Scripture: Matthew 10:16–31
Overcoming FearMatthew 10:16-24
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
In the Bible we have a great command - the command to be an overcomer. The word "overcame" is used twice - both times in Revelation (the book we have been studying). The word "overcome" is used 25 times - 4 of them in Revelation. And the word "overcomes" is used 10 times - 8 of them in Revelation. Even in the most pressing circumstances, Christ is sufficient for His people to overcome death.
The Greek word is the same in each of these cases. The Greek word is nikao. It's where we have come up with the English word, Nike, used to identify a missile or a line of athletic clothing. God commands us to be overcomers. Through all the difficulties of life that seem to sideline Christians, we must persevere and prevail. And we can, because of our relationship to Christ, have the strength and determination to emerge victorious.
Yet many deterrents have put Christians on the shelf. Sure there is the pursuit of worldly activities and spiritual laziness and temptation to various sins that have derailed even the strongest Christians, but nothing has a more paralyzing effect than several life-dominating sins. It's the sins that are hard to break free from and thus rob us of our joy and peace. They prevent us from enjoying all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. They hold us back from being overcomers.
Since I will be out of the pulpit a few times over the next two months and many of you will be enjoying vacations in the weeks ahead, I thought we'd take a brief break from our study in Revelation. Let's do a short mini-series (I am thinking 5 sermons) entitled, "Be an Overcomer" and learn how we can overcome the debilitating and enslaving sinful patterns that will suck all the vitality from victorious Christian living.
This morning with the limited time we have remaining I'd like to look at the sin of fear. I'm not talking about a healthy fear, I'm talking about a fear that suffocates, debilitates, enslaves.
I don't believe a lengthy introduction is necessary. We all know what it's like to fear something or someone. We have experienced this emotion before. I'd submit to you that we are wired by God to fear. The only question is whether it is a godly fear that honors Him (a love for Him so intense that we fear doing anything that might grieve Him) or an ungodly fear that paralyzes our life, robs our joy and dishonors Him. Sad reality is much (if not most of our fear) is of the sinful variety.
So what kind of sinful fear gets us the hardest and how can we be victorious to overcome it? Is it the fear of fully following God's Word because we're afraid we'll miss out on some fun? Or the fear to leave our comfort zones, concerned our idols of dependency will be snatched away? Or is it fear that doing something God's way and not the world's way won't get the job done? All of these would be good candidates to discuss, but I believe the fear that gets us the most is what the Bible call "the fear of man."
With Christian persecution at horrific proportions oversees and things only getting more hostile to Jesus Christ and the church here in America, how can the fear of man not be a source of temptation for all Christians who desire to be bold in their faith?
2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
Maybe our persecution is of a different flavor than the thousands, perhaps millions, suffering for their faith overseas. Maybe for us it is the rolling of the eyes or the clucking of the tongue or the exclusion from a group or being thought of as foolish, uneducated or strange. It is different, but still tough to receive. Persecution is inevitable even in America if we speak of our Lord as He expects; if we are, Romans 1:16, "not ashamed of the gospel."
In Matthew 10, we have the account of Jesus preparing His disciples for their first short-term missions trip. He gives them some departing comments of what God-loving individuals can expect to face from a God-hating world. Verse 16, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves." Verse 22, "You will be hated by all because of My name." Verse 23, "Whenever they persecute you."
Let me ask you, how did the world treat Jesus? Wasn't He basically persecuted from the day He was born - from the time of Herod right on down the line? And that persecution only intensified once He entered His public ministry. He was rejected by His family, denied and betrayed by His friends and detested by the religious establishment. Without doing anything wrong, they tortured Him and executed Him out of sheer hatred. In other words, "If they treated Me like this," says Jesus, "And you as a disciple do what I do and say what I say, you can expect similar treatment" (verses 24-25).
The end of verse 25, "If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!" So Jesus is sinless and the world called Him the devil. How do you expect the world to treat imperfect people (like all of us) who seek to minister in His name?
J.C. Ryle once said, "If we let the world alone, it will probably let us alone. But if we try to do it spiritual good, it will hate us as it did our Master" (Matthew Commentary, chapter 10).
Understanding and realizing and experiencing this bring about the fear of man. And that's not good for you. Proverbs teaches us that "the fear of man brings a snare" (Pr. 29:15). And that's not good for your ministry for Christ. When we're fearful, we're silent. Someone said we become like the Artic River - frozen at the mouth. Naturally this was the last thing our Lord wanted as the 12 were preparing for their first missions trip!
He warns us of what's ahead, but Jesus does not want you to be fearful! Do you know which command He repeated the most often? "Do not fear." In our passage alone, we see it spoken three times! Verse 26, "Therefore do not fear them." Verse 28, "Do not fear those who kill the body." Verse 31, "So do not fear."
So with that said, and staying within the text from Matthew 10, let me provide for you three reasons why you need not be fearful. Let's allow the Holy Spirit to use the Word He inspired to help us overcome our natural tendency toward fear.
Reason number one - the Lord vindicates. Verse 26, "Therefore do not fear them." The "therefore" refers back to those who will persecute us in verse 25. The answer why we need not fear them is given as we continue reading. "For there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."
We live in a world of injustice. Wrong seems to be rewarded and right seems to be rejected. The respectable are worthy of little respect. Morality is mocked. Standing for righteousness is politically incorrect. Do the greatest good like Jesus, and they hang you on a cross. Simply put, the unfairness of life breeds fear.
But, as Jesus said, what is not visible now, will someday be seen. God is a faithful judge. His eyes of omniscience see everything. Wrong will be righted. Truth will be known. Every knee will bow to King Jesus. We need eyes of faith to believe what much of Scripture teaches, God's people (not now, but one day) will be vindicated.
So the Lord vindicates. Second, the Lord dominates. Verse 28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Do we as Christians too often have this whole fear thing backwards? We laugh at a giant German shepherd cowering when confronted by a little poodle. We snicker at the child who trembles over the "boogie-man" who lives under the bed (as a child I used to get a running start and jump off my bed in fear that he would grab my legs!). Yet we rarely consider how we as adults can so ridiculously misplace our fears. If I warn someone about an eternal hell for rejecting Christ, who should be more afraid? Why am I more fearful over man's disapproval than God's disapproval? Or as the verse says, why fear the person who can kill the body more than the One who can kill both body and soul in hell?
What's the worst man can do? Kill you - but that's basically sending the Christian to Paradise. Of course our natural response is that we don't want to die, but anticipating death as the portal to glory is biblical thinking. Remember Paul - "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
As a church we have been presently going through Revelation. And a theme that presents itself in the book is to choose whose wrath you wish to suffer. You will face one, but which one will you choose? Fear God and face the wrath of the world. Fear man by submitting to the world and face the wrath of the Lamb?
The goal is to repent of unrighteous fear and pursue righteous fear. You are wired to fear - don't fear man, fear God! Proverbs 9:10 teaches us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." We are to come before God with a reverential respect and holy awe. And if we have this healthy fear of God, I promise you we will have no need to fear anything else ever again.
That's what John experienced in Revelation 1. Remember his response when he saw the risen Christ? "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man" (Rev. 1:17). He feared the Lord and how did the Lord respond to him? "And He placed His right hand on me, saying, 'Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. 1:18). A healthy fear of God shows we are His children. And if we are His children we need not fear His judgment. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1)!
So the Lord vindicates. Second, the Lord dominates. And third, the reason we need not be afraid is that the Lord cares (He "carinates" - I'm making up words!). Let this penetrate in your heart, the Creator of the world is the lover of your soul. Jesus cares for you!
Verse 30, "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." So God has numbered all the hairs on my head. How is that supposed to encourage me to be courageous - especially if I happen to be a little more challenged in that area?
We miss the point if we suppose God is equating the amount of our hair with the amount of His love. The point in this context is simply that His care extends even to the smallest issues. He does not merely "count" our hair; the verse says He "numbers" our hair! Personal concern, deep familiarity, genuine intimacy.
We see this again in verse 29. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."
Whether the passage is saying God knows how often a sparrow dies and falls to the ground or simply how often the sparrow touches the ground (the grammar allows for either), we once again see how involved God is with the affairs in His created world. Tiny sparrows sold for a half of cent each are cared about and under the sovereign concern of Almighty God. And not just some distant Almighty God, but as verse 29 affirms, "Your Father."
The implication stated in verse 31 then goes without saying. "So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." If God is concerned with hairs and worthless birds, how much more is He concerned about you? And if God is this concerned about you, why fear?
I love it when Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, little flock" (Lk. 12:32). The implication is that we will be afraid, but He welcomes us to turn to Him because His perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18).
So first, we know the Lord will ultimately vindicate His own who are persecuted. Second, we know the Lord dominates so we should fear Him and not man. And third we know that the Lord cares and is intimately concerned with our welfare as everything happens in His sovereign love. Notice all of these encouragements start with having a right perspective about God and a right perspective about God will always drive away fear.
So do you have an unhealthy fear that is robbing your joy and paralyzing your walk with Christ? If so, accept full responsibility for your fear. Recognize your fear is self-centered and ask for God's forgiveness. Renew your thinking in line with what Scripture teaches. Replace the unrighteous fear of man with a righteous fear of God. Commit yourself to loving God and loving others.
After the fall came sin. Sin leads to guilt. Guilt leads to fear. Yet if you are in Christ Jesus, all your sin and guilt has been taken away. You are forgiven, accepted and loved by the Father. With God fully on your side, you have nothing to fear. Worship God by enjoying the freedom He secured for you in Christ.