Monday, January 26, 2015

Fear Not: Handling Fear with the Hope of the Gospel

Coming up in a couple of days is a post with a sermon I preached a few Sunday's ago from Jdg. 6:11-16, entitled "Hope for the Inadequate." It takes a look at God's call of Gideon, focusing particularly on how it gives hope to those who know they are completely inadequate to do the work God has called them to do. Now, when God has called us to do something, much of our feelings of inadequacy comes from fear, and Gideon and the Israelites in this story are filled with fear. So, today we are going to talk about fear, and in a couple of days the actual sermon will post, which focuses on hope. Before you keep reading, however, take a few minutes to go read Jdg. 6:1-16, because it is the context of what follows. ............... Have you read it? Okay, then keep reading here.

Fear is a powerful motivator in many ways. Larger fears or greater fears can often times override lesser fears, motivating us to do something we normally wouldn't have done. For example, in the story of Gideon, God's people are so afraid of the Midianites that they have resorted to living in caves. Now, I am not sure if you've ever slept in a cave, but it is not easy to do. It's kind of scary living in a cave. It's dark, damp, cold, and there are critters living there with you, usually the kinds you don't want to encounter. Yet, the fear of the Midianites overrode any fear the Israelites might have had of living in caves and drove them there.

Fear can also be paralyzing. God's people, in this story, are paralyzed. They can't gather together to go out to fight the Midianites. They're too terrified even to begin to fight back. Gideon is terrified too, and he does not want to be the one God calls to lead the Israelites against the Midianites. And, if you were facing hordes of war camels, you'd probably be paralyzed too. A camel was the most fearsome war animal of the time in the ancient near east. It's a one-ton beast whose shoulder meets you at eye level and who can run at speeds up to 40 mph. And, the rider or riders on a camel are sitting at about 7-8 feet above the ground, which means if you're on foot, you stand almost no chance. It would be like one of us going up against a tank with nothing but a 45 pistol--no chance whatsoever.

So, what's God's remedy for fear? In Gideon's case, and in ours as well, it's God's promise: "I will be with you." Courage is not the absence of fear, it's the drive to push past it because of something more compelling than the fear. For Christians, the promise "I will be with you," provides that compelling drive. Those words can override fear because inherent in them are two things about God:

Who God is: The encouragement of "I will be with you" is completely dependent on who the "I" is. When the "I" is God, there is a fear of God (in a biblical sense) that overrides the fear of the enemy, call, or task He has for us. I think we're often uncomfortable with the idea of fearing God because we don't understand it properly, but the fear of the Lord is certainly all over the Scriptures. It's everywhere in the NT and the OT. So, what is the proper understanding of the fear of the Lord that gives us courage to follow Him?

Jesus tells us in Mt. 10 to fear God rather than men because man can only harm the body but God can destroy the body and soul in hell. And, then right after that, He gives us the proper perspective on that fear of God: while God is the God who can destroy body and soul in hell, He is also the God who loves His children so much so that He knows the number of hairs on their heads, and then Jesus says, "Fear not..." That is a good example of the types of fear we see in the Bible. The Scriptures use "fear" in two ways--there's the fear that can make you run in terror or the fear that can make you stand in awe. We see them both in Mt. 10 subtly, and we see them both explicitly in other places like Ex. 20:20. There, Moses says, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." So, Moses tells us that we are not to be afraid of God in the sense that makes use run the other way in terror (as if we were an enemy of God), but we are to have the fear of God that fills us with awe and reverence for Him, so that we love Him and desire to obey Him.

In the Bible, the fear of God is based on our love and reverence for Him (Ps. 33:18; 130:3-4). If you have a fear of God that comes from the knowledge that He is the forgiver of sins, then you have the right kind of fear--a fear that captivates you because of a God who is just, holy, and could punish you but who also forgives sinners like you and me. God's love and the fear and reverence of Him that comes from that love drives out the wrong kind of fear (1 Jn. 4:18). That is what drives out the fear of this world when God calls us to do His work. And, this love is from both sides: we love Him, so we will want to face our fears for His sake; He loves us, so we will be confident in His protection and promises. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. Tumnis says to Lucy about Aslan, "He isn't safe, but He's good." When a lion loves you enough to die for you, His roar will strike you with awe and reverence, but it will not cause you to run like it does to the enemies of the lion. When we are afraid, we need to hear not the battle cries of our enemies but the roar of the Lion of Judah. God showed Gideon this when fire consumed the sacrifice Gideon offered and not Gideon himself. Gideon was not consumed but loved, because later on Christ would cover his sins, and we are not consumed but loved for the same reason.

Who God is not: The thing about God that are inherent in the words "I will be with you," is who God isn't. Gideon had the intellectual knowledge of the stories of the exodus. Yet, he and the other Israelites were still syncretists--worshipers of Baal and God. That syncretism was exactly what had been getting the Israelites into trouble during their whole history. They were trying to hedge their bets with a false god who supposedly controlled the fertility of their crops (i.e. Baal) and still get the protection and provision of Yahweh--the true God of the Bible. But, God's people cannot have it both ways, and they were thinking they could. "Yahweh would redeem you, but when it comes to fertility, Baal is your man," is what they thought. Pagan gods may accept that--may accept serving multiple gods at once--but Yahweh will not have that, because He is that kind of God. He's not like the pagan gods of Israel's time or our time. He demands exclusive worship. And, of course, this is true love from Him, because the moment you have another god, you're depending on something that will fail you, and God will not let you do that. He's not that kind of God. This is why the very first job for Gideon was not rescuing the people but getting rid of Baal in their midst.

The God of the Bible who is not like the pagan gods requires fidelity only to Him, but that fidelity comes with the knowledge that He will care for His people and redeem them from their enemies. It's like a marriage. What kind of husband wouldn't get jealous and angry if his wife tried to have a second husband? Why kind of wife wouldn't do the same if her husband tried to have a second wife? If they had no problem with their spouse entertaining other intimate relationships, then we'd probably question how much they really love that spouse. We'd also question their desire to care for that spouse above all others (for they don't mind infidelity from the spouse, they'd likely engage in it themselves). So, it is with us. If God didn't require our exclusive worship and love--setting aside all false gods--then we'd have reason to wonder if He really loves us and really will be faithful to His promises to care for us. But, our God is not like the pagan gods (who were as fickle as the most unreliable human). He requires fidelity, and that comes from an intense love and care for His people--intense enough to send His own Son to die for us.

When we have that kind of God and that kind of love and when we live in awe and reverence of that kind of God, our fear (in the biblical sense) of Him will cast out the lesser fears of enemies or fulfilling the call He has given us. It did it for Gideon and God's people (eventually), and it will for us. As God says in Is. 43:5, "Fear not, for I am with you."

By His Grace,

No comments: