Seminary Viewpoints

Loosening Fear’s Grip

Bruce Meyer | April 13, 2023
Theology Thursday

We have many reasons to be fearful, but that’s nothing new. People of all ages have faced circumstances that gripped them with fear. The Scriptures speak about fear, providing both warnings against misdirected fear and comfort for our fear struggles. When we are fearful, it’s essential that believers run to our loving Father who assures us with truth through His Word.

Identifying Fear

Fear is an intense emotion that God intended for our protection, either to fight or flee from a perceived danger (e.g., climbing an extension ladder to a second story). However, fear can be a hinderance (e.g., fearing to share the Gospel). Keep in mind that the Bible nowhere commands me to climb tall ladders, so I would not be sinning to avoid heights in that case. But I am commanded to share the Gospel with others.

Understand though, fearful feelings can be distinguished from fearful thinking. The difference is illustrated well when a person speaks publicly — butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, and wobbly knees point to the feelings a person has. Those feelings are based on the realization (thoughts) that he has a task to present an important message. The person can still speak well because he has thought correctly about his message and the audience’s need for that message. He overpowered his feelings with correct thinking. Likewise, I can have fearful feelings and still obey the Lord, but resist those feelings by maintaining biblical thinking (Phil. 4:8).

Types of Fear

God teaches us to fear him. Solomon stresses this aspect of fear throughout the book of Proverbs (“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Prov. 1:7). This is a good fear that translates into a reverential awe and love as the believer matures in faith. This fear, Solomon reminds us, is the beginning of wisdom and it results in a worshipful awe and love of God rather than a fearful trembling.

For instance, I don’t fear electricity, but I do fear getting shocked. When I’m working on an outlet, I make doubly sure that I’ve disconnected power. This “reverential fear” is protective. What is different about reverential awe for God is that my fear of judgment subsides as I grow in love with my Father (1 John 4:18), because I realize increasingly my position in Christ as a joint heir and son (Rom. 8:1, 15-17).

God also teaches us to fear danger and to prepare wisely (Prov. 27:12). Trusting in the Lord does not mean we can engage in careless behavior expecting God to protect us (Matt. 4:5-7). There are streets in Chicago that I would not attempt to walk alone expecting God to protect me. That’s not a lack of faith; it’s an abundance of common sense.

Remedy for Fear

God teaches us how to respond biblically to fear that hinders us from doing His will (Prov. 29:25). Matthew 10:28 reminds us not to fear man but instead to fear God. This is where we usually struggle with uncertain circumstances that we cannot control. God doesn’t simply command us to “fear not,” but He provides replacement truths that comfort us.

The Psalms are filled with such truths. While God often tells us to “fear not,” when we are, He gently reminds us of His presence and care. Psalm 27 is a good example. The entire psalm provides good instruction for fear. But especially in verses 1, 5, and 14, David provides us with “laser-guided truths” to the heart of our fear. Those truths focus our attention on the very character of God in Whom we can trust (“wait”). So, search the Psalms and listen to God’s tender and comforting voice when fearful. Realize that He alone is infinite, loving, and all powerful. My circumstances are not.

There are NT passages that also speak specifically on fear. Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us of the personal care our heavenly Father provides — the remedy for financial worries. In Philippians 4:1-9, Paul teaches how to solve problems we can solve (vv. 2-3), how to maintain proper attitudes and actions (vv. 4-7), and how to think biblically edifying thoughts (v. 8), all in the context of worry. Paul reminds us that because God is with us (vv. 5, 9), we experience a peace that doesn’t make sense (v. 7). These truths enable us to “hold our ground” and not panic when trouble is all around (v. 1).

Space does not permit more discussion but read through the Gospels and notice how Jesus addresses the disciples’ fear. Notice how Peter teaches believers who were being persecuted (1 Pet. 5:6-11). When we are fearful, we can run to our loving and comforting Father — there we find peace.

As discussed by Bruce Meyer on The Steve Noble Show on April 13