I once got into a discussion with a fellow Christian about some topic. One of us brought up a verse that supposedly proved the point and the conversation was over.
Sure it does. You’ve been there too.
Answering the Wrong Way
So let me pretend. I’m going to ask a question and answer it: should you, as a Christian, have fear? Should you, Christian, be afraid?
No, never! The Bible repeatedly has God sending his messengers saying “fear not” and “be not afraid” (Deut 1:29; Isaiah 44:8). The Bible says that if we have love we won’t have fear because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And the Bible says that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
Yes, of course! The Bible outright tells Believers that we should have fear (Heb 4:1). In fact, it tells us that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
An Obvious Problem
There, two opposite answers. And it only happened because we came to the Bible like it was a magic eight ball.
Folk today don’t know what a Magic Eight Ball is. Back in the day the Magic Eight Ball was this plastic sphere filled with oil and a little pyramid. You would ask it a Yes or No question, shake it, then you would see the words come to the surface “Yes, most definitely” or “No. Unlikely.” Or the dreaded “Maybe” and “Ask again later”.
Since the Bible talks about a lot of things, and since the Word of God is fundamental to the believer’s life, we rightly come to it with questions. But since it is divided into books, chapters, verse and verse sections we don’t always see how one sentence connects with the next.
We miss the thought flow.
A Closer Look
For example, if I were to examine the verses that I gave for both answers their context would tell me that although they had bearing on the subject, they really weren’t answering the question. I don’t do this to remove a verse from consideration but I rather use it to see if the verse is actually talking about what the answer says.
Deut 1:29 sits in the middle of a discussion between Moses and Israel. Moses is talking about the people who were afraid to go fight their enemies that God had handed over to them. They were to act knowing that God had their back.
Isaiah 44:8 isn’t talking about generally being afraid but rather not being afraid that God is different from Idols: God is the real deal.
1 John 4:18 starts off in verse 17 telling us about how love is perfected in us so that we have confidence in the Day of Judgment.
2 Timothy 1:7 is a private letter between Paul and Timothy where Paul is encouraging Timothy to keep suffering for the gospel like Paul (v 8).
Hebrews 4:1 is talking about a concern for the community to ensure that the professing Christians are holding fast to their confession. This is Phil 2:4 in action: not being only concerned with personal interests but the needs of others.
Phil 2:12 can’t be talking about people only concerned with their own salvation because Phil 2:4 talks about the needs of the others. He might be saying to be concerned with the salvation of the church as a whole. Maybe in light of Phil 1:28-30 Paul is saying the church as a whole will be saved through suffering while Phil 3:20–21 might mean the salvation that comes at the end of time. But either way the church is to be concerned with that work within the group as a whole because God is working in the group as a whole.
Asking and Answering the Right Way
You see, some questions are bigger than a yes or no answer. The yes or no answer might ignore the context of the text just so that it proves a point.
When we run up against a question, we need to peel away layers to see what the question is asking. If this is a discussion with a person we’d ask the person “what do you mean?” but when it’s a discussion with words we have to use Calculatus Eliminatus.
The Cat in the Hat said “When you’ve mislaid a certain something, keep your cool and don’t get hot. Calculatus eliminatus is the best friend that you’ve got. Calculatus eliminatus always helps an awful lot. The way to find a missing something is to find out where it’s not.”
That’s good stuff.
By boiling down a question you might see that it’s dealing with absolutes when it shouldn’t be. For example, it can’t be talking about the fear of the Lord which Scripture praises as the road to holiness (2 Cor 7:1) and knowledge-wisdom (Prov 1:7; Ps 111:10). It can’t be talking about the proper fear of God’s instituted governments (Romans 13). And really it can’t even be speaking about the fear that came in the Israelite experience, be it dealing with Canaanites or receiving the Law on Sinai.
With even the paragraph above we could answer the question “Yes, surely, a Christian can fear” but it still doesn’t get to the actual heart of the question. An absolute question just needs a single example to render the absolute question void; but it still doesn’t satisfy the question questioner.
Should a Christian fear for the salvation of the community they’re part of? Should a Christian fear for his or her country? Should a Christian fear men over God? Should a Christian fear personal harm so as to fall silent about the Gospel?
You see, once you boil it down you can really dig into seeing the full breadth of a topic and maybe discover underlying principles. This way a questioner can’t waive off a single verse simply because there are plenty of other verses, nor can they ignore a bunch of verses because they have a single proof-text. Rather a right search shows how everything sticks together and then a whole mess of questions start falling into place.
So, Should Christians Fear?
Well, it depends on what we’re fearing. The Lord? The salvation of others? The judgment of God upon those who are perishing? For our well-being? Bad circumstances?
No matter what we have to take comfort that the Lord stands behind circumstances and events so that God is never surprised by what happens to us. We can be confident that all things work together for good for those who love God. We are secure in being more than conquerors in Christ. And all in all, we boldly sit in the presence of God because of the blood of Jesus. That’s a lot on our side. Especially with a God who is so concerned with details that prettifies grass and makes sure birds eat. We should be able to draw some deep principles out of all this for our day to day.