Let’s say for a moment that we’re trying to find a radio transmitter hidden in a barren desert. We mark one point and gain a general direction. We move to another spot which narrows down the area even more. But to precisely locate the transmitter we need a third point. Then using that information we can triangulate the position of the transmitter. That process of triangulation is illuminating as we consider our next Jesus Says command.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31, NIV) In the text are three commands. Do not be afraid…. Be afraid…. Don’t be afraid… Those are the points of our triangle
Do Not Be Afraid
Our first point, the first command, is “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Our natural inclination is to fear anything or anyone that could kill us. Jesus is instead reminding us that there’s more to life than our temporary existence.
This is not just a strange death-wish. What or whom we fear controls us. This is played out in too many ways to describe them all. Superstitions and curses are a form of controlling fear. Shame, guilt, and loss of face are also controlling fears. Often the threat is not real but only exists in our imagination. We see ourselves walking into a narrow room and feel it closing in on us. Or we see ourselves walking into a crowded arena and imagine everyone staring at us. But even if the threat is real Jesus says do not fear the one that can only kill you but fear the one that can destroy both body and soul.
There is only one that can destroy our body and soul in hell and that one is God. This is the part of God that is unpopular nowadays. We’d like to ignore hell, ignore His wrath, ignore the righteous judgment of God. After all, God is love. Yes! He is. But God isn’t a teddy bear all soft, cuddly and safe. Neither is this picture of God relegated to the Old Testament, we are after all reading Jesus’ own words. Or consider this from the book of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)
There is a complexity to our relationship with God that we ignore at our own peril. Jesus is both our best friend and the righteous judge. God is our Father but is also just, right, and holy in His discipline. The Holy Spirit empowers and directs but can also be grieved by our decisions.
When we remove the fear of God from our faith our triangulation fails. We miss the destination of Jesus’ three-part command.
Don’t be afraid
Jesus didn’t leave us with a view of God that is only looking forward to punishing sinners. Something far different in fact. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
God’s valuation of us is not based on what we do or don’t do, but on the inherent value of simply being. God knows the very hairs on our head. He knows everything about us, the shame we bear, the hidden sin that holds us in bondage, the guilt and regrets we hide from everyone. God knows all of that and highly values us anyway. How do I know that? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)
The Discovered Point
When we triangulate using these three points we arrive at something wonderful. We discover a different kind of fear. Not a controlling fear that uses punishment to drive our behavior but a loving fear of a Father’s heart that disciplines to move us towards Himself. Yes, fear God. Recognize His awesome holiness and power in which sin cannot stand. Fear Him above everything and everyone else. But recognize and understand that it is not a controlling fear but a fear leading us to His love.
We often judge God’s love for us (or how well we are following Him) by false external measures. If our business and finances thrive then God is on our side. If our children are quietly obedient. If our job is rewarding. If our life is peaceful. These (and many others) are all false weights that lie about God’s true feelings. Neither poverty nor wealth is a sign of God’s punishment or blessing. The poor are just as valued by God as the rich, if not more so. The way of God’s Kingdom is not like the way of the world. This doesn’t mean that God wants or wills anyone to be poor, what God wants above everything else is that you know Him and He knows you.
The choice of whom to fear is left to us. These are commands which we can choose to obey or ignore. Ignore at our own peril of course. God is love, but we must choose to receive it, to grow in it, to walk in it, to be molded by it, and to live our lives according to it. We can either take God’s love as it is offered or refuse the gift. The choice is yours.
Jesus says don’t, do, and don’t be afraid