Are you overly dependent on other people? Do you care too much what they think? Or do you try to manipulate others to do what you want?
These are all forms of being controlled by other people, and you might be surprised to realize the extent of it in your own life — I certainly was. In this book, biblical counselor Edward Welch looks at what the Bible calls our “fear of man” and how we can overcome it by understanding the character of God and applying biblical principles to our relationships. Soaking in this book (which I studied with a group of wonderful, likeminded young women) was an epoch in my understanding of biblical relationships, counseling, and psychology.
Basically, our fear of man is a worship issue. We worship people because we think they can give us the love and acceptance we crave. Our goal becomes their approval or their behavior that aligns with our desires. When we worship people, they are big in our lives and God is shunted off to the side, minuscule in comparison. We make other people something that we need, and we are always controlled by what we need.
This isn’t something we can conquer if we just work up enough willpower; it is impossible to break free on our own steam. So what’s the cure? How do we train ourselves not to fear man and to fear God rightly instead?
It all starts with the Word of God, which is completely sufficient for all our needs (2 Peter 1:3). We need to meditate on the white-hot holiness of God and His awesome power. When we understand who God is, His creation becomes a lot less intimidating. We must also learn to develop a biblical worldview of God, ourselves, and others and apply that knowledge daily.
One of the things I was challenged with and enjoyed the most in this book was its perspective on secular psychology. Welch addresses the hot-button issue of needs and psychology’s view of the person as an empty “love-cup” that constantly needs to be filled. We are not empty, leaky love-cups with psychological needs. It’s true that we are needy people, but those needs are spiritual (such as salvation and sanctification), not psychological (love and good feelings about ourselves).
This flies in the face of secular psychology, which teaches that you need positive feedback from others to reach the goal of high self-esteem; that is, feeling good about yourself. The problem is that your self-image is still dependent on what other people say and think about you. It may be positive, but ultimately you are basing your view of yourself on what the imperfect people around you think. The real issue — dependence on others for feelings of self-esteem — remains unchanged.
I’ve been guilty of trying to confer self-esteem on others many times, and I can’t believe how I missed the obvious. Basically I was just training that person to continue in dependence on what other people (in this case, I) say.
The whole issue of spiritual needs versus psychological “felt needs” is one reason that so many people don’t find what they want in Jesus. They turn to Him to fill up the perceived needs of their love-cup, and He just doesn’t operate that way. He provides everything that we need, but what we need and what we think we need are two different things. Most of the things we would call “needs” are really just selfish desires. It isn’t always bad things that we’re desiring, either — most of the time it’s good things like love and relationship that we want. The problem is what we do with those good things; it’s the way we desire them that turns them into idols in our lives. We view them as our rights and feel wronged when we don’t get them.
The truth is, high self-esteem is just another term for pride. The Bible’s teaching on man is a dreary one; we are sinful, radically depraved creatures who have no legitimate reason whatsoever to feel good about ourselves. Anything good that we do has a selfish motive at some level.
I know this doesn’t jibe with the accepted bases of psychology which teach that man is essentially good, but it’s what the Word says and I’ve never met a person who wasn’t sinful and imperfect. And low self-esteem is just another form of pride too, because people with low self-esteem are still obsessed with themselves. The ideal is no self-esteem, because in that model self is peripheral, with love for God and others taking center stage in our lives. We can only be free when we are not obsessed with ourselves or with what others are thinking of us.
Our lives proceed out of our theology, as Welch says, and so he treats the basic doctrines of the character of God, the condition of man, redemption through Christ’s work on the Cross, and more. We are all theologians; we just don’t all have good theology.
The section on God’s needs (which are non-existent) is excellent because so often today God is portrayed as some desperate, begging weakling who needs us to love Him in order to experience fulfillment. This is baloney. God is perfectly self-sufficient in the unity of the Trinity; He needs nothing from us. And that is what makes His love so wonderful. He has no ulterior motive; His love is pure.
And I love how Welch makes the point that God’s goal is not us; this is most emphatically not self-esteem teaching dressed up in Christian lingo. The goal of everything God does is His own glory. If He existed to love us, that would make Him an idolater, because He would be centering Himself, the Creator, on something created! He would be no different from someone in the ancient world bowing down to an idol that he himself had fashioned. There is nothing higher in the universe than God’s glory, and so that is what He must seek if He is really a holy and perfect God.
Once Welch establishes the biblical view of needs, he can then talk about how God does fill our real needs (not our felt needs).
From there he moves on to discuss the importance of the Body of Christ and the community of believers. It’s important to note that “community” is not just a Christian idea; there is a move in secular circles toward group identities and relationships. Where the Christian should be different is in his/her motive for being involved in a community. It isn’t just another means toward self-actualization and growth (though we certainly do grow through our interactions with other believers). We should be active members of the Body of Christ because we can’t glorify God and exemplify Christ in isolation; we need others so that we can demonstrate God’s love toward them. In other words, once more it isn’t about us, but about honoring God and serving others. The goal is never a selfish one.
Of course, the community of believers — aka the church — isn’t a perfect place, and part of this chapter talks about dealing with conflict in the church. Ultimately we have to move toward others in love, even when it is costly. That’s what God has done for us. We need to ask ourselves what our duty is toward those who have hurt us, and then fulfill it. Biblical love for others will increase both our sorrows and our joys. The same principle is explored in the chapter on how to deal with enemies and “neighbors” (acquaintances, neither friends, family, or enemies). Loving enemies and even neutral neighbors is impossible without understanding God’s love for us. While we hated Him, He loved us and gave Himself for us. There is no stronger motivation to truly love others, and no other way it is possible.
Welch cites several biblical examples to demonstrate the truth of his arguments. I especially loved his treatment of the book of Hosea. What an incredible, humanly impossible demonstration of sacrificial love. His discussions of Isaiah and Job are also excellent. Welch also uses some case studies from his own ministry and some of them will hit close to home for people who have been sinned against (i.e., victimized) by others.
In addition to the great truths that Welch presents, I appreciated his engaging and seemingly effortless prose. He is eminently readable.
This was a transformational book for me. I am still walking through the cycle of conviction, repentance, and a changed worldview which leads to changed behavior. The fear of man is such an instinctive and powerful part of me, and I will probably be struggling with it till the day I die. But I am not helpless. God has given me what I need to change and has promised to complete His work in me (Philippians 1:6). With His grace working in my life, I will move closer to the goal of loving other people rather than needing them. I will learn to love as Christ loves me; God will become bigger and I (and others) will become smaller. He must increase and I must decrease. There is such freedom in that.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. ~ Proverbs 29:25