Intimidation is the act of making someone else timid or fearful by real or implied threats. Bullies use intimidation to force their victims to do what they want them to do. The word timid is in the middle of intimidation and aptly describes the state of nervousness caused by a particular person. However, intimidation is not always the result of a person’s actions. Situations also have the power to create intimidation. The prospect of public speaking can intimidate some as well as meeting a celebrity or popular public figure. When we face an unfamiliar situation, we often feel intimidated. And since the Bible is always relevant to our lives, it also addresses the topic of intimidation.
Intimidation can produce an unhealthy fear that can control us. Paul encouraged his protégé Timothy to overcome the intimidation he felt in his position as a new pastor: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). The young are often intimidated by older, more experienced people, so Paul urged Timothy not to give way to that fear. Intimidation can silence the message God has given us, so when we give way to it, we are allowing fear to be god instead of the Lord.
An example of intimidation is found in John 12:42. Some Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day let intimidation by the Pharisees keep them from following Him. The possibility of ridicule or persecution intimidated them into silence, even though they wanted to respond to the gospel. In Luke 7:36–47 we have an example of someone who refused to be intimidated. A woman of low reputation entered a house filled with Pharisees and other male Jewish leaders, in order to approach Jesus. Kneeling down, she poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and began to dry them with her hair in an expression of loving gratitude. She knew she was not welcome in the Pharisee’s home; she knew there would be protests and she would most likely be thrown from the house, but she would not be let intimidation bar her from worshiping the Lord.
Although we generally think of intimidation negatively, it is not always wrong. Feeling intimidated is sometimes due to the great respect we have for a person or place. Visitors to Buckingham Palace or St. Paul’s Cathedral automatically lower their voices in hushed reverence as they walk through the buildings—the grandeur and historical importance of those places are intimidating. When introduced to a notable figure, we often stammer and forget what to say because we are intimidated by the presence of someone we admire. This kind of intimidation is natural and easily overcome by gaining familiarity with the person or place. We should feel a certain level of intimidation when we meditate on the Lord. The Bible calls this the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10), and we are urged to develop it. God showed Himself to the Israelites in some frightening, intimidating ways to create this kind of healthy fear (Exodus 19:16; 20:18). Godly intimidation keeps us respectful toward the Lord and guards our hearts against nonchalance and irreverence (Psalm 22:28–29; Romans 14:11).
When we use intimidation to gain control over another, it is wrong. Power intimidates, and those who’ve been granted power must use it to serve with humility (Matthew 20:26; Mark 10:43–44; Luke 22:26). Money can be intimidating to those without it. So God’s instruction to the wealthy is to use their resources to be helpful, not haughty (1 Timothy 6:17). We can intimidate others physically, mentally, and emotionally, using what we’ve been given to our own advantage. We may not stoop to physical aggression, but we can still intimidate others by name-dropping, veiled bragging, or flaunting our wealth. Second Corinthians 10:17–18 says, “‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
Sadly, some church leaders practice a form of spiritual intimidation. Pastors and other leaders who demand submission to their authority, expect unquestioning loyalty, and enforce legalistic rules to control their congregations are abusing their position. Church members should not fear punishment or humiliation for questioning church leadership. Pastors are not to be authoritarian figures, but servants: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them, . . . eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).
We are called to be bold as lions when on the side of righteousness (Proverbs 28:1). We should guard against undue intimidation by others, remembering that they are fallible human beings just like we are (Proverbs 29:23; Isaiah 2:11; 23:9). When feeling intimidated by unfamiliar situations or people, we remember that God is for us (Romans 8:31). The psalmist countered intimidation with these words: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6; cf. Jeremiah 42:11). We may feel anxious and unsure at times, but when we know that our conscience is clear and the Lord is pleased with our decisions, we don’t have to let intimidation deter us from becoming all God designed us to be (Psalm 23:4; 27:1; Acts 23:1).