I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
There is an expression that is reiterated
over and over again in the Bible, both in the OT and in the NT. It is the expression
ĎFear not,í or ĎDo not be afraid.í In the gospels, ĎFear notí appears mostly
in Matthew and in Luke. It is used by Jesus 3x in Matthew and 5x in Luke. In
the gospel of Matthew, they all appear in the same passage. Letís read this
passage, Matthew 10:24-33.
10:24. A disciple is not above
his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
It is enough for a disciple
that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his
master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more
will they call those of his household!
Therefore do not fear
them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that
will not be known.
Whatever I tell you in the
dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the
And do not fear those
who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able
to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Are not two sparrows sold for
a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your
But the very hairs of your
head are all numbered.
Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many
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.
fear of persecution
In this passage, the Lord Jesus speaks of three kinds of
fear. He first says in v. 26 to His disciples, ĎDo not be afraid for nothing is
covered that will not be revealed.í What does that mean? Well, to understand
this sentence, we have to read the previous sentence. Jesus says, It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If
they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they
call those of his household!
The Lord Jesus was giving this warning. ĎSince you are going to be My
disciples and you are going to follow Me, because they attack Me, they are
going to attack you. You have to expect that they are going to say bad things
about you in the same that they were saying bad things about Me.í When Jesus
was casting out demons by the power of God, His enemies were saying, ĎHe is
doing that by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24).í
No disciple is above his master. If the Lord Jesus
suffered persecutions, so will His disciples. All that He is and all that He
stands for is what we are and what we stand for. And therefore, whatever
caused men to persecute Jesus will also cause them to persecute us.
Here Jesus gives us a word of encouragement: Do
not fear persecutors because the truth will someday be known. God will reveal
the truth in the day of judgment, if not before. All the talk, abuse, wrong
accusations, lies, and mistreatments inflicted upon believers will be handled
by Christ. We can rest assured: The day is coming when the truth will be
known. The secrets of all men will be stripped and unveiled for all to see.
If we have confidence that God will reveal the truth, if we have faith that
God will do this, then we will not fear what our persecutors say.
Many believers have suffered the damage of their
character and reputation by men. They are not to fear those persecutors
because they will be vindicated. What is hidden in the hearts and lives of
men is known to God. If what was said about us was false, we can be sure that
God will one day restore our reputation and character and see to it that we
Ďhave the praise of Godí (1Corinthians 4:5).
fear of death
The second kind of fear is
found in v. 28. It is the fear of death. Jesus says, ĎDonít fear men who can
kill only the body but fear God who is able to destroy both body and soul.í
Manís power is limited. The worst that he can do is to kill the body. He
cannot touch a personís soul. Men can only separate us from this world, not
from life. We should remember that believers have eternal life. We have
already passed from death to life and are in the process of living forever
(John 5.24). We have eternal life in the sense that our life had been
transferred from this world, the physical dimension of being, into the next
world, the heavenly or spiritual dimension of being.
There is a remedy to keep us
from fearing men who threaten our life: God. God is to be feared much more
than men because He has the power to destroy us, both body and soul. So the
contrast is between the total and final destruction in hell and the limited
nature of merely physical death. And the argument is this: Compared with the
fate which awaits the unbeliever, physical death is a far less fearful
fear of injuries
The third kind of fear is the fear of getting hurt. In
v. 29, the Lord Jesus says, Are
not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the
ground apart from your Father's will. Here is the picture of a sparrow that is wounded, hurt, and it falls
to the ground. People used to eat sparrows. They could buy them in any
marketplace in Jerusalem. They were very cheap. You could get two sparrows
for a penny. They were mostly bought and eaten by poor people. But how did
these birds get to the market? They were snared or shot with a stone (guns
did not exist in those days). And of course, in the process of catching them,
the sparrows would most likely be hurt.
So the point here
is that there is an injury which causes pain and hurt. People are afraid to
get hurt, and thatís a normal reaction. Here again, the Lord Jesus says,
ĎDonít be afraid about that. You have nothing to worry about because God
loves you.í God knows all the events and happenings on earth, even to the most minute detail. He knows when a single sparrow falls
to the ground. He knows every hair of a personís head, even the number of
hair. If God is so concerned for the sparrows that not one falls to the
ground without His consent, how much more is He concerned about the most
trifling details about each of us who are worth more to Him than sparrows,
who are the crown of His creation? God is able to take all the injuries and
pain of a believer and work them all out for his good. He can give purpose,
meaning and significance to everything that happens to a person.
and faith are incompatible
Now in the
Bible, fear and faith are mutually exclusives. Fear is the opposite of belief.
Believing God eliminates fear. When we believe that God is good and that He
is in control of all the events and happenings on earth, the believer is not
to fear. He puts his trust in the love and care of God.
Letís look at a
few instances in the Bible where faith stands in opposition to fear. Take for
example Mark 5:36. Jesus says this: Do not be afraid; only believe.
ĎDonít fear. Just have faith in Me.í Here, a leader of a synagogue came to
Jesus and pleaded with Him to come heal his daughter who was very sick. But
before Jesus could see the little girl, some men brought the news of her
death. Imagine how Jairus felt at that moment. Now
it was too late. All hope was gone. But for Jesus, the situation was very
different. He said to Jairus, ĎDonít be fearful and
despairing. Just believe that Iím able to restore her to life.í Jesus made it
clear to Jairus that in the face of the disaster
that had hit him, he must have faith. Only believe. Keep up a
confidence in Christ, and dependence upon Him, and He will do what is for the
best. If we can believe that Godís power has no limit and that He loves us,
what is there to fear? Faith dispels fear. The more you have faith, the less
you will be fearful. So faith stands opposed to fears and doubting, as well as
to all trust and confidence in other object besides Christ.
observation can be made in Matthew 8:26 where Jesus said to His disciples, Why
are you fearful, O you of little faith? You will remember that in this
passage, Jesus was in a boat with His disciples. Then a terrible storm
appeared suddenly. While the waves swept over the boat, Jesus was sleeping.
The disciples woke Him up, shouting, ĎWe are going to drown. Save us!í To our
surprise, Jesus said to them, ĎWhy are you so afraid, you of little faith?í
This reply implies that the disciples ought not to have been afraid. Instead,
they should have trusted Him. It was because of their lack of faith that the
disciples feared that they were about to drown, and it was for their lack of
faith that they were rebuked by Jesus. So here again we see that fear is an
expression of unbelief.
The apostle John
has it in those terms: There is no fear in love (1John 4:18). Fear
has no place in love. These two, fear and love, are in fact as incompatible
as oil and water. But perfect love casts out fear. And then John goes
on to point to the source of that perfect love in v. 19: We love Him
because He first loved us. Fear is cast out by the perfect love of God.
The solution to fear is not a change in circumstances (even though it can
provide a temporary relief) but a deep grounding in the love of God. This is
where faith comes in. The more we trust Godís love and care, the more fear is
conquered in our lives. The reason is seen in the promises of God. God loves
us so much that He will take care of us through all the trials and temptation
of life, no matter what they are. If we believe that, if we truly abide in
the Fatherís love, it follows that our soul will know no fear.
This being said,
we have to recognize that the experience of fear is common among all men,
even if we are Christians. In fact, I will go as far as to say that in this
life, fear will always coexist with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all? Without an element of risk,
there is no faith. And the risk can sometimes be scary.
Now the point is
not to eliminate our fear. Feelings cannot be eliminated. They appear
regardless of our will. However, even though we cannot control fear, we can
learn to channel it in ways that make fear more likely to be nourishing than
toxic to our spiritual life. The believer who honestly confronts his fear
will often find himself growing into a faith that overcomes his fear. He
comes to a point where he is able to say that God deserves his trust, no
matter how things appear at the time, no matter how scary the situation seems
issue that faces every Christian who endures a great trial can be summarized
in these two questions: Will I trust God with my pain, my weakness, and my
fear? Or will I turn away from Him in bitterness and anger? Jesus encourages
us to trust Him in spite of our pain and fear, in spite of our incomplete
understanding of the will of God. And He tells us why we should trust Him.
we have confidence in God
Three times in
Matthew 10 Jesus said, ĎFear not.í He is telling us that we should not be
troubled in the midst of difficulties. We should be prepared for trouble
instead of being frightened by it. This fearlessness comes when we truly
trust God, when we have a strong faith in Him. And here Jesus teaches us that
a strong faith is founded in three things.
Firstly, as we
see in v. 26, faith is founded in the justice of God. People may
slander me. People may tell lies about me. I can take it without fear because
I have confidence in Godís justice. My faith is confident in Godís justice. I
know that He will reveal the truth and that He will vindicate those who walk
in the truth. Even if the truth is hidden now, it will someday be known.
is founded in the power of God. Here we read in v. 28, ĎDonít be
afraid of man. His power is limited. He can only kill the body. But be afraid
of God because His power is unlimited. He can kill both body and soul.í The
power to destroy the soul is Godís power alone. Faith is confident in Godís
power. Therefore we are not to fear men.
And thirdly, we
see that faith is founded in the love of God. We read in v. 31, ĎGod
cares for the common sparrows. If He cares for a bird, imagine how much He cares
for you who are much more valuable to Him than sparrows. He loves you so much
that He is concerned about every hair on your head.í He cares for every
event, every detail, even the most minute matter in a personís life.
Therefore there is no need to fear. In the Sermon on the mount, the Lord
Jesus used the same argument. You are evil and you know how to love your
children. Then how much more is God, who is good, going to love you who are
So faith is
absolutely confident about three things concerning God. It is confident about
Godís justice. It is confident about Godís power to save. And it is confident
about Godís love for us. When we have that kind of faith, what is left for us
But there is one
thing we need to fear in this life. There is only one thing that frightens
the man of faith. Do you know what it is? It is the fear that Christ does not
acknowledge you on that day, that Jesus denies you on the day of judgment,
when He says, ĎDepart from Me, you evil doers. I donít know who you are.í
This kind of fear is called the fear of God. This is a reverential fear in
which we stand in awe because of who God is: Holy, righteous, pure, just. We fear God in the sense that we stand in reverence
of God who will reveal His holiness and execute His justice in some future
day of judgment.
And so in vv. 32-33, the Lord Jesus says, 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. To confess Jesus is to publicly declare
our allegiance to Jesus and to acknowledge our dependence on Him for
salvation. I am not afraid of what people who persecute me think of
me. What Jesus thinks of me, that is all that
counts. When we stand for Jesus in tough situations, Jesus promises that He
will reciprocate in a marvelous way. He will stand
up for us before the Father now and at the final judgment.
This shows that faith looks
into the future. Faith looks at eternal realities. The people who criticize
you today will pass away. The people who kill you will die. Everything in
this world will pass away. But Jesus never passes away. God is eternal and
faith sees that. That is why I am not afraid to suffer persecution for
Christ. Faith takes hold of that which concerns eternity. It is concerned
with only one thing: to stand up for Jesus, no matter what people think about
me or do to me.
importance of a living relationship with Jesus
The person who fails to acknowledge
Jesus is actually denying Him. Christ can be denied in one of these three
ways. We can deny Jesus by word. What we say with our lips either confesses
or denies that Christ is our Lord. We can deny Jesus by act. How we behave
either confesses or denies Christ. We can deny Jesus by silence. We have to
remember that failure to speak up for Christ to protest against evil denies
And when we deny Jesus, He
will deny us. He will tell us that He never knew us, for to be denied is to
be excluded from fellowship with Him. This warning reinforces the previous
warning in v. 28 that there is a worse fate than human persecution, i.e., to
be repudiated by Jesus Himself before the Father. So man must choose which
allegiance he wants, whether it is to man in this life or to Jesus for
Here Jesus makes the
astounding declaration that each personís standing before God is based on his
relationship to Christ and that Jesus Himself stands in the role of arbiter
of a manís ultimate destiny. Jesus is the advocate whose intercession before
God will depend on oneís faithfulness in confessing Him. Notice that this
teaching is found in the middle of a missionary sermon to Jesusí disciples
(not to outsiders). Even Christians need to know that their justification depends
upon the reality of their living relation to Jesus.
Letís conclude by saying this.
Fear is an inhibiting and enslaving feeling. The NT letters give us the real
ground for overcoming fear: Christ Himself. Believe in Jesus Christ and you
will not fear because you have security in Him. In the Bible, the Christian
is constantly confronted by the task of overcoming the motive of fear by that
of faith. To have faith is to be free from fear. Therefore, have faith and