While fear of God is the beginning of understanding, the fear of other people is often the beginning of foolishness. This chapter begins with an example of the foolishness that flows from fear. King Saul commands his son Jonathan to kill David. Fear of God leads people to respond in love and that is how Jonathan responds to his father’s command. He warns David and protects the future king who is vulnerable. He also warns his father and momentarily prevents his father from taking action which could have led to his death.
Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. 5 He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”
1 Samuel 19:4-5 NIV
When Jonathan confronts his father his calm and courage stand out. There is no anger or fear in this brief conversation. Jonathan states the facts of the situation and Saul momentarily relents from his passionate desire to eliminate David.
God has other plans and they reveal what fear produces. David succeeds in battle again. As a result, Saul attacks David with a spear and David flees to his home. His wife Michal helps him escape from the soldiers guarding the house. At first her actions appear to be motivated by her love for David, but as the story continues we find they are really motivated by fear of her father Saul. She attempts to disguise David’s flight by placing an idol in his bed and using goat’s hair to complete the disguise. She also lies about David by telling the soldiers that David is sick, but this does not stop Saul.
When the soldiers return to bring David on his bed to Saul they discover the truth.
But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?'”1 Samuel 19:16-17 NIV
Forced to choose between love for her husband and fear of her father Michal chooses to further her deception by responding with a lie. She implies that David threatened to kill her. No good can come out of this. Saul’s anger against David will only increase and I can only imagine how David will respond when he hears that his wife has accused him of threatening to murder her.
What About Us?
For some reason we think it is easier to lead from a position of power using fear as the primary motivation. That fear can be fear of the leader or fear of others. The polarization that exists in the United States is the result of a variety of forces working to increase people’s fear. As a result people are acting foolishly, lying and deceiving others are the result. Ultimately, the fruit of fear is violence. We begin to think that the only way to relieve our fear lies in the elimination of our enemies. I am unable to see how anything good comes out of this.
Leading from love is more challenging than leading by fear. By definition leading with love will bring out the best in followers. We will not always respond in love because we are all sinners and selfishness leads us to seek to increase our power regardless of what it does to others. Seeking to increase our power is the natural result of fear. This is the opposite of love which requires us to do what is best for others regardless of what it costs us. When we do respond to love with love amazing things happen.
A Painful Personal Example
At one point in my career I worked for two bosses. This would have been challenging enough if they simply disagreed with each other. Hate may be too strong a word to describe their relationship, but they dealt with each other from a foundation of fear and distrust. I wish I could say that I chose to act like Jonathan and consistently worked for the good of each boss. I did not. More often, out of fear I made a choice between the two and worked to manipulate the other boss while protecting myself.
Nothing good came out of this. My career survived, but the project was a disaster and there was definitely no improvement in the relationship between the two bosses. I have no idea what would have happened had I chosen to operate from love and a desire to serve. I might have been fired and that would have given God a chance to work something good in my life.
When you think of the relationships in your life which ones are dominated by love and which are dominated by fear? In those relationships that are filled with fear what would happen if you chose love instead of fear?