Fear

Two reasons not to:

After this, the world of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. You’re your shield, your very great reward.” – – Genesis 15:1

Why would Abram be afraid? Perhaps he feared revenge from the kings he had just defeated (14:15). God gave him two good reasons for courage: (1) he promised to defend Abram (“I am your shield”), and (2) he promised to be Abram’s “very great reward”. When you fear what lies ahead, remember that God will stay with you through difficult times and that he has promised you great blessings.

(And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. – – Genesis 14:20. Abram gave one-tenth of the booty to Melchizedek. Even in some pagan religions, it was traditional to give a tenth of one’s earnings to the gods. Abram followed accepted tradition; however, he refused to take any booty from the king of Sodom. Even though this huge amount would significantly increase what he could have given God, he chose to reject it for more important reasons – – he didn’t want the ungodly king of Sodom to say, “I have made Abram rich.” Instead, Abram wanted him to say, “God has made Abram rich.” In this case, accepting the gifts would have focused everyone’s attention on Abram or the king of Sodom rather than on God, the giver of victory. When people look at us, they need to see what God has accomplished in our lives.)

(But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” – – Genesis 15:2, 3. Eliezer was Abram’s most trusted servant, acting as household administrator (“chief servant”, see Genesis 24). According to custom, if Abram were to die without a son, his eldest servant would become his heir. Although Abram loved his servant, he wanted a son to carry on the family line.)

 

What it means to fear the Lord:

And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord – – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’ “ – – Job 28:28

“The fear of the Lord” is a key theme in the wisdom literature of the Bible (Job through Song of Sons). It means to have respect and reverence for God and to be in awe of his majesty and power. This is the starting point to finding real wisdom (see Proverbs 1:7-9).

Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD?

He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. – – Psalms 25:12

To fear the Lord is to recognise God for who he is: holy, almighty, righteous, pure, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-wise. When we regard God correctly, we gain a clearer picture of ourselves: sinful, weak, frail, and needy. When we recognise who God is and who we are, we will fall at his feet in humble respect. Only then will he show us how to choose his way.

(We are bombarded today with relentless appeals to go in various directions. Television advertising alone places hundreds of options before us, in addition to appeals made by political parties, cults, false religions, and dozens of other groups. Numerous organisations, including Christian organisations, seek to motivate us to support a cause. Add to that the dozens of decisions we must make concerning our job, our family, our money, our society, and we become desperate for someone to show us the right way. If you find yourself pulled in several directions, remember that God teaches the humble his way.)

 

Should not keep us from God:

And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – – Genesis 21:7

After repeated promises, a visit by two angels, and the appearance of the Lord himself, Sarah finally cried out with surprise and joy at the birth of her son. Because of her doubt, worry, and fear, she had forfeited the peace she could have felt in God’s wonderful promise to her.   The way to bring peace to a troubled heart is to focus on God’s promises. Trust him to do what he says. Who could believe that Abraham would have a son at 100 years of age – and live to raise him to adulthood? But doing the impossible is everyday business for God. Our big problems won’t seem so impossible if we let God handle them.

 

Running from vs. praying about:

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hands of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ “ – – Genesis 32:9-12

How would you feel knowing you were about to meet the person you had cheated out of his most precious possession? Jacob had taken Esau’s birthright (25:33) and his blessings (27:27-40). Now he was about to meet this brother for the first time in 20 years, and he was frantic with fear. He collected his thoughts, however, and decided to pray. When we face a difficult conflict, we can run about frantically or we can pause to pray. Which approach will be more affective?

 

It is normal, but shouldn’t paralyse us:

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” – – Genesis 46:3-4

God told Jacob to leave his home and travel to a strange and faraway land. But God reassured him by promising to go with him and take care of him. When new situations or surroundings frighten you, recognise that experiencing fear is normal. To be paralysed by fear, however, is an indication that you question God’s ability to take care of you.

The Israelites did become a great nation, and Jacob’s descendants eventually returned to Canaan. The book of Exodus recounts the story of Israel’s slavery in Egypt for 400 years (fulfilling God’s words to Abraham in 15:13-16), and the book of Joshua gives an exciting account of the Israelites entering and conquering Canaan, the promised land.

Jacob never returned to Canaan. This was a promise to his descendants that they would return. “Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes” refers to Joseph attending to Jacob as he faced death. It was God’s promise to Jacob that he would never know the bitterness of being lonely again.

 

Can keep us from opportunities:

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. – – Exodus 2:7-8

Miriam, the baby’s sister, saw that Pharaoh’s daughter had discovered Moses. Quickly she took the initiative to suggest a nurse (her mother) who might care for the baby. The Bible doesn’t say if Miriam was afraid to approach the Egyptian princess, or if the princess was suspicious of the Hebrew girl. But Miriam did approach her, and the princess bought the services of Miriam and her mother. Their family was reunited. Special opportunities may come our way unexpectedly. Don’t let the fear of what might happen cause you to miss an opportunity. Be alert for the opportunities God gives you, and take full advantage of them.

 

Sometimes caused by over-anticipation:

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” – – Exodus 4:1

Moses’ reluctance and fear were caused by overanticipation. He was worried about how the people might respond to him. We often build up events in our minds and then panic over what might go wrong. God does not ask us to go where he has not provided the means to help. Go where he leads, trusting him to supply courage, confidence, and resources at the right moment.

(Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. – – Exodus 4:2-4. A shepherd’s staff was commonly a three- to six-foot wooden rod with a curved hook at the top. The shepherd used it for walking, guiding his sheep, killing snakes, and many other tasks. Still, it was just a stick. But God used the simple shepherd’s staff Moses carried as a sign to teach him an important lesson. God sometimes takes joy in using ordinary things for extraordinary purposes. What are the ordinary things in your life – – your voice, a pen, a hammer, a broom, a musical instrument? While it is easy to assume God can use only special skills, you must not hinder his use of the everyday contributions you can make. Little did Moses imagine the power his simple staff would wield when it became the staff of God.)

 

Don’t respond to crisis with:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – – Exodus 14:10-11

Trapped against the sea, the Israelites faced the Egyptian army sweeping in for the kill. The Israelites thought they were doomed. After watching God’s powerful hand deliver them from Egypt, their only response was fear, whining, and despair. Where was their trust in God? Israel had to learn from repeated experience that God was able to provide for them. God has preserved these examples in the Bible so that we can learn to trust him the first time. By focusing on God’s faithfulness in the past we can face crises with confidence rather than with fear and complaining.

This is the first instance of grumbling and complaining by the Israelites. Their lack of faith in God is startling. Yet how often do we find ourselves doing the same thing – – complaining over inconveniences or discomforts? The Israelites were about to learn some touch lessons. Had they trusted God, they would have been spared much grief.

 

Why God said “Don’t be afraid”:

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” – – Exodus 20:20

Throughout the Bible we find this phrase, “Do not be afraid.” God wasn’t trying to scare the people. He was showing his mighty power so the Israelites would know he was the true God and would therefore obey him. If they would do this, he would make his power available to them. God wants us to follow him out of love rather than fear. To overcome fear, we must think more about his love. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”

(When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance – – Exodus 20:18. Sometimes God speaks to his people with a majestic display of power; at other times he speaks quietly. Why the difference? God speaks in the way that best accomplishes his purposes. At Sinai, the awesome display of light and sound was necessary to show Israel God’s great power and authority. Only then would they listen to Moses and Aaron.)

 

Relationship between fear & love:

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” – –Exodus 20:20

Throughout the Bible we find this phrase, “Do not be afraid.” God wasn’t trying to scare the people. He was showing his mighty power so the Israelites would know he was the true God and would therefore obey him.   If they would do this, he would make his power available to them. God wants us to follow him out of love rather than fear. To overcome fear, we must think more about his love. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”

(“ ‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it. – – Exodus 20:24-26. Why were specific directions given for building altars? God’s people had no Bible and few religious traditions to learn from. God gave specific instructions about building altars because he wanted to control the way sacrifices were offered. To prevent idolatry from creeping into worship, God did not allow the altar stones to be cut or shaped into any form. Nor did God let the people build an altar just anywhere. This was designed to prevent them from starting their own religions or making changes in the way God wanted things done. God is not against creativity, but he is against us creating our own religion.)

 

Keeps us from utilising God’s power:

Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” – – Deuteronomy 1:22

The spies were sent into the land to determine not whether they should enter, but where they should enter. Upon returning, however, most of the spies concluded that the land was not worth the obstacles. God would give the Israelites the power to conquer the land, but they were afraid of the risk and decided not to enter. God gives us the power to overcome our obstacles, but like the Israelites filled with fear and scepticism, we often let difficulties control our lives. Following regardless of the difficulties is the way to have courageous, overcoming faith.

(Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.” You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.” So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you – – as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it. And at that time I told you everything you were to do. – – Deuteronomy 1:13-18. Moses identified some of the inner qualities of good leaders: (1) wisdom, (2) understanding, and (3) respect. These characteristics differ markedly from the ones that often help elect leaders today: good looks, wealth, popularity, willingness to do anything to get to the top. The qualities Moses identified should be evident in us as we lead, and we should look for them in those we elect to positions of leadership. [Wood-Plane’s said Jesus is better looking])

 

God can cause your enemies to fear you:

This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you. – – Deuteronomy 2:25

God told Moses he would make the enemy nations afraid of Israel. By worldly standards, Israel’s army was not intimidating, but Israel had God on its side. Moses no longer had to worry about his enemies because his enemies were worried about him. God often goes before us in our daily battles, preparing the way and overcoming barriers. We need to follow him wholeheartedly and be alert to his leading.

(Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. – – Deuteronomy 2:14, 15. Israel did not have to spend 40 years on the way to the promised land. God sentenced them to desert wanderings because they rejected his love, rebelled against his authority, ignored his commands for right living, and wilfully broke their end of the agreement made in Exodus 19:8 and 24:3-8. In short, they disobeyed God. We often make life’s journey more difficult than necessary by disobedience. Accept God’s love, read and follow his commands in the Bible, and make a promise to stick with God whatever your situation. You will find that your life will be less complicated and more rewarding.)

 

Comes when we leave out God:

No-one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. – – Joshua 1:5

Joshua’s new job consisted of leading more than two million people into a strange new land and conquering it. What a challenge – – even for a man of Joshua’s calibre!   Every new job is a challenge. Without God it can be frightening. With God it can be a great adventure. Just as God was with Joshua, he is with us as we face our new challenges. We may not conquer nations, but every day we face tough situations, difficult people, and temptations. However, God promises that he will never abandon us or fail to help us. By asking God to direct us we can conquer many of life’s challenges.

(“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey the law my servant Moses gave you: do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. – – Joshua 1:6-8. Many people think that prosperity and success come from having power, influential personal contacts, and a relentless desire to get ahead. But the strategy for gaining prosperity that God taught Joshua goes against such criteria. He said that to succeed Joshua must (1) be strong and courageous because the task ahead would not be easy, (2) obey God’s law, and (3) constantly read and study the Book of the Law – – God’s word. To be successful, follow God’s words to Joshua. You may not succeed by the world’s standards, but you will be a success in God’s eyes – – and his opinion lasts for ever.)

 

Doesn’t excuse us from God’s work:

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. – – Judges 7:10-11

Facing overwhelming odds, Gideon was afraid.   God understood his fear, but he didn’t excuse Gideon from his task. Instead he allowed Gideon to slip into the enemy camp and overhear a conversation that would give him courage (7:12-15). Are you facing a battle? God can give you the strength you need for any situation.   And don’t be startled by the way he helps you.   Like Gideon, you must listen to God and be ready to take the first step. Only after you begin to obey God will you find the courage to move ahead.

 

Evaporates when we trust God:

Jonathan said to his young armour-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” – – 1 Samuel 14:6

Jonathan and his armour-bearer weren’t much of a force to attack the huge Philistine army. But while everyone else was afraid, they trusted God, knowing that the size of the enemy army would not restrict God’s ability to help them. God honoured the faith and brave action of these two men with tremendous victory.

Have you ever felt surrounded by the “enemy” or faced overwhelming odds? God is never intimidated by the size of the enemy or the complexity of a problem. With him, there are always enough resources to resist the pressures and win the battle. If God has called you to action, then bravely commit what resources you have to God, and rely upon him to lead you to victory.

 

Becomes preoccupied with:

Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men. He was with David at Pas Dammim when the Philistines gathered there for battle. At a place where there was a field full of barley, the troops fled from the Philistines. But they took their stand in the middle of the field. They defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory. – – 1 Chronicles 11:12-14

Eleazar’s action changed the course of a battle. When everyone around him ran, he held his ground and was saved by the Lord. In any struggle, fear can keep us from taking a stand for God and from participating in God’s victories. Face your fear head on. If you are grounded in God, victory will come when you hold that ground.

(Three of the thirty chiefs came down to David to the rock at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. – – 1 Chr 11:15. The 30 chiefs were the most courageous and highest-ranking officers of David’s army. [They sent their highest-ranking after you, scary thought])

 

Can immobilise you:

David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished. – – 1 Chronicles 28:20

David advised Solomon not to be frightened about the size of his task as king and builder of the temple. Fear can immobilise us. The size of a job, its risks, or the pressure of the situation can cause us to freeze and do nothing. One remedy for fear is found here – don’t focus on the fear; instead, get to work. Getting started is often the most difficult and frightening part of a job.

 

How to resist it:

…so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live for ever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” – – Nehemiah 2:2-3

Nehemiah wasn’t ashamed to admit his fear, but he refused to allow fear to stop him from doing what God had called him to do. When we allow our fears to rule us, we make fear more powerful than God. Is there a task God wants you to do, but fear is holding you back? God is greater than all your fears. Recognising why you are afraid is the first step in committing to God. Realise that if God has called you to a task, he will help you accomplish it.

The king noticed Nehemiah’s sad appearance. This frightened Nehemiah because it was dangerous to show sorrow before the king, who could execute anyone who displeased him. Anyone wearing sackcloth (mourning clothes) was barred from the palace (Esther 4:2).

The LORD is my light and my salvation – –

whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life – –

of who shall I be afraid? – – Psalms 27:1

Fear is a dark shadow that envelops us and ultimately imprisons us within ourselves. Each of us has been a prisoner of fear at one time or another – fear of rejection, misunderstanding, uncertainty, sickness, or even death. But we can conquer by using the bright liberating light of the Lord who brings salvation. If we want to dispel the darkness of fear, let us remember with the psalmist that “the LORD is my light and my salvation”.

(My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD. – – Psalm 26:12. Too often we complain about our problems to anyone who will listen and praise God only in private. How much better it would be for us to complain privately and to praise God publicly.)

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – – Mark 4:38-40

The disciples panicked because the storm threatened to destroy them all, and Jesus seemed unaware and unconcerned. Theirs was a physical storm, but storms come in other forms. Think about the storms in your life – the situations that cause you great anxiety. Whatever your difficulty, you have two options: You can worry and assume that Jesus no longer cares, or you can resist fear, putting your trust in him. When you feel like panicking, confess your need for God and then trust him to care for you.

The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level and is surrounded by hills. Winds blowing across the land intensify close to the sea, often causing violent and unexpected storms. The disciples were seasoned fishermen who had spent their lives fishing on this huge lake, but during this squall they panicked.

(They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” – – Mark 4:41. The disciples lived with Jesus, but they underestimated him. They did not see that his power applied to their very own situation. Jesus has been with his people for 20 centuries, and yet we, like the disciples, underestimate his power to handle crises in our lives. The disciples did not yet know enough about Jesus. We cannot make the same excuse.)

 

Fear of man vs. fear of God:

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,

but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. – – Proverb 29:25

Fear of people can hamper everything you try to do. In extreme forms, it can make you afraid to leave your home. By contrast, fear of God – respect, reverence, and trust – is liberating. Why fear people who can do no eternal harm? Instead, fear God who can turn the harm intended by others into good for those who trust him.

(The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; he is put under oath and dare not testify. – – Proverb 29:24. This proverb is saying that a thief’s accomplice won’t tell the truth when under oath. Thus, by his perjury, he will hurt himself. [i.e. Do it under “flashlight”])

(The sayings of Agur son of Jaketh – – an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal – – Proverb 30:1. The origin of these sayings is not clear. Nothing is known about Agur except that he was a wise teacher who may have come from Lemuel’s kingdom.)

 

Letting Jesus deal with yours:

…but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. – – Mark 6:49-50

The disciples were afraid, but Jesus’ presence calmed their fears. We all experience fear. Do we try to deal with ourselves, or do we let Jesus deal with it? In times of fear and uncertainty, it is calming to know that Christ is always with us (Matthew 28:20). To recognise Christ’s presence is the antidote to fear.

The disciples were surprised to see Jesus walking beside them on the water. But they should have realised that Jesus would help them when they were in trouble. Though they had lost sight of Jesus, he had not lost sight of them. His concern for them overcame their lack of faith. The next time you are in “deep water”, remember that Christ knows your struggle and cares for you.

 

Why you need not fear death:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? – – Luke 9:24-25

If this present life is most important to you, you will do everything you can to protect it. You will not want to do anything that might endanger your safety, health, or comfort. By contrast, if following Jesus is most important, you may find yourself in unsafe, unhealthy, and uncomfortable places. You will risk death, but you will not fear it because you know that Jesus will raise you to eternal life. Nothing material can compensate for the loss of eternal life. Jesus’ disciples are not to use their lives on earth for their own pleasure – they should spend their lives serving God and people.

People are willing to pay a high price for something they value. Is it any surprise that Jesus would demand this much commitment from his followers? There are at least three conditions that must be met by people who want to follow Jesus. We must be willing to deny self, to take up our crosses, and to follow him. Anything less is superficial lip service.

(Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – – Luke 9:23. Christians follow their Lord by imitating his life and obeying his commands. To take up the cross meant to carry your own cross to the place where you would be killed. Many Galileans had been killed that way by the Romans. Applied to the disciples, it meant to identify completely with Christ’s message, even if it meant death. We must deny our selfish desires to use our time and money our own way and to choose our own direction in life without regard to Christ. Following Christ is costly now, but in the long run, it is well worth the pain and effort.)

 

Keeps us from speaking for Christ:

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. – – Luke 12:4-5

Fear of opposition or ridicule can weaken our witness for Christ. Often we cling to peace and comfort, even at the cost of our walk with God. Jesus reminds us here that we should fear God, who controls eternal, not merely temporal, consequences. Don’t allow fear of a person or group to keep you from standing up for Christ.

But no-one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews. – – John 7:13

Everyone was talking about Jesus! But when it came time to speak up for him in public, no-one said a word. All were afraid. Fear can stifle our witness. Although many people talk about Christ in church, when it comes to making a public statement about their faith, they are often embarrassed. Jesus says that he will acknowledge us before God if we acknowledge him before others (Matthew 10:32). Be courageous! Speak up for Christ!

The religious leaders had a great deal of power over the common people. Apparently these leaders couldn’t do much to Jesus at this time, but they threatened anyone who might publicly support him. Excommunication from the synagogue was one of the reprisals for believing in Jesus (9:22). To a Jew, this was a severe punishment.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. – – John 12:42-43

Along with those who refused to believe, many believed but refused to admit it. This is just as bad, and Jesus had strong words for such people (see Matthew 10:32, 33). People who will not take a stand for Jesus are afraid of rejection or ridicule. Many Jewish leaders wouldn’t admit to faith in Jesus because they feared excommunication from the synagogue (which was their livelihood) and loss of their prestigious place in the community. But the praise of others is fickle and short-lived. We should be much more concerned about God’s eternal acceptance than about the temporary approval of other people.

 

Of life’s circumstances:

A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. – – John 6:18

The Sea of Galilee is 650 feet below sea level, 150 feet deep, and surrounded by hills. These physical features make it subject to sudden windstorms that would cause extremely high waves. Such storms were expected on this lake, but they were nevertheless frightening. When Jesus came to the disciples during a storm, walking on the water (three and a half miles from shore), he told them not to be afraid. We often face spiritual and emotional storms and feel tossed about like a small boat on a big lake. In spite of terrifying circumstances, if we trust our lives to Christ for his safekeeping, he will give us peace in any storm.

 

How faith overcomes it:

A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. – – John 6:18-19

The disciples, terrified, probably thought they were seeing a ghost (Mark 6:49). But if they had thought about all they had already seen Jesus do, they could have accepted this miracle. They were frightened – they didn’t expect Jesus to come, and they weren’t prepared for his help. Faith is a mind-set that expects God to act. When we act on this expectation, we can overcome our fears.

(After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” – – John 6:14. “The Prophet” is the one prophesied by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).)

 

Faith makes trouble less frightening:

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. – – Acts 5:17-18

The apostles experienced power to do miracles, great boldness in preaching, and God’s presence in their lives, yet they were not free from hatred and persecution. They were arrested, put in jail, beaten, and slandered by community leaders. Faith in God does not make troubles disappear; it makes trouble appear less frightening because it puts them in the right perspective. Don’t expect everyone to react favourably when you share something as dynamic as your faith in Christ. Some will be jealous, afraid, or threatened. Expect some negative reactions, and remember that you must be more concerned about serving God than about the reactions of people (see 5:29).

The religious leaders were jealous – – Peter and the apostles were already commanding more respect than they had ever received. The difference, however, was that the religious leaders demanded respect and reverence for themselves; the apostles’ goal was to bring respect and reverence to God. The apostles were respected not because they demanded it, but because they deserved it.

(Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. – – Acts 5:16. What did these miraculous healings do for the early church? (1) They attracted new believers. (2) They confirmed the truth of the apostles’ teaching. (3) They demonstrated that the power of the Messiah who had been crucified and risen was now with his followers.)

 

Neutralises effectiveness for God:

For this reason I remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. – – 2 Timothy 1:6-7

Timothy was experiencing great opposition to his message and to himself as a leader. His youth, his association with Paul, and his leadership had come under fire from believers and non-believers alike. Paul urged him to be bold. When we allow people to intimidate us, we neutralise our effectiveness for God. The power of the Holy Spirit can help us overcome our fear of what some might say or do to us, so that we can continue to do God’s work.

At the time of his ordination, Timothy had received special gifts of the Spirit to enable him to serve the church (see 1 Timothy 4:14). In telling Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God”, Paul was encouraging him to persevere. Timothy did not need new revelations or new gifts; he needed the courage and self-discipline to hang on to the truth and to use the gifts he had already received (see 1:13, 14). If Timothy would step out boldly in faith and proclaim the gospel once again, the Holy Spirit would go with him and give him power. When you use the gifts God has given you, you will find that God will give you the power you need.

Clearly Timothy’s spiritual gift had been given to him when Paul and the elders had laid their hands on him and set him apart for ministry (see 1 Timothy 4:14). God gives all Christians gifts to use to build up the body of Christ (22 1 Corinthians 12:4-31), and he gives special gifts to some through church leaders, who serve as God’s instruments.

Paul mentions three characteristics of the effective Christian leader: power, love, and self-discipline. These are available to us because the Holy Spirit lives in us. Follow his leading each day so that your life will more fully exhibit these characteristics. See Galatians 5:22, 23 for a list of the by-products of the Holy Spirit living in us.

(So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, – – 2 Timothy 1:8. In this time of mounting persecution, Timothy may have been afraid to continue preaching the gospel. His fears were based on fact, because believers were being arrested and executed. Paul told Timothy to expect suffering – – Timothy, like Paul, would be jailed for preaching the gospel (Hebrews 13:23). But Paul promised Timothy that God would give him strength and that he would be ready when it was his turn to suffer. Even when there is no persecution, it can be difficult to share our faith in Christ. Fortunately we, like Paul and Timothy, can call on the Holy Spirit to give us courage. Don’t be ashamed to testify.)

©Kingsway International Church 1973.

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