The Bible has a few things to say relative to fear and its place in the lives of God’s people.
There is of course, the doctrine teaching us to “fear God and keep His commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13). Fear of the Lord is a foundational precept which should color all of our interaction with God, filling us with humility, awe and a zeal for obedience to His commands.
But though we are to fear God, is there anything else we are to be afraid of? The Bible, to sum up 66 books worth of teaching on the matter, says there is not.
Jesus contrasted the fear of God with the fear that we are not to possess, saying, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28; ESV).”
Jesus, in telling His disciples not to fear the ones who could kill the body was speaking in the context of preaching the Gospel – don’t let fear stop you from preaching the gospel, even to men who might potentially kill you; but the principle has application in every walk of Christian life. Do not allow our fear of the temporal to affect our reception of that which is eternal. Do not let fear dictate your behavior and obedience to God. Do not let fear change the way in which you treat others.
The admonition, “do not fear,” is one which is repeated multiple times in God’s word, in a variety of circumstances. Repeatedly, the Word of God urges God’s people to trust in God and to never allow fear to rule their life or their behavior. The Bible is replete with examples of men who did take counsel of their fears, rather than trusting in God, each account a reminder of how we can go wrong when we are fearful. The Bible also contains multiple examples of men who behaved fearlessly, gaining success and commendation from God for their faith. The message from God is clear: fear of men and worldly forces is contrary to faith but trusting in God allows us to face any circumstance without fear.
We live in a world that is often controlled by fear. Consider how fear drives so many of the events we see going on around us. There are those who are afraid of the police. There are those who are afraid of the ones who are afraid of the police. There is fear of political change. There is fear that there won’t be political change. There is fear that freedoms will be curtailed. There is fear that we have too much freedom. Listen to the news and ask yourself as you listen: how many of the stories being reported are about people being fearful, in one way or another. And perhaps as you listen to the stories, ask yourself whether or not there is a temptation to fear in your life. Likewise, consider whether you are listening to those fears, giving creedence to those who would counsel you to live and respond from a place of fear.
Jesus, in His gospel, is calling us, in the fear of the Lord, to put away our fear of everything else. The scriptures remind Christians: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7; ESV).”
It is hard to work in the fullness of the power of the Lord, when we let fear control our speech and actions. Fear will hinder us and give us reasons not to do the work God has created for us to do. Fear will drive us towards cowardice and inaction, or convince us to choose a course of action which runs counter to what God actually tells us to do.
For one thing, it is hard to be loving towards those of whom you are afraid. Fear engenders hatred, mistrust, reactive violence, animosity and a host of other behaviors which have no place in the life of the follower of Christ. Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34),” and the love of Christ was in no way shaped by fear. Even as He was being crucified, Jesus exhibited no fear towards His persecutors, but instead prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”
Elsewhere God teaches us, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18; ESV)” We are never going to fully claim the victory Christ is offering if we are too busy being afraid of the world around us. Again, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The world is always going to offer you something it thinks should discourage you or make you afraid. Jesus offers a different path: the path of faith and hope and love. Let’s choose to take the better path.
The church of Christ invites you to join us on the path Christ teaches, and would love to have you worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.