Updated: Mar 9, 2022
FEAR ISN'T A LIAR, IT'S A REALITY...NOW WHAT?
At some point we all must face a sobering truth, fear is real. Denying that is leads us to distress and damage, but understanding it, how it controls us, and how we can truly face it and overcome can lead to freedom. A popular Christian song called "Fear is a Liar" by Zach Williams is a song that personifies fear and puts on display the effects fear can have on us. Unfortunately, it doesn't exactly address the solution. So, if fear is a reality, not a liar, what do we do with it?
REVELATION 2:8-11 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ John records some pretty amazing visions in the writings in Revelations. The imagery in this final book of the Bible often terrifies people and propels them into deep spiritual fear. It is interesting that John takes special note to encourage the faithful with this often stated line "Do not fear." What is even more incredible is what they are instructed not to fear:.
Being thrown in prison
Most Christians in the West never face these realities. In general, we have what need physically like food, clothing, and shelter. It is rare for believers in the West to be thrown in jail or openly persecuted for their faith in YHVH. The vast majority of Westerners will not face tribulation or death in any form as a result of their Biblical faith. According to opendoorsusa.org 340 million people who identify as Christians around the world face some level of persecution and physical suffering, and nearly 5,000 were murdered for their faith in 2020. Those of us in the West are blind to those realities, so when we are faced with genuine fear, we are ill-quipped to handle it faithfully. How do we equip ourselves without actually going through the fire ourselves? First, we need to understand why fear is such a powerful influence in our lives.
In verse 11, John writes, the one who “conquers” will not be hurt by the second death. It is a curious statement that if repeated in churches worldwide, but what is it they are being told to conquer? Is it their adversaries? Is it their abusers? Is it their suffering, tribulations, or death? No, it is their fear. These sufferings, are coming, John is not telling them to overcome the suffering, he's encouraging them to overcome the fear associated with their tribulation. This is an enormously sobering statement. The reality is, if we are truly set apart believers, then we must get comfortable with the idea that people really won't like us. Yeshua clearly addresses this: John 15:18-19 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." Consider the following Questions:
What is one thing you are VERY afraid of?
When you have an experience with that thing, what do you do?
What are you willing to or capable of doing to avoid a run in with this fear?
One of the most quantifiable truths of humanity is fear is a powerful motivator. We see it in our society right now. When you see what great lengths people are willing to go to avoid catching COVID-19, or running our of gasoline, or beyond, even to a comical level. Many are not even be afraid of the virus itself, they may be afraid of not having food, toilet paper, or other comforts they have been accustomed to. What do they do as a result? They buy ALL the toilet paper, food, etc. They may be afraid of the government or their neighbors acting in an unlawful or dangerous manner. What do they do? They hoard loads of ammo and guns. Fear is a reality, a very real thing we must all face in some form or fashion on a regular basis. We react to fear in ways that are unpredictable, confusing and sometimes even with violence. Why is that? Because fear conjures up something in us that appeals entirely to our flesh. Think about it again, what is that thing you are very afraid of? Now what is it about that thing scares you? What about it makes you so afraid?
Let me give you an example. I hate, I mean completely and totally despise snakes. I am VERY afraid of them. I know people who pick them up, who kill them with their bare hands, I am not that guy. Now, I won't scale a 30ft. vertical wall, but I have gone to some pretty extreme ends to rid myself of snakes. I won’t pick up tame snakes, will not approach and try to kill one up close, not even with a shovel. When I see a snake...I get my shotgun, I stand a good distance away, and i will shoot it 5 or 6 times. But what makes me so afraid? The pain of being bitten or the prospect of dying from a bite as it is described by science. I still have nightmares of finding one in my sleeping bag or in my bed and not being able to get away from it. It is the potential physical harm, discomfort and pain that causes me to fear snakes to the level that I do. For the vast majority of us, we fear the thing because of what it can do to our flesh. It can bring harm, pain, sadness, or death. In other words, that thing has the power to inflict those physical sufferings upon us. When John addresses the faithful's fear in Revelation 2, he is addressing a real physical assault on their flesh. This is a real, genuine, fear for the church and he is compelled to exhort them to overcome that fear and not let it have control over them. He doesn't say they won't suffer, John tells them not to overcome the fear associated with that suffering.
The Bible discusses the topic of fear extensively, in the ESV version the word "fear" is translated 437 times. This makes it a significant topic believers should study and prepare for as a part of their faithful walk with YHVH. Proverbs 29:25 esv The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
The fear of man is a very real fear for most people. Why? Because man can do some pretty awful things to each other. If you aren't sure about that, go read up on the Inquisitions. Man has conjured up some of the most vial, detestable, and evil methods of torture, abuse, fear cultivation that have ever been introduced to this world. Yet, despite that reality, Proverbs urges us not to fear man, because it is a trap. The fear of man is addressed in the New Testament as well, and it offers some interesting takes on why people fear other people so much. John 12:42-43 esv 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. Fear has a funny way of exposing where our loyalties really lie. In the Gospel of John it is recorded that many of the authorities actually believed in Yeshua as the Messiah, but they feared the Pharisees. Why would the Pharisees be able to control people in this manner? Because they had the ability to put those who believed out of the synagogue and to withdrawal their honor and respect and human dignity by debasing and shaming them publicly. People still have the ability to inflict this kind of emotional harm even today, making it a
modern and real fear for many. Even within churches, synagogues and fellowships this same kind of emotional manipulation is often used to keep people from testing long-held denominational doctrines or traditions, challenge leaders within the church, or hide sin from public discovery. It has even been used to silence challengers to false teachers and prophets who claim to have a direct knowledge or revelation from YHVH. When we fear men, it exposes the fact that we allow those men to have some level of authority or control over us either by inflicting physical, emotional, or social harm upon us or by appealing to our desire for affirmation and recognition. Luke 12:4-9 esv 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. 8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
Why does this verse tell us NOT to fear those who can kill the body? In this text it tells us not to fear those (man or beast) because after we die physically there is nothing more they can do to us, great news right? Clearly this intended to encourage believers, but isn't it HOW they kill the body that we are ultimately afraid of? The options are seemingly endless, drowning, burned alive, cut in half, pulled apart by horses, the list goes on and on. Yet, all of that will eventually end. It is the reality of eternity that should drive our hope, even in the face of great potential for physical harm and death. It is the hope offered in verses 6-8 that spurs the faithful on to suffer and persevere as long and as far as possible.
FEAR EXPOSES YOUR FAITH, AND THAT SHOULD SCARE US. Earlier, we reviewed things that you fear, but what if we looked at those fears a little differently. Do those fears you mentioned earlier have an effect on your ability to publicly declare God as your Lord? For example, does my fear of snakes hinder my ability to share the Gospel? Well, if YHVH told me to go to the jungles of Peru...maybe, if I'm being honest. How do your fears hinder you from proclaiming God as Lord of your life? If they do prevent you from sharing the Gospel, then aren't those fears actually your lord and master, and not YHVH? If those things are lord, then where does YHVH fit in? If push comes to shove, and you had to overcome your fear or give into it...would you be able to on a moments notice? Do you understand now why John is exhorting the believers in Revelation to overcome their fear? Fear cannot be allowed to stand between them and obedience to YHVH, nor can it stand between us and obedience.
When we fear things other than YHVH it ultimately prevents, and hinders our witness and our testimony for the Gospel to other people. Our fears reveal who/what is really lord of our lives. Think about this, if I fear being without common comforts like AC, toilet paper, or entertainment, what does that say about what is lord of my life? If I fear harm coming to my family, losing friends, or costing me relationships or status, what does that reveal about who or what is lord of my life? The Scriptures are full of people who are faced with fear, and their responses to that fear reveal some hard lessons we must face if we are to overcome the fear we will all face at some point. Here are a few examples. Genesis 12:12-Abraham fears pagan kings calls his wife his sister 1 Samuel 15:24- Saul fears the people, disobeys God Luke 22:54-62-Peter denies Jesus in the Temple Courtyard
Yet despite these fears we see some of these same people exercise great faith and seemingly overcome these fears. Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham eventually overcomes many of his fears to follow YHVH, even leaving the general comfort and security of the land of his fathers to obey YHVH and go to a new land. Abraham is even praised not only for his faith, but also because he would teach his children to follow and be faithful to YHVH as well. Acts 4:18-21 18 "So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened." Was this the same guy who denied Yeshua in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin? Now he stands in front of the same men that lied, abused, beat, and eventually handed over their Messiah to be murdered and confesses the truth of the Gospel and faces the exact same fear which had overcome him not too long before. This time he overcomes his fear. 1 Samuel 15:24-28 24 "Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have violated the command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. 25 Now then, please pardon my sin and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27 As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you." King Saul is faced with directly disobeying YHVH's instructions, and he reveals the reason for his disobedience, fear. He was afraid of the people, and his fear leads him directly into rebellion against the God of all time and creation, YHVH. Saul's failure should remind you of the verse we read earlier in Proverbs: Proverbs 29:25 esv The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
As Scripture testifies throughout history, fear is a powerful motivator and often leads us into defiance against YHVH. Fear exposes our loyalties and in every way is a very real and tangible factor in our lives. However, there is hope to not only face our fear, but to overcome it when we focus on the eternal reality of faith in YHVH. It is His truth that guides and directs us beyond the physical/temporal fears we have of people, beast, or suffering and into the hope of our eternal Father.
The Bible is very clear on the effect fear has in our lives. When we allow fear to control us, rather than pushing us to run to God for deliverance and freedom, it will ruin us spiritually. It robs us of peace, joy, contentment, and self-control, but when we trust in God, He generously gives us all of those things through the Holy Spirit. Listen to how David talks about his fear and his faith.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 3 Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 4 Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7 The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
Fear is a natural emotion, a human response, but we don’t have to be overcome by that fear or anxiety, because our God is Lord of everything and “what can man do to you?” He is your helper, He is your refuge, and His love endures forever. These are eternal truths that cannot be overtaken by any darkness our physical bodies may encounter because of our testimony. Become a subscriber to access part 2 of our Fear v. Faith series.