[NOTE: While I was searching for a file on my computer I came across this sermon from August 2000. In light of the huge build up in fear of various kinds throughout the world in recent years, I thought it might be helpful to consider the truths it contains for today as well. Here it is as preached on that occasion.]
Who or what do we fear? Fear comes so easily to us as humans. But there are many different types and degrees of fear. Is fear always a bad thing? In fact fear can be a positive emotion. It prevents us taking risks that could be destructive or fatal. Fear of crashing our car, prevents us from driving flat out on greasy roads. Fear of going bankrupt prevents us from gambling all our money. Fear in a positive sense can be appropriate in certain situations.
1. THE POSITIVE ASPECT OF FEAR.
Mainly throughout the Bible, the one we need to fear is God Himself, or God’s representative. eg., in Deut 6:2, Moses warned the people, “fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” In Deut 31:13, he added that the children had to hear the law and obey it, and in this way, would learn to fear the LORD their God as they prepared to cross the Jordan to possess the promised land.
To fear God meant to give Him His rightful place . It meant to live with a sense of awe about Him. It meant to obey Him as part of one’s commitment and love for Him. In Deut 10:12, Moses joins both fear of God and love for God, in the one verse “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. “
This fear of God is not some pathetic cringing dread that we might have as we approach God. Rather it is a healthy sense of respect and awe we have as we realise we are approaching the Holy One, the Creator, the majestic Lord of the Universe and who has shown us that He loves us.
2. THE NEGATIVE ASPECT OF FEAR.
There is a fear that is inappropriate and wrong. Let’s look at a couple of examples where it was said to be wrong.
When the Israelites had come out of bondage in Egypt, they were afraid to go into the land the Lord had promised them, because they heard that the inhabitants of the land were big and strong. The Lord had promised them victory, but they were afraid to go in. Only Joshua and Caleb amongst the Israelites didn’t fear the people of the land. They feared God more than they feared the people in Canaan. The others Israelites feared people more they feared God, and did not obey Him. They missed out on the promise of God, of entering the Promised Land.
After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus sent His disciples in a boat across the lake. As the waves got bigger and they got more scared, Jesus came walking to them on the water. Their fear turned to sheer terror, and they cried out, “It’s a ghost.” But they didn’t need to be afraid. Jesus told them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Peter was so inspired by what he had experienced that he asked Jesus if he could walk across the water to Him. When Jesus told him to come to Him, Peter began to walk on the water. He was doing well until he looked away from Jesus to the waves. Fear came in and he began to sink, crying, “Lord save me.” Jesus caught him and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” He had stepped out in faith, but had begun to look at the problem, the power of the wind and the seas, rather than to fulfilling the promise of Jesus to him, and fear took away his victory over the difficulties around him.
That’s the problem with fear. It makes you focus on the thing you are afraid of, rather than on the One who can overcome our fears. Job said something that we can readily identify with. He said in Job 3:25, “What I feared has come upon me, what I dreaded has happened to me.” The more we fear something, the more power we give it in our own lives. If we fear cancer, we can get so focussed on the possibility that we can bring it upon ourselves. If we fear becoming mentally ill the stress of watching for any symptoms of it can help produce it. Someone being introduced to another person can become so fearful of forgetting their name that they can’t focus on retaining the name in the first place. Fear paralyses us so that we don’t function properly.
We can get so afraid of failing that we get stressed out and do fail. We can program ourselves for failure. We can get so afraid of dying that we can get ill and perhaps even prematurely die. The writer to the Hebrews wrote that Jesus came to set free those who were held in slavery all their lives through their fear of death.
How many marriages must be bound up because a woman fears her mother in law, or a man one of his in-laws. How many spouses must be bound up because they fear rejection if they were to give themselves completely to their wife or husband. How many people hold back on a deeper commitment to God because they fear the consequences of a deeper commitment. In fear, they hold back and miss out on blessing.
3. GETTING FEAR INTO ITS RIGHT PERSPECTIVE.
We’ve been saying that there is a right kind of fear in which we have a healthy respect and a sense of awe towards God. When people don’t have that positive sense of fear, they can muck up their lives terribly. Think of the passage in Rom 1, where Paul writes that those who don’t fear God in the sense of giving Him respect, and who ignore His laws, place more importance on the creation than on the Creator. They do their own thing in rebellion against God. The end result from that lack of fear for God means that God lets them do their own thing. Thus 1:24ff, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. … even women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” A right fear of God with respect for His laws and obedience to them, is a counter against evil.
In brief, we are to fear God and those who represent Him, such as in Rom 13 where Paul writes that if we do the right thing in life in obedience to God we have nothing to fear. However if we do the wrong thing, then we need to be afraid, “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
How can we get rid of the wrong sort of fear?
i. By having the right fear of God and His representatives. When we try to get into the centre of God’s will we can build up a real confidence in God and in His love and protection for us. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, Heb 4:16) Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Heb 7:25) Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
(Heb 10:22) let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Or as St Paul wrote about what Christ accomplished on the cross, (Eph 3:11) This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,(Eph 3:12) in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Or St John, in 1 John 3:21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;
ii. By letting perfect love cast out fear.
What is perfect love? It is the love shown by those who live by the word of God. (1 John 2:5) but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:
Here John says it is the love shown in loving one another. (1 John 4:12) No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
It is that agape love of God for us in Christ, and it means responding to that love, by receiving Christ as Saviour and Lord. There is no place for the wrong sort of fear, which is fearful of punishment, because Jesus took the punishment for our sins, not us. In Christ we are forgiven, we are free, not condemned, not expecting punishment. Where once there was fear of punishment, now there is love for God, because of His mercy and grace. As John wrote in (1 John 4:17-18) Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
Perfect love is that agape love of God flowing into us and through us as God fills us with His Holy Spirit. Rom 5:5, for the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift to us.
iii. By asking Christ to be Lord of every situation in our lives. Instead of facing situations in our own strength, we ask Him to be our strength. Instead of relying on our own wisdom, we ask Him to give us the wisdom we need in every situation. Ps 25:14, “The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” He wants to share His plans with us.
David was one who feared the Lord, and he wrote in Ps 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?” If God was on his side, he had nothing or no-one to fear.
Isaiah tells us how to tap into all the resources of God that we need, Is 33:6, “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure. “
The right sort of fear, the fear of God brings life and health, Prov 10:27, “The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” Prov 14:27, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”
The fear of the Lord leads to contentment in life, Prov 15:16, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.” Prov 19:23, “The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”
The fear of the Lord leads to being able to receive God’s wonderful provision for our needs, Ps 34:9, “Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack
nothing.” Ps 145:19, “He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.”
Why is God so gracious to us, and why does He promise to meet our needs? Ps 103:11, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; … Ps 103:13, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”
What’s your need tonight? Is it to be free of fear of people or situations? Then Christ can set you free.
Is it to receive some blessing or healing? Then God has promised to bless those who rightly fear Him, love Him, trust him and obey Him. As St Paul wrote of God’s willingness to give, (Rom 8:31) “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:32) He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Blog No.376 posted on Monday 04 January 2021.