Why fearing God helps us overcome fear of man

Trusting his provision in the midst of persecution

December 2, 2019

In multiple places in the Gospels, we see Jesus telling his followers to “have no fear” of those who threaten them for following him. Because many of us do not personally know what it is like to be persecuted or ostracized for following Jesus, we might be tempted to ignore such passages. We are more worried about paying the bills than being beaten to death for being a follower of Jesus. Yet, while we might not be threatened with death for following Jesus, there are still threats thrown at us by the world for following Christ.

Someone might not be threatening to kill you for Christ, but you are indeed threatened with being a social outcast. You are threatened with being labeled a radical or a fool or a bigot or a prude for being faithful to Christ. You might not always face direct physical harm, but you might face material loss if you follow Christ, which leads us to the question: When it comes to losing things in the world, what are you willing to lose to honor Christ? What are you willing to give up so that you might gain Christ? Can you trust God to provide in such situations? In Matthew 10:26-31, Jesus addresses these types of questions:

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

From Jesus’ instruction, we learn the following principle: we should not fear those who persecute us, but instead, we should fear God.

Learning to fear God 

Consider how verse 26 points us back to the preceding verses to tell us who we are not supposed to fear in this life. If we look back to Matthew 10:16, we see that Jesus has described our mission as his disciples in a rather frightening way: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What an image? Sheep in the midst of wolves!

Who are these wolves? According to verses Matthew 10:17-23, the wolves consists of some religious leaders (v.. 17), some political figures and government officials (v. 18), and even some family members (v. 21-22). Some of these people will insult, imprison, ostracize, and even try to kill us. Even our own family members. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is not calling us to a life of ease and recreation. He is calling us to follow him as sheep in the midst of wolves. In verse 22, Jesus makes his disciples a promise: “And you will be hated for my name’s sake.”

In order for us to live without fear of others, we must fear the Lord supremely.

The call to follow Christ is a call to live as sheep in the midst of the wolves who desire to devour and destroy us. It’s a call to take up our cross and die to ourselves—to follow Christ “outside the gate to the place of the skull” and be found in him. Jesus has called us to not fear those who threaten us, persecute us, and even kill us. As the rest of verses 26 and 27 tell us, there is no need for us to soften our message or soft-peddle the truth. What has been revealed to us in Christ will soon be revealed for all the world.

In order for us to live without fear of others, we must fear the Lord supremely. According to Matthew 10:28, instead of fearing those who can only “kill the body and nothing else,” we must fear the one who is able to “destroy both body and soul” in hell. Notice the intensification of the language in this verse: Jesus contrasts the finite power of man—they can kill—with the sovereign power of God to “destroy both body and soul in hell. 

Trusting God is enough

The reason why we struggle to fear the Lord and instead fear people is ultimately because we believe the threats of the people more than we believe the promises of God. Our fear problem is a faith problem, which is the point of the final verses of in Matthew 10:29-31. At the end of the day, the question that we constantly face is one of faith. When we fear people instead of fearing the Lord, here are the questions at the root of our failure:

We must pay close attention to how Jesus answers these questions. Jesus answers with a story about sparrows. He asks you, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Or to put it another way: your Father in heaven holds sovereign sway over seemingly insignificant sparrows. Not a sparrow in the sky will fall without the permission of the Lord of Heaven. Not a bird. Not a single sparrow will hit the ground without God allowing it. God cares about the sparrow. And as we sit there, looking at Jesus, with wonder and a little confusion in our eyes regarding his answer, he looks at us again and says, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” God knows how many or how few hairs are on every head in this world. 

So, as we stare back at him, Jesus looks at us one last time, and say, “Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.” Does God love me enough to take care of me if I lose everything to follow Christ? Fear not, we are worth more than sparrows. And if the sparrows do not fall from the sky without his permission, then we have nothing to fear.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough is lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and a Ph.D. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs regularly at www.CaseyHough.com. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters.  Read More