Fear God, Not People

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesEditor's Note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his exposition of the gospel of Matthew.

[26] Jesus gave His disciples a powerful incentive against fear when He promised that, on the Day of Judgment, God will expose the sins their persecutors covered up before others:

"Fear (phobethete, the aorist passive deponent subjunctive of phobéomai [5399], to fear) them not therefore: for there is nothing that has been covered (kekalumménon, the perfect passive participle of kalpto  [2572], to cover up, to hide), that shall not be revealed (apokaluphthesetai, the future passive of apokalpto  [601], uncovered), and hid (kruptn [2927], secret, concealed) that shall not be known" (a.t.).

The two verbs kalpto  and krpto  essentially mean the same thing. The first means to put a cover or lid over something you do not want seen, and the second is to hide something for the same reason. The noun klupsis (something covered, from kalpto ) is antithetical to apoklupsis ([602], a revelation, an unveiling). In due time, God will reveal secret or hidden (kruptn) things to us.

Jesus told His people that someday He will publicly expose the evil motives Satan's emissaries have hidden. Such motives are not hidden from God, since "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him" (Heb. 4:13), but from people. On that day, we shall experientially know (gnosthesetai [1097]) what was inaccessible in this life. God will unveil not only the stealthy, malevolent motives of the princes of darkness but also the good motives of the children of light that are shrouded in humility: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5).

[27] Jesus continued this thought: "What I tell you in darkness (skotos [4655], darkness, or skota [4653], dark), that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house tops."

Here skotos or skota must denote physical darkness (as in Matt. 27:45 and Luke 12:3 respectively), obscurity from public view, since darkness and light are equated to hearing in the ear (i.e., in darkness; note that Luke 12:3 says, "in closets")-which is neither a sin nor a consequence of sin-and preaching from the house tops (i.e., in public).

Throughout Scripture, we are told that God will universally expose the evil motives of unbelievers, particularly hypocrites and those who attack believers: "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl. 12:14). Paul said that this will be done "in the day . . . when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel" (Rom. 2:16).

While many things are mysteriously dark to us now, Jesus commanded us to boldly proclaim the gospel from the "house tops," audibly and visibly. If we are persecuted, we can rest in this promise that God will expose and judge people's wicked secrets.

[28] Jesus commanded His disciples not to fear martyrdom.

"And fear not them which kill (apokteinnton, the present participle of apokteno  [615], to kill; lit. "those who are killing"; to separate soul from body) the body, but are not able (dunaménon, the present participle of dnamai [1410], to be able) to kill (apoktenai, the aorist infinitive of apokteno ) the soul: but rather fear (phobethete, the aorist passive imperative of phobéo  [5399], to fear), Him which is able to destroy (apolésai, the aorist infinitive of apllumi [622], to cause to perish) both soul and body in hell (Geénne  [1067], Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom [Hebrew])."

Coupled with the negative me  ([3361] the relative "not"), the aorist tense of phobéo  means not to fear at any time, any single instance. But we are to fear Him who is capable of destroying both our souls and bodies in hell. This, of course, is God, for He is the only One with such power: "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" (James 4:12).

The United Bible Society and Nestle's texts have the first imperative in the present tense, me  phobesthe, meaning that we should not constantly be fearing (i.e., a process) people who can kill-no doubt to correspond with the present participle apokteinnton. The aorist, on the other hand, points to the time of death when God can destroy both soul and body. Jesus' point was the following: At that time of crisis when the blade is at our throats, our fear of the One able to destroy our eternal souls in hell should overpower our fear of ones able to kill our bodies. Then we will not apostatize under the threat of death. The fear of hell should motivate us to defy the fear of physical death in those moments. Christ's command to fear hell is for us as believers, not unbelievers.

Although not explicitly stated, the implication is that those who secure their physical lives by rejecting Christ lose their eternal souls. Martyrdom, then, is a form of obedience: "He . . . became obedient unto death" (Phil. 2:8); "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4); "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

The verb phobéomai and the noun phobos ([5401] fear) admit of degrees. By nature, we have one fear of the physical harm people can do to us. By supernatural endowment-"I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jeremiah 32:40)-we have another fear of God (Luke 18:2, 4; 23:40; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:17). Only God determines the destinies of souls. Saved souls depart to Christ, a "gain" over this life (Phil. 1:21, 23).

People are able to break up the constituent parts (apokteno ) of others, that is, separate bodies from their spirits/souls, but they cannot determine the subsequent location of souls.

Our fear of God should far exceed our fear of people for two reasons. First, God commands us, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God" (Deut. 10:20). In many other Old Testament verses, God commands us not to fear other gods, people, or death itself. Secondly, our fear of God will cause us to persevere under the threat of martyrdom: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jer. 32:40). So our fear of God who can destroy bodies and souls in hell is a higher grade of terror than what we would have for someone threatening to kill us ("Awe and respect" are totally out of place here). Such fear is intended for our good so we can endure under terrible circumstances. We would do well to pray the prayer our Lord taught us, "Deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13) by drawing us closer to God.

[29-31] Even sparrows are killed, but believers are "of more value than many sparrows," which means God values sparrows. The perfect will, wisdom, and timing of our Father determine when a single bird falls to the ground. Note the reference to "your (not the bird's) Father." Only believers have God as Father (Matt. 6:9), and He has full control of their souls, whether they are united with or separated from their bodies.

The text does not say that God passively knows the number of hairs on our heads. Rather, they "have been numbered" (erithmeménai, the perfect passive participle of arithméo  [705], from which we get our word "arithmetic"] by Him; that is, He determines the number. Just as He determines the death of a valued sparrow by wisdom, so He numbers the hairs on our heads by wisdom. The point is, we can trust His wisdom to determine the most insignificant details of our lives.

We prefer the aorist imperative in verse 31 from the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text. The command not to be afraid is a conclusion (on [3767], therefore) based on God's providential care of sparrows and hairs. No matter how much danger we face, we must be brave. We should not live in a constant spirit of cowardice (pnema deilas [1167]; 2 Tim. 1:7), but in complete trust and dependence on a heavenly Father who cares for sparrows and hairs.

We do not easily learn such things because we commonly judge hairs and sparrows, like the details of our lives, to be insignificant. We think God's knowledge of such things is passive, which He acquires by observation rather than knowing innately. Since the "Spirit is truth" (1 John 5:6), God's concern for sparrows and hairs is true. And since this Spirit of truth lives in us (Rom. 8:9), we can be fearless against Satan's worst attacks. When we worry, we need only think about God's care for the tiniest bits of creation.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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