March 1, 2021
When we focus on fear, we take our eyes off the Lord. Our vision blurs. We don’t understand who we are in Christ or what we can accomplish. We forget the blessings of God—what He’s done in the past and will do in the future. In this study, we will look first at how to assess our fear and then at how to handle it. God's Word has plenty to say about conquering fear, facing fear with faith, and living a future free from the bondage of fear.
"Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you. …For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” These riveting words, spoken by President Roosevelt in his inaugural address in 1933 when The Great Depression had reached its depth, struck an encouraging chord with the American people. Those are beautiful words, but I don’t agree with them. I would never teach my children there is nothing to fear but “fear itself” as long as there are rattlesnakes and drunk drivers. Many things in our world can cause us to be afraid. Perhaps President Roosevelt was trying to say, “If we allow fear to control our actions and emotions, then fear itself is indeed fearful, for it will paralyze us.”
We always give a man’s last words extra weight—a great man even more so. The book known as Second Timothy is not only Paul’s last letter to Timothy but also the final letter the great apostle wrote. The passage we’re studying is part of the last words he penned before he died.
Some people are afraid to write down their fears, thinking that seeing them on paper will cause them to happen. But the truth is, once we put our fears on paper, speak them aloud in prayer, or confess them to a trusted friend or counselor, verbalizing them allows healing to begin. God shines the light of His Word on our fear, and it becomes less formidable and more manageable.
Do you have any of these fears? Most commonly today, people are afraid of:
Getting our fears down on paper helps us gain perspective. It doesn’t mean they aren’t real or formidable. But now we have something concrete we know we need to address. There’s something about being honest about our fears and facing what they are that helps us evaluate them better. We begin to discern whether they are as real as we think or if we have over-exaggerated them.
Not all fear is bad. Some fear is of God—a productive, protective mechanism God puts into all of us. Some fears are instincts to protect and preserve us. In fact, Jesus actually told us to fear on one occasion:
Now, for the person who is not saved, this verse spells out something to be afraid of. This is a healthy fear. The Bible says the fear of the Lord is a good fear.
That’s a kinder way of saying you don't have good sense if you don’t fear the Lord.
“Fearing the Lord” doesn't mean you cringe before God. The word used here means reverence. It is a holy respect for God. An electrician must have a healthy fear of electricity if he’s going to survive on the job. That doesn't mean he trembles every time he goes to work. It means he knows what's in those wires, and he has respect for that power.
It’s the same with the fear of the Lord. There's no competition between fearing God and loving God. Truthfully, the man who fears God the most loves Him the best. The fear of the Lord is love on its knees.
Some fears and phobias are harmless, like fear of the number 13 or of mice. But the spirit of fear is not harmless.
"For God has not given us the spirit of fear" (2 Timothy 1:7).
The spirit of fear is damaging, destructive, and debilitating. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul called it “the bondage of fear” (Romans 8:15). The Apostle John said, “Fear has torment” (1 John 4:18).
If you suspect you might be in bondage to fear, you’re in good company. Timothy was right there with you at one point. But you don’t have to stay there. You remember young Timothy was in the Apostle Paul’s inner circle. He was Paul’s close friend and best-known disciple. Yet he must have struggled with fear; otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have brought it up.
Timothy was unusually equipped and anointed to do the work of God. He had a remarkable gift, but for a while, he failed to use it. Paul cautions, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you because you've forgotten who you are. You’ve forgotten your heritage, what God has done for you, and what He wants to do through you. Timothy, you're a gifted man, but you've forgotten all this.” Why had he forgotten?
Note in your Bible that verses 6 and 7 are linked by the word for. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear.” Fear caused Timothy to forget.
Some of you are immensely gifted, tremendously blessed, but there’s something you’re afraid of, and it causes you to forget the blessings and gifts of God in your life. You’ve focused on your fears rather than focusing on the Lord.
Let’s focus on Paul for a bit. If anyone had something to be afraid of as he was writing Second Timothy, it was Paul. Where was he? In prison. Perhaps waiting to be executed (v. 8). He was facing death in Rome. But he was not afraid. In verse 12 he says, “For this reason, I also suffer these things; nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day [the day of judgment].”
Paul says, “I know whose I am. I know what I've committed to the Lord. I’m confident He will take care of it. Yes, I'm in prison. But it’s all right.” He hadn’t forgotten who or how great God is. His eyes were focused on the Lord. You can feel the breath of Heaven flowing through that prison, into his spirit, and out through his pen.
If you are afraid today, your fear is a result of forgetting who God is and what He’s done for you.
"Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" (2 Timothy 1:8-9).
When Paul says this in verses 8 and 9, perhaps Timothy had failed to share Christ and stand up for Paul because Paul was in prison and Timothy was afraid of what might happen to him. Fear shut Timothy’s mouth and paralyzed him. We fail when we ought to succeed because we've listened to that sinister minister of fear, the devil, rather than to God. Many people have unused abilities and gifts, buried and forgotten, because they’re afraid.
If you’re buried by fear, your treasure will remain buried—you’ll never succeed because of fear. And you'll be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord.
Many people want to be soul winners. But what prevents most of us is fear—the fear of failure. People are so afraid of failing, they do fail. Have you ever gotten behind a driver who was afraid every light was going to turn red? By the time they get to the light, it has! We project a built-in fear on ourselves, like Job, who lamented, “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25).
You don't have to be a weak person to be fearful. Strong people are sometimes very afraid. The great Roman general Julius Caesar was afraid of thunder. Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, a political and military leader, was afraid to cross a bridge. He would put one foot on a bridge and begin to tremble. We can be possessed by an extraordinary fear that will keep us from being what we ought to be. Some businessmen will never succeed in business because of fear. The Bible speaks of those who are in bondage because of fear.
In addition to fear, Timothy had been sickly. In 1 Timothy 5:23. Paul advises him, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities." Maybe that was the origin of his fear. But on the other hand, he may have been sickly because he was afraid. Maybe his fearful disposition was making him sick.
A well-known American doctor said at a roundtable discussion on psychosomatic medicine, “In spite of what they say, 90% of the chronic patients who see today’s physicians have one common problem. Their trouble did not start with a cough or chest pain or hyperacidity. In 90% of the cases, the first symptom was fear.” Fear can literally sicken us and weaken our bodies.
Doctors tell us arthritis may be greatly inflamed because of worry and fear. You can worry yourself sick. Worry is a terrible thing.
People who carry a load of fear can actually have physical problems, even heart failure, because of fear. Fear in your life is like sand in machinery. Faith in your life is like oil. It lubricates life. Fear will do the same thing to you that sand will do to machinery.
I want to share with you, openly and transparently, an occasion when fear impacted me. Many years ago when our oldest son was in college, something happened that filled my heart with fear. David was driving back to school. I received a midnight phone call from his roommate, who was greatly worried. He hadn’t arrived—hours after he should have been there. How could I find someone on hundreds of miles of road? What could I do? I felt that spirit of fear come in.
I thought to myself, “Adrian, you preach to people telling them not to be afraid. You've told them God ‘has not given the spirit of fear.’ Yet you're afraid. Why doesn't your sermon work?” So I said, “Well, I'll preach it to myself again.” It still didn't work. Fear was there! “Am I a hypocrite?” I asked, “Or have I been preaching something that’s not true? Why am I afraid right now?”
I realized that this fear, as I analyzed it, was a legitimate fear. But there was nothing I could do. I had to commit it to the Lord.
Do you know what happened? David had met someone who was looking for directions. He was driving all over Dallas trying to help this man out, figuring I wouldn't know whether he’d gotten in on time or not. “What Dad doesn't know won't hurt him.” But I did know. I realized also in the midst of my worry, “Lord, I can't do this. I just put it in Your hands.” And I committed it to Him.
God has not given you that kind of spirit. That's not productive.
Thankfully, Paul doesn't just tell us the problem; he gives us the answer. God has set us free. Faith can face fear and overcome with the three elements in 2 Timothy 1 verse 7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”
These three elements in your life can help you have a future free from the bondage of destructive fear.
Sometimes we’re afraid because we feel we have a foe who’s bigger and stronger than we are. But if we understand we have greater strength than our foe, then there’s no need to be afraid. Jesus told His disciples:
"Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
If you were walking home from school and there was a bully picking on you, you’d be afraid. But if your dad was walking alongside you, then you’d no longer be afraid.
Love is a mighty force. How does love deal with fear?
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
That verse used to bother me. I used to think it meant that if I could just love God perfectly, I wouldn't be afraid. But then I realized, “I don't do anything perfectly except sin. So how is that going to help me?”
The answer is that this verse doesn't mean if I love God perfectly I won't be afraid. It literally means I don't have to be afraid because God loves me perfectly.
Here is how The Living Bible expresses beautifully what this verse says: “We have no fear of Someone who loves us perfectly.”
His perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what He might do to us. If we’re afraid, it’s for fear of what He might do. We’re not fully convinced He really loves us.
When you see on one hand God's mighty power and on the other God's mighty love, then fear seems to melt away. Rest in that love. Say,
“Lord, no matter what happens to me, I know that I know that I know—You love me. And because You love me and because You are all-powerful, then ‘All things work together for good to them who love God, who are the called according to His purpose’” (Romans 8:28).
“Sound mind” literally means God has given us discipline, self-control, and a discerning spirit. He’s given wise discretion. So many things we are afraid of, we fear not on the basis of reality, but because the deceiver, Satan, has made us afraid. The great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar defines fear like this: “F‑E‑A‑R is often false evidence appearing real.”
So often the devil causes us to be afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of. But followers of Jesus Christ don’t have to be victimized by this. We either fall into one category or the other: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
With the sound mind, He gives us, we’re able to look at our fears in the clear light of God's Word. We have to look past what might happen to us at the immediate moment and see that God is ultimately victorious.
Finally, go back and read again what Paul said in verse 12. Study this verse.
"For this reason, I also suffer these things; nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
At the end of a study like this, there are some key thoughts you need to take with you:
The war is over.
Jesus has won.
It is finished.
Your sin has been paid for.
God is offering amnesty and forgiveness.
The devil doesn't want you to know any of this. But the apostle Paul says, “Nevertheless…for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
Have you committed everything to Him? Then do not fear.
This Bible Study was taken from the message, "How to Handle Your Fear" (#1225).
Learn more about how to study the Bible with the LWF Bible Study Guide.
Learn more about this subject by reading Mastering Your Emotions by Adrian Rogers.