We all fear someone or something. If anyone says they are totally fearless, they are either being dishonest with themselves (or you), or ignorant of the truth. Whatever or Whomever we fear impacts the choices we make every single day.
If, for example, I drive close to or under the speed limit, it is not because I have a passion for following the speed limit signs; I fear the ticket I will get if a law enforcement officer catches me! On the other hand, if every car around me is moving at twenty miles per hour over or under the speed limit, I will likely adjust my speed in order to avoid a deadly collision. At that moment, I fear the death or injury more than I fear the consequences of law enforcement. Both actions are motivated by fear; what I choose depends on what I fear more at the moment.
In our series on “Why Beliefs Matter,” we have been examining how our beliefs impact our behavior. Fear classified as both a noun and a verb depending on usage. It is a belief that someone or something can cause unpleasant consequences, but it is also a behavior. In the driving example, I fear the law, but if a car barrels in my direction, I will scream with fear. Do you see the difference? For our purposes, fear is a noun (a belief) that affects my actions (behavior).
How Fear of Man Leads to Denying Jesus
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus illustrates the impact of fear upon our choices:
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.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Informing His disciples of coming danger, Jesus advised them to fear properly. He says, “Do not fear those who can kill the body… fear Him [God] who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” There are many who say that fear of the Lord is “reverent awe.” What does that actually mean?
If one stands at the top of the mountain and is in “reverent awe” of the great height, they will respect the law of gravity and not attempt to dance a jig on the mountain’s edge. A person in “reverent awe,” will more likely attempt to anchor themselves to the side of the mountain or move with great caution. Reverent awe, therefore, is respecting (or fearing) the awesome power of someone or something and behaving accordingly.
Returning to our text, we see Jesus reminding His disciples of their value to God—“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” God values me. God values you. We can face the wrath of man knowing the Lord will guard our soul because it is precious to Him. Do we behave this way? Do I share the gospel openly with my friends, knowing they may never speak to me again? Do I fear the loss of their friendship more than I fear God?
Jesus wraps up this small section with that we call a “clincher.” He restates His original purpose with a more imperative meaning. If we deny God before others—either in words or deeds—Jesus will deny us before God. If that fails to strike fear into our hearts, we need our heart checked! Jesus shows us that fear will motivate us one way or another, but if we are wise, we will choose to act based on a proper fear of the Lord.
How Fear Leads Us to Act Unbecomingly
The apostle Peter was a man ever in the moment. He responded courageously when Jesus called Him out of the boat onto a stormy sea, but as soon as he fixed his eyes on the danger, he sank! He professes a desire to die with Jesus, then denies Jesus three times. I am very much like Peter, and I believe his example is highlighted so we can learn two things: 1) Fear God more than anything, 2) When we do fail, God is merciful because we are given grace through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Here is one example of how fear affected Peter’s behavior:
When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Peter’s poor performance caused others (even the amazing Barnabas!) to “act hypocritically.” If we are motivated by the wrong fear, we will make the wrong choice. Fear God above all else.
Fearing God Leads Us to Better Choices
Regarding fear and its impact, Proverbs says the following:
Proverbs 1.7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 14.27: The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 16.6: By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
If we truly fear God, we will turn from evil, resist temptation, share the gospel, risk our relationships, and stand in the face of a literal firing squad. We will seem to others to be fearless for the gospel, but in truth, we will have simply trumped our earthly fears with our faith in Almighty God.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.