Are you afraid of someone? A person who, when they speak, you jump, because you know if you don’t, they’re not above following through in some very unpleasant way to make you do what they wanted–and then be sorry you didn’t in the first place?
“My friends, don’t be afraid of people. They can kill you, but after that, there is nothing else they can do. God is the one you must fear. Not only can he take your life, but he can throw you into hell. God is certainly the one you should fear!” (Luke 12:4-5 CEV)
Most of us get this backward. We easily become frightened of people, but have difficulty being afraid of God, because this other human being is right here in front of us physically or otherwise threatening us, while we don’t actually visually see God. For that matter, some of us don’t even understand that we should be afraid of God; we’ve been taught for so long that He loves us and have difficulty putting together the seemingly mutually exclusive concepts of love and fear together in one person. Yet Jesus Christ–Immanuel; God who was for a time physically with us as a human being–warned us otherwise. He said to be afraid–not just to generically respect, as this is sometimes reinterpreted, but to be afraid–of God.
Yet sometimes we get this wrong. We think that because the consequences of disobedience aren’t always instantaneous–because we’re not usually zapped dead the instant we sin, like Ananias and his wife Saphira were–it’s not real, God’s not real, or He doesn’t really mean it. We forget, of course, that the reason we aren’t destroyed the moment we sin is because God is not only loving towards us–He is love; He is patient with us and wants each of us to see how wrong our thinking was and get right with Him before our fate is eternally sealed at the moment of death: “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” (2 Peter 3:9 CEV)
Of course, we all understand fear, but not all of us live with it daily. For some it’s just a remote possibility, as in, “how would you respond if threatened with death to renounce Christ?” Yet others are confronted regularly with situations involving anger, abuse or coercion, and understand well what being afraid is. And while Jesus speaks to all, it is, I think, particularly these people He is reaching out to.
That’s because when you’re genuinely afraid of someone you tend to be willing to say anything and do anything to get them to not be angry at you–and Jesus is trying to explain to us which is the more dangerous situation; that involving our bodies or our souls.
You see, there will be times in life when other people will try to get us to do or say things that God hates–that are sin. To steal, lie, cheat, murder even; to conform our thinking with theirs; to say something we know true is untrue, or something untrue is true. And as people of God–as those who know better because they’ve been taught by Him through His Word and His Spirit–we can’t feign ignorance; we can’t say we didn’t know. Why? Because we do, and there’s eternal accountability.
This life never was all there is. You can tell yourself it is, you can try to believe it, you can ignore the stirrings of your soul–that inkling inside of you that says there’s got to be more–but none of this will matter the moment your life leaves your body; the moment you are held eternally accountable for what you thought, said and did; the moment you face that eternal Power the Bible calls God.
And because of that, because of death and what comes after, what matters more is that we remain true to Him–to what is true and right and good–than that we save our own skins by whatever means possible.
Now, I’m not saying to be foolish. If someone is threatening you, get away. Don’t provoke them, don’t wave a red flag in front of the bull, so to speak–use wisdom and common sense to protect yourself. If it’s a husband, realize that God understands there are crazy situations and even though He says a woman is not to leave her husband, in the next sentence He says, “But if she does leave…” He knows how vile sin in us can be, and that there will be times a wife will feel she needs to leave to survive or protect smaller ones. No, I’m referring to situations that you cannot protect yourself from by getting away.
Even for those situations–remember the story of the midwives in Egypt, who when commanded to kill all the male Israelite children being born feared God more than they feared the Egyptian authorities? Technically, they lied–they said that the babies were born before they got there. Now I’m not saying we should lie, and God doesn’t reward sin, but God saw their fear of wrongdoing–that the feared Him more than the authorities–and rewarded the midwives themselves with their own families and households.
Would it have been more noble and right of them to be straightforward with their refusal to kill and be executed themselves? Yes. But God made us and understands how terrible some of the situations we find ourselves in can be, and feels for us. He is holy, but He is also gracious and loving and merciful and kind.
So, are you afraid of someone? Or are you more afraid of Someone else? Let’s make sure we have our priorities straight!
“Peter and the apostles answered, ‘It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross. God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven. And we are witnesses to these things. The Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him, corroborates every detail.'” (Acts 5:29-32 MSG)
Dear Lord God,
Help me always have my priorities straight: help me fear doing wrong–sinning against You–more than I fear anything or anyone else! Amen.