Hebrews 13:5–6:  Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say,“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (ESV)
We have seen in previous posts how the fear of God must be paramount, that it is wise to fear God (that in fact fearing God is the sine qua non of wisdom), and that if we would live for God through Christ then we must fear him. We have also established that the Christian's goal is not to be fearless but to be fearful. However, the fear of which we are supposed to be full is not of the kind which so often plagues us - that is, the innumerable fears and phobias of daily life. Instead, we are to be full of a fear that casts out other fears. We are to be ruled by a fear that brings peace rather than by fears which bring disorder and chaos into our hearts.
There are plenty of instances in the Old Testament in which Yahweh instructs his people not to fear. Many of them are specific to certain situations, such as the taking of the Promised Land (e.g., Num. 14:9; Deut. 1:21). And those, like all Scripture, are instructive and helpful for us today. Nevertheless, there may be confusion if we port those same instances too quickly over to ourselves. Regardless, the New Testament leaves us in no doubt about how we should handle our fears.
Old Covenant Promises and New Covenant Fears
Notice that the quotes in the passage from Hebrews above are from the Old Testament (Josh. 1:5; Psalm 27:1; 118:6). They show that New Testament believers today share the same general protection as Joshua and David did. This does not mean that we can expect God to help us conquer another land. But it does mean that our covenant with God through Christ contains promises which are as grounding for us as the promises made to Joshua and David.
So, how do Christians come to the point where they are able to say, "I will not fear"? A few observations are in order.
First, we must remember that for the Lord to be anyone's helper that person must fear the Lord. For example, Psalm 33:18 says, "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love." (cf. Psalm 103:11, 13, 17; 149:19; Luke 1:50). Thus, it is not possible that a person may confidently say "The Lord is my helper" unless he or she can also truly say, "I fear the Lord".
Notice that the statement, "I will not fear" is something that Paul says we can say, but that does not mean we are saying it now or that we will always say it in the future. Our potential as believers is always greater than what we have realized. We find a helpful reminder here that we do not always appropriate for ourselves all the benefits that are available to us in Christ Jesus. There is a big difference between making the declaration, "I will not fear" and only being able to make it. Into which category do Christians more frequently fall? I would wager the latter.
Notice that it is evidence-based. The author takes God's promise never to leave or forsake to be sufficient to dispel fear. Again, the mere promise does not dispel fear. We must apprehend the promise by faith. This means that there must be a battle of sorts between the perceived threat which generates the fear and the promise of God which generates confidence. In order for fear to be dispelled, we must believe in God's promise more than the perceived threat. God's promise must exercise more interpretive weight over our perspective. This is akin to learning to view life through the lens of God's promises rather than the lens of our fears.
Fears, Desires, and Contentment
The issue, of course, is that our fears are also closely connected to our desires. Fears and desires are two sides of the same coin. We desire pleasure, so we fear pain. We desire success, so we fear failure. We desire affirmation, so we fear criticism. And we could add many more to the list. And each person will have their own unique set as well.
This, then, is where the connection to contentment comes in. When we see the connection between fear and desire, we suddenly understand why contentment is essential to casting out fear. Just consider the fear of God. Fascinatingly, fear and desire both center on God. We fear God, but we also desire God. We desire to be in God's presence, to be affirmed by God, loved by God, accepted by God, comforted by God, approved by God, and cared for by God. The alternative is terrifying. And yet, in Christ Jesus, we receive all these things. Our fear, in that wonderful sense in which John describes it, is cast out by love (1 John 4:16-19).
Some may make the mistake of reading the exhortation against loving money and consider themselves blameless because they do not have that particular problem. And yet, it seems clear upon reflection that the love of money is a representative example of all the things which we would love, and therefore give ourselves for, and therefore desire, and therefore fear not having as much as or more than God. If the Christian would develop confidence in the face of fear, the Christian must learn to be content with the promises God has made.
When it comes down to it, contentment with God's promises is precisely the issue, is it not? When our desires are contrary to God's promises, we have no guarantee of fulfillment other than what assurances we put in place ourselves. But this seems to clearly constitute a failure to walk by the Spirit in favor of attempting to gratify the desires of the flesh (cf. Galatians 5:16). And when we pursue gratification of fleshly desires, i.e., ungodly desires, undesirable outcomes are inevitably the result (cf. Galatians 5:17ff).
In conclusion, then, one of the first steps before us in order to cast out fears is to reorient our desires to the things God promises and away from the things we would like to guarantee for ourselves. The latter is a sure path to fear, anger, discontent, and conflict; the former is essential to casting out the fears which so often tower over us.