What is the most common command in the Scriptures?
Fear not. Do not be afraid. Hundreds of times in the whole bible - the message is repeatedly given "Don't worry."
But we do. All the time. About everything.
I bet if I asked you to make a list of things you were worried about at the moment, you could reel off at least five without thinking about it. If I gave you enough time you'd fill a sheet of paper with worries. We are fearful people. And Jesus knows us. So He keeps on persisting with this teaching, till maybe some of it sinks in.
In Luke 12 we are told not to worry 6 times:
4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid
7 ...Don't be afraid
11 "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry
22 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life
26 ... why do you worry?
32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
The repetition tells you - we've got a problem with fear. But it also tells us, Jesus has a solution to fear.
But Jesus' solution to fear is different to our gut reactions to fear.
We usually have one of two gut reactions to fear. One reaction is to take the Nike logo to heart - Just Do It. You're afraid, so what, just do it. Notice that Jesus doesn't tell us that.
Everytime He says ‘Don't be afraid' He gives us a reason not to be afraid. And in this chapter it's always one of two reasons. He says ‘Don't worry, God is very powerful.' Or He says ‘Don't worry, God loves you very much.' He's very powerful, He's very loving - those are reasons not to worry and Jesus wants those truths to sink down into our hearts until the worry goes. So Jesus does not say ‘I don't care if you're afraid, just do it.' Jesus wants to address our fears, He wants us to examine them and to replace them with a confidence in His Father's power and love.
The other reaction we have to our fears is simply to run from them. If our first reaction is the stiff upper lip, this reaction is the cowardly retreat. Our fears dominate our lives so that we never do anything scary and we just live very dull lives, never risking anything.
Sometimes I've spoken about fears and people have said to me ‘I don't fear anything. I'm not the kind of person that gets worried.' My next question is - What risks do you regularly take? When do you make yourself vulnerable to others? How do you engage with and serve this broken world? When have you tried to get new initiatives off the ground? How often do you back a cause that won't necessarily be popular? When do you take moral stands? And this is the one that really bites: How often do you speak up for Jesus even when it won't be popular?
Inevitably the answers to those questions are - I don't. A person who says they have no fear is almost always a person who is very controlled by fears. They live a life of humdrum mediocrity, with very few highs, very few lows, they don't speak out for Christ, they don't stand up for Him, they don't give their hearts and their service to others, they surround themselves with safety and comfort and in fact every aspect of their life is controlled by fear. The cowardly retreat from fear is very common. It's in all of us. It's what stops us from being the radical disciples that Jesus calls us to be.
We're not the people we want to be because of our fears. It's not that we've looked at the way of Jesus and said ‘I'd be perfectly happy doing that, I just don't really fancy it.' We've looked at it and said ‘I can't do that - I'm petrified of living that life.'
And that's why Jesus keeps coming to us saying - ‘Follow me and don't be afraid'. He doesn't say ‘Follow me and stuff your feelings'. And He doesn't say ‘Don't bother following me if you're scared.' He commands both: ‘Follow me and don't be afraid.'
And this puts us onto one of the deepest truths about fear. Freedom from fear does not come by staying safe. Freedom from fear comes as you put yourself in danger. It's so counter-intuitive which is why we so rarely experience freedom from fear. We try to find freedom from fear by avoiding all conflict and danger. But you don't find peace there - not God's peace anyway. You find God's peace on the front lines. God's peace comes in war. Freedom from fear comes as you take up your cross daily and follow Jesus to Golgotha.
For more, go to my sermon on Luke 12:1-12