The following is an excerpt taken from When People Are Big and God Is Small, Second Edition: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch.
Don’t think the fear of man is a problem only for shy, withdrawn types. Isn’t the angry person or the person who tries to intimidate also controlled by others? Any form of one-upmanship qualifies. What about the manager who is working to be more productive than an associate in order to get ahead? The endless jockeying of egos in the corporate boardroom is an aggressive version of fear of man. And do you think that the super confident superstar athlete is somehow above seeking the good opinions of fans and sportswriters? Aggressively asserting that you don’t need anyone is just as much an evidence of the fear of man as the more timid examples we have seen. Fear of man comes in these packages and many others.
Have our criteria included you yet? If not, consider just one word: evangelism. Have you ever been too timid to share your faith in Christ because others might think you were an irrational fool?
Fear of man is part of our human fabric. How nice it would be to actually feel comfortable in our own skin rather than needing to be somebody or searching for that drop of love or sliver of approval from someone. Yes, nice, but it seems like a mere dream.
The Search for a Biblical Response
A common answer to the fear of man is “I just need to love myself more.” That would make us less dependent on the affirmation of others, but it is a paper-thin solution and never gets us to comfortable-in-our-own-skin contentment.
An answer that has more depth is “God loves me more than I know.” God can fill us with love, so we don’t have to be filled by other people. But even this answer is incomplete. The love of God is the answer to every human struggle, but sometimes we can use it in such a way that God’s job is to make us feel better about ourselves, as if feeling better about ourselves were our deepest need. God does not promise such things.
The purpose of this book is to take the answer deeper still. As we step further into Scripture, we will meet people such as Abraham and Peter, who slipped into the chasm of the fear of man and brought others down with them. We will look at the subtle ways in which our fear surfaces in our lives. Then we will find God’s way out.
To really understand the roots of the fear of man, we must ask the right questions. For example, instead of asking, “How can I feel better about myself and not be controlled by what people think?” a better question is “Why am I so concerned about self-esteem?” or “Why do I have to have someone—even Jesus—think I’m great?” We will look at these topics from many angles throughout this book. Included in the answer is the fact that we need to think less often about ourselves. We’ll talk about why—and how.
The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are. This antidote takes time to grasp; in fact, it will take all our lives. But my hope is that the process can be accelerated and nurtured through what we study in this book.
Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them for ourselves more than we love them for the glory of God. God sets us the task of needing them less and loving them more. Yes, it is counterintuitive, as so many of God’s ways might first appear, but settle into them and you find yourself on the road to freedom and rest.
One important note before we begin exploring. Our interest is in the human experience of being dominated by the real or imagined opinions of other people. God has given us two ways to enter in. One is the fear of man, which follows what we bring to that problem. The other is shame, which is what other people bring, and other people can bring a lot. When you have been wronged or abused by other people, they will have an enduring impact in your life. What might surprise you is how much God says to you in your shame.
Fear of man and shame are relevant to all of us. I have delved into the details of God’s words on shame in another book,* so while I will discuss both here, I will focus on the fear of man.
Let’s get started.
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* Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012).