When I was about eight or ten years old, my big brother, Mica, was in baseball and we regularly attended his games and practices in the spring. There were often fantastic playgrounds at the fields. I had found a kid my age who was also at all the games and practices and we played together regularly. I valued our comradery and time together.
I was a people-person even from a young age. This “friend” would often say, “If you don’t play with me here or there, I won’t be your friend.” So, I would do whatever that friend said. One day, practice was held near a school yard with maypoles. Maypoles were my absolute favorite and I was born to play on them. Who wouldn’t enjoy spinning around and around a pole, feet sailing through the air and a death grip on the round metal handles? But once I was threatened with the words, “If you play on those maypoles, I won’t be your friend.” I paused for a millisecond, turned around and said, “Okay!” and walked off to my maypoles. I wanted to turn my head to see if this friend was following, but instead I turned my soul to cold steel and refused to look back.
I felt strong and powerful. I had conquered what had been holding me back from being my authentic self and doing what I loved. I will never forget that tremendous victory. Whatever a person’s age, sometimes it’s necessary to grit one’s teeth and go to the maypoles . . . or in this case, to fulfill one’s calling without fearing the opinions of man. God will strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him as mentioned in the above verse.
Your heart and loyalty are God’s greatest concern because out of it flows the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23). Jesus is the Tree of Life, and He wants nothing but life for those who believe in Him. He knows the fear of man is one of the most common issues that can prevent you from fulfilling your destiny and will divide your heart and thus divide your faith. This is another way double-mindedness leads to confusion, fear, and an inability to follow through with God-given dreams and assignments—even though He has already mapped out each person’s victory.
When asked what the greatest commandment of all was, Jesus replied:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.— Luke 10:27, NIV
Jesus is on a different level than, say, a neighbor. Jesus placed Himself above any person as the Supreme God of the universe. Loving God with “all” your heart means loving Him with an entirety. No sharing. No “as yourself” comparisons, or as much as a person loves a pastor, spouse, or success. Obeying Jesus’ words in Luke 10:27 is a vow of consecration and separation unto the Lord.
View this commandment within the context of your current placement of man in your life. If you had to choose who to obey, man or God, what would it look like? Would there be all kinds of arguments within you? Perhaps the natter sounds like, “I feel like God is leading me to do . . . But what if so-and-so doesn’t like it? What if they don’t agree? What does so-and-so think? I’m afraid I’ll have a conflict if I . . .” If God is leading, obey His promptings. It will come with peace, and God is asking you to “let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts,” (Col. 3:15 NLT), not the fear of man.
The word “peace” is the Greek eirene (Strong’s G1515), which means “one, quietness, rest, set at one again.” The peace that comes from choosing to obey the Lord brings single-mindedness again—no nattering heads, only one peaceful head: Christ, who is the head of the church.
The word “rule” in Colossians 3:15 is one of the most powerful words a Christian can learn for decision making and for possessing an undivided heart. It is the Greek word brabeuo (Strong’s G1018) and it means “to govern like an umpire.” In other words, peace should be the “umpire” of a person’s heart. If you have peace over a decision, and the decision lines up with Scripture, let it be like an umpire saying, “Safe!” Allow that peace to bring you a place of wholeheartedness again, no longer divided and tossed to and fro. If you have peace but want to be sure, ask the Lord to confirm it to you. He knows you better than you know yourself and will speak in a way you will understand.
If you do not have peace about what you think God may be leading you to do, trust that as well. A lack of peace can be a strong feeling or a mild unrest. Either way, it should be viewed as a clear sign to settle down quietly before the Lord and let go of that plan for the time being—or permanently—depending on His leading.
Fear Versus Cowardice
There’s a difference between being fearful and cowardly, versus a loss of peace. To be “cowardly” means shrinking back due to anxiety—where the word “anxiety” is used in place of the word fear. Fear, however, can be present with peace; it means stepping out, following, and trusting God, though afraid.
When the opinions of others prevent God’s children from obeying His promptings, they are shrinking back and serving man who becomes their master instead of God. Paul highlights his personal commitment to serving God alone in his letter to the Galatians saying, “If pleasing man were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Gal. 3:10 NLT).
Paul knew he could ultimately only answer one voice and revere and obey one loyalty. He chose God. God allowed Paul’s life to be an example of what obedience in the face of fear looks like. He faced tremendous physical persecution by both the Jewish religious community and the gentile community. Paul was also the first disciple/apostle who had not physically walked with Jesus like the other disciples; he had to trust and obey regardless of human authority:
This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the father, who raised Jesus from the dead.— Galatians 1:1, NLT
Paul knew exactly who he was and what he was called to do, and he obeyed God despite his altogether different start than the other disciples who had spent three years with Jesus. He could have compared himself to the other apostles, but Paul put himself aside and made obedience to God his highest priority. With an undivided heart, he accepted who he was—a Christ-ordained apostle—and fully lived out that assignment:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.— 1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV
The reality is everyone both fears and trusts in people to a degree, and it is something we all, as followers of Jesus, must overcome.I remember a time when God asked me to step out and begin to preach. I knew there would people who would not agree. I deeply wanted their affirmation in my life, and I believed that if they endorsed me, it was as powerful as if God had recommended me. I was not afraid whatsoever to be in ministry, but I was afraid of others in ministry who did not approve of me due to their beliefs about “covering”. I feared their opinions above God’s. I feared their way of doing things above the promptings of the Holy Spirit and above following God in obedience.
God knew this and was about to expose my idol. First, however, He showed me I first needed to see that an idol existed. The closer I came to obeying God, the more double-minded, confused, and unable to make decisions I became. Daily it grew worse. It became so bad, I cried out to God in desperation and asked, “What is wrong? Why am I struggling so much? What is the source of it?” I was fully prepared to receive and accept what was wrong. Anything would be better than the internal conflict warring in my soul. I did not have to wait long. In the morning as I was having my quiet time with the Lord, a verse struck me, and I knew Jesus had spoken:
A true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.— Romans 2:29, NLT
Jesus had put His perfect and holy finger on my idol. He waited for my astonishment to pass. I was horrified and delighted—horrified because I wanted and deeply feared the praise of man and put it on the same plane as God’s. On the other hand, I was delighted that He told me what was wrong. I knew He was totally and completely right. Now we could fix it together, though it would not be an easy journey. At my first meeting, a man was healed in both his neck and shoulder and people got saved! I went to the maypoles again and it was great.
It’s easy to perceive others as having far more power; it is a fear that others will block our plans, hopes, dreams or worse—needs. It is a fear that they have power to take away our affirmation, respect, or opportunities. But God is Lord over these things, not man. Therefore, only one voice needs to be honored. So, go ahead and get your sword ready! You free to get rid of that nattering voice tempting you away from utter trust and devotion to Jesus.
Solomon wisely described the fear of man in a word picture highlighting the pain it can cause, saying:
The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.— Proverbs 29:25, NIV
The Hebrew word “snare” in Proverbs 29:25 is mowqesh (Strong’s H4170) which means, “a noose for catching animals, a hook for the nose, to be ensnared or trapped.” This word picture is of one who walks through life in fear of man, and the potential impact man can have on his or her life. This kind of person becomes trapped, caged, hooked in the nose, and led about by that fear or person.
However, the Lord promises something quite different to those who place their trust in Him. “Trust” in that same verse is the Hebrew word batach (Strong’s H982). Batach means, “to run for refuge for protection, be confident, sure, bold, careless.”
Finally, the word “safe” in Hebrew is sagab (Strong’s H7682) meaning, “to be exalted and lifted-up, inaccessible, safe strong, and to be too strong.” Picture an older brother holding an object high above his sister’s head that the sister cannot snatch out of her brother’s too strong and exalted hand. This is the meaning of sagab.
Those who trust in God are lifted high above their enemies, inaccessible. Inserting these definitions into the verse brings deeper understanding to what Solomon was communicating: “The fear and anxiety due to man is like a snare that traps you and puts a hook in your nose and drags you painfully through life, but those who trust in the Lord are confident, without care, and are held up high and inaccessible in God’s exalted hand, which is too strong for their enemies.”
Fear of Man Affects Faith
The praise and honor of man can also divide a heart. Jesus told the Jewish Pharisees why they could not believe in Him; The Great Physician diagnosed the problem:
No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.—John 5:44, NLT
Only one voice matters and it’s the Lords. So, go ahead and get your sword out. You are free to cut off the head of the fear of man and listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd. By the way, I have it on good authority that He loves the maypoles and He’ll go with you every time. You were born to soar with glee.
Reflect with the Holy Spirit
- Lord, whose opinion am I prizing so highly that it pulls my loyalty, heart and obedience away from You and compromises my faith? And why am I doing it?
- When was the last time I “went to the maypoles?” Is there somewhere in my life I need to do this now?
- I dream of going to the “maypoles” in ____________________ area of my life! My heart is growing more steadfast to make the journey. I know this because ____________________.
- Is there a practical step of faith You would like me to make?
- Is my soul feeling better?