Be honest. How often does the fear of what others think sway your decisions, your words and your actions? A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a situation in which I collided with the fear of man and was forced to make a split-second decision.
I’d just returned home from running errands and had parked in our carport. I sat for a few minutes, listening to a favorite song on the radio. When it ended, I heard a man yelling obscenities. Then I saw the source sitting behind the wheel of a nearby van. He’d pulled up and parked on the wrong side of the road, inches from a shiny black car. When his temper tantrum failed to get the results he wanted from the driver of the other vehicle, he opened his door and slammed it repeatedly against the car. Minutes later he did it again. Finally he laughed an evil laugh and drove into our strata’s parking lot where he parked a few feet from our door.
By now I was standing behind my car with the back hatch open to remove my groceries. I watched, heart pounding, as the 20-something man picked up a large rock and headed back toward the black vehicle. And that’s when the fear of man hit me like a brick. What was I to do?
A fleeting thought zipped through my mind: If you confront the man, you face the danger of retribution. If you don’t, the car’s occupant could be seriously harmed. I couldn’t let the latter possibility come true. And so I spoke up.
“Put the rock down,” I said as the perpetrator passed my carport.
My words startled him. He stopped, suddenly aware that someone bore witness to his actions. “What?” he said.
“Put the rock down. You’ll never get what you want or need with that kind of behavior.”
Embarrassment crossed the man’s face. “I know,” he said. He turned and walked toward the car still carrying his weapon. The verbal tirade continued, but at least he didn’t use the rock. I dashed to the protection of my house but continued to watch the scene from a window in case it warranted a 911 call.
Truth be told, I was tempted to duck into my house unnoticed when I first heard the yelling and swearing. Knowing that the man is our neighbor and obviously capable of harmful behavior still scares me. But I can’t let the fear of man rule my life. Instead, I must choose to do what’s right and trust God with the fallout.
The fear of man is powerful and can impact many aspects of our lives. For instance, we might see a friend or family member make really bad choices. We recognize the consequences awaiting them but we fail to warn them because we’re afraid of losing their respect or being regarded as critical. Or we might refuse to embrace a new opportunity that’s beyond our comfort zone because we fear what others might think of us if we fail. Can you relate?
The fear of man is common to all. In fact, Peter was considered a pillar of the early Church (Galatians 2:9) and yet he struggled with it, too. Scripture says that when he first arrived in Antioch, he ate with the Gentile Christians who were not circumcised. Later, he changed his ways and refused to dine with them because he feared criticism from the people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision (vv. 11-14). He knew what was right, but his concern about what other people thought outweighed his ability to do it. Thankfully Paul came on the scene and challenged him to change his ways.
What enables us to face and overcome the fear of man? I believe it’s found in having a correct understanding of who God is. He’s holy, so he wants us to live holy lives and not compromise to avoid society’s sneers. He’s compassionate, so we ought to show mercy regardless of whether or not others misjudge our motives. He’s sovereign, so we ought to act courageously (and wisely) knowing that He’s in control of every detail of our lives. The latter was what gave me the courage to confront the angry man.
Let’s fear God rather than man. May we press hard to know Him, and may that knowledge empower us to do what’s right. May the understanding of who He is, rather than the fear of man, sway our decisions, words and actions.
How has the fear of man impacted you in the past? What changes need to take place so it doesn’t happen again?