The world lives in fear—in fear of a nuclear war; fear of sickness and disease; fear of the end of the world; fear of a car accident; fear of dying in an airplane crash; fear of financial disaster and the loss of work; and fear of death in general. One of the greatest fears is also directed towards our fellow men… the concern how they would act and react when one stands up for the Truth.
How about true Christians? How about you? Do you live in fear? If so, this series of articles will explain how we can overcome our fears.
As mentioned, one of the biggest fears which we could have is the fear of men—what they might think or say or do if we embrace and live by the Truth of God’s Word.
But God is very specific and explicit in telling us that we must not fear other people.
Moses said the following to the people of Israel and then to Joshua, in Deuteronomy 31:3, 6-8:
“Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel… ‘The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said… Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’…
“Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’”
Many centuries later, Isaiah gave the same message of encouragement to the people of Israel at his time, while looking at their distant future when they would be freed from captivity after Christ’s Return. We read in Isaiah 51:11-13:
“So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. ‘I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor?”
This is the key problem: While fearing man, we forget to fear God. And God tells them through Isaiah that in the end, an evil oppressor, apparently referring to a military leader called “the beast,” will arise whom the whole world will fear and follow. But his time will be short, and Christ will kill him when He returns.
The prophet Jeremiah repeats the same message of encouragement in Jeremiah 1:4-8, 17, 19:
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, LORD God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD… Therefore prepare yourself and arise, And speak to them all that I command you. Do not be dismayed before their faces, Lest I dismay you before them…They will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,’ says the LORD, ‘to deliver you.’”
In Ezekiel 2:3-8, we read God’s message to the prophet Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse–for they are a rebellious house–yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.
“And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
Also note God’s words to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:9:
“Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.”
In Hebrews 13:6, Paul echoes God’s same message to His people, as follows: “So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”
In general, we are told this in Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”
Again, we see that when we fear man, then we might lose the fear of God. That is the warning expressed in the above-quoted passage, and that is the same warning which we can read in Isaiah 57:11-13:
“And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, That you have lied And not remembered Me, Nor taken it to your heart? Is it not because I have held My peace from of old That you do not fear Me? I will declare your righteousness And your works, For they will not profit you. When you cry out, Let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, A breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, And shall inherit My holy mountain.”
We either stand up for God or we deny Him. Fearing other people and being concerned as to what they believe and how they might act diminishes and destroys our fear and respect for God.
That is why we read time and again the same biblical warning, which Jesus Christ also expressed so vividly in Luke 12:4-9:
“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell [Gehenna fire; the lake of fire and brimstone which will burn up the sinner]; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God…”
To show the tremendous power, concern and love of God for us, Christ also added this fundamental statement, in Luke 12:32: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
In Matthew 10:32-39, Christ repeats some of the warnings, as expressed and reported in Luke, but He adds additional serious observations to tell us that we must NEVER fear others and let them influence us to depart from God, and that our love for God must always be our first priority:
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it…”
And so, we read this important admonition by Peter in 1 Peter 3:14-16:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”
We discussed this passage in our previous Q&A, written by Eric Rank and titled, “What Are Our Responsibilities in Bearing Witness of Jesus Christ?” When we are called upon by sincere and honest people to give a defense or an answer, we must not be too afraid or timid to do so, nor must we be afraid of the threats of others when we do so. In the above-mentioned Q&A, we also addressed Christ’s warning not to be ashamed of Him and His teaching (compare Mark 8:38).
At the same time, it is not always good to “give a defense,” but when refusing to do so, it must not be because of fear of men, but rather of godly wisdom. Amos 5:13 tells us that it is good at times not to give an answer: “Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, For it is an evil time.”
When Christ was challenged by Pilate and the Jews, He gave them no answer and presented no defense to their accusations (compare John 19:8-9; Matthew 26:63). In Matthew 27,12-14, we read:
“And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’ But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.”
Jesus knew that any “defense” would have been useless, as His conviction and condemnation was predetermined. He did not waste His breath by giving what is holy to the “dogs” and casting God’s pearls of wisdom before the “swine” (Matthew 7:6). But He did not act in this way because of fear of men; He was not afraid of their threats.
Sadly, the Bible contains many examples when God’s very fundamental warning and exhortation, not to be afraid of man, has been ignored or violated.
Many refused to speak about Jesus in approving terms because they were afraid of others. John 7:12-13 reads:
“And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, ‘He is good’; others said, ‘No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.’ However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.”
After Jesus had healed a blind man, his parents were questioned by the leaders of the synagogue who were opposed to Christ, but because of fear, they did not speak up, as John 9:18-23 reports:
“But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered them and said, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’”
Another example is given in John 12:42-43:
“Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
The question which we must always ask ourselves is this: Do we love the praise of God more than the praise of men? Are we more afraid of men than of God?
Even Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable, good and just rich counselor, who might have been Christ’s uncle with whom He might have made extensive journeys before He began His public ministry, was afraid to confess publicly his belief in Christ and that he was one of Christ’s disciples. John 19:38 reports:
“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.”
The next verse tells us that Nicodemus was apparently also a secret disciple. He had originally visited Jesus “by night,” apparently because of fear of the Jews:
“And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.”
Focusing briefly on the apostle Paul, he stands out as a bold and courageous person. But even he needed encouragement from time to time and occasional reconfirmation from God. In Acts 18:8-11, we read that God told Paul to speak up for God as God wanted to convert some in the city of Corinth:
“Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Paul had no fear of men, as Luke confirms in the book of Acts. In Acts 14:19-20, we read about Paul’s amazing courage:
“Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city.”
Paul went right back to the people who had stoned him. This required courage and boldness. We will show in the next installment how Paul could and did have such courage—and how we can have it too.
Paul was not afraid of people outside the Church, nor of those inside the Church who opposed him in rebellion. His letters provide ample testimony of this fact.
He states in 2 Corinthians 13:10:
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.”
Also note his comments in 2 Corinthians 10:1-11:
“Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ–who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh…
“For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed–lest I seem to terrify you by letters. ‘For his letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.”
The reason for his righteous anger with some in the church is explained in 2 Corinthians 11:29: “Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?”
He knew that some would try to deceive the brethren and draw them away after themselves (Acts 20:30). Paul was not afraid of them; he stood up to them to protect the flock, even though he was judged by some who did not understand why he spoke and acted in that way and who accused him of lack of love. The same is true today—there is nothing new under the sun.
(To be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link