4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Lk. 12:4-5)
Jesus’ words here can be, at least at first, shocking. He told His disciples, people whom He addressed as “My friends,” not to be afraid of men because all they can do is kill them. How is that for a rationale? ‘Don’t be afraid. The worst they can do is kill you.’ At first such a statement is jarring until we are reminded of the nature of our existence and the limitation of man’s power over us. We are more than our physical bodies. We are comprised of material (our bodies) and immaterial (our souls). Man can kill the body but he cannot kill the soul; therefore, he is limited as to the damage he can inflict upon other men. God however is not so limited. He has the power to not only kill but to cast into hell (vs.5b).
The doctrine of hell, and the holy fear of God, is an antibiotic that displaces the fear of men. Such is why it was said of John Knox when he was buried, “Here lies one who feared God so much he never feared the face of man.” You might say – if we fear men too much it’s because we fear God too little.
“Latimer, Latimer, Latimer…”
In like manner, there’s a story from the life of one of the Oxford Martyrs who was burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary – Hugh Latimer. On one occasion, years before he died, he was preaching during the reign of King Henry VIII, who happened to be present during that sermon. Knowing that he was about to say something that Henry was not going to approve of, he soliloquized in pulpit saying, “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say. Henry the king is here.” Then, after a short pause he said, “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say. The King of Kings is here.” It was a ‘textbook case’ of a good fear conquering a bad fear.
Make no mistake, while Jesus does not want fear to dominate your life, He does want a specific fear to dominate all other fears – the fear of God. For a son or daughter of God that fear is not a servile, panicky kind of fear that is worried that God will punish their sins in the torments of hell despite their trust in Christ. No, the perfect love of the Gospel has cast out that fear. But even for a believer, the reverential fear of displeasing their heavenly Father that has the capacity to lovingly chastise them, and the fear of sinning against the God of the universe whom they love, especially if they have placed a greater priority of man’s evaluation of them over God’s evaluation, ought to be fear that dominates all other fears.
And if it does, that holy, real, and reverential fear of God that dominates all of your other fears is a likely witness that you’ve truly believed the Gospel of grace and do not need to fear God.