I’m afraid of heights (acrophobia). I’m afraid of fast boats (tachophobia). And I’m always afraid the milk went sour (acerphobia).
There are as many phobias out there as there are nouns in our language. Some of my favorites are:
Decidophobia (fear of making decisions)
Arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth)
Globophobia (fear of balloons)
Phobophobia (fear of phobias)
Fear is something that we all deal with. But it’s also something God tells us not to do. But then what about the “fear of God?” Isn’t that a good thing?
It’s easy to understand that we shouldn’t let irrational fears keep us from doing what God calls us to, but what about the very real fears we have? How do we navigate the tension between God’s command and our physical, mental, and emotional safety?
What is fear
Fear is an emotion that tells us we are in danger. It usually triggers a fight, flight, or avoid response in order to preserve our safety. Fear can be either rational (there is an actual threat to our well-being and safety) or irrational. Irrational fears are called “phobias.”
Scripture teaches us not to be afraid of either rational or irrational things. Generally, the term “fear” is used to describe rational fears. Irrational fears are often described as “worry” (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-23). And altogether they are often termed “anxiety” (Do not be anxious about anything… Philippians 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7).
Two regular uses of “fear” that differ:
Fear of the Lord
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7)
The word “fear” here refers to revere, or to be humbled by. When we know the power of the Lord and show respect for who He is and what He’s done, fear is a proper response. Fear causes us to pay attention and hyper-focus on one thing. Solomon is teaching us that the only thing worthy of that reverence is the Lord. In fact, he says true knowledge and understanding begins with putting fear in its proper place.
Spirit of fear
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
A “spirit of fear” refers to a mindset toward any potential fear. It’s one thing to be afraid of a storm when you see a forecast or you’re in the middle of it. It’s another thing to create a sense of fear around the idea that a storm may keep the Gospel from spreading. When we are planning and unplanning around a potential for something to go wrong even when there is no good reason to think something might go wrong – we are operating out of a “spirit of fear.”
Why does the Bible say do not fear?
When we are afraid, we are showing a lack of trust in God. When we live in fear, we are allowing something else to control our thoughts, minds, and actions. God teaches us to “not fear,” because he wants us to know we can trust him in all things – even if it means we aren’t “safe.”
Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid of (among other things):
people who hate, persecute, call you names or even kill you. (Matthew 10:22-28)
Jairus’ daughter’s death. (Mark 5:36)
what to say when they are arrested and put on trial. (Mark 13:11)
how many fish they caught. (Luke 5:10)
Jesus walking on water (John 6:20)
his impending death (John 14:27)
God is constantly telling the leaders, prophets, judges, and kings in the Old Testament to not fear their enemy in battle, but to trust Him.
In the New Testament, God sends angels to Mary and Joseph telling them not to be afraid, even though Mary is somehow a pregnant virgin. A whole host of angels show up to some shepherds the night Jesus was born. Their presence is alarming, but the angels command the shepherds not to be afraid. After Jesus died, Mary goes to the tomb to pay respects and the tomb is open and empty. An angel (who appeared to potentially be a gardener) tells her not to fear.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the pattern we see is that God often tells His people, “do not fear” very real things to be afraid of. Things that can hurt our reputation, well-being, and comfort. Some of these things can destroy our health, harm our bodies, and even end our lives. Some just leave us broken emotionally or shake our understanding of the world. But God says, “do not be afraid.”
Jesus instead tells his disciples to fear, “the One who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
Paul tells us to work out our faith with “fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2|12)
King Solomon says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1|7).
Clearly, God is teaching us that there are very real threats to our body, comfort, and reputation. But we are not to be afraid of them. God teaches us instead to fear the things that have authority over our hearts, souls, and minds for eternity.
More Scriptures About Fear
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
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. (Isaiah 41:10)
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. (Psalm 23:4)
6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
How do I overcome fear?
When we open the Bible, the most frequent command is: “do not be afraid!” Some say the command is in Scripture 365 times in one form or another. I didn’t count, but the point is that fear seems to be a common tactic from the enemy (Satan) to keep people from doing what God calls them to do.
With all the commands to “not fear,” overcoming fear seems to be one of the primary ways that we move in the direction God is calling us.
This is why John writes: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18).
The way to overcome fear starts with trusting that God has got you, and He’s got whatever you’re going through in His hands. That doesn’t mean everything will work out in your favor. It doesn’t always mean the issue will be resolved easily. It doesn’t mean your anxiety or physical response to something like heights or sour milk will stop.
Trusting God means you don’t allow your fear to keep you from doing what God is calling you to do. So, do what he’s called you to do, regardless of your fear. That’s what it means to overcome fear.
Misha grew up in southeast Michigan, right outside of Detroit. He went to Eastern Michigan University to be an elementary special education teacher and taught for four years. In 2011, he started attending 2|42 and quickly got involved volunteering in student ministry. He had been involved in churches his entire life, but discovered a call to ministry through volunteering with high school students. In 2013, Misha joined the staff as the high school director in Brighton. As Misha says, "I just want to walk with Jesus and help other people do the same."
Misha and his wife, Brittany, love coffee and adventure. They have a 2-year-old son, Wilder, who lights up their world.