear other people because they can expose and humiliate us.  Deep down we know that eventually the masks will be thrown off.  It cannot last.  As Kierkegaard once wrote, “Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has thrown off his mask?  Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?  Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight to avoid this?  Or are you terrified by it?”

2. “People will reject me.”

There might be nothing people are more scared of than rejection.  Welch writes:

…Sometimes we would prefer to die for Jesus than to live for Him.  If someone had the power to kill us for our profession of faith, I imagine that most Christians would say, "Yes, I am a believer in Jesus Christ," even if that meant death.  The threat of torture might make people think twice, but I think most Christians would acknowledge Christ.  However, if making a decision for Jesus means that we might spend years being unpopular, ignored, poor, or criticized, then there are masses of Christians who temporarily put their faith on the shelf.  "Death is not imminent, so why hurry into such a rash decision?"  "There will be time later to get things straight with God."

In other words, kill me, but don't keep me from being liked, appreciated, or respected.

Does that sound too harsh?  Remember that one word: evangelism.  I am sure that many teens would rather die than have their friends catch them hanging around with the church youth group or doing Christian drama on the streets.  Aren't the most popular missions trips the ones that take us far from our own neighborhood?  Russia is easy; our own neighborhood is a constant challenge...

The sin resident in the human heart (fear of man) wields awesome power.  The praise of others—that wisp of a breeze that lasts for a moment—can seem more glorious to us than the praise of God.  Jesus Himself told the Jewish leaders, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?' (John 5:44)

Today we would be nice and call the Pharisees people-pleasers.  We would say they "struggled with peer pressure."  Since all of us are affected by it at one time or another, we are almost sympathetic toward such behavior.  But this is perhaps the most tragic form of the fear of man.  Teenagers are constantly making unwise decisions because of it.  Adults, too, look to people for their cues.  We wait for others to take the initiatives of love.  We spend too much time wondering what others may have thought about our outfit or the comment we made in a small group meeting.  We see opportunities to testify about Christ, but we avoid them.  We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord.)" (Edward Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, 37-40.)

3. “People will hurt me.”

We fear people because they can physically harm us.  Don’t think that this kind of fear is experienced only by children and perhaps an adult walking down a dark alley.  In most of the world today it could cost you your life to claim to follow Jesus Christ.  Safe America is the exception, not the rule. 

On the other hand, many physically secure Americans crumble with the fear that someone might hurt them financially.  Many Christians collapse as cowards because their fear their career or their chance of advancement being hurt.  Compromise and get ahead.

These three fears are multiplied by the fact that the world wants us to fear other people.  In school and society we’re told, “Play by our rules or you will be rejected.” “You better think that what I think is important is important!”  This is how people control and influence each other.  Advertisers use it to sell us things.  Politicians use it to push their policies.  For example, before New York state redefined marriage the state senators who were resisting so-called gay marriage were told, “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” They caved in.

How Jesus is the Antidote for these Fears

If we are honest with ourselves, we can see the straightforward and subtle ways that these three varieties of the fear of man influence our lives.  We need to realize what is going on in our hearts in order to change.  But even more, we need to see how truth about God answers these fears.  Welch listed three main varieties of the fear of man.  Let’s now how God’s truth answers each of these fears.

1. God already sees us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves and He still chose to go to the cross for us.  He covers our shame with His righteousness.

You can stop worrying about being seen when you realize that the One whose opinion matters most already sees you.  You can’t hide from God.  Psalm 139:1 declares, “ O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  We can hide from other people, and we can even hide from ourselves, but we can’t hide from God.

The fact that God sees us laid bare is absolutely terrifying except for realization that He chooses to love us in spite of what He sees.  While we were still sinners Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:6-10)  Even more, just as He clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, God also chooses to clothe us.  Isaiah 61:10 states, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

We can drop our fig leaves, because God clothes us in the righteousness of Christ.  Ephesians 1:4 states that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  Notice what it says about how God sees believers.  Because of what Jesus did for you, God sees you as holy and blameless in His sight.  

2. If you have Jesus as your Savior, He has forever accepted you.  You have been adopted as his son or daughter.  He will never forsake you.

We do not need to fear rejection, because we have been permanently accepted by the One who matters most.  Ephesians 1:5 goes on to tell believers that, in love God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  When someone trusts Jesus as their Savior they are adopted as God’s child.  Likewise Galatians 3:26 tells us, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Not only that, but we are also “heirs according to the promise.”  (Gal. 3:29) 

Our adopted Father is a perfect Father.  A perfect Father doesn’t abandon or disown His children.  God knew ahead of time who He was adopting.  He knew what all our struggles and failures would be, and He still choose to go through with it.  He will never forsake us.  Romans 8:38-39 promises, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3. If you are saved, nothing can ultimately hurt you.  Nothing can come into your life apart from God’s permission and purposes. 

People can hurt us, but not in the long run.  Romans 8:28 gives us God’s sweeping promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  God is ultimately in control of all things, including every possibly hurt that could come into your life.  People may intend it for evil, but God purposes it for good.  (Genesis 50:20) 

The Bible does not hide that fact that Christians will face fearful things.  Peter told believers, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’” (1 Pt. 3:14)  Jesus Himself warned His followers that they would be persecuted, hated, and that some of them would even be put to death; yet Jesus had the gall to tell them, “but not a hair of your head will perish.” (Lk. 21:12-19)  This life is a speck compared to eternity when God will make all things right.  Ultimately, no man can harm you if God is your alley. 

Think about what Jesus told us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:28-31)

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