So we’ve established that taking care of one another is more important than exercising our liberties. I think we’re ready now to talk about the fear of man.
Fear of man is a powerful disincentive to doing the right thing. We know what we ought to do, but we’re afraid of what people will think.
- Looks to me like the group is about to do something we shouldn’t. I should speak up. But I don’t want to be That Person. I’ll just go along.
- What that guy said about his wife is just reprehensible. I ought to take him aside and talk to him about it. But then he might not like me anymore. Hmm. It’s not that big a deal. Probably what he said doesn’t mean anything at all. I’ll let it pass, just this once.
- If I befriend that unpopular person …
- If I criticize what that cool Christian is doing …
Fear of man. It’s a menace.
I suspect that fear of man is the biggest reason that most Christians—most Christians—ignore Christ’s last and most important command. “Go into all the world,” he said. “And take the gospel to every creature.”
But we don’t. Not to the ends of the earth, not to the next state, not to our neighbor, not to the waitress who came right up to our table and started talking to us.
Because we’re afraid. Of them. Even the friendly ones. And especially the ones we already know.
Fear of man. It’s a menace.
But I’ve seen the charge leveled at people who clearly don’t deserve it. Can you see how someone following the clear principles of our passage might be accused of cowardice?
I have a right to eat meat offered to idols. It’s meat. There’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s this guy in the church who doesn’t think I should. So I won’t.
“Fear of man!” they cry. “You’re free! Free in Jesus! Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage! Do The Thing! Don’t let fear of what that benighted legalist might think stop you from enjoying—celebrating—all that you are and have in Christ!”
Fair enough. But according to our passage, when we say that, we’re not thinking accurately, or precisely enough.
If I refuse the meat because I’m afraid of what someone will think, that’s indeed fear of man, and I need to deal with my soul about that.
But if I’m restraining myself because I care about that brother’s spiritual health—if I don’t want to encourage him to do something he thinks is wrong—then that’s not fear of man. It’s love for my brother.
It’s what every believer ought to do.
So don’t slander that kind of thinking. Celebrate it. Imitate it. Live that way.
Remember what the critic said? “Be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.”
That’s a Bible verse. Galatians 5.1. And it’s true. We ought not to be entangled with the yoke of bondage.
But the Bible isn’t a collection of inspirational quotations to be pulled out and used as ammunition against fellow believers without any understanding of the context.
What’s the “yoke of bondage” we’re not supposed to re-entangle ourselves with? In context (the entire book of Galatians), it’s attempting to earn salvation by keeping the law. Don’t do that.
But you know what else the context says? This verse is at the beginning of a paragraph. If you’ll read through to the end of the paragraph, you’ll find that Paul says, “By love serve one another” (Gal 5.13). That word serve is the same Greek root as the word bondage in verse 1.
Guess what? We’re free from the law, but we’re not free from everything. We’re bondslaves of Jesus Christ (Gal 1.10) (and yes, that thought is balanced by Gal 4.7, but the principle remains).
And, it turns out, we’re bondslaves of one another too. We serve one another. We put our brothers’ and sisters’ needs ahead of our own. That’s what we’re called to do.
How often, when you’re deciding whether or not to do something that believers disagree about, do you stop and consider the effect of your action on the believers around you? How often do you decide to serve your fellow believer instead of your own desire for freedom? How often?
I’m not asking you to be in bondage to the fear of man. If you labor under that burden—and most of us do, at one time or another—then take that burden to the cross and leave it there.
But serve your brother. Love your brother. As Christ has loved you.