Are you feeling fear today? I think fear has been a major theme in the past year, and it seems to be settling into the hearts of many people I care about deeply, especially you, my “flock” – my church family.
First, we need to understand that fear, of itself, is not a bad thing. We ought to fear God, not with self-preserving terror but with God-centered awe and respect. We ought to fear sin and its effects on our lives, robbing us of the fruits of righteous living which God bestows. We need to fear a future built on unbelief and unfaithfulness. But above all we need to have a healthy fear of God which our society is losing.
Second, we need to understand what the fear of God ought to produce in our lives. What should be our outlook if we fear God above and beyond any other fear? I believe the answer is centered in one of my favorite statements in Scripture: “… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Note the emphasis—”spirit of fear.” This is not saying fear is some sort of spirit being or demon, but talking about the mindset / attitude of fear. “God doesn’t plan for you to approach life and ministry afraid” would be my paraphrase. The context points to Timothy’s rich spiritual heritage, his evident giftedness for ministry and Paul’s current imprisonment for the Gospel. The sum of all those things should be a radically different attitude than fear—even though bold ministry could lead Timothy to the cell next to Paul’s!
This is very important in our day of “terrorism” which is simply trying to control the actions of others through fear. Many who have never had their life directly threatened by a terrorist are nevertheless victims of terror because they live in fear. Making decisions and choices out of a spirit of fear means the terrorist has won! When we react from fear we fail.
Ministry demands a mindset that will not give in to fear. Note what God graciously gives in the inner man: power, love and self-control.
The word translated “power” does not mean “dynamite” as some preachers distort the Greek. The word has to do with ability. Fear shouts, “I can’t” while God whispers, “You can!” To which will you listen? This applies even to things we would naturally and understandably shy away from.
One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13 where Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This has nothing to do with scoring touchdowns or winning athletic contests. It is about handling the various experiences of life, whether good or bad (see verses 11-12). Paul’s attitude toward his own possibly imminent death is a great illustration of this truth (Phil. 1:19-24). Even death is doable (and sometimes desirable—2 Cor. 5:8) by the enablement of God!
God also grants the ability to love—in every situation with even the most unlovely people. Suffice it to say that He even includes enemies in our stewardship of love. We love those who would harm us by doing good to them in the face of their abuse of us (Romans 12:9-21). Only God can make this a reality in the life of His servant!
The last quality that reflects the life controlled by God’s power is “self-control” or better, “self under control,” – being able to be wise when all impulses are toward folly. Sound choices stand out when all around are chasing unsound paths, particularly out of fear and for revenge.
Those who believe God and His Word are always on display. Sometimes we manage to show the excellence of His power, but other times the shallowness of our powerless faith. In this day we have an intense need to demonstrate genuine godliness with confident ability, active self-sacrificing love and sound thinking.
All around us fear is reigning and people are gearing up for war. Gun sales are booming and security is being sought in the ability to kill. Young men carry guns out of fear and police shoot young men carrying pellet guns out of fear. Millions are displaced by wars and left helpless because others fear the (possibly) hundreds who want more war. These are dark days. Those days are when the light must be put on full display (Luke 8:16)!
God’s people must not succumb to fear based living. We have come to this point in history (as Esther realized) for such a time as this and if we perish living out God’s design, we perish. The choice must be God’s, not ours. If we love our lives in self-preservation, we will lose them anyway (Mark 8:34-45).
May God give us the ability to overcome the evil of our day with good (Rom. 12:21), the love to embrace the stranger, especially the refugee, with the grace of the Gospel and the clear thinking to pursue and encourage wise actions by faith which will testify that God is truly our Father (Matthew 5:9). The choice before us was clearly laid out by the Psalmist:
“Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:6-8)