Avoid the Ensnaring Fear of Man
OFTENTIMES it is impossible to please both man and God. A marriage mate, business associates or other persons may want you to do something that is not in harmony with what God says in his Word. In such instances you must make a choice. You must choose whether to serve God or to do what some human associate wishes.
Sound reasoning would dictate putting the will of God first, thereby seeking his favor rather than man’s. But when faced with the actual decision, so many persons kowtow to the wishes of men. The fear of an angry marriage mate, enraged relatives, or the ridicule of friends paralyzes sound reasoning. A person may begin to rationalize that being on good terms with fellow humans is of primary importance. This reasoning, in turn, gives birth to unscriptural compromise. It is just as the Bible says: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare.”—Prov. 29:25.
Can you resist this snare of doing what your friends and companions may want, rather than what God says you should do? Do you value God’s approval more than man’s? These are searching questions that a Christian must face squarely, for Christianity is not a popular way approved by the majority. In fact, the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, said that if you follow him, people will “reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you.”—Matt. 5:11; 7:13, 14.
OPPOSITION WITHIN FAMILIES
Jesus warned that the teachings of God’s Word would cause divisions even in households and within families. “Do not think I came to put peace upon the earth,” he said. “I came to put, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law. Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.”—Matt. 10:34-36.
Now, Jesus did not go around stirring up trouble within families, intentionally setting family members against one another. He had genuine love for people and wanted to see them live together in peace. However, his teachings did have the effect of a sword upon some families, dividing members who accepted Bible truth from those who clung to false religious traditions. This was not the fault of Jesus or the minister bringing his teachings, but the fault rested with the family members who refused to examine their traditional religious ideas in the light of God’s inspired Word. They are the ones who stirred up trouble and fought against those who wanted to study the Bible.
OBJECTION TO BIBLE STUDY
Therefore, it is not surprising today that a person meets opposition from friends and relatives when he begins to study the Bible regularly. Perhaps this has happened to you. You may be enjoying a weekly home Bible study conducted free of charge by a helpful minister. Never before have you learned so many good things from the Word of God. But when relatives and friends found out that you were studying the Bible they may have ridiculed and made cutting remarks. Some may have vehemently objected, even going to the extreme of threatening you with unpleasant consequences unless you gave up the study.
This opposition calls for a difficult decision on your part. You realize that what you are learning is the truth of God’s Word and that it is God’s will for true Christians to take in this vital information. But what will you do? Will you give up the study because of fear of displeasing relatives and neighbors? Are you more concerned with pleasing them than with pleasing God?
It takes real courage and love for God to avoid succumbing to the ensnaring fear of man. This is especially true when opposers are members of one’s own family, and their animosity threatens to break up the home and sever family relations. Under such circumstances one may be tempted to rationalize that God does not expect us to study his Word if it would endanger these natural family ties.
But is that what Jesus said? After he explained that one’s “enemies will be persons of his own household,” he went on to say: “He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me; and he that has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me.” And, on another occasion, he emphasized the degree of the love one must have for him by saying: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple.”—Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26.
Now, Jesus did not mean that Christians must literally hate their relatives, but, rather, that they must love God more than father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, or even their present earthly life. This means that your love for God and his Word must be so strong that even close fleshly relatives will not be allowed to interfere with your study of the Bible. It is true that children are commanded to respect their parents, and husbands and wives are instructed to love one another, but when it comes to a decision of whom to obey, God should come first.
Only this greater love for God can strengthen you to stand up fearlessly for what you know to be right. It will fortify you to avoid the ensnaring fear of man, enabling you to withstand the objections of relatives and neighbors. As the apostle of Jesus Christ said: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint.”—1 John 4:18.
REWARDS FOR FEARLESSNESS
It is helpful to consider the benefits of avoiding the ensnaring fear of man. First, you will have a clear conscience because of knowing that you are doing the right thing, that which is pleasing in God’s sight. In addition, some of those that oppose may come to respect your steadfastness and, in time, may themselves see the value of Bible study. But if you give up a study of God’s Word when opposition arises, how will friends and loved ones be helped to appreciate that accurate knowledge of the Bible is of life-and-death importance?
To give in to their wishes because of fear of what they may think is really showing lack of concern for their welfare. It is like giving in to the wishes of family members who have an excessive craving for alcohol. They may like you for providing them with drink, but is this the way to help them to lead successful lives? Would it not be much better to stand up to their wrath and threats in hope of helping them to overcome their weakness? Certainly you will agree that the endurance of all their opposition would be well worth the possibility of seeing them cured.
Similarly, is it not worth enduring the hostility of friends and relatives in hope that they may have a change of heart and accept the life-giving waters of Bible truth? You will never help them by fearing what they think of you. Neither will you help yourself; for not only will your conscience be plagued for being pressured into compromising, but you will lose God’s favor as well. How happy you will be if you avoid the ensnaring fear of man!
SPEAKING THE TRUTH
But perhaps you have received little or no opposition to studying the Bible in your home. Now, however, you realize that a Christian is under obligation to speak Bible truths to others. Jesus Christ set the example in doing this, “journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.” And the Bible says that, in following his example, the apostle Paul taught “publicly and from house to house.”—Luke 8:1; Acts 20:20.
Today, however, speaking publicly to others about the Bible is not popular. But then, it was not in the first century either. Jesus and his apostles were scorned, abused, and considered misguided fanatics and subversives because of their preaching. (Matt. 10:22; Luke 23:2, 3; John 15:18; Acts 5:40) Do you hold back from speaking Bible truth publicly because of fear of similar abuse? Do you fear that friends and neighbors will ridicule you, and that relations with business acquaintances may be jeopardized? Has fear of losing prestige among men paralyzed you into spiritual inactivity? It can if you allow it to.
This is evidenced by the fact that not all who heard the truth about Jesus Christ in the first century had courage to speak it. “Many even of the rulers actually put faith in [Jesus],” the apostle John observed, “but because of the Pharisees they would not confess him, in order not to be expelled from the synagogue; for they loved the glory of men more than even the glory of God.”—John 12:42, 43.
Apparently those prominent men were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but, because the question of his Messiahship was highly controversial, they were fearful of making a public expression that might make them unpopular. The influential religious Pharisees had vehemently condemned Jesus as an impostor, and were endeavoring to stir up the people against him. So because those rulers feared what men thought of them more than God’s judgment, they remained silent about their faith in Jesus.
True religion today is likewise a highly controversial subject. To preach clear Scriptural truths—such as that God’s name is Jehovah, his kingdom is a government that will soon destroy all earthly governments and bring lasting peace, that Jesus is not equal with God, man’s soul is not immortal and there is no hellfire—is to open one to ridicule and criticism by those holding unscriptural, traditional ideas.—Ps. 83:18; Isa. 42:8; Dan. 2:44; John 18:36; Ps. 72:5-8; John 8:42; 13:16; 14:28; Ezek. 18:4; Eccl. 9:5, 10; Acts 2:32.
But if one remains quiet about his faith because of fear, what will Jesus think of that person? Listen to what he said: “Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens; but whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.”—Matt. 10:32, 33.
How vital it is, then, to avoid the ensnaring fear of man! That snare is death-dealing, while, on the other hand, “he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” (Prov. 29:25) True, it takes courage to face up to opposition, but Jehovah will protect those servants of his that do. Read the twenty-sixth chapter of Jeremiah. Observe how Jeremiah fearlessly continued preaching even in the face of threats upon his life, while the contemporary prophet Urijah “became afraid and ran away and came into Egypt.” What was the outcome? Jeremiah, who trusted in Jehovah, was protected, but Urijah, who trembled at men, was sought out from Egypt by King Jehoiakim, “who then struck him down with the sword and cast his dead body into the graveyard.” How true it is that trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that trusts in Jehovah is protected!
LIVING THE TRUTH
It is not easy to live a Christian life in this evil world. You probably have found this to be so. The Christian apostle Peter certainly did. Because he knew that it was right and proper to associate with both Jews and Gentiles, when he visited Antioch he ate and fellowshiped with the non-Jews there. But when certain men arrived from Jerusalem who were strongly prejudiced against associating intimately with Gentiles, Peter, in fear of what they might think, withdrew and no longer kept company with the Gentile Christians. Because of this compromising action Peter was not living the truth, and the apostle Paul said that “he stood condemned.”—Gal. 2:11-14.
It is just as easy today to be ensnared by fear of what others might think. For instance, you may be working in an office and someone may come around collecting money for a cause for which it would violate your Christian conscience to contribute. Everyone else may give; some perhaps because of a genuinely generous spirit. Others contribute because they feel they are being watched, and want to make a good impression. But what about yourself? Will you violate your Christian conscience so as not to be different?
You will face many similar circumstances that will necessitate avoiding the fear of man. An employer may expect you to cheat the customers, or misrepresent his products. He may claim it is a profitable business practice, and that practically everyone else does it. Nevertheless, it is cheating and, therefore, is unchristian. Will you hesitate to tell your employer you can be no part of such practices, or because of fear of displeasing him and perhaps losing your job, will you unresistingly sink into unprincipled worldly ways?
It takes courage to live in harmony with Bible truth and to avoid fearing what men may think of you. But always remember that if you trust in Jehovah, he will protect you. You have his word for it. “For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’” So “be of good courage and say: ‘Jehovah is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”—Heb. 13:5, 6.
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Opposition to study of God’s Word may come from family members