At the human level and at the divine level, one thing is definitive of holy fear (because there is unholy fear): a desperation to please; a passion to please. If you are desperate to please someone, you fear him.
1. HOLY AND UNHOLY FEAR.
The bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) Fear has two parts. There is fear that causes fright and there is fear that stirs the desire to please. For now, let us forget about the fear that causes a man to be frightened. I want us to talk about the fear that causes the desire to please. It is closely related to faith. No one can fear anyone whom he does not believe. No one can fear anyone in whom he does not have faith. So, fear is the basis of faith. Fear leads to the desire to please.
What is the fear of the Lord? Now, let us not talk about the fear of the Lord; for if you cannot fear the man you see, you cannot fear the Lord whom you don’t see.
What is the fear of man?
Do you fear anybody? Please answer.
What is the proof that you fear anybody?
Who here fears anybody?
Who here fears somebody?
Whom do you fear?
What do you know of the fear of man?
I repeat that you can never fear God if you don’t fear man. You cannot handle the invisible when you have not handled the visible. It is impossible for anyone who does not love man to love God. It is impossible for anybody who does not obey man to obey God. He can be very deceived, but he is just deceived. It is like somebody who does not know the voice of man going to hear the voice of God! What do you know of the fear of man?
At the human level and at the divine level, one thing is definitive of holy fear (because there is unholy fear): a desperation to please; a passion to please. If you are desperate to please someone, you fear him. Nobody is desperate to please the one he does not fear. There are two aspects to pleasing. One aspect is the fear of the negative and the other is the fight for the positive. The fear of the negative is that you establish that anything that will displease the one you fear, will never be done. The fight for the positive is that you establish that everything that will please him must be done. Therefore even the slightest desire of the person is law; not to talk of the slightest request! There is no hope of ever fearing God if a person has not got to this. There is no hope at all.
2. JOSEPH AND THE FEAR OF MAN
When people fail at the human level, they will invariably fail at the divine level. Someone who had such fear of man was Joseph. His was a relationship of pleasing his father. And his father loved him dearly. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age (Genesis 37:3). When his father sent him to his brothers at Dothan, he knew he should not go there, because of the hatred that was already cooking up against him among his brothers. (Genesis 37:4). He, however, went in order to please his father. While serving in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, Potiphar’s wife fell in love with him and wanted him to commit adultery with her. Joseph feared his master; so he refused
“…With me in charge’, he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No-one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8,9).
He feared Pharaoh as well. Years later, when his brothers had meet Pharaoh, he taught them how to speak to him. “When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘what is your occupation?’ you should answer, Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians. (Genesis 46:33, 34) It is because Joseph feared Pharaoh that he had to tell his own father and brothers what to tell the King. He was bent on seeing them please the King.
3. SAMUEL AND THE FEAR OF MAN.
Samuel learnt to hear the voice of man before hearing that of God. “The boy Samuel ministered before then Lord under Eli. In those days the word of God was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God has not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, ‘here I am’ and he ran to Eli and said ‘here I am’; you called me. But Eli said, I did not call; go back and lie down. So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called ‘Samuel’ and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said here I am. ‘Here I am you called me’. Eli said my son I did not call go back and lie down. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel a third time, Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, here I am, you called me. Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli said, go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “speak Lord your servant is listening” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there calling as at the other times ‘Samuel! Samuel! Samuel said speak for your servant is listening’ and the Lord said to Samuel… (1 Samuel 3: 1-11) Something ought to have gone wrong in the heart of a man that he never knew the fear of man. The bible has so much to say about the fear of God. My worry is about people who know nothing about the fear of man. How will they understand the fear of God? It is like somebody who does not understand earthly things wanting to hear about divine things.
The fear of man can be cultivated, but indulgence stops many people from cultivating anything of this fear. They have not done so because, not to offend is paying a price. If not to offend is paying a price, then pleasing is paying a great price. I think we have said enough for some people to begin to ask, “What is wrong with me that I don’t know the fear of man? What is wrong with me that I have become like an animal or less than an animal (because some animals have a sense of pleasing).
4. PLEASING THE LORD
Some people want to please God but they have not pleased man. They want to have some relationship with God which they have not had with man. Let these people first please mand and have a relationship with man before they will want to have them with God, because it is a massive folly. People need to know this:
No-one who has not pleased man can please God.
No man who has not honoured man can honour God
No man who has served man can serve God.
No man who has not loved man can love God.
No one who has not known intimacy with man can know intimacy with God.
If I were you, I will not put aside what God is saying to me now, because you may not here it again for the next ten years. The one who knows no fear of God is a disaster. The apostle John says, “If anyone says I love God, yet hate his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who has not loved his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) If you don’t love the man whom you see, how will you love God whom you do not see? And there are many people like that. The tragedy is that when childhood is squandered, it becomes easy to squander the rest of life.
Since my beloved father was in charge of many Presbyterian churches, he used to be away from home most of the time. There is no time he ever came back without us having kept him Kernels or groundnuts, just to please him. There was always something to please him. You could not just go to say “welcome daddy”. I once memorized the gospel of Mathew, chapters 5,6 and 7. It was just to say, “Welcome Daddy” on one of his arrivals home. The desire not to please man is a tragedy. There is a self sufficiency that ruins a man.
Do you have the desire to please man? A man who has no desire to please man may grow to be
but he still remains a baby. Until a person has served someone; until a person has begged to serve, he has not become an adult. When we talk about fear here, it is the fear lest that which is done does not satisfy. I was third in class once in primary school. It was so because I was sick and was carried into the examination hall. Long before the results were out, they had already told my father of my health condition. They had said, “Your son was very sick” But the time I was second in class, I came home weeping, because I had failed my father. He asked me, “Why are you crying?” I told him I was second. He said, “So you failed?”
The ruined heart takes man for granted. It soon also takes God for granted. Meet a wrong human being. Take him to the school of the home. He failed and was ruined, because he disobeyed his parents. The bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise - that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3). Look at a child’s relationship with his parents, and you can tell his future. The hymn writer asks for this change, “Saviour, while my heart is tender.” If it hardens up and grows old, it will take a hammer of God to chip it to tenderness.
Are you earnestly striving to please man? Have you begun striving earnestly to please God? If you have not, then begin. May the Lord bless you as you enter into the way of pleasing the Lord.