What Do They Think of Me?
“Why did I say that? She must think I am a complete idiot.”
“I really don’t want to serve on that committee, but I just can’t say no!”
“I’m not going to that luncheon. No one will value anything I have to say.”
All of the above statements came from different individuals, but they all reflect the same heart issue. The world often calls it people pleasing, peer pressure, or low self-esteem. The biblical counselor calls it fear of man. What do we mean when we say someone has fear of man? Ed Welch, in his book, When People are Big and God is Small,sums it up nicely:
We know that we should trust the Lord to work things out for our good and His glory, making decisions and moving forward based on what we believe He is calling us to do. But because we fear these individuals more than we fear God, we may try to manipulate certain situations so that we don’t disappoint them. For instance, in the example above about the luncheon, the person might feign sickness or say they are otherwise committed, so they can avoid going. This compounds the sin of fear of man with the sin of lying. In fact, these two sins often go together. You can’t please all the people all the time without some covering up of your imperfections.
In Galatians 1:10, Paul says,
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Clearly, we cannot strive to please man and still remain faithful to God. But how do we grow past the fear of man, so that we can be fully dedicated to Christ? I’d love to say that there are “three easy steps” to this, but like any deeply rooted and longstanding sin, this one is tricky to overcome.
The first thing that someone struggling with fear of man must do is pay attention to what the Scriptures say. You may be thinking, “I’ve been a believer for years, and have read through the Bible many times! I surely know what’s in there!” But often, when we have developed a habit of holding man’s esteem higher than God’s in our hearts, we will find that we have neglected to apply the Bible to our interactions with others. We read the Scriptures, then set them aside and head out the door to work or school without a real understanding of how our knowledge of the Holy One should inform our relationships. There are a few lessons to be learned from Scripture if you are to overcome fear of man:
Learn who you are in God’s eyes.
No matter how much power you have given another person to determine your value, she still has zero. No human being—not even you—can determine your worth before the almighty God of the universe. No matter what you tell yourself about yourself, your value in God’s eyes remains the same: If you are an unbeliever, then you are a sinner in desperate need of Christ, who can never meet His standard. If you are a believer, then you are a saint, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and fully accepted by God. (Isaiah 61:10; Galatians 3:27). No human opinion of you can change either of those truths.
Learn to need God, not people.
Think about what you need. Do you really need this person to like you or approve of you, or is their approval and affection something you desire for reasons that are strictly earthly? Maybe you admire and respect them, and you want them to approve of you, so you do whatever they want you to. Maybe the person has a personality that is intimidating, and you don’t want to tangle with her, because she may put you down. Whatever the reason, fear is at the bottom of the sin you will surely commit if you don’t overcome it: Fear of failure; fear of feeling “less than;” fear of rejection.
The only being in the universe whose approval you really need is God’s, and even that does not come by anything you can do (Ephesians 2:8-9). You are accepted by God because of what Christ did for you, plus nothing (Ephesians 1:3-6).
Learn to love people.
You cannot fear people and love them at the same time. Fearing people is self-focused, while loving them is God focused. We don’t love people because they are lovable. We love people because God loves us, and He calls us to love them. As we enjoy God’s love and acceptance of us, we are able to love and accept others, no matter how we think we compare to them.
The summary of our conversation here seems to boil down to three things after all. While they are not “easy steps,” they are memorable lessons to take away and apply. Do you fear man and want to overcome that fear? If you desire freedom from the bondage of others’ opinions, then you must learn to do three things:
Know God, and who you are before Him.
That’s it. This is the path to freedom from fear of man. When we discover, through reading and application of the Scriptures, who our holy, jealous God is and how much He loves us, the importance of others’ opinions will pale. We will recognize that we have needed people and their approval way too much, and we will begin to need God more. Finally, when we learn to need God—when we truly humble ourselves before His all-sufficiency—we will see that we can love people freely, without an agenda, and without fear.
 The principles outlined here are based loosely on this book, which is one of my favorite homework reading assignments. Welch has authored another book, written for younger individuals (teen to young adult): What do you think of me? Why do I Care? It outlines the same principles in language more suited for that age group.