At one level, fear is healthy. ‘Fear’ is an emotion induced by a perceived threat. It is a natural human emotion. It is God-given. It is a basic survival mechanism. It keeps us alive. It protects us from danger.
However, there is also such a thing as unhealthy fear. The Greek word commonly used in the New Testament is phobos – from which we get the word ‘phobia’. This is unhealthy fear. It is disproportionate to the danger posed. It is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. It is when I catastrophise – overestimating the danger and underestimating my ability to cope.
Common phobias include fears in relation to health, finances, failure, growing old, death, loneliness, rejection, messing up, public speaking, flying, heights, snakes and spiders. They also include things such as, what is now called, FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out, the fear of not being special.
In my own life, I have experienced many fears – from a fear of heights to panic attacks and other irrational fears, fears about preaching and a fear of doing anything that might bring dishonour to the name of Jesus.
Whereas the Spirit of God does not produce negative fear, there is a kind of healthy fear – the fear of God. This does not mean being frightened of God. In fact, it means the opposite. It is an understanding of who God is in relation to us. It means respect, reverence, awe, honour, adoration and worship; it could even be translated as love for God. It recognises the power, majesty and holiness of God Almighty. It leads to a healthy respect of God and is the antidote to all other fears and phobias we experience in life. Fear God and you need not fear anything else or anyone else.
It is no coincidence that as the fear of God has decreased in our society, all the other fears have increased. We need to return to a right relationship with God.
The expression ‘do not be afraid’ is one of the most frequent commands in the Bible. Four of the occurrences are in our passages for today.
No fear of harmProverbs 1:20-33
This passage gives you the key to avoiding ‘terror and panic’ (v.26, AMP) and living ‘without fear or dread of evil’ (v.33, AMP).
The idea of the ‘Fear of the Lord’ is one of the key themes of Proverbs and appears twenty-one times throughout the book. It is a choice that you make. If you are wise, you will ‘choose to fear the Lord’ (v.29) and ‘listen’ to him. He promises that you ‘will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm’ (v.33).
Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs (v.20). As we read it through the lens of the New Testament, we know that it is Jesus who is ‘the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24)
This passage (Proverbs 1:20–32) is a warning against ignoring the Lord’s voice and following a path of ‘waywardness’ and ‘complacency’ (v.32).
Instead, choose to fear God, listen to him and repent when he corrects you. If you do, God will reveal to you more than you could ever imagine. ‘I [Wisdom] will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make my words known to you’ (v.23a, AMP). He will reveal to you the hidden treasures of wisdom in his words. Choose this fear of God and you will be ‘in good hands’ (v.33, MSG) and can be free from the fear of harm.
Lord, I choose to fear you – to live a life in reverence and awe of your power, majesty and holiness. Help me to live life fearing you alone.
No fear of peopleMatthew 10:1-31
Three times in this passage Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid’ (vv.26,28,31).
The context is Jesus sending out his disciples to preach the gospel and heal the sick. The moment Jesus calls his twelve disciples, he sends them out on mission (theological training should be intensely practical!).
He sends them (and us) to follow his example:
- To proclaim: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near (v.7)
- To demonstrate: ‘Heal the sick’ (v.8)
As Jesus sends us out, he warns us that we will face a lot of opposition: ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves’ (10:16a). We will need pure wisdom (‘be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’, v.16b).
We may be opposed by ‘local councils’ (v.17), face hatred (v.22), be persecuted (v.23) and be called demonic (v.25). It is in this context that Jesus says three times, ‘Do not be afraid’ (vv.26,28,31).
- Do not be afraid about what to say
Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid of them’ (v.26). You do not need to be afraid of other people, however powerful they may be (for example local councils, governors and kings, vv.17–18): ‘Without knowing it, they’ve done you – and me – a favour, giving you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words’ (vv.17–18, MSG).
2. Do not be afraid of what others will do to you
Jesus says that rather than fearing those who can ‘kill the body but cannot kill the soul’, you should fear God, ‘who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (v.28). Have a healthy respect for an all-powerful, as well as all-loving God. ‘Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hands’ (v.28, MSG).
3. Do not be afraid of what will happen to you
Jesus says that if you fear God, you need fear no one and nothing else. God is in ultimate control: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father’ (v.29). Not only is he in control but he also loves you deeply: ‘Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, then; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (vv.30–31, AMP). Jesus cares about what happens to you even more than you do (v.30, MSG).
Lord, thank you that you value and love me so much. Help me to know your love, to trust in you and not to be afraid.
No fear of deathGenesis 25:1-26:35
Life is never easy. It was not easy for Isaac. Among other difficulties, he waited twenty years for the birth of a child (25:20–26). Then there was sibling rivalry when the twins were born. He lived amongst hostile Philistines and one of his sons became a ‘source of grief’ (26:35), ‘thorns in the side of Isaac and Rebekah’ (v.35, MSG).
Isaac committed the very same sin as his father – trying to pass off his wife as his sister (vv.7–11). However, it seems that Isaac did learn from some of his father’s mistakes. When Rebekah was unable to have a baby – unlike Abraham’s disastrous attempt to solve things himself through his relationship with Hagar – Isaac’s response was to pray to God for a miracle (25:21).
The Lord had appeared to Isaac and promised, ‘I will be with you and will bless you... Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed’ (26:3–4).
Nevertheless, Isaac was afraid. He feared that he might die: ‘The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful… I thought I might lose my life on account of her’ (vv.7,9b).
God said to Isaac, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ (v.24). Isaac feared people more than he feared God, and yet he is reminded that he need not fear others because God is with him. Remember the same truth when you are tempted to fear: God is with you. If God is with you, you need not be afraid of anyone or anything.
In spite of Isaac’s fear of others, God blessed him. God says, ‘I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants…’ (v.24). God’s blessing meant growth, reaping many times over. This is what he wants for your life too.
‘Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up’ (v.18). (Perhaps the equivalent for us is to reopen churches that have been closed to be a source of living water!) When Isaac met opposition and was stopped, he moved on until he found another well he could reopen. In this way, the Lord gave him room to flourish (v.22).
None of this is easy, but remember what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ (v.24).
Lord, thank you for your promise to be with me. Thank you that you tell me over and over again that if I fear you, I do not need to be afraid of anything or anyone else.
There does seem to be a huge difference between how Isaac and Esau chose a wife. For Isaac, so many prayers and guiding signs went into finding this woman of faith, whereas Esau seems to have chosen unwisely. It was ‘a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah’.
It is so important to choose the right husband or wife and to pray for ourselves, our children and our friends that God would lead them to the right person and that they would make great marriages of faith.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.