“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
What are you afraid of? For me, one of my main fears over the years was the fear of heights.
For years I did what anyone would normally do when afraid of heights. I avoided leaning too far out from the side of cliffs and didn’t necessarily go to the viewing areas of tall buildings. But then my friend, Dale, was celebrating his 40th birthday and invited anyone who wanted to join him to go skydiving.
What better way to conquer a fear than to jump out of the side of an airplane thousands of feet above the earth? What could really go wrong? Well…a lot…but here I stand before you…a lot less afraid of heights than before.
Jesus says His people need to have the right kind of fear. Some of their fears, like the fear of physical suffering or fear of those in authorities, need to be reduced and put into perspective. Physical suffering is not good. Those with authority do often misuse their authority, and none of that is good. Jesus is not saying such things are good or even that they’re trivial. But He is saying that such troubles are not nearly as bad as facing not only physical but spiritual destruction in hell. In a sense, he’s saying we need to be afraid of the right things.
One theme throughout the Bible is that there is wrong fears and right fears. And the most important fear to have is an appropriate fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not terror of God smiting us, but fitting reverence for who God is. Fear of the Lord should motivate us more than fear of suffering. To put it another way, our reverence for God should be stronger than our reverence for our own safety or for preserving our physical bodies.
When I consider this, I think of believers we are connected with who live in other parts of the world where religious persecution is real and regular. There are believers we know who are right now imprisoned for their faith. The outcome is unclear and the timing is undefined. They have endured hardship, sickness, and hunger while imprisoned. It is risky for others to bring them supplies, even in this situation. They trust themselves to God even in the face of their fears because God is bigger than their captors and their suffering.
And what about us? What do we fear in relation to our faith? What do we fear about sharing Jesus with others? What anxieties hold us back from asking someone if we can pray for them?
Jesus says that God knows us, even down to the number of hairs upon our head. Jesus says that God knows the sparrow, even when one drops dead to the ground.“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). We need to fear the right things and trust the right things. Jesus says to the apostles, and through them to us, that we can rest in God’s care and focus our lives on appropriate reverence for God. This will help us have the right focus as we live our lives on mission for God in this world.