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If you’ve been a Christian for even a little while, you have probably heard a message telling you not to be afraid. This is a biblical admonition. Jesus said it several times. The examples are too numerous to list here, but here is an example:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).1

He follows it up with this:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

Jesus is saying, to sum up, “God values you. Don’t fear anyone or anything except Him.” He loves us and wants us to know that He is the ultimate answer to all our fears, including eternal ones. Part of that ultimate answer is that we need to read and understand the book He gave us to guide us into all truth. We must be careful that we don’t misuse those precious truths.

I have heard for decades and am still hearing it preached that God has not given us a spirit of fear and therefore we should not be afraid. Well, to be frank, that is a misuse of that verse from Second Timothy. Here it is in context:

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…” (2 Timothy 1:5–8)

The Greek noun for fear used in the New Testament is always phobos. Other words such as verbs and adjectives are a derivation of that word. It’s the word, of course, from which we get the English word phobia.

However, the word for fear in 2 Timothy 1:6 is not phobos. It is deilia. It is the only place that word is used in the New Testament. Here is the definition of deilia according to Louw and Nida’s Greek Lexicon: “A state of fear because of a lack of courage or moral strength.”2

Paul is encouraging Timothy to have courage to speak the truth of the gospel in spite of opposition and perhaps persecution or even martyrdom. A tough ask, to be sure, especially if you’re shy. One of the better interpretations of this passage is from Knute Larson’s commentary.

“Paul countered our natural tendencies and excuses by directing us to consider this great gift which we all possess—the Spirit of God. Our natural abilities can only supplement what God calls us to do. The important consideration in all of life’s challenges and duties is to remember that God’s Spirit resides within us. He is the giver of power, love, and self-discipline. Power is simply enablement to do what God requires. We are never asked to do anything beyond what God gives strength and ability to accomplish. Love is expressed first to God, then to others. It is the distinguishing quality of Christians, this unnatural love, and it comes only as we allow the life of God’s Spirit to live through us.” 3

It’s wonderful to tell believers they should not be afraid. But it is an error to use the passage in Second Timothy to do that.

Fellow believers, we should keep in mind two things as we think about this. The first is, we must always consider the context of the verses. The second is related to it. When a speaker says something about the Lord or about Christians without quoting Scripture, we should ask, “Where does it say that in the Bible?”

The Church wittingly and unwittingly has quoted biblical verses out of context for a very long time. I would encourage believers to be biblically literate so they can live their lives with Jesus in true truth, not half-truths. With all the religious weirdness out there, it may make an eternal difference.

1All scriptural quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (2016). Crossway Bibles.

2Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 316). United Bible Societies.

3Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, pp. 266–267). Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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