In our new series on the epistle of II Timothy we have talked a good bit about Timothy’s fear and about our fear as well. Here is another installment on the subject.

In a recent study of two hundred patients, a psychologist discovered that fear was their major problem, and learning to cope with it, their greatest need. He said, “We are becoming a nation of fearful people.” Fear can be an ominous thing when it plagues our thinking process.

Fear wears many faces and depending upon how we handle it, it can either be a God-given instinct for survival or an emotional tyrant, plaguing our lives with anxiety.

For example, fear of flames, hurricanes, floods, and consequences of inappropriate and destructive behavior can be healthy. However, most fears are unhealthy and usually cripple human potential. Some of these fears are the fear of failure, or the future, or of growing old, or of children leaving, or of loss of vitality, or of retirement, or of death. There are myriads of fears, but the one that bites at our peace of mind and robs us of our joy often is the fear of men. Fear of what people might do, fear of what they might think, and fear of what they might say can cast a dark cloud over our lives. Social acceptance seems to be terribly important these days. The fear of being shunned, rejected, or disliked can have an impairing effect upon our lives.

The person struggling with fear doesn’t put himself out because he is afraid of getting hurt. He doesn’t speak up because he is afraid of appearing foolish; he doesn’t offer friendship because he is afraid of being shunned. He withdraws from activity because he is afraid of appearing incompetent or of tarnishing his image before men. That kind of fear is an emotional prison.

Many great men of the Bible had lapses of fear. Abraham lied about his wife, fearing the wrath of Abimelech. Elijah fled from the face of Jezebel because of fear. Joseph of Arimathea was a “secret” disciple of Christ for fear of the Jews. And who, of course, could forget Peter’s open denial of the Lord because of his own crippling fear?

On the other hand, the Bible gives us some radical examples of those who looked fear in the face and called its bluff.

Daniel, who was ordered not to pray for 30 days or be thrown into the lion’s den, refused to be shaken. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when commanded to worship the golden image or be thrown into the fiery furnace, responded with the boldness of a drill sergeant when they said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace…but if He doesn’t, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your god or worship the golden image.” (Dan. 3:17-18)

David, who lived constantly in the shadow of Saul’s threat, wrote, “What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee…. In Thee have I put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” “The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” (Ps. 56:2-4; Prov. 29:25)

What enabled these men to be so strong and bold in the face of incredible odds? How are they able to resist that which has so many people in its grasp?

It seems too simple, yet so difficult. When a person gets to the point in his life where the strongest desire he has is to please the Lord, he will be liberated from the fear of men. We cease to be a prisoner of the fear of others when we are most concerned about what God thinks of us and what most pleases Him.

As we are about three weeks into the new year, let every one of us make it our occupation to resist the temptation to seek the praise of men (applause-aholics) and seek only the applause of heaven . . . It is probably the best new year resolution one could make.