There’s a funny little strand of my DNA which has been active since as far back as I can remember: I never grow tired of watching practical jokes that include some unsuspecting person getting scared to death by a friend. It probably isn’t an altogether holy component of who I am, but there is just something enjoyable about witnessing someone jump out of their skin when they are the innocent victim of somebody else’s prank. I’m talking about scarring somebody for life with some demonic trick – I’m talking about that reality of someone you love taking a moment to take you on a three second humorous roller coaster ride of a moment of panic, followed by a moment of relief that there was nothing legitimate to actually be afraid of. By the way, early in my marriage, I tried this same thing on Amy once. Once. Never again. Some people don’t appreciate my mischievous streak.
Fear, in the sense I described it above, can be harmless and even fun. For the last few years, however, I have been one who has both personally experienced and unhappily observed a type of fear that is anything but enjoyable. Fear in our lives can be crippling – ruining relationships, short-circuiting Kingdom momentum, paralyzing spiritual growth and causing division in families, churches and other ministries. Fear is a proven weapon in the armory of the enemy, and many have fallen under its piercing blow. Today, I am thinking of a particular type of fear which is operative among the people of God. I call it “the fear of the brethren.”
“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue.” – John 12:42
Jesus had been going around and serving people in unprecedented power and wisdom. The crowds were growing and people were beginning to recognize that the Messiah was walking among them. They saw Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons and even raise the dead. He moved in compassion and did not bow to the religious expectation of his day. He was a maverick Messiah and, consequently, the religious establishment resisted Him constantly. The verse above pulls back the curtain on how the religious leaders held the people in a grip of fear, shame and guilt. We are told that many people were inwardly believing in Jesus but, because they feared what others would think and say about them, they moved in secrecy and silence. They would not go public with what they believed. The specific reason is said to have been that they did not want to risk being excommunicated from their religious gathering place.
They lived in fear and silence instead moving forward in faith and sincerity.
These conflicted people were controlled by what others who disagreed with them would do if they found out what they truly believed.
We should almost always care what people think of us, but we should never be controlled by what people think of us.
Proverbs 29:25 teaches us, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Jesus declared that, if anyone is ashamed of Him and His words, He would be ashamed of them (Mark 8:38). Paul blessed Onesiphorus because the brother refused to be ashamed of Paul while he was being rejected by others and chained up for being true to the faith (2 Timothy 1:16). Paul himself declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). Fear of what people think is a lousy way to be motivated through life. Those who do so never get to be who God created them to be. They live as mannequins, dressed up in something which someone else draped upon them. Mannequins always reveal the ideas and design of someone else’s plan. They cannot position themselves nor clothe themselves. They are plastic, motionless and subject to the constantly changing fashions of the person assigned to dress them up. Conversely, God has created each of us for His own glory and He certainly knows how to present us. He intentionally chooses what to layer our lives in. He situates us in Truth, fills us with His Spirit, robes us in His specific design for us and places on display so that we are accurate (and living!) reflections of who He is. We are not to be plastic mannequins. We are made to be powerful masterpieces. The fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of other people’s opinions will inevitably result in a truncated life, falling short of God’s design. We were made for far better.
“Father, grant courage today to those who have struggled with fearing the opinions of others. Help them not to be blown about by various winds, always shifting towards the latest person who exercises the most dominance among them. Help them to care deeply about how their testimony reflects on the name of King Jesus, but liberate them from being controlled by the opinions of others. Truly make them Your own. Father, a few people reading this need a wholesale deliverance from the spirit of fear. Grant that deliverance to them and continue to grant it as they are tempted to fall backwards into being controlled by others. We must belong to You, Lord Jesus, and we never want to be ashamed of You or Your words. Let us no longer remain as those in John 12:42, who forsook what was true for what would work in their favor. Help us pay the price to remain loyal to You and near to You. Please silence the Pharisees who wish to control us. Please crucify that inner Pharisee in each of us that scolds, insinuates and threatens us as we seek You with the whole heart. Help us to stand courageously, confidently and humbly in the place wherein You lead us. Smile on us, great King. We want our allegiance to be uncompromised. Amen.”