Defined by Faith and Fear
Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer. They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear. As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.
“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working. It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear. Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!
“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind. People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.
You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong. It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.
“Linonophobia” is a fear of string. There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.
“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing. Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.
“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions. Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this? The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!
These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing. However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life. In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears. God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom. While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions. In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear. One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary. We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.
CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees. It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER. This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.
What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.
Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.
1. Three things we must not fear.
In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.” Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary. In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment. No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.
In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.” His reason? God has not forgotten you. He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you. Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.
Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith. Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them. He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense. His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.
2. Three things we must fear.
Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1). This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation. We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered. Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES. This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve. He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite. Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory. The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later. This is human nature. How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.
Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf. That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light. Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire. Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy. Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.
Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.” While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him. To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.
Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL. The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY. They are not worthy of fear. What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”
Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God. First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them. Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head. That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.
Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount. Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.
Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God. Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers. Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.” Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity. We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith. It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time. If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.
Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers. Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR. Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved. To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief. Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.
Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith. A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials. The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable. DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day. Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.
Verse ten has confused a lot of people. Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context. Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.” As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved. It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus. It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death. When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned. Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness. Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.
Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.
Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity. Will we fear God or the masses? Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?” People-pleasers are fearful folk. We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.
On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation. In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”
On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation. We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness. In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”
The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes. We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies. We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.
This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it. We direct our efforts at individuals to save them. Culture and government are not our tools. We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God. We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win. Only what is of Him survives. That is our only concern.
The Body, Charles Colson
The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock