Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fear
My top three fears as a little kid were: fear of the dark, crossing Larimer Avenue Bridge by myself, and getting bombed by the Russians. These things scared me to death.
Do you remember what you were afraid of? Snakes? Ghosts? We had tons of things we were afraid of as children. What are you afraid of today as an adult? The dentist? Being laid off? Public speaking? Death? Taylor Swift said she was intimidated by the fear of being average.
There are over 530 phobias documented according to phobialist.com. Check it out. Some of the things people are afraid of blew me away. Myrmecophobia (fear of ants). Mageirocophobia (fear of cooking). There are strange things like fear of ice, fear of kissing, fear of mirrors, fear of wrinkles, vegetables, politicians, and even fear of one’s mother-in-law (Pentheraphobia).
Are fears legitimate? Some are. Fear of getting hit by a car causes me to look both ways before crossing the street and keeps me safe. In the book of 2 Timothy, we see the apostle Paul in prison. He was in a cold, dark dungeon in chains awaiting his death, and this was his last letter to his closest companion. Paul was admonishing Timothy to continue to preach the Word of God, even in the midst of pressure inside the church and persecution outside the church.
The emperor Nero was burning Christians at the stake, but Paul wasn’t afraid. Paul spoke of his hope according to the promise of life, which is in Christ Jesus. He had fought the good fight. He had finished the course. He had kept the faith. Paul was committed and fearless. What about his young protégé Timothy? In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says this:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Was Timothy fearful? In the Greek language, there are three different words for fear used in the Bible. To understand what Paul was saying to Timothy (and by extension, to all believers), we need to understand what these three words were.
The first word for fear is eulabeia. In Hebrews 12:28, the writer says, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.”
This eulabeia fear is a good and necessary kind of fear. We must have a fear of God that expresses our reverence and respect for him, our awe of him. This, however, is not the word that Paul used.
The second Greek word for fear is phobos. We get our English word phobia from this word. The word is used frequently in Scripture to refer to fear in situations like where Jesus was walking on the water in the middle of the night. Matthew 14:26 says, “And when the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear.”
In other words, they were scared to death, but this also was not the word Paul used when he said to Timothy that God hadn’t given us a spirit of fear.
The last Greek word in Scripture for fear is the word deilia. This word is only used once in Scripture. Right here where Paul told Timothy that God had not given us a spirit of fear, he used deilia. Deilia means cowardly. So what was Paul saying to Timothy? To paraphrase, he was saying, “There is persecution all around you. There are challenges. There is pressure, but God doesn’t want us to be timid or cowardly. He wants us to be bold and strong. He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
God has given you and me a spirit of power and of love and a sound mind, and he doesn’t want us to be cowardly or timid. We face challenges every day. We face persecution. We face pressure, but when we reflect on God’s awesome power and God’s amazing promise, we have no need to be fearful.
The Bible tells us more than 365 times to fear not. Isaiah 41:10, says,
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
So we needn’t fear criticism, cats, crowded public places, floods, cancer, success, failure, or any other thing, real or imagined, because nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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