For many the fear of public speaking is rated higher even than their fear of death. Personally, I was scared to death (no pun intended) of speaking publicly growing up. So as I began taking leadership roles in the church (teaching Sunday school, preaching, etc.), it took me a long time to get comfortable in front of people and confront my fear of man.
The more I have preached the more comfortable I get. But lately, I have realized that their should always be some level of caution or fear when preaching. Teaching is a a great responsibility and should foster a healthy level of glossophobia because teachers will face a greater judgment (James 3:1) . When I first started preaching, I could easily trace my fear to a sinful desire to please man. Now, I’m discovering a healthy fear that includes my judgment before God for the things I teach. I think examining both fears are healthy for every teacher in the church.
I remember leading a small group where one of the young men confessed that one of his greatest struggles is loving people too much. What he meant was that he struggled with prioritizing his time around his spiritual life and saying “no” to people. I tried to graciously point out that his problem was not that he loved people too much but that he did not love God more than he loved pleasing people.
His heart issue revolved around his fear of man similar to my fear of public speaking. I was concerned at what people thought of what I said or the way I said it. I was so afraid that I would embarrass myself and was not consumed with being faithful to the message. The best medicine for this fear was a healthy dose of the fear of God and reminder of my Christian responsibilities.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare,but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” And similar, in response to the Sanhedrin’s threats to stop preaching the gospel, Peter and the apostles responded by saying, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Man’s first responsibility should and always has been towards their Creator for as Jesus said:
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:26-28)
If you are to put off the fear of man, you must conversely put on the fear of God. Scripture is clear that fearing man is foolish.
Shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, John records that many began to believe in Him but adds that:
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; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43).
And in Galatians, Paul explains that man-pleasing is antithetical with being a servant of Christ. He writes:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10)
These verses point out that ultimately choosing to please man or God is an issue of worship. Do you want to receive praise or do you want give praise? The flesh desires to be worshiped, but Christians are called to deny our flesh and glorify God. If you want to be a servant of Jesus Christ, you must resist the temptation to be a man-pleaser.
Richard Baxter wrote some very helpful thoughts on this issue called Directions Against Inordinate Man-Pleasing. You can read it online here. But I will end with motivation for your own soul by quoting what he saw as the benefits of seeking to please God over man:
1. The pleasing of him is your happiness itself; the matter of pure, and full, and constant comfort, which you may have continually at hand, and no man can take from you. Get this and you have the end of man; nothing can be added to it, but the perfection of the same, which is heaven itself.
2. What abundance of disappointments and vexations will you escape, which tear the very hearts of man-pleasers, and fill their lives with unprofitable sorrows!
3. It will guide and order your cares, and desires, and thoughts, and labours to their right and proper end, and prevent the perverting of them, and spending them in sin and vanity on the creature.
4. It will make your lives not only to be divine but this divine life to be sweet and easy, while you set light by human censures which would create you prejudice and difficulties. When others glory in wit, and wealth, and strength, you would glory in this, that you know the Lord, Jer. 9:23, 24.
5. As God is above man, thy heart and life is highly ennobled by having so much respect to God, and rejecting inordinate respect to man: this is indeed to walk with God.
6. The sum of all graces is contained in this sincere desire to please thy God, and contentedness in this so far as thou findest it attained. Here is faith, and humility, and love, and, holy desire, and trust and the fear of God joined together. You “sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and make him your fear, and dread, and sanctuary,” Isa. 8: 13, 14.
7. If human approbation be good for you and worth your having, this is the best way to it; for God hath the disposal of it. “If a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him,” Prov. 16: 7. God does this by appeasing their wrath, or restraining them from intended evil, or doing us good by that which they intend for hurt.