Matthew 6:25-34; 8:23-27
Fear is one of the biggest subjects in the Bible. In the NKJV the word fear appears some 353 times in the Bible. If you included similar terms like afraid (212), distress (44), dread (14), terrified (11), worry (8), frightened (6), horror (6) fainthearted (6) and alarmed (2), this brings the grand total to no less than 662 times fear is mentioned in the Bible. In contrast, the word “love” (which is a major theme throughout the scriptures) only appears 323 times.
Isn’t it interesting to realize that the subject of fear occurs more than wice as much as love? This makes fear a major topic in the scriptures.
Jesus Tells Us Not to Worry (Mat. 6:25-34).
Jesus frequently dealt with the subject of fear or dealt with people who were afraid. Sometimes Jesus even tried to instill fear in the minds of those He was speaking to.
But it’s how Jesus tells us to deal with fear that seems to be the most confusing to us at times.
In Matthew 7 Jesus says “do not worry”. He didn’t say those words as an overall statement, but said them for a specific purpose. Listen:
"25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
- Matthew 6:25(NKJV)
I want us to take note of the things that Jesus tells us not to worry about: our lives. Specifically He mentions worrying about our next meal or having something to drink or enough clothes to wear. He’s using those as examples to illustrate the basic necessities of life. Without adequate food, water and clothing we could not survive.
Jesus knows how much time and effort are put into worrying about these things and others like them. We worry a lot. Insurance industries are built upon fear. And we pay very high taxes, in part, because we are a worrying society. As a country we have programs like F.E.M.A. in case there is a national emergency. And we have massive social welfare programs to pay for housing, food, utilities, phones, health care and child care in case we become poor.
Being afraid is expensive, in more ways than one.
Jesus tells us not to worry. But it’s what He chooses to follow those words with that brings us back to reality. He asks the rhetorical question…a question designed to get us to pause…to think…“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” He’s trying to get us to consider what life is really about. And then He turns the discussion a bit. He wants us to think about why we experience fear in the first place. To do this, He offers several examples:
"26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? "27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? "28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; "29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. "30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? "31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ "32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. "34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
- Matthew 6:26–34 (NKJV)
Jesus asked who could add one cubit to their stature? That’s another way of asking, who is able to make themselves any taller. The answer is no one. Jesus is trying to cause us to see that it does no good worrying about things that we aren’t in control of.
But He does point to someone we should be concerned about.
Jesus points to the birds, who always seem to have enough to eat in spite of the fact that they neither plant or store their crops. Or how the lilies of the field always have what they need to grow. Jesus wants us to realize that, ultimately, God provides for us all. Back it up a bit.
We can plant crops and harvest them and store them so we have enough to ride out the lean times. But who created those crops? God. Who caused those crops to grow in the first place? God. We can purchase insurance from insurance companies but who is the one who can cause or stop natural disasters? God. The doctor can provide the medical treatment to heal us. Who is the one who created and provides the raw materials to produce the drugs? It’s God. The doctor is the one who provides the treatment but who does the healing? God.
Ultimately, when we back up a bit, we realize that no matter what we need…no matter what we put our faith in, it ultimately depends upon God.
And if it all depends on God, it only makes sense to spend your time thinking about Him…seeking His kingdom…seeking His righteousness. Why? Because God, not the things made by God should be where our sense of security rests.
Why are you afraid? (Mat. 8:23-27)
Let’s look at another passage together:
"23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. "24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. "25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” "26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. "27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”"
- Matthew 8:23–27 (NKJV)
After a long day of ministering to the masses along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was tired. He decides to cross the sea by boat.
This illustration shows the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples may have used, based on the remains of an approximately 2,000-year-old fishing boat found on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It could hold 15 men, and was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high.
As they cross the sea they are met with rough weather, which might be a bit of an understatement. Aboard the vessel are at least four very experienced fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James and John) who would be familiar with the storms at sea but maybe not storms of this magnitude. The word translated “storm” comes from a Greek word lailay (pron. lie-lops) that literally means hurricane. Modern ships made of steel, designed for rough weather, have been lost at sea during storms like this. This is hardly the place you want to be – in a 27 foot, open fishing boat, with the dark of night approaching. Keep in mind, there are several other small boats with them. There are several lives at stake.
And it astounds us to see where Jesus is in this picture. Asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat. I don’t know which is a greater miracle. Jesus calming the storm or that He was able to sleep under those conditions, on a soggy pillow. And it doesn’t only astound us, it almost seems to annoy or trouble the disciples, so much so that, in their stress, they impugn His character, acting as if the only way He could sleep through this was because He must not care about them. My guess is that they wanted Him to wake up to help bail water out of the rapidly filling boat. How could he lay there and sleep while the rest of them were frantically working to save their lives?
Amazingly, Jesus calms the wind and caused the sea. The word used by Matthew is a unique word. It is used only here in the Bible. In the NKJV it is translated “great calm” but in the Greek it means “serenity”. In other words, the sea went from hurricane type conditions to a literal sea of glass in an instant which causes the disciples to ask who in the world this person before them could be?
Like Matthew 6, where Jesus asks His disciples “why do you worry”, again it’s Jesus’ asking His disciples, “Why are you so fearful?” (4:40). But it’s the sentence after, that grabs our attention: “How is it that you have no faith?” It’s that question I want us to think about together today.
Because of their fear, Jesus asked how it could be that they had no faith. Whether we are worrying about where our next meal, or our next drink of water or our next set of clothes are going to come from or maybe worrying about how we are going to survive the next life threatening event, at the core of it all Jesus is telling us that when we experience fear about these types of things, it’s due to a lack of faith.
There are fears that are healthy there are fears that are unhealthy.
Healthy fear makes us cautious. They prevent us from taking risks that can cause harm to ourselves or to others. It forces us to plan for the future. It’s why we are cautious when climbing ladders. It keeps us driving responsibly. It’s why we pay our bills on time and its one of the reasons why we show up to work and do our best every day. It can move us to eat healthy and live healthier lives. Some fears are healthy.
But some fears are bad. These are fears that allow us to fear what we aren’t really in control of. They doubt God and lack faith that can or will take care of us and see us through the storms of life. I want to talk about those fears for a moment. I want us to think about how those types of fears hold us back as individuals and as a congregation. I want us to think about how fear can even affect our relationship with God. When David was being attacked by his enemies he wrote these words:
"3 Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. "4 In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?"
- Psalm 56:3–4 (NKJV)
Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear worries that God won’t come through. Faith knows that He’s always there and that He is in control. Plato once said that “Courage comes from knowing what not to fear.”
For a moment, I want you to think about the affect that fear has on your life. Think about the hopes and dreams you have. Even think about the hopes and dreams we have together as a congregation.
There is a difference between a goal and a dream. A dream is something you simply wish were true. There isn’t much action behind making it come true. So it’s only a dream.
Then there is a goal. A goal is something you want that you have broken down into a series of smaller tasks. Every task we complete should bring us one step closer to accomplishing the goal.
We have the dream of growing. The dream of having things for our young people. The dream of ministering to the community. The dream of seeing people be saved and lives converted to Christ.
One major factor that holds us back from turning those dreams into goals and working toward them is fear. We are afraid to speak to our friends and neighbors – to invite them to worship with us. We are afraid to conduct a Bible study. We fear we won’t know the right answers or will say the wrong things. Maybe they won’t like us as much and we could lose their friendship if we bring up religion. Maybe people will persecute us. We might fear because we don’t know what to do or that we might make the wrong decision. Fear holds us back. Some people call it analysis paralysis: fear of taking action because we are always trying to figure out what to do. Someone once said that fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.
Someone once said that the only way to stop fearing is to stop hoping.
We need to remind ourselves of something: the only place fear exists is in the mind and the fears we never overcome become our limitations.
Fear hinders us:
From dealing with unpleasant thoughts and unpleasant tasks
It causes us to delay making important decisions
It presses us to postpone difficult conversations
We fear suffering. But what we need to realize is that a person who fears suffering is already suffering from what they fear.
We sometimes find ourselves running from fear, taking refuge in comforting distractions.
Something I read recently helped me a lot. It said what we fear most may be a good indication of what we need to do next.
D.L. Moody once said “Our greatest fear should not be failure, but at succeeding at things that don’t really matter.”
I’ve come to realize that whether we try and fail or we fear and never try, both are failures. We shouldn’t fear failure. You will know failure. All that is left is to try.
When we think of all the things we need to accomplish as individuals and as a congregation, we need to understand that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment to do something because we realize that it is more important than our fears.
Some people fear the future. We fear things like deadlines and even death. But we are destined to meet the future. It cannot be avoided. So the only hope we have of surviving anything that life throws our way is to develop the skills and weapons that will help us to meet any challenge.
The Solution to Fear
In closing, I want to leave us with these thoughts:
Focus on size of God’s power, rather than the size of your problem. God’s power has no limitations. Have faith. Remember the illustration Jesus used in Matthew 6 how God provides for the birds and the lilies. God is the source. He is in control. Develop your faith and learn to trust in Him.
Don’t fear failure. You are either winning or you are learning. A well known story about Thomas Edison and the light bulb goes like this: When Edison mentioned that he tried a thousand different times to create a light bulb before one finally worked he stated that he was always learning. Edison didn’t see the 999 light bulbs that didn’t work as failures. As he put it to one reporter, he simply discovered 999 ways not to make a light bulb.
We need to remember that even Paul, arguably the most influential member of the early church wasn’t an overnight success. When he tried to join the disciples, he was initially rejected by the church. Eventually he was accepted and became a hugely successful missionary and the most prolific writer of the New Testament.
Look to God for guidance and instruction. If we are trying to accomplish something that we believe God wants, but it isn’t working, if we have faith we believe God will give the increase. So if something isn’t working out, we need to ask ourselves if it really is what God wants this or if God possibly wants it done in a different way.
Trust in God, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Like the lesson from the disciples who were caught in a storm at sea, notice that they were pelted by the storm while they clung to their own devices. The storm didn’t end until they realized the Lord was their only true hope. It may not have made much sense at the time to think that Jesus could do anything about the weather. But as soon as the disciples turn to Him for help, the wind stops and they are sailing on a sea like glass.
Surround yourselves with other people committed to the same goal. There is a reason Jesus didn’t go it alone throughout His ministry. He surrounded Himself with people who had the same goal who could help Him. And that wasn’t all. Later, the church is established. This was part of God’s plan all along – that people committed to the same goal would live as a unit, committed and working toward the same goals.
Keep putting one step in front of the other. An old saying is that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. But what that saying doesn’t remind us is that, if we want to reach our destination, every step that follows is equally important and it must be made. Paul knew that it would be challenging not to lose our momentum. It’s tempting to slow down, to want to give in or give up, even to take it easy. But Paul wrote, in 2 Thessalonians 3:13 “brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” We need to keep pushing and encouraging one another. When someone gets tired or discouraged, the other needs to encourage and give them a recharge. The worst thing a congregation can do is to stall and become stagnate.
As we bring this lesson to a close, I want us to think about the direction we are headed as a congregation or whether we are heading in any particular direction at all. Think about the things we are avoiding because of fear. And then remember that fear is a result of a lack of faith in God. Fear holds us back from being all that God has called to be. Remember that the Bible tells us not to fear, but to trust in the Lord.