Knowing What to Fear

The world can be a scary place. Violence can seem to break out anywhere, terrorism is an ever-present threat, financial markets are unstable, people are angry, and even driving on the highways brings fear as many on the road drive recklessly and get angry at the slightest indiscretion.

There are a bunch of people who play to our fears. They paint pictures of doom and gloom. They threaten. They yell. They do what they can to intimidate. It leaves many unsettled.

One of the challenges of parenting is teaching your children when to be afraid and when not to be afraid. You want them to have a healthy fear of fire, strangers, and streets but you want them not to be afraid of policemen or their teachers in school. It is about degrees of fear.

This morning we look at Matthew 10:24-33. In this passage Jesus talks to us about fear. He tells us when we should fear and when we should not have fear. I hope you discover principles this morning that will change your life for the better. If we can grasp and apply what Jesus is saying, most of our fear will disappear.

When Not to Fear

The first reason we should not fear is because antagonism, threats, and intimidation do not surprise us. It is part of the package. Listen to what Jesus said,

24 “Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. 25 Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names! 

Jesus reminds us that those who follow Him should expect to be treated like He was treated. Jesus was misunderstood and had false and evil motives applied to Him by others. They threatened Him, beat Him, and eventually crucified Him.

Jesus was hated by many because He called people to repent of their sinful ways and serve the Lord. They did not like having their sin exposed. They hated Him because He said no one could come to the Father except through Him. In their mind Jesus was a rabble-rouser, a weirdo, a false teacher, one who was narrow-minded and bigoted.

If they thought these things about Jesus, who was perfect, why would they not have much worse things to say about us? People don’t like admitting their sin anymore today than they did back then. No one wants to hear that they are dependent on a Savior.

We should expect the world to jump on every weakness we show; point to every failure we have, and criticize us endlessly for our outmoded mindset. We should expect this because those who dislike the idea of submitting to a sovereign God believe that they must destroy anyone who speaks for the cause of Christ. They resort to ridicule and intimidation. This should not unnerve us or make us fearful because it is exactly what we should have expected.

Second, we are not to be afraid of threats . . . because God will vindicate.

26 “But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 27 What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!

On first read, it sounds like this is something that should terrify every one of us. It sounds like it is saying every bad thing, every evil thought or action is going to be paraded before everyone on the last day. That is NOT what Jesus is saying here. R.C. Sproul explains,

The Scriptures indicate that all of our secrets will be laid bare before God at the last judgment (Eccl. 12: 14; Rom. 2: 16; Matt. 12: 36– 37), but that is not what Jesus was talking about here. Rather, He was talking about the full disclosure of the plans, plots, and conspiracies of those who hate Christ and His people. He was saying that all of the secret plans of the Pharisees would be exposed. All of the false accusations against the people of God would be seen as false. As Jesus said in His parable of the persistent widow, “Shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” (Luke 18: 7).[1]

The reason we should not fear, and instead continue to speak and follow boldly, is because the Lord will vindicate His people. The charges, the insults, and all the delicate bits of gossip will be exposed as the lies and distortion that they are. He will clear our name and expose those who treated us unjustly.

He will defend us. We do not have to worry about defending ourselves. Instead of spending all our time trying to defend, we should continue to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We must keep telling the world that there is absolute truth and there are things that are right and wrong. The world will call us narrow-minded, Victorian, and even charge that we are trying to impose our morality on others (even though it is not OUR morality . . . it is God’s truth).  We must keep talking about repentance, forgiveness and grace even though the world will call us judgmental.

The great philosopher and preacher Jonathan Edwards served his congregation faithfully. One day he had to leave the church because of the lies and rumors spoken by one of the men in the church. Edwards left without trying to defend himself. He believed that it was better to let God defend Him. After a couple of years, the conscience of the man got the best of him and he admitted to the church that he had lied and made it all up.

If we do what is right the Lord will defend us and vindicate us when we are wronged.

Third, there is no need to be afraid of death threats.

28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell 29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Every one of us instinctively fears dying. It is the unknown and that terrifies us. We are naturally intimidated by threats of violence and death. Jesus said that is not the way it should be. He says, “All they can do is take your earthly life . . . they cannot touch your true and eternal life. When we no longer fear death because of our confidence in the promise of eternal life that comes through Christ, the most powerful weapon against us is completely disarmed!

Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us. He argues from the lesser to the greater: if God takes note and cares for each sparrow, we can be sure He will take even better care for the human beings who are created in His image. If God is attentive to the lives of birds . . . how much more attentive will He be to those who are considered His children? Because of our value to the Lord we need not fear.

What We Should Fear

There is a flip side to this, there is something (better someone) we should fear. In fact when we learn to fear what we should fear, we will no longer fear what we need not fear.

Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell

David Platt writes,

It has been said that saints of old feared man so little because they feared God so much. Likewise, when you and I fear God alone, then we can stand boldly in front of people that we would previously have been afraid to share the gospel with, even those who would take our lives. For in the end, death for the follower of Christ is actually gain (Phil 1: 21)[2]

That first line is the key . . . “they feared man so little because they feared God so much.” The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In other words, knowing who is in charge is the first step in wise living.

When we “fear” (or respect) the Lord we recognize that He has primary authority in our lives.

If you work for someone (say the owner of a huge company) one of your goals is to be known by that boss as someone who works hard and works well. You want to please the boss because your future is tied to His opinion of you. You do your job and you seek to do it well. It is the same with a coach. You listen carefully to what the coach is saying and do what the coach tells you to do. You do this because you respect the fact that the coach calls the shots.  And . . . if you want to play, you better make a good impression.

We fear and respect the Lord because we know He is Lord over all. We know He will have the final word. Our destiny is in His hands. We do not fear Him as a terrorizing dictator. We fear Him as One who is loving, kind, and gracious. In other words, we don’t fear Him out of coercion, we fear Him out of respect.

So the question to ask ourselves is this: “do I fear the Lord?”

  • Are you more concerned about His agenda or your own?
  • When in doubt do you trust His guidance or the wisdom of men?
  • When you are with your friends are you seeking their approval or the Lord’s?
  • Do you push Him aside when other demands press upon you or do you push other things aside when they conflict with His commands?

One of the things that has hurt the body of Christ today is we have developed an attitude of familiarity with God and lost that sense of fear and respect. God wants us to love Him, trust Him, and enjoy Him. At the same time however, we must never forget who is in charge. We have become so familiar with Him that we sometimes take Him for granted and assume that He will be “OK” with whatever we choose to do; that God is only interested in us having “a good time.” That is a mistake. Over and over in the prophets we read these words, “I will not give my glory to another.” God punished Israel when they began bowing before idols and treating Him with just a passing respect. There is no reason to think God will not likewise discipline us if we begin to treat Him as if He is less than He is.

How to Conquer Sinful Fear

From these points we can learn some simple principles for how to conquer fear.

First, count the cost of being a believer. Jesus calls us to “take up our cross and follow Him.” The idea “come to Jesus and your life will be wonderful” is not from God. It is a lie promoted by Satan. If he can get us to believe that following Christ is the easy life, he knows he will be able to destroy us the first time difficult things come our way.

It is good to remind ourselves every day that we are soldiers in a war. Jesus has not called us to sit and rest but to come and do battle with the forces of evil. People who are looking for the easy way should look someplace other than the Christian faith.

We know our value system runs against the current of the values of the world. That means there will inevitably be conflict. Like a good soldier we need to know that much might be demanded of us. The price of serving in the Lord’s army may be high.

Second, remind yourself that Truth will triumph. It doesn’t always seem that way at the moment. There are times when good seems to lose to evil. It is at these times we remind ourselves that the story is not yet over. The plot twists are yet to come.

We love the sporting events when a team comes from behind to snag victory from defeat. And that’s what will happen for those who trust in the Lord. Though it may at times seem like faith is leaving us with nothing but trouble, vindication is coming. There will be a comeback!

Third, we must continually remember that the Lord is more than sufficient to meet every need. Paul said God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine. The Lord is in control. He loves us greatly. He will not let us fall. We may get nicked up in the battle, but this one thing we know . . .  victory ultimately belongs to Him. When you know you win in the end it is much easier to keep on going. He will never leave us or forsake us.

As a result of these truths we should Live Boldly for the Lord. Even though the world may be moving in a different direction than we are, we must continue to proclaim the truth of the gospel. We must continue to engage people.

I heard a story not long ago. A faithful man felt he was called by God to preach on a certain street corner. At first a few listened but as time went on more and more people just paid no attention to him. Finally, it appeared that no one even acknowledged his presence. People walked past him as if he was simply a senile old man. Someone asked the man, “Since everyone has tuned you out, why do you keep preaching the truth?” His answer, “I keep preaching the truth so I don’t tune it out.”

It is easy for us to be swallowed up by the culture in which we live. We begin absorbing the cultures’ accommodating values and we can begin pushing the Lord to the side in various ways in our lives. We stop giving Him priority in our time, on our calendar, our checkbook, our desires and eventually even in our hearts.

We have been called to follow the Lord and to follow Him faithfully. We must do this even if no one comes with us. We do this because we know that His way is the only way that leads home.

Conclusion

There are two final verses in this passage and they are enough to make you stop and take notice,

32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

The test of true faith is whether or not we are willing to stand for Christ right here and right now. If we have truly come to follow Him, then we should stand up and declare Him Lord to whoever will listen. Though we will always try to build bridges to those around us, we must not do so at the expense of our faithfulness before the Lord.

William Barclay tells the story of Hugh Lattimer

Latimer, one of the most outstanding figures of the English Reformation, was preaching before King Henry VIII. He was about to say something he knew the king would dislike, so he held an audible dialogue with himself in the pulpit, calling out, “Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The king is here.” Then he paused and went on: “Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of kings is here.” Such knowledge gives boldness to Christ’s witnesses. This is what gave such boldness to John Knox. They said as they buried Knox, “Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.”[3]

What we are learning is this: faith is not a list of doctrinal truths that we sign our name to (even though doctrine matters). Real faith is following Christ. We recognize Him and confess that He is Savior and Lord and then we follow Him as the one who is worthy of our allegiance. A faith that asks God to “stand by” while we “do our thing” is not real faith. That is to attempt to use God . . . not honor and serve Him.

So, what is it that you fear? What makes your heart race and keep you awake at night? The Biblical response to fear is faith. I know that sounds trite. Faith is putting your confidence in the Lord. It is trusting Him to handle situations. It means relying on His superior wisdom. It means resting in His promise that there is so much more to life than what we can know in this life.

The best response to fear is go to God in prayer and say, “Lord, help me to trust you. Help me to know that peace that comes from knowing you have it all under control.” Then remain in His presence until you start to know His peace.

Jesus said, “in the world, you will have tribulation, but take courage, because I have conquered the world.” If we remember this truth, the torment of fear can become a thing of the past.

[1] Sproul, R. C. (2013-02-28). Matthew (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4793-4797). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

 

[2] Platt, David (2013-11-04). Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 2647-2649). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 181.

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