POST OVERVIEW. Consistently listed among the obstacles to evangelism and the hindrances to speaking about the Lord Jesus in the world is the fear of man. This article argues that the way to vanquish the “fear of man” is by developing a fiery zeal for Christ.
A RECURRING OBSTACLE TO EVANGELISM
Often when a church conducts training on evangelism to consider how the church can be more effective in the tasks of proclaiming the gospel and of being witnesses for Jesus, the subject “fear of man” comes up. The trainer asks the question, “What are some reasons that we fail to evangelize?” and usually the first or second response from the class is, “Fear of man.” There is then an acknowledgement from class and trainer alike that “fear of man” is indeed a problem and the class moves on. But here I want to address this fear so that we can defeat it.
DEFEATING THE FEAR OF MAN
What we are discussing in this post is this idea of “the fear of man” in evangelism and how we can overcome this obstacle so that the name of Jesus comes up easily in our talks with unbelievers and “many will see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).
To do that, I will follow four steps:
- Define the “fear of man”
- Acknowledging the sin and repenting of the sin
- Paul as our role model for zeal
- Exhortation to be bold
DEFINING “FEAR OF MAN”
We begin, then, by defining “fear of man.” [NOTE: I will abbreviate this FoM.] FoM is a feeling that manifests itself in timid actions. FoM is that tension that seems to rise up in our throat and suddenly choke off bold words about the sin of man and the glory of our Savior. FoM is also responsible when we decide the other person is “not ready” for the gospel or to hear about Jesus. When we are face to face with someone who is on our prayer list and we continue to talk about the trivial rather than the eternal, FoM may be to blame. There are many other examples of ways that FoM can thwart our evangelism, but basically, FoM has won the day anytime you and I are convicted by the Holy Spirit that we have not been faithful to use a gospel opportunity.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE SIN AND REPENTING OF THE SIN
We must acknowledge that fear of man is a sin, and therefore is an offense against our holy God. FoM effectively exalts frail, mortal sinners above the Lord Jesus, because we fear man’s rejection or ridicule more than we love the Lord and obey His commands (John 14:21). We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. If we don’t because we are fearful of what men might say or think, then we have elevated man above God. We should, therefore, repent from this sin of fearing man.
I have found that a helpful pattern of repentance is recognize, confess, and repent. Recognize that you were silent about the gospel or about Jesus when you know that the Holy Spirit was prompting you to speak. Recognition leads to confession of the sin. You agree with the Lord that you have willfully disobeyed and have been silent when you know that you were to speak. Having confessed the sin, you express the desire to change and to live a more obedient life. You repent of your silence or your cowardice, or you repent because you were unprepared when the Lord presented you with a gospel opportunity. In repentance, you turn away from the sin and you turn toward the obedient behavior. You pray for boldness and courage and confident obedience (Eph. 6:19-20; Acts 5:41; Col. 4:5-6; Rev. 2:10) and continue to press toward the prize with renewed vigor.
The point is that FoM that silences or softens my witness is sin and so should be treated as any other sin. We should quickly establish a plan of repentance from that sin so that it does not occur again. Put to death (Col. 3:5) the “fear of man” in any and every way that you can.
PAUL AS OUR EXAMPLE FOR ZEAL
When it comes to zealously proclaiming the gospel, Paul is our example. There was nothing that could prevent Paul from gospel proclamation. In his ministry, he had every opportunity to shrink back from telling about Jesus and he never did. (Acts 9 in Damascus – brand-new convert threatened with death; Acts 14 in Derbe and Lystra – stoned for preaching the gospel; Acts 17 in Athens – philosophers to impress; Acts 24 before Felix – preached righteousness and the coming judgment to the man who could set him free; Acts 26 before Agrippa and Festus – preached Christ before the king and the governor)
Consider this verse: “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Here is a classic Pauline statement that speaks directly into our current discussion. Paul was motivated by his fear of the Lord, and this compelled him to persuade men to believe the gospel. In other words, the apostle did not have a fear OF men, as though men were a threat to him, but Paul had a fear FOR men, that they would spend eternity in hell. Because Paul was zealous in his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, FoM had no opportunity for a foothold. Rather, when the glory of Christ and the fear of the Lord are the blaring twin trumpets in our ears, the FoM fades into the background as so much white noise.
This focus on the fear of the Lord gave Paul a zeal for the gospel. Like Paul, we should develop a zeal for Christ that cannot be silenced even by threats of death. Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). For Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We also read that the apostle had as his controlling ambition to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). His fear of the Lord, his desire to please the Lord, and his love for the Lord worked together to create a fiery zeal for the gospel that could not be quenched. Thus, Paul provides for us an example to follow.
EXHORTATIONS TO PROCLAIM JESUS AND HIS GOSPEL
The Scriptures give us many exhortations to proclaim the gospel. The disciple of Jesus is to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), a sower of the Word (Matt. 13:3-8), and a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8) to the remotest part of the earth. We are to “Tell of His glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3), “Make known His deeds among the peoples” (Isaiah 12:4), and “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Ps. 96:2). The disciple of Jesus is to compel, to beg, to persuade, to exhort, to urge, to reason with, and to testify to unbelievers to believe in Christ and to receive the salvation that He offers to sinners.
As those who “have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), we put to death the sin of the fear of man as we simultaneously fan into flame our passion for the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria rmb 12/21/2022 #602