We call it by a lot of different names: peer pressure, people pleasing, co-dependency. Proverbs tells us it is a trap into which we can easily fall. What is it and how can we be free from its grip?
Just as our sin nature blinds us to the danger of people-pleasing and co-dependency, we can be blinded about true freedom. Could something that looks like freedom actually bring you into bondage?
Isaiah 51 & 52
Fear, Freedom, Bondage & Co-Dependency
Isaiah 51 & 52:
Hope in Him
Verse 51.4 starts out:
“Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation.
We should be listening to everything God says in His Word, so I had to wonder why God would make it a point at the beginning of this passage to say, “Listen to me …” Perhaps, this is a little like us when we say to our children, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” In other words, what I’m about to say is important. Give me your undivided attention.
Then He began to talk to His people about the hope they had in their coming Messiah. But their hope wasn’t just for the future. They were to put their hope in Him then. Verse 6:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
The earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not be abolished.
Just as we are saved by looking back in faith on what Christ did for us on the cross, their redemption was based on faith in the One True God and the coming of their Messiah.
Instead of focusing on the strength of other nations, they were to focus on Him.
12 “I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you should be afraid
Of a man who will die,
And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?
13 And you forget the LORD your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth;
Matthew 10 says it this way:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
How much time do we waste “fearing man”? It’s a trap into which we easily fall. We may not fear what they might do to us physically. We fear what they think of us, what they might say about us, or how they might sin against us.
“If they find out I’m a Christian, they’ll think I’m a ‘goody-two-shoes’.”
“If I don’t have sex with my boyfriend, he might leave me.”
“If I give in to my wife, what will I tell the guys?”
“If I submit to my husband, he’ll walk all over me.”
“What would they think if they knew about my past?”
“If I don’t lie for my husband, he might lose his job.”
It’s been called people-pleasing, co-dependency, peer pressure, low self-esteem, keeping up with the Jones or being an approval junkie. The Bible calls it the fear of man.
Proverbs 29.25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”
The fear of man will cause us to do things we know are wrong. It brings a snare as we get caught up in pre-marital sex, buying things we don’t need, going places we shouldn’t go, or doing things we shouldn’t do. It brings a snare as we spend sleepless nights worrying, countless hours second guessing things we did, or wondering what someone else thinks of us.
Instead, we need to cultivate the fear of God by asking ourselves:
What does God have to say about this?
Will He be pleased?
Will this bring Him glory?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments (Ps. 111.10).
The fear of the Lord prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened (Prov. 10.27).
The fear of the Lord leads to life, And he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil (Prov. 19.23).
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him (Ps. 34.8-9).
There are many more passages that talk about the “fear of the Lord” or the “fear of God.” The fear of God is not a cowering fear, but an awe and a respect that leads us to loving obedience.
So, the question is, “Will we fear God or man?”
Freedom or Bondage
Just as our sin nature blinds us to the danger of fearing man, we can be blinded about true freedom. Like the fool who thinks he’s wise in today’s Proverbs reading, Paul tells us we can be spiritually dead and think we’re alive. When that’s true, what we call freedom leads to only bondage. But sadly, believers can fall into the same trap.
Paul opens chapter 2 of his letter to the Ephesians with this:
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (2.1-3).
It’s easy to look around and see people caught in the bondage of homosexuality, transgender-ism, and other kinds of sexual immorality … or to look at others who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or some other life-dominating sin and feel pretty smug. We can see that all those so-called freedoms led only to slavery and a spiritual blindness that often takes them deeper and deeper into bondage.
But could it be we’re caught up, if only to a lesser degree, in things that can lead us into bondage?
As a society, we decided we should be “free” to work just like men. Thousands of women leave their marriages every year in the belief that they can do it on their own only to find themselves exhausted, stressed out, and bitter. Others stay married, but have very little time for the things that matter most to God.
I know many of you gave up jobs and careers because you wanted to be home with your children. And others, while you’ve made the decision to work try very hard to keep things in balance. Still others work out of necessity. But many of us still have a huge tendency to take on more than we should.
And when it comes to divorce, almost as many Christians divorce, as unbelievers. I’ve sat across the counseling desk with far too many women who have made up their minds to leave their marriages without biblical grounds. The consequences have taken an untold toll on the church, society and on those women themselves.
Of course, it’s not just women who are in bondage.
Too many men have bought into the lie that they’re “free” to look at whatever they want on the internet, that they don’t need to be involved in spiritual things, they can leave that to their wives, that a new toy or a new woman will make them happy, and that divorce is fine and the kids will get used it.
True freedom can only be found “in Christ” as we discover that we can be free from the guilt and penalty of our sins (Jn. 8.36).
But, even for believers who have been set free from the penalty and power of sin, we must choose to walk in the fullness of that truth. We haven’t been freed to sin. True freedom is the freedom to do what’s right.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness (Rom. 6).
The self-proclaimed freedom to do whatever we want only leads to bondage.
Today’s Other Readings:
God Empowered Givers
Verse 5 begins, “A good man …” and goes on to talk about being generous.
Jesus said, “… No one is good except God alone” (Mk. 10.18). We cannot be “good” in and of ourselves. It is only because we are “in Him” that there is any goodness in us. But when we are “in Him” that will produce the fruit of a changed life. One example of a changed life is that we go from being takers to becoming givers. We become generous like our generous God.
Foolishness Looks Like Wisdom to a Fool
“The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”
If laziness isn’t foolish enough, the more one indulges in it, the more deceived he or she becomes. So much so that his foolishness looks like wisdom to him!
What About You?
Have you ever found yourself in bondage to something you thought you were “free to do”? And what about the “fear of man,” how has it been a struggle for you? It seems to be something we all struggle with in one way or another. Even when we think we have conquered it, it often crops up some place we didn’t expect.
In the next few days we’ll talk about what a mature Christian looks like, what’s going on when we think we can sin now and ask forgiveness later, angry children, hypocrisy, the armor of God and more.
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When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Ed Welch
Welch has written a gem on the need for us to realize how great God really is and how we need to stop fearing other people so much! The focus of Welch’s book is to have a greater healthy fear of God to the point that other people have less power and control over our lives.
Pleasing People: How not to be an approval junkie by Lou Priolo
Are you a people pleaser? Are you addicted to approval from others? Would you do just about anything to get that approval? Biblical counselor Lou Priolo exposes all the prideful manifestations of this problem and, as always, offers solid, systematic biblical solutions! Even readers who think they don’t have this problem should read this helpful book, because what you don’t know can and will hurt you and others.
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