Over the course of the next few weeks, we are going to be considering three chains that the enemy of our souls wants to use in order to keep us in bondage. But in Christ, we have been set free, and set free means set free from each of these chains, and from all of them. The three chains are fear, guilt, and shame. All three are common to the human frame, but different cultures can develop different emphases. The Western world is concerned with righteousness, and is therefore afflicted with guilt. The Eastern world is very concerned about honor, and is therefore afflicted with shame. The Southern world is concerned about survival and safety, and is afflicted with fear. The North generally does okay because it is cold and no one lives up there.
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt.10:28).
Summary of the Text
In this part of Matthew, Jesus is telling His disciples that He is sending them out as sheep among wolves. We need to be shrewd therefore (Matt. 10:16). We need to beware of men, because they will in fact persecute (Matt. 10:17-18). Even when we are delivered up, we need to trust God for the words we must use (Matt. 10:19). The persecutions will be both intensive and extensive, and if they treated Jesus this way, we cannot be surprised when they treat us in the same way (Matt. 10:20-25). Do not fear them, the Lord says, because everything is going to be revealed (Matt. 10:26). The entire story will eventually be told. Be bold (Matt. 10:27). Do not fear men, who can only kill the body and not the soul. Rather, fear the one who can wreck both body and soul in Gehenna (Matt. 10:28). We are told not to fear for two reasons. The first is that God will tell the whole story one day, and the second is that they can only kill the body, which means that all they can do is help you escape from them.
The Basic Issue
The devil is always a counterfeiter. He cannot create anything ex nihilo, not even sins. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, which means the fear of man is the beginning of folly. This means that the point of biblical wisdom is not to say that fear is bad so we should stop fearing. No, the ethical choice is always between fear of this and fear of that. If you are paralyzed by fear, this means that you do not fear someone else enough. What is the whole duty of man? It is to fear God (Ecc. 12:13).
The First Chain
Death is an enemy. It is natural to fear it. Death has been given dominion and power over a guilty world—and the sting of death is found in the law. It is not that we are subject to death. The problem is that we deserve to be subject to death.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14–15).
Notice that this fear of death is a lifetime fear. As Augustine noted, in this world the dead are replaced by the dying. Death brings in a bondage that extends throughout our lives. Jesus struck off that chain by dying for us. He destroyed the devil through His death, and the devil was the one who had the power of death. With him removed from that position of authority, we are released from our fear of death. If we have received the Spirit of adoption, this means that we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear (Rom. 8:15).
Now it follows from this that we are in principle liberated from lesser fears as well. To reverse Jeremiah’s image, if we can run with horses, we can run with men also. Women, you become daughters of Sarah if you honor your husbands and do not give way to fear (1 Pet. 3:6). In particular you women should remember that anxiety is the wrong kind of fear in seed form. It is by fear of God that we are enabled to turn from evil (Prov. 16:6). Knowing the fear of God is what enables us to persuade men to turn to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11).
Being Careful with the Word
We are supposed to fear God, which is not the same thing as being afraid of God. There is a kind of fear that is craven, crawling . . . and we are not to have that kind of fear, not even in the presence of God. So we are not to have a particular kind of fear toward God because perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18). We need not fear this punishment from God, not because it is not fearful, but because it is not ours (Rom. 8:1). We are supposed to approach the throne of grace with boldness, it says, and we are to come boldly looking for mercy(Heb. 4:16). This is not possible apart from a robust doctrine of justification, where God declares us to be righteous in the righteousness of His Son (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
We are not supposed to “fear man” in any way that puts man in the place of God, and we are not to fear God in any way that puts Him in the place of executioner. We must fear Him as Judge, but if we do this rightly, we repent before we come before Him as executioner. When the Lord Jesus, the same one who bled and died for sinners, says “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23), this will be a moment of absolute and abject terror in one sense, but a final and defiant refusal to fearin another. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). Terror is not the beginning of anything other than an everlasting and hellish downward spiral. Terror does not fear Godenough.
Jesus and True Fear
A story is told in Acts of some itinerant exorcists, some sons of Sceva, who tried to cast out demons in the name of the “Jesus that Paul preaches.” The demon replied appropriately by beating them up. And then Luke says this: “And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified” (Acts 19:17). There is a kind of fear that is attracted to holiness, to the glory of God, to the numinous, to the wonderful. It is a fear that is filled to the top with an exquisite ache. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
“Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, That the everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding” (Is. 40:28).
“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; And let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13).
But how are we to do this? Remember that we are Christians, and what we need to learn how to do we may learn by imitating Jesus. Jesus was a God-fearing man—He had to be. He was a true man, the ultimate man, a wise man. But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This was no less true in the case of Jesus.
But we do not need to rely on an inference. The Bible tells us explicitly in several places that Jesus feared God.
“And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and might, The spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Is. 11:2).
And the New Testament tells us the same thing:
“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:7–8).