What is the command that God repeats the most in the Bible? Perhaps you think it would be to love God and love your neighbor, or to have faith in Him. None of these would be correct; God commands His people to not fear more often than any other command. Perhaps the reason that God commands it so often means that fear is something with which we struggle, even if we do not think about it. Fear is one of the major difficulties of the Christian.
But is it not true that God commands us at times to be afraid? There are some passages that do teach that we should fear God, including Matthew 10:28, Hebrews 10:31, Luke 1:50, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:26, and 2 Corinthians 5:11. Some of these commands are designed for unbelievers or sinning believers, and such persons have good reason to fear the wrath of God on the day of judgment (cf. Romans 12:19-21); the rest of them involve fear not as terror but as respect or reverence. We, as Christians, must revere and respect God.
When God tells us to not fear, He is not speaking in these senses. When God commands us to not be afraid, He does so sometimes so that people will not be startled, especially when He manifests Himself to them (e.g. Matthew 14:27; 17:7). Most often He commands us to not fear so that we will not give into feelings of doubt, apprehension, or insecurity (e.g. Luke 1:13; 30). Why is it that God does not want us to fear?
Whether we wish to admit it or not, fear is a major motivation in the way humans act. Consider all the different types of “phobias” out there, including acrophobia (fear of heights), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), or even triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen)! While some of these fears hinder people in life, most are not very harmful. Nevertheless. there are many fears that are common to man and are quite debilitating. How many times do people fear rejection, hostility, or harm? How many times do people show fear because of a lack of confidence in their own abilities? How many times are people afraid of trusting in others because they lack confidence in them?
How much sin is motivated by fear? Consider a list of sins like in Galatians 5:19-21. How much sexual immorality or lasciviousness is committed because those involved fear being rejected, or are afraid that they will not be attractive unless they do such things? How much conflict exists in relationships because people are afraid to trust one another? How many times have people lied because they feared the consequences of the truth? While fear is not the only motivator of sin, it surely is one of the greatest!
How many times does fear hinder us from doing what is right? To leave the right thing left undone is as bad as doing the wrong according to James 4:17. How often do we fail to show love, mercy, or compassion because we are afraid of being hurt (cf. Galatians 5:22-24)? How many times do people shy away from bearing the burdens of other Christians because of a lack of trust (Galatians 6:2)? How many times do we shrink away from teaching and preaching the Gospel because we fear rejection, persecution, or even just making mistakes (Romans 1:16)? As we can see, fear can paralyze and debilitate us, compelling us to choose the wrong and forsake the right!
How can we overcome fear? We must learn that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). If by the love of Christ we have no more need to be terrified of God, why should we be terrified of anyone else? As Paul asks in Romans 8:31, if God is for us, who can be against us?
Jesus identifies fear with a lack of faith in Matthew 8:26. If we truly trust in God and lean on Him, we will recognize that there is nothing on this earth that is worth fearing. God is in control; God is the One who justifies and condemns; we have the victory through Jesus Christ and no external force can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39). When we grow in faith, we can grow in confidence (Ephesians 4:11-15, Hebrews 5:14)!
The opposite of fear is courage; Jesus tells His disciples to not be afraid but to take heart, or take courage, in Matthew 14:27. This is why encouraging our brethren is so important: when we take courage, we can drive out fear (Hebrews 10:24-25)!
In Jesus Christ we have every reason for confidence. It is through His blood that we can enter the holy places with confidence (Hebrews 10:18-20). It is through Him that we can stand firm against the Evil One (Ephesians 6:10-18), and it is through Him that we will have the victory on the final day (1 Corinthians 15).
Fear is a great hindrance in the life of a Christian. Fear persuades too many that they are too weak, too inexperienced, and too inept to serve God and promote His Kingdom. Fear leads many to fall into despair and sin. It is little wonder that God must tell His people over and over to not be afraid! Let us not fear, but take courage in faith, hope, and love, and overcome the powers of darkness!
Ethan R. Longhenry