On a scale of 1 to 10 how fearful are you? 8, 5, 2 ??? For example, do you fear the Corona Virus? Apparently millions of Americans do. Do you fret about whether or not the government is going to force us all to receive their virus vaccination? Does your blood pressure rise when you hear about electronic currencies or the implantation of a chip? Are you anxious about the upcoming election? Do you worry about potential rioting when the results are announced? I don’t fear any of these things, and perhaps you don’t either, but many of our unsaved neighbors do. There may be as much fear in America today as there was during the Cuban Missile Crisis or World War 2.
As I was thinking about today’s panic-stricken society, some of Thomas Paine’s words returned to me. I have never before publicly quoted Thomas Paine, and you’ll likely never hear me quote him again. But Paine, at the time of the revolution against Britain, was one of the most influential men in America. His pamphlets “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” are sometimes said to make him the father of Revolution. But as a Deist, he also wrote “The Age of Reason,” which was an attack upon Christianity and the Bible. And for that reason I don’t want to give him much credit for anything positive. And yet here I am quoting the man – and deliberately misquoting him as well.
On Dec. 23, 1776 Paine published an article called “The Crisis” which with some editing could be reused today. He began with the words which came to my mind about today – “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Indeed these are still days which try men’s souls. He went on – “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. What if we changed the words to “summer Christian” and “sunshine religionist,” looking at them shrinking from the service of their country and their God in these confusing times? He who stands by his God today “deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Paine went on – “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” We are still living under a cloud of tyranny – the tyranny of a biased media and social corruption. He said, “I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish.” When Paine said, “I have little superstition,” he meant “I’m not blindly following Biblical Christianity.” But, he says, I believe in god in my deistic way, and my god will not give up on this people. Can we apply that to the Covid-19 hysteria? Going on he said, “Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country.” “I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it.”
Like Thomas Paine, and like Nehemiah, I can see a way out our current national fear. It has nothing to do with government – better or different. It has nothing to do with more widespread technology – or less technology. It has nothing to do with more knowledgeable scientists and medical men. It has everything to do with faith in the one true and living God – and living in humility before His throne.
Nehemiah, in addition to his statements about “the fear of the Lord,” often refers to fleshly, emotional fear. In 4:14, After the threats of the Samaritan began be heard by the workers on the wall, he said, “I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” There is an interesting play on words in this verse. The Hebrew “afraid,” as in “Be not ye afraid” is the same word which is applied to the Lord Himself. “Remember the Lord, which is great and TERRIBLE, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Our God is worthy of fear; He is great and terrible. Here in chapter 6 Nehemiah speaks of fear and being afraid several times. Verse 9 – “For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” Verse 13 – “Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.” The next verse – “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Verse 19 – “Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.”
Despite a common misconception, fear is not necessarily a sin.
When there is something truly worthy of fear, then to be afraid is appropriate and not sinful. It is not a sin to fear a rattlesnake coiled up at your feet, and it is not a sin to fear a charging grizzly bear. Fear is something the Lord created into us to help preserve our lives in moments of danger. I personally think that acrophobia is a perfectly acceptable fear, because standing on something high poses the possibility of falling. And I also believe that hypodermaphobia is not a sin. (A fear of needles???)
But someone says, “Wait a minute, doesn’t Nehemiah say, in verse 13, that fear is sin?” No, I don’t believe that he does. Shamaiah “was hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.” Shamaiah was hired to frighten Nehemiah away from his duty, and to shy from duty is to sin against God. Nehemiah’s enemies wanted to destroy his testimony that they might have something with which to accuse him, and they tried to use fear to do that.
The Hebrew word “yare’” (yaw-ray’) is used in the Old Testament 314 times. Sometimes it is translated “fear” and sometimes “afraid.” It’s third most common rendition is “terrible” or “terrible thing.” And, as I just said, in that way the word is applied to Jehovah Himself. I tried to read through those 314 scriptures looking for a statement that “yare’” is sin, but I found nothing. Even though fear can be a problem… even though it may be embarrassing… even though it may turn into sin, as Nehemiah himself suggests…. even though fear may keep us from serving God properly, it is not sin in itself.
After spending time in that search, I went on and looked up the words “and sin not.” I found several verses with that phrase, but, again, there was nothing related to fear. “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.” “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Nowhere does God say, “Throw away your fear, and sin not,” because depending on the fear, fearfulness can be a blessing to us. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever…” “The fear of the LORD prolongeth days…” “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life…”
On the other hand, innocent fear can morph into sinful fear, and in its wake can come many other sins.
This is the fear, of which Nehemiah was fearful, and which brought that good man to his knees. So I return to an earlier question: of what are you afraid? Covid-19? Liberal politicians? Evolutionary scientists and their ideas of population control? Are you afraid of what will happen if the LGBT get their way? Do you fear the BLM movement? I am not, generally speaking, a proponent of the conspiracy theories. But there is one which I can see in the Bible – there has been and continues to be a truly diabolical conspiracy against God. Satan hates Jehovah with all his diabolical heart, and he is not above trying anything to overthrow the Lord. Could he be behind any or all of these things which people fear? Certainly he could.
Shamaiah “was hired, that I should be afraid, and leave my post, quit my job, leave my responsibility, and in these things sin, that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.” Here is where our fears darken and begin to stink before the Lord. In the cases I’ve cited this morning, Nehemiah was either speaking of, or warning the people, against the sinful outgrowth of fear. Sanballat and the others were trying to create fear in order to keep God’s people from serving Him. Does that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound like the world in which we live? Perhaps circumstances force us to change our methods of service, but to quit, the way I see so many professing Christians doing, is unacceptable. If we have to build our wall in shifts, we can still build our wall. If we have to carry our swords in one hand and our along with our trowels, then we will work while armed. But hide in the shadows for fear of mere shadows is not something Nehemiah and his men are going to do.
Fear becomes sinful when it draws our attention away from the Lord – the God who sovereignly governs all things. Remember what Paine said? “My secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction.” How is it that a Christ-denying, Sovereign God-denying Deist can say that God will not give up His people, but professing Bible-believers live in the fear that He will do just that? Of course they will deny they believe such blasphemy, but they live as though they do. COVID-19 is undoubtedly a deadly virus, but so are several dozen others which have been around for years, and thus far you and I have not been killed by any of them. God is not going let Satan install a president over us without His permission, no matter who is elected in November. Nothing is going to close this church meeting house unless God determines it would be for the best. It is our duty as Christians to remember that Jehovah is God and no man, no government, no devil is ever going to unseat Him.
Think about Elijah. Elijah is a magnificent Bible hero, whom we should study and emulate – most of the time. But his fear of Jezebel caused him to lower his eyes from the Lord to the palace in Samaria. There is no other way to put it except that Elijah sinned – not so much in his fear, but in what his fear caused him to do. He ran, laying down his trowel and leaving breaches in his wall. And that essentially ended his service for God.
And then there is Peter. That man may not deserve the worship that some professing Christians give him, but he was a better Christian than most of us. On the other hand, there were occasions of fear in his life which culminated in sin – one of which was while standing at the fire in the High Priest’s courtyard.
A negative example of this negative emotion can be heard in Elijah’s prophetical successor Elijah. “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In II Kings 6, the King of Syria warred against Israel. God graciously revealed to Elisha where the Syrian army would camp, and the prophet passed that intel on to the King of Israel. “Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?” When the Syrian was told that Elisha was divulging military secrets, he sent horses, chariots and a great host to either kill or capture God’s servant. And “When the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. and his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?” The servant was filled with fear – he was terrified. But Elisha replied, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” When our fear draws our hearts away from trust in the Lord, that fear becomes wicked. David was as prone to fear as any man, but he had a solution, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”
And speaking of trust – fear becomes sinful when it leads to trust in the flesh rather in the Lord. While Nehemiah told his men to continue to work upon the wall, with their swords and spears at their sides, we don’t actually see him strapping on his habergeon and putting his sword into his girdle. Rather we hear his words of prayer, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” The solution to this country’s fears is not the reelection of Donald Trump or the election of some dark-horse conservative. The solution to this country’s problems is repentance before God. II Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Generally speaking, fear which is permitted to linger too long usually turns into sin. Fear is like rust – or the oxidation which whittles away at certain kinds of metals. It may be indefatigable, but it is not undefeatable – it may be relentless, but it doesn’t have to win. Fear, like rust, needs to be fought constantly, because if left unchecked it will eat away at your faith.
And to that end, the Bible is filled with exhortations NOT to fear.
Many of them speak of specific instances and dangers. When Moses, at the end of his life, was encouraging Israel to bold enter the Land of Promise he said, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” “And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” Later Joshua said to those same timid people, “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.” There is no reason not to apply statements like those to ourselves.
But there are general statements about fear as well. “David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.” Do you suppose that those words came back to Nehemiah’s heart as he considered his work on the wall? Moses in Deuteronomy 20:1 said, “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” The Lord Himself spoke to Joshua, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.”
Then there are the statements of men close to the Lord. “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”
I said earlier that fear is a natural thing – that God created it into us. I also implied that certain kinds of fear can be very helpful – as when a bear is attacking. And without doubt, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Also – the fear of God’s anger can be very beneficial.
And speaking of that, I wish that I knew more about the spiritual life of Noah, the naval carpenter. Out of the vast population of the world in his day, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” When the people of the world were living in sin and debauchery, Noah was sovereignly blessed and spared from the judgment which God planned to inflict. I would pay half a week’s salary to have a copy of the autobiography of Noah. How was he converted? In what form did he possess the Word of God? How did God speak to him, and in what way were the plans of the ark given to him? Was he afraid when he lifted up his voice in protest against the sins of his neighbors? Was there much persecution against him? Despite being a man of sin, like everyone else, Noah was a man of faith, and a recipient of God’s grace. Nevertheless, Hebrew 11:7, the great chapter on faith, says something about Noah’s fear. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
I wish that I could take from you most kinds of temporal fear. But there is a different kind of fear which I wish I could stoke and feed until it consumed you. As it was in the days of Noah, God intends to destroy in judgment this world of sin. We catch glimpses of that coming judgment every few days, but those who most need to see it refuse to look or consider. Our lives are precarious for a number of reasons – medical, accidental, social. As James tells us, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” If the fear of death, if a fear of God, if fear of eternal judgment drives you into the Lord’s ark of salvation, then those are very good fears to have. Are you fearful enough to repent before God and to put your trust for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ?
If you are NOT a child of God…. if you have not been born again…. if you are not saved… then you should be afraid. You should be terrified. You should fear the nearness of death. And this means you should fear the Corona Virus, and rioting in the streets, and corrupt government. You should be terrified of death – and of God.
But in Christ Jesus there is peace – infinite peace. You must, you must … cast yourself down in humility before the Lord. You must trust Christ as your Lord and Saviour to enjoy even a small taste of that peace. Please, surrender yourself to the Lord this morning in repentance and faith. Come, let us talk about salvation through Jesus Christ.