“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7 ESV)
One of the criticisms of Scripture that tend to make me smile at the simpletons bringing it is that Scripture is internally inconsistent. I want to just smile and pat them on the head, and say, “Yes, it does seem that way at times” and move on. But the crowd really seems to like the Emperor’s New Clothes, and I’m not that impressed by naked emperors. These same intellectuals leveling the charge of internal inconsistency will be seemingly inconsistent in their lives all the time, but explain it away as “clarifying” not contradicting themselves. The irony is that this is exactly what Jesus is doing, or seems to be doing.
In the context of Jesus’ explanation of the hypocrisy of the former dinner guests (Pharisees), He arrives at a possible motivating factor, fear of others. Jesus points out how fearing anyone but God fails to accommodate Who God really is. People can cause death, just as God can. But only God can condemn to hell afterwards. The unsaid implication is that He can also permit entry into heaven. Faithfulness to Him should outweigh any fear of mere humanity.
On the one hand, the Pharisees “feared” how they looked to others, and were more concerned about their reputations than the people among whom they had the reputation. On the other hand, they weren’t afraid of being killed by these people. Jesus’ disciples would soon face that fear. So, this is probably more for the disciples than about the Pharisees.
Jesus has an interesting organization though. First it’s “don’t begin to fear people”, then “fear the One who can kill and then condemn to hell”, then “stop fearing” because they are “special” to God. The last two seem contradictory, but they really compliment each other. Fear God for His authority as Judge, but stop fearing Him because, as Judge, He is especially fond of you. Think that through. It’s designed to provide the “guideposts” between which we live out our relationship with our Creator and Master.
In our culture we fear people, what they might think of us and what they might do to us. We need to stop that (or don’t even start). We need to fear God, what He thinks of us and what He might do to us. But we also need to stop fearing Him for how He sees us. Yes, He’s the Judge. Yes, He has the authority to cast us into hell after taking our lives. But He “carries us through”. The word normally translated “more valuable”, “worth more”, or “of more value” is based on a word made up of the verb “to carry” and the preposition “through”. From this was derived the meaning for value where the value isn’t monetary or “precious” due to some inherent quality or even “superior value”. Our value stems from the fact that God sees something in us He that really catches His eye.
My daughter is a “collector”. Unfortunately, she’s not terribly discriminating and can come back from the beach with her pockets full to overflowing with rocks, shells, driftwood, dead molluscs, and so on. She sees something that catches her eye and it goes into her pockets. In a sense, we have “caught God’s eye” and have wound up in His pocket. And in the safety of God’s pocket, He “carries us through”. Can you think of a more secure place to be than in the pocket of God? So what do we have to fear? Yes, we’re being carried by the Judge who could cast us into hell, but He’s carrying us in His pockets. How likely is it that He’s carrying us around only to cast us into hell?
What do you learn from Jesus about fear from this?