February 1, 2015 – Why Do We Fear Disapproval?

Mathew 26:40-41

“Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!’

The word of God for the people of God, praise be to God. Let us pray.

Loving God, we are thankful for you and the Holy Spirit surrounding us. Please open our hearts, ears and minds to the message that you have inspired in me, and may the meditations of our hearts be a joy to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times…” you probably remember your father telling you as a child. You were immature, you weren’t listening the first 999 times, and you hadn’t even considered that his warning not to leave your bike parked behind your dad’s car might apply to you. The thousand and first time you left it there, you learned about consequences. Dad was right.

Peter, too, would learn about consequences when he tried to operate in his own perceived strength and wisdom. Did he heed Jesus’ admonition to “watch and pray” in the garden? Was he acting in the Lord’s strength when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant? Would he ever deny knowing Jesus? No! Not Peter! Peter was pretty confident in his own abilities, a “get-‘er-done” kind of guy. Because his confidence was not in Jesus’ power but in his own, Peter had some maturing to do in his fledgling spiritual walk.

Fear would be Peter’s undoing as we learned last week. When asked if he was an associate of Jesus, Peter denied three times even knowing Jesus. Peter had been warned. Jesus told him that the rooster would crow after the third denial, and it did. Peter, realizing that his vow never to betray Jesus was mere bravado, wept in despair. Peter’s vow was undoubtedly sincere at the time, but he simply didn’t have the spiritual maturity to back it. Fear won out.

How and why do we get ourselves into these situations—where fear seems to rise automatically? Dr. David Jeremiah lists five reasons:

1. We are filled with ourselves.

2. We fail to pray.

3. We function in the energy of the flesh.

4. We follow Jesus from a distance.

5. We find fellowship in the wrong places.

Let’s look at how these reasons can cause our undoing when we are faced with fearful situations.

Peter was definitely full of himself. The Bible paints a picture of Peter as an energetic, optimistic, bold, outspoken, and confident man. He was just the kind of person who thought everyone—including Jesus– was entitled to Peter’s own opinion. When Jesus predicted His own death, Peter took him aside and read Him the riot act saying: “Heaven forbid, Lord, this will never happen to you!” Do you remember what Jesus said back to him? “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Who was Peter to tell Jesus that He was wrong? We have to give Peter a break here because he wasn’t the visionary that Jesus was. However, his spiritual immaturity also kept him from considering that Jesus MIGHT be speaking of things of which Peter had no understanding. It wouldn’t have occurred to Peter that he was an instrument in tempting Jesus.

Peter was impulsive, prideful and often an embarrassment. Biblically, Peter was filled with pride of self. Recall the story, for instance, when Jesus walked on water toward the boatload of frightened disciples. Peter impulsively jumped out of the boat to try it for himself. He needed more practice and faith unfortunately. Next, Peter would brashly cut the ear off the high priest’s servant without consulting Jesus or considering consequences again. Peter should have been totally humiliated, because he got another tongue-lashing from Jesus for his irrational behavior. Later, Peter would not only deny he knew Jesus, but he did it three times after boasting that he would NEVER desert Jesus. The rooster’s crow found Peter “eating crow.”

Satan recognized the potential for Peter’s downfall and asked Jesus for permission to “sift Peter as wheat” as recorded in Luke 22:31. Peter needed a lesson in humility in order to learn that his own strength was inadequate if he expected to follow Jesus faithfully. Peter, and every one of us who want to follow Jesus, must learn what Paul preached: that we are weak when we are strong in Christ. There is no place for pride or self-sufficiency in the Kingdom of God. We must reach “up” to God while “down” on our knees.

The second reason that fear of disapproval may overtake us is that we fail to pray to the One who can alleviate those fears. In the garden at Gethsemane, just before Jesus’ arrest, Jesus was setting a perfect example of what we must do when facing intense trial: watch and pray. In essence Jesus was saying, ‘If you don’t watch out for Satan’s temptations and turn to God for support through prayer, you’re leaving yourselves wide open to failure.’ Jesus was under great stress, but He resisted the temptation to urge God to stop His crucifixion. Jesus endured in God’s strength, not His own, even though Jesus was frightened, too. However, his faith trumped his fear. Rather than giving in to the temptation to stop the plan of God, Jesus submitted to the will of God. Jesus had “watched” for temptation, and “prayed” to overcome it. Peter, at that point, saw no need to seek God in prayer; Peter’s own strength had worked fine till then. So he and the other disciples went to sleep! We can operate in our own human resolve until we come to the end of our own resources; then, like Peter, God will bring us to our knees.

Prayer is the only way to be in a constant state of dependence upon God. Prideful people don’t pray because they don’t have any sense of need. They think they can handle any challenge themselves, thank you very much. However, we are much stronger on our knees than we are “standing tall.”

The third reason we fear disapproval is that we function in the energy of the flesh instead of the energy of the spirit. Peter showed that he was operating in the energy of the flesh when he attacked the high priest’s servant. This incident is not without humor. Who did Peter-the-Fisherman think he was, wielding a sword that he probably seldom, if ever, used, trying to defend Jesus, who had legions of angels at his beck and call?!! Peter still did not understand that the kingdom that Jesus talked about was “not of this world”. Neither Jesus nor God needed defending by Peter’s fleshly zeal. Fleshly attacks are wimpy in comparison to living in the power of God’s Spirit.

The fourth fear of disapproval occurs when we follow Jesus from afar. While Jesus was being arrested and taken away, scripture tells us that Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Don’t we all at times? We want to have our cake and eat it, too, just like Peter. He stayed close enough to Jesus to show that he cared about Jesus, but far enough away that he didn’t get arrested, too! Peter wanted to be faithful, but he didn’t want it to cost him anything, especially his life! Peter wanted the approval of Jesus, but he didn’t want the disapproval of the Jews. So he kept his distance. That is what double-mindedness looks like in a person who fears mankind. Single-mindedness means, following Jesus at any cost, because the eternal rewards far outweigh anything that man can say about you or do to you.

The fifth fear of disapproval finds us looking for acceptance in the wrong places. Exactly what does that mean? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the people in the garden when Jesus is arrested. There are two groups here: Jesus and His followers on one side, and the servants and soldiers of the high priest on the other. They aren’t friends; they are enemies. An hour or so later, Peter is in the courtyard of the high priest warming himself around the fire with these same people. He is in the midst of his enemies. He’s in bad company, and they have bad masters. Peter is impulsive and easily provoked to rash actions. Is this really a place for fellowship with like-minded people?

Bottom line: if you aren’t prepared to declare yourself a friend of God’s, don’t go into the midst of His enemies. If you do, you may be in way over your head, fearing not only what they may think of you, but what they may do to you, just like Peter feared.

The antidote to fear has been laid out for us by Jesus.

1. Be filled with the Spirit, not yourselves.

2. Pray continually—or at least a lot.

3. Function in the Spirit’s energy, not your own.

4. Keep close to Jesus through prayer and meditation of the word.

5. Fellowship with single-minded people who serve one Master.

Peter learned that he couldn’t serve two masters. He had to accept being a child of God, or resign to being a creature of the world. We, too, can only serve one master.

In Joshua 24:15, Joshua declares with fearless single-mindedness: “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Will you listen to Jesus’ voice and fearlessly serve Him?

May the meditations of our hearts be a blessing to our God. Amen.