Fighting the Fear of your Fellow

Craig Schwarze

Most of us live in fear every day. You hear me say that and think, “What’s he talking about? I’m not afraid!” But that’s simply because you’ve become so used to this fear that you are no longer aware of it. Unless you are a very unusual person, you are deeply acquainted with this fear. What I’m talking about is the fear of your fellow human beings.

Not the crude sort of fear you experience when you meet someone who is physically threatening. I’m thinking about something much more subtle. I’m thinking about the fear that most of us have of being rejected, ignored, and disapproved of by others.

It’s remarkable how much this fear can control you. For example, someone makes a joke you don’t really like, but you laugh because you want to be “one of the crowd”. Someone tears down a colleague, but you don’t stand up for them, because you don’t want conflict. Someone expresses an idea that you find deeply repugnant, but you stay silent because you don’t want disapproval. And so on.

More than anything else, this fear is what stops us from sharing our faith. People come up with a million different reasons for not being upfront about their beliefs, but I don’t accept most of them. Usually we stay silent because we are afraid - afraid of being rejected, afraid of suffering disapproval and ostracism.

It’s a miserable and wrong-headed way to live. Scripture says,“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Our fear of man is displaced, and comes, at least partly, from a too small view of God. When God looms large in our sight, our fear of man must inevitably diminish. We ought to be playing to an audience of One.

This is an area where our preachers get it wrong, at least when it comes to exhorting the congregation to evangelise. Usually such exhortations focus on encouraging a feeling of compassion in the listeners. But I don’t think an absence of compassion is the problem - the problem is a super-abundance of fear.

I’ve only ever heard one sermon on over-coming the “fear of man” (it was by C. J. Mahaney). If you want your congregation to become more missionally engaged, preach on this subject. Preach on it for a month. There would be extraordinary fruit if we could genuinely become a community of those who fear God alone.