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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

The Crippling Fear

Chris Tomlin has written a great contemporary Christian song, entitled "Whom shall I Fear?" I would propose to you today that every one of us fears someone. The question I have is who DO you fear? But before we answer that question, we need to have an understanding of what fear is.

Martin Luther struggled with that question and came up with two distinctive fears. The first, he called a servile fear; the second, a filial fear.

The servile fear is the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would come with the whip and torment the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward an owner. The Encarta Dictionary defines "servile" as "being too willing to agree with somebody or to do anything, however demeaning, that somebody wants."

Filial fear refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther had in mind a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

Fear is a controlling factor in your Christian life. I would submit that you either are being controlled by a servile love, referred to in Scripture as the fear of man, or by a filial fear known as the fear of God. Simply put, either you are fearing God or you are fearing man, which may include your own self.

Someone has said, "we are afraid of others because we love ourselves too much." I would like to examine three reasons why we become guilty of having a servile fear of God rather than a filial fear of God.

Three Reasons why we fear man...

We are afraid of what others may "think" of us.

Many people are very insecure, wanting to be accepted and liked. Insecurity has been defined as the condition that results from placing confidence in people or things that can be taken away.

A man goes up to a group of other men who are gossiping and also speaking inappropriately about certain women in their office. Perhaps he knows that their disparaging comments about the boss are unfair or even untrue. He knows too that speaking of the women in the office using crude sexual imagery and lustful references is wrong. But, because he has walked up to this group and wants to “fit in” he joins the conversation and contributes to what he knows is wrong. He laughs at off-color jokes and makes no attempt to steer the conversation in more appropriate directions. He does this because he fears rejection and is more anxious as to what his co-workers think of him than what God thinks. He fears man more than God. That God is displeased with his actions is less of a fear and grief than that any of these men should be displeased.

Some people can't open their mouths to share the gospel with others because they are choked by fear of what that person might think about them.

Some Christian parents don't discipline their children properly because they are desperate for their children's approval.

Some in seeking people's approval lower their standards in order to be acceptable to them or so as not to seem to be odd or have others think they are religious fanatics.

Saul when confronted by Samuel in 1 Samuel 15 is asked in verse 19,

"Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” answers in verse 24, "...I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice."

Some seek approval by being productive and being active in religious/church activities in order to have people not think wrongly of them. They serve but serve for the wrong reasons and with the wrong motivation.

Matthew 23:5-7 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’" (NIV - Everything they do is done for people to see...)

The reality is that the problem here is the sin of pride or inordinate self-love. We love ourselves so much that we worry about what other people might think about us. We love ourselves so much that we become insecure about who we are, what we look like, what we say, what we do, and how well we do at something." Our pride wells up in us, that wants to protect us, wants to preserve us, wants to promote us, wants to make much of us. - adapted Romans 12:3 "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."

Galatians 1:10 "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

"The unhappiest people in this world are the people who care the most about what everyone else thinks." - The important thing is, "what does Christ think about me?"

Philippians 2:5-8

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

We are more concerned about looking stupid having a fear of people than we are about acting sinfully lacking fear of the Lord - adapted from Ed Welch

Most tragic is that there are some who will not come to Christ out of fear of what their family or friends might think.

Matthew 10:37 " He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."

We are afraid of what others may "say" about us

Closely akin to being afraid of what others may think, is the fear of what others might say about us. Many people live paralyzed by the fear of what others are saying about them, or what they might say about them. This is the fear of rejection, one of the most common reasons we are controlled by other people: they can reject, ridicule, or despise us (rejection-fear). They don’t invite us to the party. They ignore us. They don’t like us. They aren’t pleased with us. They withhold the acceptance, love, or significance we want from them. (adapted from When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch)

Listen to how one Christian expressed how this fear affects her. "Out of all the fears or anxieties I have, they all stand as creeping things in the foreboding yet tolerated shadow of my fear in being rejected. This fear is not just a fear for being rejected, but encompasses the many fears that stem out of it; the fear of being abandoned, forgotten, orphaned, unloved, alienated, disregarded, pushed aside, left alone." - Lorraine Yeung, 2014 in Perseverance in

Trials and Tribulations

The example of Peter - Galatians 2:11-13 " Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy."

Luke 6:22 " Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man."

Luke 10:16 “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

We are afraid of what others may "do" to us

Christ promised persecution. Persecution is hostility, harm, harassment, death or any other ill-treatment towards Christians because of their obedience to the will of God, even more so, to His will as revealed in Scripture.

There are three areas or reasons why people suffer persecution:

1. Association – Because they identify with God or the people of God.

2. Proclamation – Because of the message they preach or proclaim.

3. Submission – Because they are obedient to and do the will of God.

In Genesis 12 we find Abraham in Egypt, fearing man. We read, "And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” (Gen. 12:11-13)

Deuteronomy 1:28-32 " Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God,"

As Christians, we are faced with crises, and we are tempted to give in to our fears and make wrong decisions. But if we "sanctify Christ as Lord" we need never fear men or circumstances. Our enemies might hurt us, but they cannot harm us. Only we can harm ourselves if we fail to trust God. - Wiersbe

Hebrews 13:6 "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”

By way of Application

You either fear God or fear man: Fearing man is sin - Psalm 118:8 "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man." Proverbs 29:25 "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."

Confess your fear to God as sin - 1 John 1:9

Develop an ever-deepening Fear of God

1. 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

2 Corinthians 7:1 "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."



Author: Jerry's Flury

Enabling Grace Biblical Counseling

Middleburg Hts., Ohio 44130

About Jerry: Education: Doctorate in Ministry from Andersonville Seminary Master of Science in Management from the American College Bachelor or Arts in English Bible from Cedarville.


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