The Fear of Man part 1
Along with fear that people may have of something bad happening to them, another aspect of fear that I wanna emphasize this morning is the fear of man. Proverbs tells us that the fear of man brings a snare. Proverbs 29, 25, I guess we should complete the verse as well, it says the fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted. And fear of man is a very common problem in counseling cases and it can be a sinful fear of a spouse, of a friend, of a parent, of a boss. It could be the fear of man in the sense of being a people pleaser, rather than a God pleaser. One of the best book titles ever is, Ed Welch’s book When People Are Big And God Is Small. That’s a great summary of what it is when you fear man, is you’ve shrunk your view of God and you’ve expanded your view of people. And what he seeks to do in the book is to expand our view of God to show us how small the people really are.
Introduction to Jeremiah 17:5-8.
One of the passages which I use a great deal in counseling is in Jeremiah, chapter 17 beginning in verse five. And this is one that, again, as you’re trying to expand the breadth of your counseling bible, should be an important one to know. I’m gonna read Jeremiah 17, verses five through eight. “Thus says the Lord, cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and his heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream. And will not fear when the heat comes but its leaves will be green, and will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”
If You Trust in Mankind, You Will Be Cursed. Jer 17:5-6; 11:3; Gen 3:14,17
Now, if you’re gonna jump with the counselee into the middle of Jeremiah, hopefully you know what’s going on in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah. And he was in dark days, this was around 600 years before Christ. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already fallen to the Assyrians and the Babylonians were on their way, in terms of, very soon, the southern kingdom would fall as well. And when he is saying cursed is the man who trusts in mankind, makes the flesh its strength, this is describing the sins of the people of God, of Judah, as they saw the dangers from enemies around them, they would try to trust and to form an alliance, like the Egyptians along with their idols, their false gods. They might rely upon themselves, and their own abilities, and they fail to trust God. And what He’s saying, you know, cursed is the man who trusts in mankind, and makes flesh his strength that, you know, he says flesh there he’s saying how pitifully weak mankind is. And that people ultimately can’t be the source of your hope and your trust. And He says, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. So when we put our ultimate trust in people, that our hearts are being disloyal to God.
Earlier, Jeremiah said for my people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. And he uses a picture, this is actually does this remind you of any of the psalms, the picture that he uses here? He had Psalm one, where the same illustration is used of a tree planted by the water is the one who is trusting in God, but on the other hand, the person whose heart turns away from the Lord and is putting all of his trust in people he says will be like a bush in the desert. That’s a very vivid picture. It says that he will not see when prosperity comes he’s going to live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitants. So this is a picture of what Israel and Judah were like in those days. Is they were under the curse of God, they were in a time of dryness, either in exile or going into exile, but of course, as we apply it to ourselves and our counselees, we are like Israel was. That we are prone to actually kind of be like Judah, perhaps, double-minded on the one hand we say we trust in God, on the other hand, we’re really putting our hope in people.
And as this applies to our counselees, I mentioned yesterday, a counselee who would get, he was diagnosed bipolar, but what would set him off would be world events. And he would just become consumed, I guess, with fear and anxiety over this thing happening in the world, this war, this president, this economic crisis, and it would just tear him up. But what’s the problem? Well, he’s putting his hope in men. He’s hoping that whoever’s on his side will get back in office, or will attain power to stop this awful thing that’s happening, that he thinks is gonna ruin the world, or ruin his family, or ruin his life. So he’s putting his hope in men, who’ve let him down, rather than putting his hope in God. And of course, politically, that’s how leaders campaign is, they campaign as saviors, not just of one party, but of all parties. It can apply when people look at their job and someone’s afraid of making the employer mad. They’re living in complete fear they may get laid off and so, and then if you’re putting your hope in the promises made by your employer, the opportunities you hope for the future, from this particular job, this particular situation, you’re in danger of being like a bush in the desert.
But of course, the ultimate application is in terms of our human relationships. For many people their happiness is bound up in another person. And in the secular lingo, some would call it codependency. Where you have this person, it’s the wife, the husband, is a drunkard. And so, her happiness is built around how well he’s doing. If he didn’t drink, if he came straight home, then she’s joyful. But if he is home late and there’s alcohol on his breath, then she is like a bush in the desert. It can be in other realms beyond that, that things are hard in your marriage, and you don’t sense the love and respect of your spouse, and you want it very badly. The Scripture is saying don’t put your ultimate trust in mankind. People will let you down. Your children will let you down. For the mom whose children are wayward, if her happiness in this life, if her security in this life is bound up in her children walking with the Lord, or children doing the right thing, or children staying out of prison, that’s putting her trust in the wrong place and she can be like a bush in the desert because those are things beyond her control and people can let you down. Spouses may be unfaithful, children may be wayward, and you can’t, you can’t control it, it’s the wrong place to put your ultimate hope. Even with friends, some people for them, when there’s a certain person you really want to please that person, you really want that person to like you and they don’t have time for you or they’re upset with you, and of course, along with that, can be the temptation out of your fear, to do sinful things. Trying to please that person, and doing whatever you can cause you want a little bit of rain, you want them to rain on you. In relationships, why do Christian girls commit fornication? I don’t think it’s necessarily because they have this super high sex drive, they have to be fulfilled, I think they’re fearful of losing the guy. They’re fearful of being alone. And so they give in to that out of the fear of man, to keep the guy, because he says he, you know, she’s fearful that will leave if she doesn’t get it.
And as I’ve already mentioned, the whole codependency which Ed Welch labels co-idolatry. That if the person is doing well and meeting my needs then things are good. But if the person is letting me down, then I’m going to be either depressed or angry because they’re not doing what I was hoping or what I was expecting. Sometimes when I’m talking to a counselee, and they’re in the situation where you’re in a hard marriage or you’re having trouble with your kids, say well, does it ever rain in the desert? Of course, it helps me because we live an hour away from a desert, and we almost live in a desert here, but there’s a real desert not far from here. And the answer is, yes, sometimes it does rain in the desert. And now and then, in the desert, you can go out there after it’s rained and you see that there are flowers growing and the little bushes have a little green on them and it’s kinda cool looking. But the problem is, the rain supplying the desert is very unreliable. And there’s going to be drought. And in the picture here, it’s even worse than our desert, cause it says that when you’re trusting in man, you’re gonna be like this bush in the desert. And even when prosperity does come, by that time, you’re dead. And if it rains on a dead bush, the bush may not come back to life again. A land of salt, a desert place without inhabitant. For some people, and I’ll speak personally again, sometimes you’re in a marriage or you’re in a family situation where you feel like you’re living in a rainforest. And it’s so good. And you never really, when trouble comes, you realize that you’d never had to learn to trust in God the way this passage talks about, because it had always been so easy. And I think of my own family life, is like, in my marriage, it’s been like a rainforest. My wife has been such a blessing to me, and joy to me that the idea of having to be planted by the river of water and completely trust in God, it was so easy and nice, has been so easy and nice, it wasn’t an issue. What kinda dried up the skies was when we had trouble with our kids. And all of a sudden, we had a drought. I had a drought. And home was no longer a place of unmixed joy. Home was a place of sorrow. And even my wife who is a person, normally, of joy and always smiling and happy and positive, to see her heart broken, to see her crying buckets of tears, it wasn’t any more refreshing to be at home, and not her fault, but things were dry. And one good thing about that, for me, is it drove me into verses seven and eight, and I had to learn that I had to find my joy and my satisfaction, ultimately, in the Lord, and not in my family.
Maybe another kind of fear would be, let’s say you are in a great marriage, but now you’ve learned your spouse has cancer. People can be taken away even if they didn’t let you down. And how will I survive alone? How can I live without her? Without him? Well, that’s what verses seven and eight are all about. Or your spouse has been unfaithful and your desire is that you want them to repent, and yet you’re afraid, you’re afraid to be alone, you’re afraid, how can I get by financially without his support? I’m afraid of being completely rejected. I’m afraid of being shamed in front of others. I don’t want to be a divorced person. Or he says he’s being faithful but I’m afraid he’s not. How can I know? Maybe he wasn’t really at work today. Maybe he was with her. Maybe he’s been lying to me. And we can be consumed with these people-related fears. And so often, when a counselee will come in, I’ll set them up a little bit and they’ll be describing their relationships, be it friendships, or marriage, or courtship, their kids, and I’ll say, do you just feel really dry? Do you really just feel like there’s no sap in your tree? That you’re just so drained, and dry, and empty? Yes, that’s how I feel. And of course, what do they think the solution is? It’s gotta rain. The only way I’m ever going to thrive again, is to find a husband. Or if my kids would turn around. Or if my husband would love me. That my circumstances would change, and if it doesn’t rain, then I’m gonna be a forlorn, forsaken person for the rest of my days. And that’s where you take them then, to verses seven and eight. You have them read this aloud, and it says, “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream. And will not fear when the heat comes but its leaves will be green. It will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” So the answer to the person who is dry is not to change the circumstances. We can’t control that. Your husband may marry this woman he met in the office. And he may abandon you. I can’t promise you, I can’t tell you anything you could do to change that. Your wife may continue to drink. She may continue to be a drunkard. And your house may be a mess. And I can’t ensure you that I can’t give you any counsel that will give you certainty that she will change. But I can tell you this, that God can be depended upon. And it’s learning to turn our heart away from finding our joy in people and learning to trust God in every circumstance.