The word translated to “fear” in this passage in the original Hebrew was “yirah”. It means “to respect”, “reverence”, the “fear of displeasing”, or just plain “fear”. It’s the same fear a child feels when their parents have told them to stay away from playing near a busy street or a swift creek, under threat of punishment, that keeps them safe when heeded. When pride is laid down and God’s instructions are heeded, we act with the wisdom of the Lord instead of in our own folly. However, people that refuse to fear the breaking of those instructions, nor hold any respect for the one giving it, are as foolish as children despising their parents love and protective council not to play in the street.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Proverbs 1:7
Beyond those that choose to disregard the council and instruction (and therefore, the wisdom) of the Lord, there are those who see to pressure others to join them in their self-destructive foolishness. Again, acting like school yard children they seek to bully, shame, and coerce those that are walking in obedience to the instructions of their Father into rebellion and disobedience in exchange for their acceptance, approval, and even praise.
This is what happened to some of the “cool kids” of Jesus’ time when God put the teachings of Christ before them…
“Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” – John 12:42-43
Christ’s Words: “I receive not honour from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” – John 5:41-44
When God calls you to do something and people rise against you, attacking you, ridiculing you, making fun of you, or slandering you, don’t be discouraged or feel alone. They did the same to Jesus and His disciples. This is what Jesus Himself told His followers about this kind of treatment:
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12
“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:24-31
Jesus warns us many times that the enemy will, not might but WILL, use this tactic against us but He also reminds us that “God is on our side”! If we hold true and do not break under the pressure, He will turn it toward our good and His glory in the end. In time, He will use the pressure to turn the ugly coals of our situations into diamonds and He will cause those that ridiculed you to see it and know that He is God and you are His child.
The disciples and early Christians were no strangers to this common and timeless tactic, either. We find numerous accounts throughout scripture of their encounters with the “in crowd”, the trendies,.. the men pleasers. We read in scripture of the relentless effort of these people to sooth their convicted consciences and justify they’re sin by attempting to pressure those that were walking in obedience to God’s instructions, to instead, give-in to “their” instructions and be excepted. Unlike today, this tactic rarely worked against the early followers of Christ. Paul writes concerning this when he says:
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:4
So is it really that bad to want people to like you? Generally, no. However, when that approval comes at the cost of God’s approval then, yes. We ought to care more about what God thinks of us then what classmates, workmates, friends, or even our family think of us. We all have an engrained desire to please and be loved. Make sure the focus of that desire is in the right place, set firmly on God and His will rather then on man or the things of this world.
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” – James 4:4
These verses make it very clear that seeking to please men rather than pleasing God makes us unworthy to be called a servant of God. Why? Because when we seek to please men in exchange for their approval and acceptance we are really serving no one but our self. The sad truth is, however, that the devil always uses that self-serving, people pleasing mentality to convince us to follow the flow of the foolish to our own destruction. That old deceiver will call you out into oncoming traffic, all while telling you that he will love you if you just choose to not listen when your father says, “don’t play in the street.” Then…
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” – Proverbs 29:25
Finally read Acts chapter 5, verses 16-42. This passage perfectly and powerfully illustrates all that we have discussed in this study, summed up into one amazing account…
“There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one. Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. ” – Acts 5:16-42