The Fear of Man

…and (the Lord) will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion's treasure. - Isaiah 33:6

by Josh Hughes

I listened to a fascinating podcast on vacation last week about Wilt Chamberlain, who in 1962 set the record for most points in an NBA basketball game. Wilt finished with a nice round 100. This was a remarkable accomplishment (for example, in the season that just ended no one scored more than 60 in a single game), and it’s hard to imagine that record ever being broken.

But the story this podcast was telling considered a particular nuance to Chamberlain’s game in 1962 - that season, he shot his free throws underhanded. He was an historically bad free throw shooter in his career, making only around 40% of his attempts. But in ’62, he began shooting them underhanded, starting from his knees and flipping the ball upward rather than shooting from over his head.*

And his free throw shooting improved to 60% for the ’62 season. In fact, in his 100 point game, he made 28 of 32 shots shooting underhanded, or 87.5%.

But when the next season started, he abandoned the method and went back to overhand free throw shooting (and back to his dismal percentage). Chamberlain gave the reason in his autobiography:

“I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong, I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way, even now the best one in the NBA Rick Barry shoots underhanded, I just couldn’t do it.”

The Bible has a term for the sentiment Chamberlain is describing - it’s “fear of man.” Fear of man is the love of man’s approval, and the fear of failing to obtain it or hold onto it. It’s what drove Wilt Chamberlain to abandon his successful method of shooting free throws - he felt like a sissy, he was embarrassed about what people would think of him. Fear of man is also what often keeps us from doing and saying what would please and honor God.

John’s scathing and sobering indictment of the authorities in Jesus’ day was that many “believed in (Jesus), but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42). And we do the same thing. We don’t take that opportunity to share the gospel because we fear the loss of our neighbor or coworker’s approval more than we fear God. We don’t confront that sin in our friend because we would rather please them than please the God who is jealous for their repentance and restoration. We’re willing to compromise our convictions because we’d rather maintain a thin veneer of peace with others than do what God requires.

Have you ever given in to fear of man? I know I have.

What’s the remedy? How do we overcome it? There are several layers to the answer, but let me give you the most foundational one - we replace fear of man with the fear of the Lord. As Ed Welch says, “the person who fears God will fear nothing else.”

When fear of man tempts us, we can look to Jesus Christ. Jesus was despised and rejected by men as he lived in perfect fear of the Lord; it took him all the way to the cross where he bled and died to purchase our salvation and acceptance with God. The best news in the world is that if you’re in Christ, something has been secured eternally for you: in the gospel, God loves you, he approves of you, you are his adopted son or daughter, and your times are in his hand.

When you believe that and take hold of it, you can be bold in speaking the truth. You can be humble and transparent about your sin. You are free to take risks for the gospel, believing that the Lord is with you. Don’t worry if the truth makes people think you’re silly. The Lord is your keeper… he will keep your life (Psalm 121).

I hope you and I can be refreshed in that truth today. I hope we experience the freedom of the fear of the Lord this week.

*My friends and I called that particular method of free throw shooting, “granny style,” though I doubt we would have said so to Wilt’s face, considering he was 7’1’’ and 275 pounds.