First Thoughts

The Snare of People-Pleasing

Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”

The Bible sounds an alarm in Proverbs 29:25, telling us that we are in danger. It is a warning for a subtle, nearby sin that regularly visits though most are often unaware of it and the snare it lays. A snare is a trap laid and disguised to catch an animal. The trap is set, so the animal never sees it and is ultimately killed by it. Likewise, this sin is a hidden trap that will capture us if we are not aware of and combating it.

The subtle sin in this verse that can so easily overtake us is the sin of people-pleasing or fear of man. We have all been there: the overwhelming anxiety you get when you think someone may criticize you, the fear that runs through your heart when someone doesn’t greet you as warmly as they usually do, so you question, “Are they mad at me?” or “Did I do something wrong?”, not wanting to speak up or pray in Sunday school because you are worried what someone may think, or just constantly saying “yes” because you don’t want someone to be disappointed in you. Simply put, fear of man can be crippling. To understand the seriousness of the fear of man, it’s important to understand the dangerous reality of what it does.

1. People-Pleasing Elevates People

One of the most dangerous things about people-pleasing is that it causes you to elevate people to a place they are not meant to be. People begin to take an idolatrous position in your life that they can never fill. People and people-pleasing become gods to us.

When making people big, you are expecting them to do things that they cannot do.[1] You feel safe when you get compliments from your friend, boss, or parent, but a corrective conversation leaves you feeling anxious and worried. Psalm 118:8 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” If you feel safer by having the approval of those around you, you are caught in a snare and are in grave danger.

2. People-Pleasing Minimizes God

We serve such a big God. He is so great and mighty that it is beyond our comprehension. Isaiah 40-48 paints a breathtaking picture of God. Specifically, in Isaiah 40, we read that God measured the waters and mountains in the hollow of His hand and calculated the dust of the earth! He created the stars and knew them by name! This God created you and me. He is a very big God.

When you fear man, you minimize this great God. You place God on the back burner when you shift from pleasing God to pleasing man. This is the ultimate form of idolatry. You feel happy and fulfilled when all the people in your life respond to you exactly how you want, but you are consumed with worry and what you did wrong when you think someone is mad at you. God is no longer the priority at this point. When you make God small, you are caught in a snare and are in grave danger.

3. People-Pleasing Minimizes the Gospel

When you elevate people and minimize God, you also minimize what Jesus did for you on the cross. Your ultimate prize becomes the satisfaction found in the acceptance and praise of people instead of the need you have for Jesus alone and what He did for you on the cross. Instead of longing for a Savior who can save you from your sin, you are longing for love and affirmation from your boss, parent, or spouse.

The truth of the gospel is that we are sinful human beings that deserve judgment and hell. But God (Ephesians 2) is a God of love, and because he is also a just God, He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. When we respond with faith and repentance, we can live our lives free from the bondage of sin. We are free from needing another’s approval or acceptance because, through Jesus, we have that in God. This amazing news should result in praise, adoration, and joy (Psalm 16:11)!

The ultimate prize is that through the gospel, you are brought to God (I Peter 3:18). The sad reality is that when you are so consumed with what people think of you, you change the prize. The prize you are striving for is no longer being with God and being made right with Him but rather having the love, praise, and adoration of other people. When you are caught in the snare of the fear of man, the gospel is minimized because you function as if sin is no longer your biggest problem and Jesus is no longer your greatest need. When you minimize the gospel, you are caught in a snare and are in grave danger.

Hope for People-Pleasing

God, through his inspired Word, has sounded an alarm for us today. The fear of man is so subtle yet so dangerous. The fear of man lays a snare that will capture and cripple you spiritually. We are called as Christians to be aware of and to fight sin and run after Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is imperative that we repent today of our tendency to people please and ask God to help us change. We must elevate and worship God for who He is, our merciful Creator and Savior. We can then be thankful for the people God puts in our lives while being free from the control their opinions have on us. Let us make the gospel big in our lives, resting in the finished work of what Jesus did on the cross for our sinful people-pleasing ways.

[1] This blog was influenced by the book When People are Big and God is Small by Dr. Edward Welch. I strongly recommend this book to any person who is dealing with fear of man.


Matt Cummings (Master of Divinity, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a lifelong member of First Baptist Church. His career began in the corporate world in banking and project management while he served the church as a faithful Sunday School teacher before becoming the Student Discipleship Minister.

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