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Posts Tagged ‘fear of man’


The internet is filled with arguing, debate and “discussion”. Whether on Twitter, in a Facebook group or the comments on a blog piece or article, there you find it and it often degenerates into a dumpster fire.

I can often be discouraged by that, particularly when it occurs among pastors and elders. I expect worldly people to act like a dumpster fire. I understand that as a sinner, I am seconds away from starting dumpster fires. But I also grasp something of the grace of God, the love for the saints and other safety nets to keep me from stumbling and hopefully not put a stumbling block before others. It is a process, and part of my sanctification (becoming more like Jesus).

In one of his letters (Works, Vol. 1 pp. 252-257), John Newton discusses candor (or candour for the Brits) in a way that I thought helpful in processing some of the debates I have been a part of in the last year or so.

Candor- noun

  1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: The candor of the speech impressed the audience.
  2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality: to consider an issue with candor. (Dictionary.com)
He recognizes both true and counterfeit candor or open, sincere speech. He asserts that “true candor is a Christian grace, and will grow in no soul but a believing heart.” As a grace, it is a fruit of the Spirit, not our own effort though we are also responsible to seek such candor. If you are a Christian, especially an elder or pastor, you should be marked by increasing candor.
I see some claiming candor, though they don’t use the word, though they don’t seem to know what it means. I’ll get back to this later.
This true candor which is a Christian grace is like this:
“It forms the most favorable judgment of persons and characters, and puts the kindest construction upon the conduct of others that it possibly can, consistent with a love of the truth. It makes due allowances for the infirmities of human nature, will not listen with pleasure to what is said to the disadvantage of any, nor repeat it without a justifiable cause.”
This gives me some hope as I’ve seen signs of growth in me. Newton sounds like he’s talking about charity or love. He’s not. He’s talking about speaking the truth in love rather than divorced from love. “Open rebuke” is often claimed to say the most unloving things to others.
Why do I, as I have been accused by others, “make excuses” for others? I try to form the most favorable judgment of them, unless they prove otherwise (by repeatedly berating or accusing others, as an example). Love should move us to see the best, not the worst, in our brothers. This is most important when information is lacking, when we don’t have the whole picture. What do you fill that in with- the worst you could imagine your brother doing, or the best? Are we being charitable or giving way to the inner Pharisee who loves to condemn all who dare differ from us?
This is to be consistent with a love of the truth. We don’t sweep facts under the rug. It is about seeing facts in context, and allowing the person to speak for themselves. Newton is not wanting us to avoid accusation of sin, but to be clear that what we are calling sin is actually sin, and they are actually committing it.
We also make proper allowances for human frailty. We don’t expect people to be perfect, nor express everything perfectly. I sometimes get frustrated with CavWife because she doesn’t express things the way I would, and then I misunderstand her. We talk about that, about how we can communicate more clearly. But I don’t accuse her of being a liar! (Or a liberal/progressive/fundamentalist/Pharisee, poopy head, idiot, jerk etc.)That starts a dumpster fire.
Recently we had one of these discussions, and a child asked if we were getting a divorce (likely because some extended family is, not because this is an everyday event). My reply was that this was so we didn’t divorce, but talked through our issues. And we do it without name-calling. But I digress.
To use today’s jargon, this is a gospel-driven (or centered) candor. Newton wants to derive such candor from the gospel. He recognizes the power of sin even in the best of us.
“There is an unhappy propensity, even in good men, to a selfish, narrow, censorious turn of mind; and the best are more under the power of prejudice than they are aware.”
Yes, even the best of us have prejudices or blind spots. We will deny it, but sometimes the charge is true. Some men get particularly exercised over certain subjects. So exercised that they are unreasonable and express themselves with great flair, as one friend noted recently.
Newton continues to describe what this gospel-centered candor looks like.
“A truly candid person will acknowledge what is right and excellent in those from whom he may be obliged to differ: he will not charge the faults or extravagances of a few upon a whole party or denomination: if he thinks it is his duty to point out or refute the errors of any persons, he will not impute to them such consequences of their tenets as they expressly disavow; he will not willfully misrepresent or aggravate their mistakes, or make them offenders for a word: he will keep in view the distinction between those things which are fundamental and essential to the Christian life, and those concerning which a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers.”
In controversy, we often ignore the common ground. Perhaps we assume it, but based on the accusations I often see flying about we aren’t. We are ignoring the common ground and focusing on the points of supposed disagreement as though that was all that mattered. Then we begin to accuse people of ideas and actions they haven’t thought or committed.
Too often the actions of a few are imputed to the “whole”. For example, a conference like Revoice means that the PCA is turning into the PC(USA), a group of compromising people one step away from liberalism. That’s the stuff I push back against but, frankly, it isn’t true.
True candor doesn’t put words in other people’s mouth, and it accepts what people say. The issue of identity was huge in the Revoice dumpster fire. I found a stubborn refusal by many to accept what they meant by key phrases on the controversy, and a stubborn demand that others use “my terminology”. Candor can say, “not the way I’d put it, but I can understand what you are trying to say.” It doesn’t burn down the house over a word or phrase someone knowingly uses differently.
True candor also recognizes that good Christians disagree on things not essential to the Christian life. Scripture is not equally clear on all issues. There are some disagreements (many?) that don’t strike at the vitals of Christianity. As a result, we shouldn’t draw lines in the sand over them. Acknowledge you disagree, be honest about that, but don’t make the other person into a damnable heretic as a result. They aren’t Servetus just because you disagree with them on a finer, less clear point.
Newton provides us with another remind that should dampen our desire to set the dumpster on fire.
“Let us, my friend, be candid: let us remember who totally ignorant we ourselves once were, how often we have changed sentiments in one particular or other, since we first engaged in the search of truth; how often we have been imposed upon by appearances; ….”
Remember that you grew into your positions, and they may need time to grow into them as well. I don’t get angry because my 8 year-old can’t do algebra yet. While, for instance, all elders have the same office, they don’t have the same maturity and experience. While God may want to use you to help them grow, accusations, name-calling etc. is not how He intends that to happen. Can you imagine how the conversation with Apollos would have gone if Priscilla and Aquila started with “Apollos, you ignorant mimbo…”? A different, better conversation is “I think you are right here, and have some qualms about these things.”
Newton does warn against false candor, which “springs from an indifference to the truth, and is governed by the fear of men and the love of praise.” Make sure there is an indifference to the truth rather than a greater emphasis on one truth than you put. I’ve heard such accusations about the fear of men that wasn’t necessarily true. For instance, when I joined in repenting of our denomination’s past racism, it wasn’t because I was afraid of others or I was virtue signalling. I believed it was the right, biblical way to deal with our history even if I wasn’t a part of it (I’ve only been here 10 years). I chose a path of reconciliation. So, I think candor doesn’t assume motives and accuse but asks about them.
True candor doesn’t divorce itself from truth or minimize truth. It grapples with truth, and sometimes that can be hard to do in our world in light of our human limitations and sinfulness.
“Far be that candor from us which represents the Scripture as a nose of wax, so that a person may reject or elude the testimonies there given to the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the all-powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, with impunity.”
To be Christian candor is to maintain essential Christian doctrines. In the context of the letter, he affirms the gifts of non-Christians in their areas of expertise (doctors, lawyers, engineers etc.) without commending them in theology. So, we see here another boundary placed upon true candor. It recognizes the limitations of others, as well as their strengths.
“Then the strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and believers would receive each other without doubtful disputation.”
There are strong and weak brothers. Mature and immature brothers. The strong and mature should bear with, rather than condemn, the weak and immature. Far too often we doubt another’s relation to Christ because they don’t align with our theology or method of ministry perfectly. We play the role of judge which is reserved for God. I’m not saying you can’t disagree, or express that disagreement and say something is wrong. What I’m saying is that our tendency to declare someone who holds to basic Christian tenets and evidences grace to not be a Christian because we disagree.
True candor doesn’t just happen. Newton ends this letter with this recognition.
“… we ought to cultivate a candid spirit, and learn from the experience of our own weakness, to be gentle and tender to other; avoiding at the same time that indifference and cowardice, which, under the name of candor, countenances error, extenuates sin, and derogates from the authority of Scripture.”
Discernment and candor are not simply about recognizing what is wrong, but also about recognizing what is right. The people we interact with have both right and wrong ideas. I am not 100% right and they 100% wrong. When we act like that, we start dumpster fires and destroy relationships with people who are our brothers. May God help us to learn how to disagree with one another so that we grow together, before it is too late.

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One of the Mistakes Leaders Make is to shift from pleasing God to people “mere” people. This temptation is always there. There are budgets to be met, goals to achieve, etc. And all those require people.

One of my professors used to tell us that if you make your living from your faith you risk losing either your living or your faith. It was then that he’d say “Two car garage, two car garage.” Essentially we are tempted to fear man instead of fearing God.

“In ministry we will always have those who try to push, manipulate, and even bribe the leader into doing what keeps various people happy. … But the temptation to keep people happy is always nipping at our heels.”

It is there when people pressure you about how long you preach (I don’t have that problem anymore, aside from CavWife floundering if I’ve gone on a rabbit trail). It is there when budget time arises. It is there when people come to tell you how they think we should be worshiping (what song or style or …). It is there when people make special contributions. It is there!

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I tryingto please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1

Paul felt it. He was under pressure from the church in Galatia on the issue of circumcision. Sometimes the pressure is about something of lesser importance. Sometimes, like in Galatia, it is a gospel issue. Either way, we are to remember that we are servants of Christ and therefore are supposed to do His bidding.

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Ed Welch has a new book out that looks much like an old book, When People are Big and God is Small, for a younger audience. God is Small. But that would be a superficial assessment.  Ed Welch continued to think about the fear of man, and the fear of God. He thought about the topics with respect to teens and young adults. The result was What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?.  I’m glad he kept thinking about all this.

The book does have a different vibe due to the intended audience.  It looks less formal (including the questions for thought & discussion) and more “trendy”.  He encourages the reader to write liberally throughout the book. The sentences are less complex, reflecting a lower reading level. He continues to provide a lot of instruction from Scripture on the topic. He walks us through the texts so we understand what they mean and how they apply.

He breaks it down into 3 big questions: Who is God, who am I and who are they? He begins with talking about how it starts in the heart. And that we all have this problem (fearing people). We all give the opinions of people far too much weight in our lives. Toward the end of the book he talks about how with family we are not (very) self-conscious. But once we go out the door, most of us care far more about how we look and act. While this is good in one sense, so we don’t all end up on People of Walmart, it can run our lives. We give other people far too much power to control us.

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The Fear of God is one of those topics that is greatly neglected, much to our own hurt.  My sermon text this week includes God’s great test of Abraham to see if he feared God.  Though we hate to think of such a thing, I suppose God tests us often to see if we fear/revere Him or if we’ve given ourselves to an idol of some sort.

“There flows from this fear of God a readiness and willingness, at God’s call, to give up our best enjoyments to His disposal.”  John Bunyan

Additionally:

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Exodus 20

They were afraid that God was going to stomp on them.  After all, they were sinners.  But Moses tells them not to fear, but to fear God.  Sounds strange doesn’t it.  We rob God of glory when we fear anyone or anything instead of Him (like when we love anyone or anything instead of or beside Him).  The fear, or reverence, of God is what was to keep them (and us from sinning).

“Moses draws a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God. … Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience of Him.  But fearing God will keep us from sinning.”  Jerry Bridges

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In the next 2 chapters of his book, Gospel-Powered Parenting, William Farley covers the tools of discipline.  No, it isn’t about spanking spatulas, switches and the like.  Discipline is one of the tools parents use to instruct and guide their children.  The gospel does not eliminate discipline, but provides a foundation for loving, gracious discipline.

His starting place is Ephesians 6:4- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The 2 tools of parenting here are discipline and instruction.  To neglect either is to provoke your children.  We forget that discipline, from a biblical perspective, is an expression of love (Hebrews 12 which quotes Proverbs 3).  With our Father in heaven as our example, we see that love motivates discipline.  This is because the parent wants what is best for the child and seeks to protect the child from danger- including self-destruction.  We fail our children when we kid-proof our lives.  They must learn proper boundaries, and that there are consequences to crossing boundaries.

He gives a list of reasons why the gospel is the proper foundation for discipline:

  • It convinces us that indwelling sin is the real problem.
  • It convinces us that authority is a crucial issue in parenting.
  • It convinces us that the heart is the issue and we must seek heart change.
  • It convinces us that discipline can preach the gospel to our children.
  • It motivates us to fear God.
  • It helps us to grow in humility and sincerity.

When I worked for Ligonier I used to have a sign on my cubicle that read: It all leads back to depravity.  All of the customer service problems (and employee problems) were rooted in that.  The same is true for parenting issues.  Children do not need to be taught to do wrong- it apparently happens ‘naturally’.  We do have to work hard to teach them to do that which is good.  It leads back to depravity.   When we think our kids are basically good, we think all they need is a little info instead of a new heart that longs to obey, which is only promised in the gospel.

Discipline, or the lack thereof, also preaches.  We communicate whether or not disobedience is taken seriously, which can have disastrous results as adults (they can become irresponsible and unable to maintain relationships and jobs).  We also forget that if we don’t discipline them, God will.  By the time he does, they are far more entrenched in their sin and rebellion.  It will be that much more painful.  We are wise to discipline them while they are young.  We show a lack of love if we refuse to discipline our kids.

Farley brings the discussion back to the fear of God (the fear of a son, not a slave).  If we do not fear God, we will inevitably fear our children.  We will live for their approval and love in return.  We will not do the important but difficult things necessary to correct them and show them the right way.  The gospel shows us how deadly sin is, as well as God’s gracious work of adoption, which work to develop respect for our heavenly Father.

Farley does not delve into details.  He’s looking at the heart.  These are helpful chapters.

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In Galatians 1-2 one of the dominant themes is the fear of man.  Paul, in lovingly yet boldly confronting the Galatians, and exposing the false teachers was living in the fear of God rather than the fear of man.  He was not accomodating the gospel to please anyone, recognizing the divine origin of that gospel.

On the other hand you have the account of Peter in Antioch.  He, again, succombs to the fear of man (his besetting sin, and lest you’re too hard on him- you’ve got some too!).  He shrunk back from fellowship with Gentile Christians and hypocritically followed the dietary laws out of fear, not conviction.  And Barnabas joined him.  Two important Christian leaders fell victim to this sin- and Paul displayed gospel boldness by confronting Peter publicly.

While not referring to these events, Milton Vincent talks about gospel boldness in A Gospel Primer for Christians.

“Boldness is critical.  Without boldness, my life story will be one of great deeds left undone, victories left unwon, petitions left unprayed, and timely words unsaid.  If I wish to live only a pathetically small portion of the life God has prepared for me, then I need no boldness.  But if I want my life to bloom full and loom large for the glory of God, then I must have boldness- and nothing so nourishes boldness in me like the gospel!

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Nehemiah’s enemies sought to promote fear.  Oddly, they feared him because they saw that he was getting the job done.  They knew they had to cripple or remove him somehow.  They sought to inspire fear in him & the people (the Hebrew word for fear is found in 6:9, 13,14 & 19).  Rather than fear man, Nehemiah feared God.  The tables are turned because after the wall is completed the surrounding nations were afraid.

One resource in exploring and addressing the fear of man is Ed Welch’s excellent book When People are Big and God is Small.  I can’t recommend it enough.

In doing some research for illustrations, I realized I wish I could play this Monty Python clip for them.

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