What Does it Mean That God Has Not Given Us a Spirit of Fear? #307

Happy Thursday, friends! As a heads up, beginning tomorrow, and lasting for 2-3 days, we are going to make a slight change from the norm, and I feel like I need to explain it, since it is related to Halloween. Now, I’m not a big Halloween person. We’ve got 5 kids, and we’ve never celebrated Halloween very much. We were pretty adamant about it in the younger days of the kids, and even got into a little bit of accidental conflict with friends when our kids would say anti-Halloween things to the other kids in our circle – not something we ever encouraged them to do. More recently, I’d say we have taken a more relaxed attitude towards Halloween – we still don’t celebrate it, but you might find some pumpkins mixed in with the other fall decorations around the house. That said, I am not above using a holiday like this to reach people with the good news of Jesus, and thus it will be that the next two episodes will be called something like, “The Five Spookiest Stories in the Bible.” I’ll be sharing those episodes with some friends, hoping that a few of them hear the gospel through it. A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called “Monsters in the Bible,” and last year wrote another spooky book that was a follow-up. Both books were very biblical and evangelical in their content, but both were written in a way to be targeted to an audience that is interested in the paranormal and spooky things. Both books have been fairly well received by people on Amazon, and I hope that they have introduced some, if not many, to salvation. So – if you’re a big spooky or Halloween kind of person, you might enjoy the next couple of episodes, but know that they will still be 100% focused on the Word of God. If you are opposed to Halloween, then I completely understand – I don’t believe we should celebrate with or partner with the darkness. But I am very open to using what the culture is talking about to point them to Jesus, from time to time, as Paul did at Mars Hill. We’ll still read and discuss our daily Bible readings, of course!

Our readings for today begin with 2nd Kings 10, which is all about Jehu’s murderous campaign against the family of Ahab. Jehu is violent to an extreme sense, and it should probably be noted that God used Jehu to execute His judgment on Ahab and his family, but Jehu was himself not pleasing to God in the way he lived his life. We’ll also be reading Psalms 119:97-120, Hosea 2 and 2nd Timothy 1. Our focus will be on the issue of fear. Right off the bat, we need to differentiate between the fear of the Lord and all other fear. We covered the meaning of the fear of the Lord in episode #94, so that might be a good refresher. The fear of the Lord is a good thing – the beginning of wisdom. Other fear, however, is not so good – God has not given us a spirit of fear. What does that mean exactly? Well, let’s read our passage and consider.

I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.Therefore, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. 10 This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher, 12 and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.

2nd Timothy 1

Looking at the context around Paul’s statement that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, it would seem that he is seeking to encourage Timothy in his stand for the faith -reminding Timothy that he comes from a believing mother and grandmother, and then exhorting him to not be ashamed about his testimony/witness of Jesus. Paul points out that he himself is not ashamed of the gospel, because he knows Jesus, and he has entrusted him to preserve eternal life and reward for him until the proper time. Paul uses the word δειλία deilía here, instead of the more common Greek word for fear, which is Phobos. δειλία deilía could be translated as timidity, or even cowardice, and actually appears to be a stronger word than the normal word used for fear, and so this exhortation of Paul’s is quite strong. It reminds me of Jesus’ question to the disciples in Mark 4 after He had calmed the storm that they expected would be their doom: 

39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Mark 4:39-40

It would seem here that fear is sort of an opposite to faith, and thus it would come as no surprise to us that Jesus commands His followers and those He interacts with over and over to not be afraid:

50 When Jesus heard it, he answered him, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe, and she will be saved.” 51 After he came to the house, he let no one enter with him except Peter, John, James, and the child’s father and mother. Luke 8:50

31 “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.  Luke 12:31

“Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. Matthew 10:26

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:31

Jesus came up, touched them, and said, “Get up; don’t be afraid.” Matthew 17:7

Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” Matthew 28:10

God the Father also commands people to not be afraid:

After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great. Genesis 15:1

“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham.” Genesis 26:24

God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. Genesis 46:3

Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

And on and on and on – ‘Do not be afraid’ is one of the most often repeated commands of God – if not THE single most often repeated command of God in the entire Bible. So – we are told not to fear. How can we do this? Well, back to what Jesus said – walking in fear is essentially the opposite of walking in faith. To move away from fear, we need to move towards God and His Word. If we are now moving away from God and His Word and the leadership of His Spirit, then we are moving in the direction of fear. I realize that is quite simplistic, but it is also deeply and completely true – to overcome fear requires faith, faith comes from hearing and obeying the Word and being close to God. Here’s Tim Keller on that dynamic between fear and nearness to God:

The reason we have a spirit of fear is because as we move away from God, we move into fear. As we move away from God, we discover fear. The Bible says, “If you have decided the tenets of religion cramp your style financially or sexually or professionally and you have moved away from God, what you’re doing is you will move into a spirit of fear. You will be characterized by a spirit of fear.”
. Fear comes from saying to God, “I don’t need you.” That’s what it comes from. For example, as you move away from God, a human being has an experience of radical finitude. You sense your finiteness.
It was interesting. More than a year ago, when the San Francisco earthquake happened, one night on one of the news programs I heard a psychologist interviewed. Whoever asked the psychologist the question was trying to help people deal with the stress and trauma of the earthquake. Somebody said, “It seems like our ancestors just didn’t used to fall apart when it came to disasters. Our ancestors used to bury half of their children before they reached maturity. They took troubles and tragedies in stride. Now why is it when we have a tragedy, everybody has to run on in and help everybody because they feel so traumatized?”
The psychologist was marvelous in his frankness. He said, “Well think of it this way. First of all, our ancestors believed they were small in a big universe that was controlled by God. They knew God, they prayed to God, and they didn’t have this same sense of being powerless. For example, for our ancestors this life was a small part of reality. You lived here for a while. Then you died and you went into heaven.”
Then he turned and he said, “But for us this life is all we have. Not only that, we’re the only ones running this world. When something like this comes along, we feel so powerless and helpless, and it engenders tremendous trauma.” I was amazed at his frankness. Why is it today we will sue, we get into litigation, over things a generation ago people just considered, “Well, that’s just the way life is?”
Because a generation or two ago we believed we were small, we only lived here for a while, and then there was eternity where we were small and it was this great big world. Today we believe, “No, there must be a human problem behind any imperfection. We are our masters. We are in charge.” As a result, whenever tragedies hit we are absolutely traumatized. There is no way we can deal with tragedies and troubles the way our ancestors could. The psychologist was right.
The more you move away from God, the more you feel that finiteness. The more you move away from God, the more you feel powerless and helpless, like somebody in a place that is way too big for you. Fear also comes from the purposelessness that comes when you move away from God

Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).