Let me ask you a question. In general, do you feel burdened, frustrated or disheartened about certain aspects of reality? Do you have the sense that the prevailing worldview is animating movement in a direction totally opposite to what is true, what is right and what is consistent with a biblical worldview? Do you, with open eyes and ears, study your Bible and then look out at the world around you and find yourself dumbfounded by what secular culture says and does? More specifically, are you exhausted by repeatedly being told, “Be afraid,” and are you fed up with pretending that everyone else is a potential threat? Looking back on the past year, and then looking around the world in the present, have you begun to think that the response to a supposed health threat has actually been more dangerous than the threat itself? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then I think you will find what follows helpful. You see, in today’s episode, I will provide a biblical explanation for how to “Fear Not,” regardless of the circumstances. This lesson applies whether you are afraid, whether you are seeking to provide sound wisdom to someone else who is afraid, or if you simply think the world has willfully abandoned the truth and dived head-first into an abyss of idiocy. Subsequently, I will provide a brief analysis of current events and then follow it with concrete biblical counsel on how God calls His people not to be consumed with fear but instead to be driven by love.
Why is a discussion on fear necessary? Because we live in a world that is gripped by an unreasonable, irrational fear. It’s a fear that is out of proportion to the actual threat posed in reality. It’s a fear based instead on sensationalism and unlikely possibilities. This fear has so gripped the minds of secular authorities and individuals that they act in ways that contradict common sense: for example, politicians have seemingly become medical providers overnight and are now the ones prescribing public health mandates; healthy, asymptomatic people are ordered to quarantine and not to be productive in school or work; people who feel fine wait in line for hours to get tested to make sure they’re not sick. It used to be that people were assumed to be healthy unless they were actually unwell. Now, we presume that everyone is potentially sick and harboring a contagious disease even if they are well. Now, we presume that even if a virus isn’t making me sick, it can still make you sick. What’s alarming here is that the world is so upside-down that thinking right-side-up is demonized. This begs the question: is the real problem a novel virus, or is the real problem an irrational response to, and delusional fear of, said virus? Is the greatest problem the fact that delusional thinking has led the masses in ways indicative of an impaired contact with reality? Perhaps the true public health crisis is not a natural one but a spiritual one: that what now holds the deed to the hearts of many is fear.
We live in a world where fear is weaponized to make people excessively frightened and anxious about other people, which leads to an emotional, reflexive snubbing of God’s truth; paralysis and an unhealthy focus on the self. You see, fear triggers our base instincts for survival, which nudges us toward thinking in terms of self-protection. This means our empathy and concern for others goes out the window.
We live in a time where even if the powers that be said, “It’s okay not to cover your face and to go out into a crowd,” many still would not. Many would also not stop chastising those who don’t follow the old edicts. Why? Because of fear. Let us remember that the first thing that God said was not good about creation was that a person was by himself: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’” (Genesis 2:18 ESV). So what was God’s solution to human isolation? He created Eve so that Adam would be with someone else. This tells us that it is built within our DNA to be social and to be close to other people. But what does the prevailing “wisdom” of the world tell us today? That it is good for man to be alone because other people are the problem; therefore, it is good for you to be isolated, and you should be afraid of other people. To be apart from one another in essence rejects our human nature, yet fear has consumed the minds of so many that we have now reached the point where grandchildren are afraid of being around their grandparents (and vice versa). Now, children are made to feel guilty for acting like children (e.g., playing close together). In these perverse times, personal intimacy is a vice and distancing is a virtue. Even more, fear has abominably created new idols of righteousness in that many actually believe in salvation by masks, gloves, face shields, social distancing, quarantining and vaccines. In this new religion of works, you are a good and moral person based upon what you do. In this new religion of works, you do not own your face and your freedom is judged by another’s conscience. This of course begs the question: since all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, who does own your face? Of all the parts of your body, your face is the most unique part of you. By covering it, you not only lose a sense of self on the outside, but your mouth is also muzzled, inhibiting expression of the self from the inside. Does this not suggest that in this new faith, the truth is not to be spoken and our mouths are literally to be covered? Alas, in this new religion of works, what is good and moral is defined by man. This is tragic but also proves God’s Word absolutely correct: man is totally depraved (see Psalm 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9; John 6:44; Ephesians 2:1-3; I Corinthians 2:14).
Pulling people apart runs counter to divine design, and the inevitable result will be the deterioration of the individual: deterioration of spirit, soul and body. In fact, especially among youngsters, a primary cause of despair is disconnection from others. Every human being absolutely needs face-to-face contact, personal touch and emotional intimacy. We need these things to actually be safe, as opposed to pretending to be safe with detachment and substitute digital interactions. Subsequently, does it come as a surprise that so many novel and saddening facts about our new reality reflect that people en masse are breaking down as a result of being isolated? For example, there are numerous studies indicating that because people are separated from others, they experience exhaustion, irritability, depression, insomnia and symptoms that resemble post-traumatic stress disorder. Is it surprising that rates of suicide have skyrocketed—especially among teenagers and twenty-somethings—or that all across the United States, there has been a surge in people murdering other people? Is it surprising that there is data to suggest that the harms of “lockdown” are 10 times more dangerous than its benefits? Truly, it is not good for man to be alone.
Even more, Christianity is a social faith, yet we live in world in which Christians are afraid to go to church, afraid to evangelize and afraid of their neighbors. Accordingly, the recognition that we live in an environment of toxic fear is particularly important for Christians because if our fear trumps our faith, we are no longer walking in obedience but are walking in sin. We are walking in sin because if we were to live a life predominantly characterized by fear, then we would be disobeying the Lord’s command to fear not.
“Fear not” is an imperative that occurs frequently in the canon of Scripture. Examples can be found in Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:4, Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7 and II Timothy 1:7. In fact, “fear not” is the negative command that Jesus gives more frequently than any other in the entire New Testament. Of course, whenever God tells us to fear not, He is not telling us to neglect having a healthy, reverential awe of God, as in “the fear of the Lord.” Rather, He is telling us not to have an unhealthy, crippling fear of created things. So, for example, in Matthew 10:28-31, Jesus implores us not to be afraid twice in four verses. In those verses, the Lord says (ESV):
And 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Certainly, one reason why Jesus communicated this truth to us is because He knew His sheep would be unsettled by so many things in this life. Hence, the simple message that Jesus communicates is that we are not called to be fearful about people and things here on earth; instead, we are called to respond to life with a reverence of the Lord, who has sovereign control over and above reality—this includes whatever it is that we are afraid of. This liberates us to respond to reality not with fear, but in love, because the liberating freedom for those who are in Christ is that the Lord unshackles us from fear and sets us free to love. The hope that God gives us is that He makes it possible for us to live a fear-free existence. In fact, let’s take a look at what the apostle says in I John 4:18. He writes (ESV):
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.
In these verses, the apostle John makes plain to us specifically how we are to “fear not.” God’s solution is not for you to simply stop being afraid. In fact, if you try to just stop, you will invariably fail. What God calls us to do is to put off fear by putting on love. So yes, God commands us to fear not, but He also provides the means by which our terrors are eradicated: by casting our cares on Him (I Peter 5:7). Of course, we are free to love because our precious Lord first loved us. Now you tell me: if the eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing God of the universe sets His Fatherly love on you and cares for you, then what do you possibly have to be afraid of?
Again, I John 4:18 tells us that there is no fear in love. We must define terms, so what is a biblical definition of fear? The Greek word for fear is phobos, from which we get the word phobia. This word in Greek is interesting because it talks about not only a feeling but also the resultant action: that is, that which may cause flight. So, negatively, phobos refers to feeling terror or alarm that then compels a person to withdraw or to avoid something. A fitting example of this is if you see a roaring lion in your driveway—you should be afraid and avoid the lion at all costs! This tells us that rational fear is a legitimate emotion that has been given to us by God for a reason: so that we withdraw from circumstances or avoid things that would not glorify God, like foolishly trying to wrestle a lion in your driveway. Positively, phobos is also used in the New Testament in regards to reverence or respect for the Lord; this does not compel a person to run away from Him but rather to draw close to Him with a sense of awe. Remarkably, in the Bible overall, the fear of the Lord is almost identical to loving the Lord. It’s no wonder, then, that fear of the Lord destroys all other fears.
It’s important to make a distinction before we proceed. There’s a difference between having a fear experience and being afraid. Everyone can experience fear from time to time, but that transient experience neither controls you nor hinders you from performing your God-ordained duties. Being afraid means fear now affects who you are because you are passively molded by a feeling. Fear now dominates you, controls you and tells you what to do or what to be inhibited from doing. This is irrational fear, and it is a non-biblical misuse of an emotion. Let me not mince words: irrational fear is a sin. Why? Because if a man is controlled by fear, then he is a slave to his own emotion. That is idolatry and is blatant disobedience to the Lord. It is blatant disobedience because now fear reigns supreme and not God. And to top it all off, because fear paralyzes a person, it nudges him not to act but rather to withdraw or avoid. By withdrawing or avoiding, a man cannot act in love either for God or for his neighbor. This is a violation of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
And where does fear come from? It’s an emotion that God gave us, so the source of all fear is inside of us. By design, God gave us the gift of rational fear, but we can misuse that emotion and express it in sinful ways: this is where irrational fear comes from. The point is that fear is not something that you pick up from the grocery store or have delivered from Amazon. It’s not a fume that you breathe in and then become afraid. The source of all fear is never without, it’s within. This is why the solution that conquers fear is also within: within the human heart that is transformed by the love of God. On the battlefield of the soul, when divinely graced love fights sinful fear, love conquers.
Because there is “no fear in love,” love is therefore the answer to not being fearful, because in love, there is no fear. This then begs the question, “What is love?” The Greek word for love in I John 4:18 is agape. Agape is not a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside. It is a moral preference for good, and the ultimate love is the preference for the ultimate good, God Himself. But even more than that, agape has legs. Meaning, the verb form of agape tells us that genuine biblical love is demonstrable in action. It means actively doing what the Lord commands, with Him as the means of power and the aim of the love. Real biblical love is thus not just expressed but done. Even more, biblical love acts for the long-term spiritual benefit of another person even if that means short-term discomfort. What does the most famous verse in the Bible say? That God so agape the world that what? How did He demonstrate His love? By sacrificial giving: by giving up His only begotten Son to suffer and die on a Cross for the sins of others so that they could receive salvation. The love of God cost God His Son, yet He acted for the eternal benefit of His elect.
So what does all this mean when John writes that there is no fear in love? It means that love is a power that is stronger than fear. Therefore, by grace, a man is enabled to do in love, and is not crippled by fear into inaction. Love understands that it is itself a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Hence, the same divine grace that gifts the elect with love also empowers them to do the things that the Lord commands without fear. As it says in I Timothy 1:7 (ESV), “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Love enables a person to act in the present—instead of worrying or being fearful about what may happen later on or what is potentially possible. Love takes responsibility right now and asks, “How can I love my neighbor?” While love focuses on others, fear focuses on the self and is concerned that I may get hurt, that I may be ridiculed, and that I may have my reputation ruined because I stand for Jesus. Of course, love is risky. There is always the possibility that I will lose or get hurt when I act in love. But that’s the point: love is not afraid of what happens to me, because I am doing this for the other person for the glory of God. Thus, if I am acting in obedience to the will of God, that is pleasing in the eyes of my heavenly Father. And if God is pleased with me, then it does not matter who is displeased. Love wins, and it is associated with joy and delight evermore in the Lord. Contrast this with fear, which is associated with internal angst, sorrow and misery. And the most diabolical part of all is that fear begets more fear, since failure to assume responsibilities produces more distress.
So now that we know what fear is and what love is, what is the answer to the question, “How does anyone fear not?” And the answer is: you, I, and we—we must all love in spite of fear. We must all do and act for the long-term benefit of the other person even if we feel afraid. Why? Because we act based on love; we do not cease to act based on fear. Furthermore, be mindful that if you are crippled by fear, there is no magic that will ever make you stop feeling a certain way. Acting in love does not mean you will rid yourself of emotion and instantly be fear-free. Of course you can feel afraid without being afraid. Of course you can feel intimidated without being controlled by the intimidation. “Fearing not” therefore means the negative thing (no fear) is related to the positive thing (loving). To provide an example, do you remember what happened to Peter and John in Acts chapter 4? They were thrown in jail for preaching the resurrection of Christ. The next day, when standing before the religious rulers, do you think they may have felt fear? Do you think they may have experienced a degree of intimidation, knowing the city’s authorities disapproved of their message? But in spite of how Peter and John may have felt, what did they do? Who gave them their marching orders: God or men? Acts 4:18-20 (NASB) says:
And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
In other words, out of love for the Lord, Peter and John did what men who love God do: they fulfilled their calling and preached the Word regardless.
What the full canon of Scripture teaches us is that by prayer and by meditation on the Word, you must learn to do what God requires of you, regardless of whether you experience fear or not. Remember that having a temporary experience of fear is not sinful, but allowing fear to inhibit you from obedience is sinful. Therefore, do regardless of your feelings and saturate your thoughts with the God who loved you enough to save you and who demonstrated His love by sending His Son to die on a Cross. That is what will strengthen you to overcome fear.
Now, while the first part of I John 4:18 (NASB) says, “There is no fear in love,” there is still more to the verse. The final part of verse 18 says, “but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
What is this perfect love the apostle talks about? And how do you obtain this perfect love in order to cast out fear?
It’s important that we know what the author means because when the Bible talks about perfect love, it does not mean sinless or flawless perfection. The Greek word for perfect (τελεία) that John uses generally means finished, completed, having reached its end or mature. When you complete a task, for example, or obtain a goal, it can be said that it is “perfected.” Other examples of this use of the word can be found in John 4:34, 5:36 and 19:28; Acts 20:24 and James 2:22. So, putting it all together, when the text says, “perfect love casts out fear,” what it means is that in our love for one another, God’s love manifests as deeds as to reach an appointed goal. That is, the love does not remain imperfect in words; it becomes perfected in action. Immature love is not perfected and has not yet reached its end; it talks a lot and does little. Mature love is perfected and has reached its end; it may say nothing but just does. Perfected love is evident when you don’t talk about serving in your local church, but you show up and say, “I’m ready to work.” It’s not when you say, “I want to be more charitable”; it’s when you go down to the local food bank and serve those who are hungry. Accordingly, if you’ve ever wondered why so many Christians are so fearful of men and therefore have so little boldness for things of God, the answer is staring at us in the text: they fear because their hearts are not devoted to love of God and neighbor; instead, they are afraid of what men will say or do. None but the faithful, who are contented with God’s grace alone, can be truly and perfectly happy, without despair, hopelessness or fear. Where God’s love abounds, fear does not stand a chance.
So, once again, how does a person “fear not?” The answer is to act in love in spite of your feelings of fear. So, the next time you are fearful, stop, pause and ask yourself three questions:
Question number one: “What am I fearful of?” Then consider if you your fear is sovereign or if God is sovereign.
Question number two: “What has God commanded me to do in spite of my fear?”
Question number three: “What can I lovingly do for my neighbor right now?”
The simple answer to question number two is, “Love your neighbor.” This means your answer to question number three can be very ordinary, simple things like helping them take in the groceries even if you just had an argument. It can also mean telling them the truth even if they may not want to hear it. It may also mean saying absolutely nothing but just being present and listening.
In what I have communicated thus far, the content largely applies to the person who is afraid. But as I conclude, there is also another possibility to consider: that you are not afraid but are instead discouraged by the paralysis of fear that you observe in those around you. Be mindful that the toxicity of discouragement can actually be worse than the toxicity of fear, because those who are woefully discouraged often are the most capable to act, yet fail to do so because of impediments. This is where the prayer of Jeremiah becomes helpful, in that the discouraged doesn’t ask God to make the difficulties go away or to change things, but rather makes supplication for divine grace to them—that is, to make them like a fortified wall of bronze in the midst of adversity. After the prophet Jeremiah was burdened and heavily afflicted by opposition, he prayed to the Lord for help (Jeremiah 15:15-18). This is God’s response (15:19-21 NASB):
“If you return, then I will restore you—you will stand before Me; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman. They, for their part, may turn to you, but as for you, you are not to turn to them. Then I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; and though they fight against you, they will not prevail over you; for I am with you to save you and rescue you,” declares the Lord. “So I will rescue you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.”
The reassuring news for the child of God is that He strengthens us to stand when there are no sources of strength in the world around us. His Word transforms our minds, grows our faith and invigorates our hope when everything around us provides reasons for despair. By prayer, the child of God is therefore able to secure new graces each and every morning and to develop the heart strength to act in love when acting in fear is “normal.” It is by divine grace that a person will be able to reject thoughts and acts of fear as signals of virtue. Unhealthy fear is never helpful, nor is it virtuous. On the other hand, love is always beneficial and is always virtuous. Of course, love never means being reckless or acting without wisdom; it means doing with a purposeful act of the will, especially for those who are at greatest risk: like the spiritually immature, those who truly are alone and those frail individuals in poor health. You see, in an environment where most are gripped by delusional fear, it almost makes no sense talking about anything, because that assumes a degree of rationality, which fear dismantles. Instead, what is far more efficacious is to demonstrate love in actions so that the other can be encouraged by seeing and feeling what other-centeredness looks like. If you are discouraged, be mindful that oftentimes your calling is not to change the world around you; oftentimes, your calling is simply to stand firm and act in alignment with divine truth and objective reality. One person acting in love encourages others and builds their heart—just remember the Cross—while failing to act because of discouragement suppresses the truth, changes nothing and leaves people broken down. So ask yourself: in your everyday life, is what you are doing encouraging those around you, or is it discouraging them? Beloved, the fearful heart is the discouraged heart. Discouragement is also a tool used by nefarious powers to neutralize those who are considering not being afraid. In contrast, the faithful heart is an encouraged heart, and it is encouraged by love. After all, if God’s love caused Jesus to totally set Himself apart for believers, how reasonable is it for believers to totally set themselves apart to love Christ, no matter what? Because Christ was all for us, shall we not then be all for Him? Contemplate the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. The God-Man did not accomplish what He did because of fear; He accomplished what He did because of love.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal
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