Two important verses about fear in Paul's letters
Two quite different verses in Paul's letters indicate that God has not given us a spirit of fear.
Paul writes to the Romans (Rom. 8:14-16) saying
As many as are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. and he writes Timothy (II Tim. 1:6-8), saying:
For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;
but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands.
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
So don't be ashamed of the giving witness to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner:
but see that you are a partaker in the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God!
This is important, but not surprising: throughout Scripture God, and His angels, and the prophets, and psalms, and our Lord Jesus also, and the writings of the Apostles tell us not to fear. We are not fear, because we can trust in God, who is our sure helper and our defense!
These verses are especially important to me
because of my own sins and weaknesses of character
These two verses from Paul's letters are very important to me, as I try to live my life more courageously, with God's help.
One of my besetting sins is a kind of escapism, or avoidance: when things make me anxious, I try to ignore them, even when I need to do something about them, such as getting work done, paying bills, taking care of a physical ailment or need, saying things that may prove unpopular, or show me in a bad light, especially to those I am close to, and getting back to tasks that are overdue. All these things make me anxious. Mainly, they have gotten to be problems because I have neglected to do something about them in a timely way. My response, though, irrationally enough, is to not take care of them now -- while the problems I've created through avoiding things are manageable -- but to avoid and postpone them further. And this messed-up tendency also leads me into other problems, sins, and dysfunctional behaviors! Because I don't want to do things I need to do that make me anxious, I waste time, and -- especially -- sometimes engage in things that are themselves not good for me -- eating too much, thinking of things I shouldn't think of, getting mad at others, and so on -- as a way of distracting myself, or comforting myself, in regard to the things that make me unhappy or anxious.
To help myself -- and, perhaps, others as well -- I want to look more closely at these verses.
II Timothy 1:7
The word often translated "fear" in II Tim. 1:7 is not the usual word for "fear" (which occurs 47 times, in 44 verses, in the NT) -- phobos, φόβος, (like "phobia"), Strong's G5401 -- but a more specific and much less usual word (this is the only place it occurs in the NT) which means "fearfulness", "cowardice", "timidity", or "dread" -- deilia, δειλία, Strong's G1167. (The related adjective for "timid" or "fearful" also comes up 3 times in the NT.) Paul is telling Timothy not to be scared, or daunted, not to get paralyzed by his fears, or shrink back, but to step out boldly.
Thus, Paul contrasts the spirit of timidity -- which is not from God, and which he wants Timothy to steer clear of -- from the positive virtues which he wants Timothy to have instead: "power" and "love" and an interesting word often translated "self-control" or "a sound mind".
"Power" -- dunamis, δύναμις, (like "dynamic"), G1410 -- is used often in the NT, some 120 times (in 116 separate verses), and usually translated "power". It's also the word that's translated (about 16 times) "mighty work", or "wonderful work", or "miracle", in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and Acts. When the woman with the flow of blood touches Jesus and He feels that "power" has gone out of Him, this is the word used. It's the word for power in the Lord's prayer, "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory." In other cases, it's translated "ability."
So when Paul is telling Timothy that God gives him (and all of us) a spirit of dunamis, "power", rather than an attitude of deilia, "timidity", Paul seems to be emphasizing that because of God's help Timothy can step out and do things. Timothy shouldn't shrink back, or hold back on serving God and the flock in his charge because he feels inadequate, or overwhelmed by what he needs to do, or aspires to do. God's Spirit is with Timothy in power, and will empower him to do all the things he should do, all the things God calls him to -- whether these are small, or personal, tasks, or tasks of serving others, and speaking God's word.
Timothy can trust in God, when he himself goes to act, because God's Spirit is with him, helping him, and giving him all he needs, the necessary power, to do these things. (Nehemiah, faced with a difficult, and perhaps dangerous, task of asking the King for help, and leave to go back to Jerusalem, describes how he spoke up by saying "Then I prayed to the God of Heaven, and I said to the King: ..." ) It's important for Paul to say that, and for Timothy to hear it, because if Timothy, lacking confidence, does not step out, doesn't attempt the things he could do, and should do, then God's power won't accomplish them, because the power, the Spirit, is there to dwell in Timothy, and help him do those things. Jesus tells us that we're to pray not just for a good harvest, but that God would send forth laborers into the harvest, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few! In so praying, we must be offering ourselves as laborers, and praying that God will use, and empower even us.
At least for me, this covers a wide range of tasks, from doing small chores I'd rather avoid, to speaking up for the Gospel, to undertaking tasks which make me nervous but which are my duty, or my opportunity to serve others, to speaking honestly about difficult issues, to dealing with my finances. The root attitudinal problem, for me, in all these areas, is a kind of laziness, but a laziness that (I think) arises mainly from fear, timidity, from being overwhelmed by things, from a sense of inadequacy, a lack of confidence, a type of learned helplessness, from not having the determination to overcome problems and bad habits, partly because I doubt whether I can, and even from a bad self-image. While of course, ultimately, some tasks I need to do are far more important than others, even in relatively unimportant tasks, or ones that aren't vital to the Gospel, I mess things up, and bog my life down, by fearing them, avoiding them, and neglecting them, and even more importantly I indulge and feed my timorous, fearful side, which then rears its vile head in more important matters.
"Love" in this verse is the standard common NT word for love, agapē, ἀγάπη, Strong's G26, which is used 116 times in the NT, in 106 separate verses; the verb form, agapao, ἀγαπάω, Strong's G25, (including it's adjectival participle, "beloved") is also used an additional 142 times, in 109 separate verses.
"Love" in the NT is not referring specifically to romantic love (except in a few verses where Paul tells husbands to love their wives, or vice versa): it's talking about the love of God, and our response by learning -- with His help -- to love as God loves. Showing mercy, having compassion, caring for others at least as much as we care for ourselves, forgiving, doing things for those in need, and being long-suffering, kind, non-envious, gentle, not full of oneself or proud, polite, concerned for others, not easily provoked, not thinking evil of others, and focused not on evil but on the truth (as Paul says in I Cor. 13). Loving one's neighbor -- that is, everyone -- as oneself, as Jesus says, and other texts by the Apostles (I John 3 and 4, Phil. 2, II Peter 1, etc.) reiterate. We love in imitation of Christ, and of God's great goodness and mercy toward us!
I John 4 -- which tells us "God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in that person also" -- and which emphasizes that "Whoever loves God must also love" brothers and sisters who are present right around us (in practical ways, taking care of needs, and especially of the poor) at the same time makes it clear that it's not just us -- not our unaided choice or desire -- that enables us to love, but the power of God's love. "This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us." And "we love because He first loved us."
In this sense, love is somewhat like the power that Paul (in II Tim 6:7) has just spoken about. We have to be willing to move in it, we have to step out, but the real capacity to do so is God's gift; and we get this as we lean gratefully upon God who so loves us.
Love, of course, as a concept that Paul introduces here, also qualifies power, and motivates us to act, as well.
"Love" qualifying "power" Yes, certainly, God is giving us a spirit of "power, love, and self-control", as opposed to a spirit of "timidity" or "fearfulness" or "dread", so that we may be bold, and have the confidence to act as God wants us to.
But of course, self-confidence, boldness, and willingness to act can go awry, and can go awry even when we earnestly think that we're serving God. () It's all too easy to act arrogantly, boss others around, be sure of our own rightness, concentrate on others' faults and not our own, and so on. Somehow, our confidence needs to be a confidence that relies on God, and includes a certain deprecation of, or skeptism about, ourselves and our natural tendencies. For, sadly, we are all sinners. God's working with us, but we're still full of wrong motives and self-deception, and bad habits, and many of these have to do with putting ourselves first, dominating others, self-righteousness, and the like, and doing so while thinking (or at least assuming and maybe loudly telling ourselves inside) that we're being bold for God, that we're doing all for God.
Love "does not behave unseemly" is never "arrogant" or "rude" or "boastful" or "proud", but rather patient, kind, gentle and humble, and in a posture of respecting and serving others, as Paul tells us in I Cor. 13 (and as Jesus tells us repeatedly also, and shows us by washing the disciples' feet).
So the "power" that God is giving us is the power to love others. Jesus "went about doing good" and of course He did, for "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." We learn not to bear grudges, to forgive, to love even our enemies, because that is what God is like -- "so that" we "may be children of" our "Father in Heaven" who is gracious and kind to the good and bad alike, to the ungrateful, to the sinner, to the rebel. In fact, it's extremely hard to love in this way, and for it we need great courage and great power!!
Love motivating me to act, and giving me energy to act. I get inhibited by my fears, my doubts, my tiredness, my laziness, and then I don't step out. Central, as I've noted, for me, is various sorts fearfulness, escapism, and avoidance. I get overwhelmed. Often, though, when I overcome these things, the thing that enables me to do so is the desire to help some other person, some concrete person, some person in need or suffering. And another thing that helps me get going is my love for God. If something happens -- a song, a prayer, a thought -- that puts me back in mind of how wonderful God is, then that often displaces, blocks, or even eradicates my fearfulness. And in addition, being loved gives me courage to act. Being loved, and knowing that I'm loved, and concretely experiencing that I'm loved.
First, knowing God's love changes me. It gives me courage, directly. It gives me motivation to act, whether I feel courageous or fearful. It gives me hope -- thus overcoming despair and lack of hope, which are huge factors in bogging me down. Also, it just gives pleasure, happiness, in being loved, and that in itself can help me get going, do things I otherwise don't have the courage, or the moxie, to do. It gives me the courage to speak honestly about my weaknesses, and thus to speak honestly to those who can help me -- by encouraging or by scolding me. It breaks down the self-loathing and self-contempt and guilt and shame and fear that paralyze my will, and drag me into destructive states of mind, and bad choices.
All that's true of the times at which I think of, know, or vividly realize God's love. Thinking about who Jesus is, for instance. But, just like eating right helps me not just when I'm exhausted from work, or lack of energy, but also in the long run builds up my body to be strong even if I'm going hungry, I know that my general life courage, also, is affected in a longer term by knowing, and thinking about, God's love. Similarly exercise and sleep help me have more energy even over a short span of days -- but even more so in the long run (even if there's a period in which I can't exercise, or must be low on sleep); and in the same way, knowing Who God is, and of His goodness, fortifies me in the long haul, and even when those things aren't at the moment, vivid to me. God's love changes me even when I'm not aware of it, by His mighty power, and even when I'm unconscious of Him being there and strengthening me.
Second, we human beings are made in God's image, and so of course knowing human love also give us courage and strength, changes us and gives us power to live right. When friends love me -- especially when they love me despite my screw-ups, or bad things which they're well aware of about me -- this also gives me strength and courage to cope with life. Jesus himself asked the disciples to come along with Him as He prayed in Gethsemane, to help strengthen him. Angels were strengthening Him too, of course. Thus God himself, living as a human being, sought, and received courage from people, from his friends especially, as well as from God, to enable Him to have the strength to do the incredibly daunting and difficult thing He purposed to do.
"Perfect love casts out fear." I John, in urging us to love, notes that God has to help us with our fears, because we do get afraid. But "he who fears has not been made complete in love." The chief agent of that freedom from fearfulness is love. "Utterly abundant love" (or "Perfect love" -- love that's come to its fullness, telios agape) "casts out fear," John tells us. Casting out that which is bad is a big deal in Scripture. Casting out demons is big. Jesus refers to casting out demons in terms of tieing up a giant ("binding a strong man"). Here, though, and many places in Scripture, fear seems to be a central, a dominant and most-powerful foe. How does that foe, that demon, get cast out? Well, here John says that "whoever fears is not yet perfected in love" that is, not yet complete, or completed, in love. And he says that "perfect love" (fullness of love) "casts out fear." The ultimate power, then, or the fullfillment of power -- in the phrase "God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power, love, and of a sound mind" -- seems to be the power of love, that is, of the fullness of love, which God pours forth upon us.
Continued in next post