The Fear of Rejection
By David Jeremiah
If our love for the Father drives us to seek only His approval, we will not need to fear rejection from others.
HUMANS are the only beings on planet Earth that have a built-in longing for approval. It originates deep in the human psyche, where we have embedded the knowledge that we are not what we were created to be. We sense the truth of Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and [fallen] short of the glory of God.” Believing we have lost God’s stamp of approval, we search elsewhere for affirmation, which leads to dramatic missteps.
The Bible has a name for this need for approval: the fear of man. In the Bible, the word fear means more than fright; it’s any kind of awe and reverence that causes us to subject ourselves to something or someone else. King Solomon sums it up well in this proverb: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25, NKJV). Yes, to fear other people is a great snare, yet it’s our great folly that we keep doing it — just as people did in Bible times.
The story of Peter disowning Jesus three times is one of the best known in the Bible — even in world literature. We often think of Peter as impulsive, faithless, or excitable. But the root of his weakness, it seems, was fear. That’s the case for many of us. Peter feared disapproval so greatly that he let its shadow come between him and Jesus, whom he loved, and in the moment of all moments when he might have stood up for the Master, he denied he even knew Him.
After the crucifixion, Peter probably thought his three- year hope of Jesus’ becoming Israel’s king had failed. Or at least he, Peter, had failed. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter probably thought his chances of finding a place in His kingdom were slim to none. So he and some of the other disciples retreated to Galilee to take up fishing again.
But Jesus went after His disciples. He met Peter and the others on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was there that Peter discovered the good news. Even though he had miserably failed his test of loyalty, it was possible to be restored.
There on the shore of Galilee, Jesus initiated a vital conversation with Peter. He asked him the same question three times: “Do you love Me? … Do you love Me? … Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). Just as Peter had verbally denied Jesus three times, Jesus asked Peter three times to verbally declare his love for Him. If Peter was to fulfill Christ’s commission, love for Jesus would have to be his highest motivation.
No one can say he loves Jesus who fears man more. And no one can fear man who gives all his love to Jesus.
When Jesus told Peter, “Tend My sheep,” He was charging him to spend the rest of his life putting the well-being of the sheep above his own. Fear drains us, while love empowers us. When we love others (including those who can harm us), life is no longer about us, and fear of disapproval is driven away.
Jesus’ new commission for Peter did not mean Peter would never again be afraid. It is possible to feel fear and faith at the same time without fear getting the upper hand. It is even possible to experience the fear of disapproval from others while knowing that God approves us totally.
When others intimidate us for standing for biblical values, we are called to glorify God. When we face physical, financial, vocational, or other harm at the hands of others, we are called to glorify God. We may never be called to glorify God with martyrdom. But we are called to glorify Him in everything we do. That includes showing courage in the face of the disapproval of others.
When it was time for Peter to stand up and be counted for Jesus on that terrible night in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, he failed. And many of us have failed just as he did. But those days can be over for good. We know how strong Jesus stood for us. We know that He cared for no man’s approval, but only the approval of the Father. That’s the bottom line. It is more than enough to give us the boldness to stand and be counted for Him.
Taken from What Are You Afraid Of? by David Jeremiah. Copyright © 2013. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
DAVID JEREMIAH is senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. He and his wife, Donna, have four grown children and 11 grandchildren.
This article originally appeared in Mature Living, September 2014. Subscribe.