The Danger of Self-Serving Fear

At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.11 As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

17 But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:10-13, 17

Low Tech Security | Smoky Mountain National Park | April 2021

My dad, many years ago, suffered from panic attacks. At first he thought it was a heart attack. Then possibly a stroke. Then he would hyperventilate. The solution? Carry around a paper bag and when he felt light-headed, he would lie down and breathe into the bag until the oxygen levels got readjusted. That was helpful. But he also discovered a Bible passage that he clung to: “Perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 John 4:18) He would repeat this when the waves of fear would overwhelm him. He made no bones about it. In fact, he would tell people both about the fear and the Bible verse. What a great example of humble dependence on God he was!

Too often fear paralyzes us in different ways. Even the man of great faith – Abram – had his moments of misplaced fear. He was afraid for his life so he bartered his wife in exchange for his safety and security! And he ultimately paid for it. Pharaoh finds out about his duplicity. Abram will be outed. That’s because God will not let this stand. He will intervene. He will cause grief in Pharaoh’s household. All because of Abram’s misplaced and self-serving fear.

There are other Bible verses worth considering regarding fear:

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    Fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 [ESV]
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. – Proverbs 9:10 [ESV]
  • So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. – Acts 9:31 [ESV]
  • If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth. – 1 Peter 1:17 [NASB]

But self-serving fear is so powerful! It can derail our obedient faith. It can thwart our proper place in God’s reign and rule. It can short-circuit prayer and an even greater reliance on God.

A colleague told a story of an encounter he had on the foreign mission field. When one member of the church was discovered to have embezzled some funds from the church, a fellow church member exclaimed, “Don’t you fear God!” The fear of the Lord can reign us in from gross sin. Better is faith and love. But sometimes fear must do its work.

Thankfully we need not only fear God, but love and trust in him above all things as well. Jesus is the perfect example of that and our source of courage to face down the challenges. And our source of forgiveness when we fail to do so. 

Click here or on the podcast player below to listen to an audio version of this blog post.

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