Peninsula Community Church
December 14, 2014
Fear Not what People Think
This week we will continue our Christmas series entitled “Fear Not.” While we looked at the angel’s proclamation to Mary last week, this week we will look at the proclamation given to Joseph. You see Mary was not the only one that was being challenged by the interruption of God. This week we will focus on Joseph and the fear of what people think of us.
Let’s read together. Matthew 1:18-23 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
Just as Mary was living her life as usual, Joseph was also going about his life as he always did. I am sure that he was also planning for his and Mary’s wedding and their future together. I can imagine that he was building their home as well as the furniture that would go inside. After all he was a carpenter. But his world was shattered by the news of Mary’s pregnancy. The text does not spell out his reactions to this news but being a man I can only imagine that he was experiencing a plethora of emotions. I am sure he was confused and nervous. I am sure that he was filled with the fear that he would be judged and criticized for what Mary had done. He could have thought that Mary was a bit crazy or she was at least a liar. I am sure that he was worried about what people would think as this was a big deal in his day.
As we look at this, we must understand that our fear of what people think of us can lead us to make bad decisions. The reason for this is that we will either do things so people like us or because we do not want them to think badly of us. Not only was Joseph struggling in the present but he was also concerned about his future. This was very serious for him. It was humiliating. As a man, this action would cause there to be a social stigma upon him. I am sure his mind was filled with questions and concerns. Would he have to divorce Mary? If so, would he ever marry again? Would there ever be a father who would trust him with his daughter, again? Would he be mocked by his friends and family because of Mary’s actions? What would people think when they hear that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Would anyone believe it? Would his family, friends, and acquaintances think she had lost it and would he, as a man, ever live this down. Joseph was in fact engaging in the very thing that Mary had to confront, the fear of the “what if’s.” But in this case it was the “what ifs” of what people might think.
You see while breaking the engagement was serious for Mary, it also had serious implications for Joseph, as well. Joseph had to battle doing what was easy versus doing what was right and between what people wanted him to do versus what God wanted him to do. The fact of the matter is he wants to bail from the relationship. He wants to call it quits. His desire was to just move on and let it play out. We see in this passage that he decides to divorce her quietly and honorably. As he is pondering these things however, the angel of the Lord appears and proclaims the following. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” Through the proclamation, the angel confirmed that what Mary was saying was indeed true. The angel was clear in the calling of Mary but also in Joseph’s destiny as this son would claim Joseph as His father.
Once Joseph hears these words he is faced with a decision. Would he listen to the skeptics who are calling for him to follow the law and divorce her? Would he listen to those who were pushing him to have her stoned because of her actions and the fact that she appeared to be crazy? Would they believe him that he had received the same proclamation? There is no doubt that Joseph battled obedience to God versus following the voices of those around him. But as we know Joseph did what was right and honorable. He obeyed God and followed His will. How do we know this? We see it Matthew 1:24 “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
As we look at this story, we learn that in pleasing God we often disappoint people. People sometimes want us to do things that come in nice little packages but things do not always happen that way. As a believer, we can be confronted with the the opportunity to obey God or do something easier to win the approval of people. The fact is when we walk in the fear of disappointing people or getting the approval of people, we can fail to please God which is our highest goal and aim in life.
The problem that arises is that we allow people to control our lives rather than God having control. The fear of what people think can bind us to the point that we fail to a accomplish the task God has called us to. Now let me hasten to say that this does not mean that we are like a bunch of bulls in a china shop where we force our way onto people or we do not have concern for others, as that is also contrary to Scripture. But there is an issue when all we do is to seek man’s approval or his blessing.
Secondly, becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you but being obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you. The writer of Proverbs said it best. The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe (Proverbs 29:25). When we fear people and we become obsessed about what people think of us, we start down a slippery slope of trusting people’s opinions more than we trust God’s promises and His will. How do we know that we are drifting towards wanting to please people? First, we are afraid to make the changes in our life that are necessary because we are afraid of what people may think. Second, our first response to any issue is to worry about what someone will say or do rather than doing what is right in the sight of God. Third, we seek people’s approval and measure our success by that approval. Fourth, we go with the flow rather than standing on what is right. We develop a mob or group think mentality. We also begin to say things like: What will they think of me? Do they like me? Do they like what I am doing? Many of these things are never verbalized but they are a part of our inner psyche. The result is that we surrender our lives to the opinions of people, at the expense of pleasing and honoring God.
Let me let you in on a secret that will relieve you of much of the pressure and fear of trying to please everyone. Here is a truth you can take to the bank. You cannot please everyone all of the time so stop trying to make that happen. In pleasing one, person, you make another person unhappy. I have seen this played out in my life in so many ways. I can remember people telling me that my messages are too long while another tells me they are too short. I have some say that I use too many personal illustrations while others feel connected to the message because of my personal examples. Some have complained about not singing hymns enough only to complain that we did not sing the particular hymn they like. We cannot please all of the people all of the time, so seek to please God instead.
Living for God instead of people is a challenge for us. The reason is that if your are not ready to be criticized for your obedience to God, you are not ready to be used by God. Fear binds us and we settle for the status quo. When God calls us, He needs people who are ready to answer His call without reservation. In this regard, I was drawn to the story of the twelve spies. The twelve spies see the giants in the land and feared. But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, are willing to take the risk of going against the majority because they had faith in God. Because of fear and a bad report from the other ten, a whole generation was not allowed to go into the promised land. Matthew expressed it this way. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
The second thing that occurs is that extraordinary acts of God often start with ordinary acts of obedience. What a testimony of faith and love. Joseph chose to do the right thing even though it hurt and could potentially cause great problems for him. He chose to obey God rather than fear man. He took an ordinary act of obedience and trusted God. Remember our statement last week. Our responsibility is obedience. God’s responsible is for the outcome. Too often we believe that God will ask us to take giant steps, which can be true, but most often he is calling us to take tiny ordinary steps that lead to extraordinary results. God takes our little and multiplies it.
So how about you? Do you fear people’s opinions or do you trust God to lead your life regardless of what happens?
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom