The Fear of Man

Del Fehsenfeld, Jr.
Wed, Jun 24, 2009
The Fear of Man

Several years ago at a retreat, our staff discovered that we were secretly struggling with insecurity. As we went around the table, we learned that each one of us had assumed that everybody else was too capable, too qualified, and too established in their positions of leadership to battle with the fear of disapproval. But we were wrong.

That discussion began a new spiritual pilgrimage in my life. We defined insecurity as the condition that results from placing confidence in people or things that can be taken away. Further, we realized that just about everything and everyone on this earth could be taken away from us: our mate, ministry, health, sanity, intellect, friends, charismatic personality, dynamic ability to proclaim God's truth, and all the material things of life.

We learned that real security comes from placing our confidence in things that cannot be taken away: our relationship to Jesus and the truth of His Word.

Consequences of the Fear of Man

The scriptural phrase for insecurity is "fear of man." And Proverbs 29:25 tells us that "the fear of man brings a snare."

  • Some people can't open their mouths to share the gospel with someone because they are choked by fear of what that person might think.
  • Some parents can't discipline their children properly because they are desperate for their children's approval. Others are harsh because they fear how their children's behavior makes them look in front of others.
  • Some people can't disagree with another person or can't stand it when someone disagrees with them because of fear of man.
  • Some, held captive by fear of man, are chained to their sin habits. The only reason they haven't received deliverance is because they would have to shame themselves and confess their sin. Their fear of being found out keeps them in the muck and mire of secret sins.
  • Some seek people's approval by making an attempt to be accepted by everyone, even if it means lowering their standards.
  • Some seek approval by trying to impress people with status or stuff.

And then there are others, like myself, who seek approval by being productive—showing off the number of great things we can accomplish.

It was so bad with me in the earlier years of my ministry that when I recently agreed to preach for a pastor in Des Moines, Iowa, he asked if I would stay in town. When I asked what he meant, he said, "Ten years ago when you were with me for seven days, you were repeatedly flying out of town, and the rest of the time you were on the phone."  He was right.

My pattern was to preach in a location Sunday through Friday, then drive all night to the next meeting. My ministry team would get out of the van exhausted, sit down in a truck stop for breakfast, and I'd be on the phone. I would overhear someone on our team say, "I'm telling you, that guy is the hardest worker I have ever seen in my life."

That was what I wanted to hear. It fulfilled my drive for approval—apart from God. I would nearly kill myself to be approved through productivity.

Finding Victory over the Fear of Man

I kept confessing this sin to God, but I couldn't find real freedom. Finally, under the tutorship of the Holy Spirit, I began to discover that the drive for approval is not a sin in itself. God created it!

When Jesus was baptized, the windows of heaven opened, and the Father spoke: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Jesus Himself received strength and commissioning for His ministry through the approval of His Father. But we must understand that the drive for approval was given in order to drive us to God.

Proverbs 14:26 states, "In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence." That's real security. When you place your trust in the Lord and you live "in the fear of the Lord," you don't care what anybody thinks of you. Your focus is on the things that can't be taken away.

When I was a young preacher, I remember waiting in the front of the sanctuary with the hope that people would come forward and tell me how great the message was. When God started dealing with the fear of man in my life, I started coming down from the platform and, before anybody could speak to me, getting on my knees to ask, "God, was that okay with You? It really doesn't matter if this church likes me. The only thing that matters is, was it okay with You?"

Is it acceptable to you if people don't like you but God does? Is it okay with you if you're ostracized from your friends in order to honor God? Or would you cling to those friends and the security of their approval even at the expense of God's approval?

A major breakthrough happened in my life when I realized that "insecurity" is really rooted in pride. It all came together when I was asked to speak in front of a minister I really respected—and I was nervous. I just knew he'd be sitting there evaluating me.

Right before I got up to preach, a colleague passed a note to me: "Del, I am praying for you. Today is your final exam in the fear of man."

When I read that note, I cried out to God. I said, "God, I'm going to give it everything I've got, and when I get through, the only thing that matters is what You think."

Are you tired of having to impress people—strangers, church members, friends? Are you tired of evaluating and analyzing your decisions based on what everyone else thinks rather than on what God thinks? That's an incredibly heavy load to carry.

If you've been taken captive by the fear of man, God wants to set you free. Begin by agreeing with Him about your sin of pride, your fear of man. Then, seek the accountability of a brother or sister in Christ.

Del Fehsenfeld Jr., founder of Life Action Ministries, gave this message several months before his death in 1989.


Additional Online Resources

The Fear of Man
Podcast Episode

The Fear of Man

Proverbs tells us, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."  This week we have a special message from Life Action's founder, Del Fehsenfeld Jr. Del was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 42. In the last weeks of his life, his burden for conquering this area of fear came out in this personal testimony to a group of pastors.