Fear of God and Fear of Man are diametrically opposed.
Fear of God is best understood as awe.
Imagine falling asleep on a mountain after a long day hiking trails. You want a grand vista when you awake, so you sleep near a bluff. Now imagine that, during the night, you’ve rolled over and you wake up not near the cliff, but at the very edge of the cliff. That’s the sort of fear the Bible describes. It’s not terror. It’s respect. It’s awe. It’s a recognition that there is something undeniably dangerous, but only if we’re foolish enough to take it lightly.
The Fear of Man is best understood as the need for approval.
You like a girl—or want to impress your boss—so you go the extra mile and put in the extra hours in order to garner their attention. But it’s not enough. Soon you find yourself doing more and more and more for them, beyond what’s reasonable. Before long, you’ve compromised something in order to win them over. Maybe you’ve compromised your family, maybe your health, maybe your ethics. The point remains, the fear of not meeting their approval has led you to compromise.
Proverbs 29 tells us that ‘the fear of man is a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe.’
When we enslave ourselves to the opinions of others, we’re doomed for low self-esteem and insatiable need for validation. On the other hand, when we recognize the greatness of God and live—first!—in awe of him, the opinions of others ceases to be such a burden.
Herod’s need for belonging, rights, and a better reputation add up to a classic case of the fear of man. Herod, certainly, was caught in ‘the snare.’ His every action was a slippery self-serving mess of opinion-winning. His life was a charade that, eventually, everyone saw right through.
What about you? Do you take God for granted, forgetting how magnificently awesome he is? Or do you ever pander for the approval of others?
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com