I have dealt with a lot of fears in my lifetime. A lot. Too many. No, like seriously, far too many. Sure, anxiety runs in the family and I had some interesting traumatic experiences early on in life, but looking back, I robbed myself of a lot of peace and joy by allowing fear to control me like it did. I still do.
As I was looking at Matthew 10:26-31, a number of thoughts really leapt from the pages of Scripture and reoriented my thinking about fear. In this passage, Jesus says three times, in various ways, do not fear. Sure, it is a command, but not the kind of command we find elsewhere in the Bible. It is not a “thou shalt not” kind of command, it is a let me remove that burden kind of command.
Three “do not fear” statements and each one gives a reason: Do not fear, there will be justice in the end. Do not fear, they can kill only the body but can’t touch your soul. Do not fear, you are worth more than many sparrows. In each case, it is as though the Lord is broadening our context and giving us perspective. He isn’t saying that the things we fear are not real, He just provides a clearer picture of reality so that we can see them for what they are. See them in context.
In the first case (v. 26), the disciples were thinking about the persecution they were just told they would face—“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves… (Matthew 10:16).” That’s not exactly the friendliest environment. But as they’re thinking about how scary that will be, Jesus tells them, do not fear. The key is, Jesus is telling them, don’t simply look at the danger and focus your attention on the persecutors. There’s more to see!
For us today, it might mean, don’t simply think of the financial struggles you are having; don’t only see the life-changing diagnosis; don’t narrowly focus on the relational conflict you are dealing with. Fear works when it can monopolize our thoughts. Instead, Jesus says, turn your attention and get the broader context. There is more to life and the situation that you are in than the danger. Much more.
And this isn’t just telling us to distract ourselves as though the fear doesn’t exist. No, this is telling us to broaden our context to get a clearer view, a more accurate sense of the situation.
Jesus goes on to tell them briefly what that “more” is, what the clearer picture is. First, He tells them that the mission they are on is part of God’s plan that has a victorious ending. They might see the danger now, but Jesus knows how this ends and it ends well for His people. When the One who knows the end reminds us, ultimately victory is ours, the danger suddenly subsides.
Second, He tells them (v. 28) that there is more to our existence than this physical, earthly life. When we see our lives from an eternal perspective (the camera zooms out!), the earthly danger suddenly looks very different. As a matter of fact, it is this eternal context that allows Paul to call the dangers he was facing, “this light momentary affliction.” It is light and momentary only when placed in the (proper) context of “an eternal weight of glory” that he’s anticipating (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Third, Jesus tells His disciples about the Father, their Father. He tells them that along with the danger of persecution they were facing, they need to consider the context of God’s providential oversight. In other words, Jesus says, there is no fear, no danger, and no circumstance that doesn’t also include a Father looking down from above, carefully governing and directing every little detail that comes to pass. From the falling of one small sparrow to the number of hairs on our heads, nothing happens without our Father. And by the way, He loves you in such a way that He sent His only Son to the cross to save you from a debt you’d never be able to pay. If He wouldn’t withhold the Son, what good will He withhold (cf. Romans 8:32)?
Stop and consider what you are anxious about and afraid of. Now remember that your days are already planned and the One who has planned it will work everything that happens for your good (Romans 8:28). Now zoom out and think of eternity promised by our Savior. Do you see the danger anymore? It might be there, but it doesn’t quite take up as much space, does it? Finally, as your scanning the landscape, open your eyes a bit more… do you see Him? That’s right, in every corner and all around, your Father is there with His providing hands, sustaining and governing all that is—for your good and His glory.
So, yes, there are dangers in this life that we face. But when put in proper context, we can heed what the Lord is commanding, do not fear…