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Fear Not, Little Flock

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A World Fueled by Fear

Fear and worry and anxiety run deep in us all. We’re afraid of being alone, of being unloved, of being abandoned. We’re afraid of looking dumb. Some are afraid of losing; others are afraid of success. We’re afraid of taking chances, but we’re also afraid of missing that “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Most are afraid of economic hardship — and the fear never seems to go away no matter how high the dollars stack. We’re afraid of hurting others, and we’re afraid of being hurt. Singles are afraid they will never marry; married couples are afraid their spouse won’t stay forever. We’re afraid of growing older; we’re afraid of dying young.

No one really likes fear, but it’s the air we all keep breathing. It is as if the world is fueled by fear. Indeed, not a few industries profit from our fears. Insurance salesmen come to mind, but so do politicians, who practically depend on fear to run their campaigns. The candidate who taps into our deepest fears almost always wins the election.

Speaking of Elections…

The 2016 election was certainly no exception. “People are scared,” as Donald Trump repeatedly said in his campaign speeches. And he used that fear to forge a path to victory, stirring up powerful emotions in many of his supporters.

After he won, fears multiplied. Riots erupted in cities around the country as protestors routinely expressed their anxiety over what Trump may do in office.

And while some may be tempted laugh at such reactions, I know of a few churches in my hometown where men in the congregation helped one another build bunkers and stockpile them with food and ammo — just in case the election had gone the other way. Fear is bipartisan, it would seem.

Indeed, I have heard from Christians who “held their nose” and pulled the lever for Trump as well. They were afraid of what Hillary would do in office; now they are afraid of what may come from the man they helped elect.

Meanwhile, many Christians who could not in good conscience support either Hillary or Trump continue to wonder with fear what long-term consequences lay in store for a nation where 81% of white evangelicals voted for a man like Trump.

Christians have been given an opportunity (and calling) to live as people without fear.

Do Not Be Afraid

All this helps us appreciate the surprising fact that the most frequent command in the Bible is “do not be afraid.” It is repeated almost one hundred times! More than “be holy as I am holy.” More than “do good.” More than “love your neighbor.” More than “treat others as you want to be treated.” More than “don’t sin” or “don’t do evil.”

To Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob God said, “Do not be afraid” when he made and confirmed his covenant with them (Genesis 15:1; 26:24; 46:3).

As the Egyptian army was riding to slaughter the Israelites, God spoke through Moses to say, “Do not be afraid” (Exodus 14:12-14).

When Moses descended with the Ten Commandments he said, “Do not be afraid” (Exodus 20:20).

As God’s people observed the strength of the pagan tribes in the promised land, God said, “Do not be afraid of them” (Deuteronomy 3:22).

When Moses died and the leadership of a nation fell to Joshua, God comforted him by saying, “Do not be afraid” (Joshua 1:9).

When the cowardly Gideon was chosen to lead God’s people into battle, the angel of the Lord told him, “Do not be afraid” (Judges 6:23).

When the prophet Elijah was called to preach the truth to a wicked king, God said, “Do not be afraid of him” (2 Kings 1:15).

As his people were surrounded by enemies and about to be taken into captivity, God said, “Do not tremble; do not be afraid” (Isaiah 44:8).

To the virgin Mary who had just discovered she was miraculously pregnant, the angel said, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30).

As Joseph contemplated breaking it off with Mary, whom he feared was unfaithful, the angel said, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 1:20).

To the shepherds who saw an angelic host fill the sky with thunderous singing and blinding light, the heavenly chorus sang, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10).

And again and again throughout his ministry Jesus kept on saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32).

When he spoke of his imminent departure, Jesus told his disciples about the coming Comforter and he said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

After he was crucified and buried the resurrected Jesus appeared to his frightened disciples with an important Easter announcement: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).

And to the church who would face tumultuous times filled with persecution and difficulty of every kind, the risen Jesus still says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer… Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10).

Fear Not, Little Flock

No one wants to be afraid, but it seems we have a harder time obeying “do not be afraid” than many of God’s other commandments. How can we move beyond fear? The biblical answer is faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

The apostle Paul once spoke about a horrendously dark time in his life when he was so scared and depressed that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Paul sounds almost suicidal as he writes this, but he goes on to say that all the tragedies produced one crucial effect: “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Thus, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is more than just a doctrinal box to check off the list. It means trusting that things will turn out alright — in the very end — because the powerful love of God will make it so. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Yet living by this kind of faith (rather than fear) takes learning. It doesn’t come naturally to sinful people. We must strive to continually live in step with the truths about Jesus that we first believed when we became a Christian (Galatians 2:14). We must remind ourselves of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, again and again, until it becomes the “air we breathe” instead of the fear that comes so naturally to us.

And we must see that Jesus wasn’t lying when he said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). For if Jesus is raised from the dead, and you belong to Jesus, then what is the worst that can happen to you now? In the light of eternity with Jesus, and the weight of glory there, even the hardest life on earth will one day seem like just one bad night’s stay in a run-down motel (Romans 8:18).

In this fear-fueled world, Christians have been given an opportunity (and calling) to live as people without fear — not because we are above tragedy or difficulty or persecution, but because we know the God who raised Jesus from the dead will make everything right in the end (Revelation 21:3-5).

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Doug Ponder

Doug Ponder (M.Div., Th.M. Southeastern Seminary) is the Teaching Pastor at Remnant Church in Richmond, VA. He also serves as Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biblical Studies at Grimke Seminary. He and his wife, Jessica, have four sons.

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