By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
When you look in the dictionary the word fear has two main definitions: A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, threat or evil whether the threat is real or imagined; and a reverential awe, as in the fear of the Lord.
With this in mind, what does the verse “God has not given us a spirit of fear” mean? Let’s start by looking at the whole verse which is found in 2 Timothy 1:7:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (New King James Bible).
Based on the definition of the word, it can’t mean reverential awe because that wouldn’t make sense. Clearly fear means something else so let’s dig deeper to understand what it means. Let’s also consider the proper response we should have to fear.
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Who Wrote 1 Timothy?
The letters to Timothy were written by the Apostle Paul. They are a part of what are commonly called the Pastoral epistles, which include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Timothy was Paul’s younger protégé and was a pastor in the church of Ephesus. Paul’s message to him was to encourage him in his role.
The first letter to Timothy gives him detailed instructions as to how the local church should look and function. By the time we get to the second letter, which is Paul’s last letter written, Paul is aware that the end of his own life is near. He is writing to Timothy again as a final encouragement to keep the faith and keep going.
By the time we get to verse 7 we are made aware of a struggle Timothy had. He battled with a spirit of fear. It seems Timothy had a timid personality and Paul was encouraging him to speak the truth of the gospel with boldness.
What it Means to Not Have a Spirit of Fear (and it's not From God)
This brings us back to the question what does the verse “God has not given us a spirit of fear” mean? The word in the Greek is deilia (di-lee-ah). This word means cowardice or timidity. A person with a spirit of fear or timidity may shy away from proclaiming the gospel or upholding the truth of God’s word. This happens because of an impending sense of threat or danger whether it is real or imagined.
Another way of thinking about it is they are afraid of the consequences of their actions. When this fear takes over, doing the work of the kingdom of God, while still important, takes a backseat. This person becomes paralyzed and ineffective – not because they don’t have power but because they stop taking action, because of fear.
Paul is reminding Timothy – and us – that when it comes to preaching the gospel or doing work for the kingdom of God, we should do it with courage and boldness. If you recall in the early church in the book of Acts they would often pray for boldness. In Acts 4:29 they actually prayed “Now Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” God does not want us to shrink back from proclaiming the gospel but to declare it courageously, even in the face of opposition or persecution. If the spirit of timidity takes over, you will take a step back. But when the Spirit of God takes over you will move forward empowered to do God’s will.
The second thing to recognize about this verse is that the spirit of fear does not come from God. When you consider that the word in the Greek means cowardice or timidity these character traits do not describe God in any way. God is not timid, cowardly, shy, fearful, afraid, nervous or worried about anything and because you have the Spirit of God living inside of you, neither should you. Notice the verse in the amplified version:
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].”
As believers there is this internal struggle happening, and Timothy was experiencing the same thing. If you focus on your abilities or the potential threat that can come from doing God’s work, then fear or timidity will arise. However, if you are constantly being filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18) then he will help you overcome the spirit of fear.
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What Does This Verse Not Mean?
Thus far we have addressed the question what does the verse “God has not given us a spirit of fear” mean. Let’s now turn the tables and look at what this verse does not mean. When you look throughout the pages of Scripture, one of the things you will notice is that God never tells anyone to be fearless. Fear or timidity can be a normal human emotion especially when you consider the circumstances.
In Luke chapter 1 for instance the angel Gabriel visits Mary and one of the things he tells her is do not be afraid. I have never seen an angel (at least that I am aware of). Gabriel has never appeared to me with a message from God, but I am sure if he did, my reaction would be just like Mary’s – fear. Under those circumstances fear is a natural human emotion.
If you are facing persecution, a bad diagnosis, an uncertain future, a job loss, financial challenges or if you are about to step out into new ministry … fear or timidity may arise. God does not want you running around with a big S on your chest, trying to be superman or superwoman, acting like you aren’t afraid of anything. You don’t have to be fearless. But you also don’t have to be overcome by fear.
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What God Tells About Fear in the Bible
As you search through the pages of Scripture you will often find God encouraging his people to fear not or don’t be afraid. It has been estimated that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible – one for each day of the year. This lets you and I know that God understands our human character and our human emotions. Notice some of the “fear nots” mentioned in the Bible:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened’” (1 Peter 3:14).
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
I believe at some point in our lives we have all faced these types of fears. Worried about provision. Worried about protection. Worried about other people and what they will say, think, or do. Wondering if God will help. Unsure if God will go with you. Questioning if God really care. These are all different expressions of fear that you may experience at some point in your life. It’s important to acknowledge that these are natural human emotions and because God understands who we are, he encourages us not to be afraid.
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How Should We Respond to Fear?
We have established that at some point in your life you may have to deal with fear. When this happens what it the proper response? I want to present to you a simple three-fold response to fear in your life. You need to cast, fill and trust.
The first thing to do is to cast. Everything you fear, everything you are worried about, everything that makes you anxious or nervous, give it all to Jesus. He is not against you. He is for you. Most importantly he is ready, willing and able to help you in your time of fear or anxiety. When that fear hits you immediately, pray and starting casting all of that fear on Jesus.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
The disciples overcame their fear not by trying harder but by getting more. They were constantly being filled with power and strength from the Holy Spirit allowing them to overcome every fear they could ever have. When fear comes you can tap into the reservoir of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. Remember he is our comforter and helper and he will help us when we are afraid.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).
After you have casted and been filled, the only thing left to do is trust. Notice the Psalmist is saying in the middle of my fear, when I am afraid, at that point I will trust you. Don’t freak out because you may get afraid, learn to trust God through the process. He has promised that even if you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. Regardless of how great the opposition may be God is with you and you will not be overcome. He can be trusted.
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Hope over Fear
Where do you stand? Is God calling you or asking you to do something that is sparking fear in your heart? We began this article asking the question what does the verse “God has not given us a spirit of fear” mean? Hopefully you are walking away from this article with hope. Understanding that fear will come but also understanding that there is one greater who lives inside of you, the Holy Spirit.
By his power and his strength and boldness you will be able to overcome any fear. You will be able to do what he’s wants you to do, when he wants you to do it because he will give you what you need to do it. Your job is simple. Get familiar with God’s promises. Get filled with the Holy Spirit. Go do what God has commissioned you to do. With his power you can do it.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a rising speaker, teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book called The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.