What’s the Real Problem with Fearing Man?
What’s the big deal with fearing man? What’s the problem with trying to impress one another? The desire for peer approval, that dopamine hit we get when we impress others, that desire to be admired — what’s the problem with it all? Well, on Monday we looked at 1 Peter 3:15. There we saw the commission that we honor Christ or revere Christ in our hearts. It’s a text about fearing God. And it brought to mind a sermon Pastor John preached 42 years back in the fall of 1980. I wanted to share a clip from that old sermon today. Here’s 34-year-old Pastor John to explain this connection between revering Christ and dying to the approval of others.
What is this reverencing the Lord Christ in our hearts? What’s this amazing thing that has the power to turn the fear of men into hope and the power to always give us a reason for the hope that is in us that we can speak to others?
Now, to answer that question in accord with the immediate context, what we need to do — instead of importing our ideas in there and saying, “Well, everyone knows what reverence is” — is to notice what Peter’s doing. Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8:12–13. And I’d like you to look at that with me. He’s taken this quote that God gave to Isaiah for his day, and he’s adapted it for his own situation. God gave Isaiah a warning in these verses about how he should feel about his adversaries and about how he should feel about the Lord God.
Let Him Be Your Dread
We’ll start reading at verse 11, and you’ll hear immediately the similarity to 1 Peter.
The Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:11–13)
You can see clearly that Peter was alluding to this text. It’s not an exact quotation but an adaptation for his own situation. God had warned Isaiah, “Don’t fear what men fear. Fear me — reverence me in your hearts.” Peter takes it, adapts it to the people who are being persecuted in his own day, and says, “Don’t fear what men fear — reverence the Lord Christ.” He puts Jesus right in the place of Jehovah in the Old Testament, which is done more than once in the New Testament.
So if we can find out what Isaiah meant by reverencing (or regarding as holy or sanctifying, depending on which translation you have) the Lord in his heart, then we will have a sound and solid foundation for determining what Peter meant when he said, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15).
Now, Isaiah 8:13 makes it very clear what Isaiah means by reverence for God. It means to fear him instead of fearing men, or to dread him instead of dreading men. Isaiah says, “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). So that’s Isaiah’s, or God’s, explanation of what it means to reverence the Lord in your heart.
Displeasing Man or God?
But now, probably, if you’re really with me, you’re saying, “But surely God doesn’t want his chosen people to walk around filled with the emotion of fear toward God.” That wouldn’t be a very exciting invitation, but only one of misery. But that’s not what God meant here.
We can see that it’s not what God meant if we just look at the next phrase in verse 14, where he promises that for those who do fear him, “he will become a sanctuary.” And then he goes on and talks about what he will become for those who don’t believe him. But he will become for those who fear him a sanctuary. Now a sanctuary is a place where you feel peace and security and hope. So, I don’t think it would be fair to say this text is teaching that we’re always cringing when God is our God.
“Let God be your dread, and he will become your sanctuary.”
That sounds kind of paradoxical. “Let God be your dread, and he will become your sanctuary.” That’s what it says, but it’s not really as paradoxical as it seems if we take verse 13 to mean not, “Be filled with the emotion of fear toward God all the time,” but rather take it to mean something like this: “If you reverence God, you will consider the prospect of displeasing him as a more fearful prospect than displeasing man.”
“That’s what it means to let the Lord be your fear. The prospect of offending or displeasing God will be a more dreadful or a more fearful prospect to you than worrying about what men can do to you.” The degree of Isaiah’s reverence for God was the same as the degree of his desire not to displease God.
Trust His Promises
Now, what in this particular context in Isaiah 8 displeased God? What here in these several verses did God want Isaiah to avoid because it would have displeased him? And the answer is given in verse 12: “Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread” (Isaiah 8:12). God would have been displeased with Isaiah if Isaiah had feared men or feared what men could do to him. Why?
“If Isaiah fears the threats of men, he is casting his vote against the trustworthiness of God.”
Why is God so displeased when we, his people, fear men? Why does that offend God? Isn’t the answer this? He has made promise upon promise upon promise that he would take care of us, and if we believe those promises, it should take away fear of men. It should fill us with confidence and hope if we believe those promises. But if we fear men, then it’s a sign, isn’t it, that we are not believing those promises to take care of us. And when you don’t believe an honest man, he ought to be offended and displeased because you don’t trust him. And so it is with God. God had said to Isaiah, for example, in Isaiah 41, “Fear not . . .” And he gives some reasons:
. . . for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you up with my righteous right hand. . . . For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” (Isaiah 41:10, 13)
You can see God pleading with Isaiah and the people of Israel, “For goodness’ sake, believe me!” Or Isaiah 35:4: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” Now, there are many, many such promises in Isaiah and in the whole Old Testament. And therefore, if Isaiah fears the threats of men, he is casting his vote against the trustworthiness of God and he does not reverence God in his heart. But if he does not fear men, but instead fears to displease God and thus trusts in God’s promises, then he is reverencing God in his heart.