When People Are Big and God is Small

Fear of Man in the Bible

Today’s chapter hits on several biblical examples, both positive and negative, of man-fearing and God-fearing. Citing figures such as King Saul, the Pharisees, Peter, and Paul, the author explores what peer pressure and the fear of man looks like in the Bible.

King Saul refrained from completely obeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites in I Samuel 15. When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul gave the explanation, “I was afraid of the people so I gave into them.” (I Sam. 15:24)

Fear of man also controlled some of the Pharisees. Many Pharisees unabashedly condemned Jesus and his teachings; however, some Pharisees could not deny Jesus’ miraculous works and powerful message. They did not confess their beliefs, though, because “they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43).

Paul leaves us with a positive example in the New Testament. I love what Welch says here about the apostle to the Gentiles:

Paul was not a people-pleaser. He was a people-lover, and because of that he did not change his message according to what others might think. Only people-lovers are able to confront. Only people-lovers are not controlled by other people. Paul even indicated to the Galatians that if he were still trying to please men, he would not be a servant of God (Gal. 1:10).

Peter is probably the most common example of man-fearing in the Bible, because the reader is able to see Peter’s growth in this area as the story of Scripture progresses. We see Peter vehemently deny Christ three times out of fear of what the people outside the house of the high priest might do to him. Galatians tells us that Peter refrained from dining with his Gentile brothers and sisters for fear of the Jews, and that Paul opposed him “to his face” (Gal. 2:13). On the other hand, Scripture also presents us with a clear picture of Peter’s God-fearing in his own epistle, written later in his life:

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord. (I Peter 3:13-14)

Peter seems to have grown here, encouraging his readers to not fear man but to fear God.

So, in our lives, we can draw comparisons to these men. I will say that confrontation terrifies me, and in that way I shy away from Paul’s good example. Over the past few years, however, the Lord has granted me opportunities to lovingly confront and see good fruit come of it. I feel I have a long, long way to go. I hope that one day I can lovingly confront someone without near-paralyzing fear, but for now that is an area where I can depend on grace to meet me.