In comparison to the very real and very serious spiritual battles being fought by the church today on the fronts of morality and Biblical authority, this may seem like a small concern. However, it is this very fear that entraps and paralyzes the very ones who should be on the front lines of these battles. As soldiers of Christ, we must all make a decision: Will I give myself over to the fear of man or trust in God?
There are many Bible examples of those, even men of great faith, who allowed their fear of men to lead them astray. Abraham twice lied about his true relationship with his wife Sarah out of fear for his life (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-13), and his son Isaac committed the exact same sin some years later for the same reason (Genesis 26:6-10). Many of the rulers of the Jews in Jesus’ time actually believed in Him but let their fear of the Pharisees and their wrath prevent them from publicly confessing and acting on this faith (John 12:42-43). The apostle Peter also fell to this fear – at the trial of Jesus (Luke 22:54-62) and before the Jews visiting Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14).
Fear was obviously a snare to each of these men, hindering them from their work for God. We shouldn’t fail to consider the impact that their fears had on the people around them, though. Their fears laid a snare for so many around them. The men of Egypt and Gerar could have unknowingly made themselves guilty of adultery. Many other Jews, including Barnabas, followed Peter’s example in rejecting the uncircumcised Gentile Christians, possibly opening up rifts in the brotherhood that would take time and care to heal. And how many more Jews might have opened their hearts and ears to Jesus’ teaching had they seen their leaders willing to make that choice?
“But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
So the life of a Christian should be fear-free, right? Well, not exactly. While we are not to fear man, we are commanded to fear our Lord (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). To many in the world, this may seem counter-intuitive. If God is full of love and mercy (and He is – John 3:16), what place is there for fear? And if fear paralyzes, how can it be at all useful in our service to God?
The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is clean,” more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:9-10). The preacher in Ecclesiastes lists it as part of man’s whole purpose in this life (Ecclesiastes 12:13), what makes this life worth living in the midst of so much vanity. To reconcile all of these truths we must recognize the impact the target of the fear has on its character. To fear man paralyzes, but to fear God motivates deeper and greater growth and service. There cannot be wisdom or righteousness without fear of God (Psalms 111:10; 36:1). Likewise, with the first century Christians, “the comfort of the Holy Spirit” and growth of the church is fundamentally linked with “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31).
Here’s the secret: God does not want or expect our fear of Him to be housed in the realm of terror. He has no desire for a people who sit cowering in fear of Him. His desire is for a people who have a healthy respect (yes, this entails fear) for His power and authority (Hebrews 10:31) but who couple this respect with an understanding of His mercy and love (1 John 4:17-19). Just as with our earthly parents, obedience to our heavenly Father is borne of a combination of our fear of punishment and our desire to please and serve the One who loves and blesses us. Thus, the combination of fear and love for God in a Christian’s heart leads to trust in Him.
And it is this trust that brings safety. Safe here does not necessarily mean physical safety but spiritual safety. Perhaps ‘security’ would best describe the concept under consideration. Because the God we serve is strong enough to save out of the midst of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-25), the lion’s den (Daniel 6:10-23), and in battles with the worst possible odds (1 Samuel 17). There may be great sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) and perhaps even death, but nothing except our own choices can separate us from His love and care (Romans 8:31-39). An understanding of this and the kind of trust and faith it provokes within us surely provides the motivation to endure anything to attain that “crown of righteousness” which awaits all the faithful in heaven (2 Timothy 4:6-8). And therein lies the truest and fullest concept of safety that we can ever imagine or attain – eternal rest in God’s presence. Read Revelation 21-22. Can there be any question that “whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe”?
God promises not to forsake His faithful (Hebrews 13:5), so we have nothing to fear from this world. Persecution, pain, and physical death are small when compared with the joy that heaven will bring (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4).
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