The following text is an excerpt from Edward T. Welch‘s book
When People Are Big and God Is Small.
The New Testament Pharisees shared King Saul’s fear of rejection. They craved acceptance and approval from the people and they were afraid they wouldn’t get it. Many Pharisees boasted that they didn’t believe in Jesus and they even accused those who did of living under a delusion. (John 8 : 45-50) Yet there were some leaders who could not ignore Jesus authoritative teaching and miracles, and they quietly believed in him. In other words, they believed that Jesus was sent from God; he was the Messiah for whom they had hoped and prayed. With such a conviction, you would think that these leaders would become disciples immediately and seek to persuade the people to believe. Yet it didn’t happen. Their faith quickly withered. Why? They feared confessing their faith because of the possible reactions of those in the synagogue, “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12: 42-43) They felt they needed the praise of people. They feared rejection more than they feared the Lord.
It all sounds too familiar. Sometimes we would prefer to die for Jesus than to live for him. If someone had the power to kill us for our profession of faith, I imagine that most Christians would say, “Yes, I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” even if it meant death. The threat of torture might make people think twice, but I think most Christians would acknowledge Christ. However, if making a decision for Jesus means that we might spend years being unpopular, ignored, poor, or criticized, then there are masses of Christians who temporarily put their faith on the shelf. “Death is not imminent, so why hurry into such a rash decision?” “There will be time later to get things straight with God.”
In other words, kill me, but don’t keep me from being liked, appreciated, or respected.
Does that sound too harsh? Remember that one word: evangelism. I am sure that many teens would rather die than have their friends catch them hanging out with church youth group or doing Christian drama on the streets. Aren’t the most popular mission trips the ones that take us far from our own neighbourhood? Russia is easy; our own neighbourhood is a constant challenge. Has anyone consistently had the boldness and clarity of Jesus in testifying about the gospel? Never. Has anyone consistently avoided the fear of man in evangelism? Certainly not. There is a “foolishness” inherent in the message of the cross. The clear proclamation of the gospel does not make us look good. It doesn’t make us popular.
(in the same chapter under the heading “Peer Pressure” and the Praise of God)
The sin resident in the human heart (fear of man) wields awesome power. The praise of others – that wisp of a breeze that lasts for a moment- can seem more glorious to us that the praise of God. Jesus himself told the Jewish leaders, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)Today we would be nice and call the Pharisees people-pleasers. We would say they “struggled with peer pressure.” Since all of us are affected by it at one time or another, we are almost sympathetic toward such behaviour. But this is perhaps the most tragic form of the fear of man. Teenagers are constantly making unwise decisions because of it. Adults too, look to people for their cues. We wait for others to take initiatives of love. We spend too much time wondering what others may have thought about our outfit or the comment we made in the small group meeting. We see opportunities to testify about Christ, but we avoid them. We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord).
Jesus stood in stark contrast to this Pharisaic concern. He did not show favouritism; instead, he reached out to male and female, rich and poor, and all races and ages. His teaching was not done by first taking a poll of what was popular; instead, he spoke truth that was often unpopular but could penetrate the heart. “I do not accept praise from men,” he said.
This book is a great read if you are keen to get honest with your own heart and work on living in the fear of God.
Grab yourself a copy.