When People are Big and God is Small – Edward T. Welch

The subtitle to this book is “Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man.”  He does a good job of pointing out all the ways we can fear man and how it affects us.  Fear of man can show itself as sensitivity to peer pressure, the inability to say ‘no’, an obsession over self-esteem, a fear of being revealed as a fraud, a constant sense of needing things from others (respect, love, listening ear, etc.), a fear of looking bad in front of others, a sense of meaninglessness, being easily embarrassed, avoiding people, defining ourselves by how we compare to others, jealousy, envy, even irritability and anger (when others drive us crazy they control us).  All of these stem from focusing on man instead of God.

The fear of man is natural in a fallen world – it’s an issue for EVERYONE.  Toward the beginning of the book he says, “Fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.”  The antidote to the fear of man is the fear of God.  He says, “God must be bigger to you than people are.  Regarding other people, our problem is that we NEED them (for ourselves) more than we LOVE them (for the glory of God).  The task God sets for us to need them less and love them more.”  The general outline of the book is as follows:

Step 1: Recognize that the fear of man is a major theme both in the Bible and in your own life.

Step 2: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by people in your past.

Step 3: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by the assumptions of the world.

Step 4: Understand and grow in the fear of the Lord.  The person who fears God will fear nothing else.

Step 5: Examine where your desires have been too big.  When we fear people, people are big, our desires are even bigger, and God is small.

Step 6: Rejoice that God has covered your shame, protected you from danger, and accepted you.  He has filled you with His love.

Step 7: Need other people less, love other people more.  Out of obedience to Christ, and as a response to His love toward you, pursue others in love.

Some quotes from the book:

  • That’s the paradox of self-esteem: Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I’m too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have.  The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more.
  • Paul was not a people-pleaser. He was a people-lover, and because of that he did not change his message according to what others might think.  Only people-lovers are able to confront.  Only people-lovers are not controlled by other people.
  • Think about Jesus’ exhortation: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Can you feel its liberating force?  There is something about the power of God, not to mention the thought of hell, that cuts through the painful introspection associated with the fear of others.
  • God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, but He also does not leave the guilty unpunished. Therefore, we cannot rightly say, “My God is not a God of judgment and anger; my God is a God of love.”  Such thinking makes it almost impossible to grow in the fear of the Lord.  It suggests that sin only saddens God rather than offends Him.  Both justice and love are expressions of His holiness, and we must know both to learn the fear of the Lord.  If we look only at God’s love, we will not need Him, and there will be no urgency in the message of the cross.  If we focus narrowly on God’s justice, we will want to avoid Him, and we will live in terror-fear, always feeling guilty and waiting for punishment.
  • A growing knowledge of God displaces the fear of people, and it casts out our tendency to be casual with our secret sins. And the good news is that it can be learned.  God is absolutely enthusiastic about blessing us with this knowledge.  You don’t have to be a patriarch of Israel.  You simply must be a person who prays (Eph 1:17) and seeks after this great gift.  You can also learn from others who have learned the fear of the Lord.
  • Is it possible that we are called to love not because other people are empty and need love (to feel better about themselves) but because love is the way in which we imitate Christ and bring glory to God?
  • Now I understand what held me in the fear of man, even though I knew the gospel well. Not only did I need to grow in the fear of the Lord; I also needed to repent.  My felt needs, desires, or lusts were big.  They were so big that I looked to everybody to fill them, both God and other people.  I feared other people because people were big, my desires were even bigger, and God was small.
  • People are most similar to God when He is the object of their affection.
  • It is much easier to talk about Jesus when His life consistently leaves us in awe.
  • When we live in the fear of the Lord, there is an intensity to our lives. We are zealous to obey, we are no longer indifferent to others, and we have a desire for the church to be brilliant and outstanding.

Overall, it’s a book that probably should be read twice to really get it.  I think of myself as not struggling in this area perhaps as much as some do, but I think that’s mostly because I’m not as aware of it in my life as I should be.  The bottom line is that all of us need to think about ourselves less and God more.  And the way to do that is to immerse ourselves in God.

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