Below is an excerpt taken from Fearing Others: Putting God First by Zach Schlegel.


We Obey What We Fear

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” . . . Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Sam. 15:22, 24)

Saul was Israel’s first king. His inauguration marked a key transition in the nation’s history—even though he was reluctant to accept the responsibility and even tried to hide from it! But God gave Saul his Spirit and promised him everything he needed in order to rule well. All Saul had to do was to fear God and obey his commands. If he did, God promised that “it will be well” (1 Sam. 12:14). Not too far into his rule, God called Saul to war against the Amalekites and told him to destroy everything. But Saul kept the best of the livestock for himself and destroyed only that which was worthless or of poor quality. This partial obedience was disobedience.

Saul’s confession in 1 Samuel 15:24 shows us how the fear of man works. Why did he disobey God? Because he “feared the people and obeyed their voice.” According to the Bible, fear is more than feeling terrified. Our fear of man certainly includes that, but it also means revering people, needing them, or valuing their opinion so much that our decisions end up being controlled by them. We obey what we fear. As a result, our fear of others is a worship issue. Every human heart is always worshipping something; we were made for worship (see Isa. 43:7; John 4:20–24)! The question is, who we are worshipping—God or people?

Sprite’s slogan tells us, “Obey your thirst.” This soft-drink advertisement ends up being pretty theologically accurate. What we value indicates what we fear losing or never achieving. We can’t imagine living without it, so this fear directs our decisions and motivates us to act. Isn’t this what happens when the sports enthusiast prioritizes watching his team above attending church? Don’t we refuse to share the gospel with a friend because we fear how she’ll respond? Aren’t we reluctant to take risks for good things because we can’t bear the thought of being a failure? We thirst for and value something more than God in these moments. We obey what we fear.