Formations 07.20.2014: Overcoming Fear

Matthew 10:26-33

Gustave Corbet, The Man Made Mad with Fear (detail), 1843–44

Gustave Corbet, The Man Made Mad with Fear (detail), 1843–44

In a recent TEDx talk given in Arcadia, California, Olympia LePoint shared her personal story of overcoming great odds to accomplish her life’s goal of becoming a rocket scientist.

LePoint explained that fear is often an obstacle that keeps us from reaching our goals. “Many people want to accomplish their great life missions, but fear debilitates them,” she said. “In each challenge, fear can potentially stop you from reaching your personal success. This mental block forces your brain to shut off the operation in your frontal brain lobes, leaving you unable to solve problems.”

To succeed in life, we must reprogram our minds to overcome fear. Doing this involves three key decisions that we must make:

(1) We must name and reject our fear.
(2) We must reprogram our brains with different thoughts.
(3) We must rebuild our brains by taking action.

Despite the threats of forces hostile to the Christian mission, in this week’s passage Jesus encourages the apostles to “have no fear” (v. 26). He doesn’t set forth a technique for overcoming fear (although the steps LePoint outlines could certainly be reinforced with biblical examples). Rather, he challenges the disciples to overcome fear by altering their perception of the fearful situation. They must recognize that those who threaten and ridicule can at worst harm the body; they have no power to harm the soul.

God sees everything that befalls God’s people, Jesus assures us, and God counts us of surpassing value. Therefore, our highest loyalty is owed to God alone. With our focus on God, there is nothing left to fear.

Olympia LePoint, “Reprogramming Your Brain to Overcome Fear,” The Huffington Post, 20 June 2014


• What has fear kept you from doing for the glory of God?
• What are some biblical examples of people naming and rejecting their fear? Replacing fear with different thoughts? Taking action in the face of fear?
• How can believers entrust themselves to God in times of difficulty and resistance?
• What does it mean to acknowledge Jesus before others? What does it mean to deny him?
• What does Jesus mean by linking one’s acknowledgement or denial of Jesus before others to one’s standing before God?

Reference Shelf


The development of the valley of Hinnom as a metaphorical designation in the NT of the (final) state of torment for the wicked can be traced only in the extracanonical literature. First Enoch relates a vision of the “Holy Mountain” surrounded by valleys and focuses on the “accursed valley,” a place of judgment where in “the last days” the torment of the wicked will be a spectacle before the righteous forever (chaps. 26–27; cf. Isa 66:24). Later Jewish literature reads back into the OT a developed idea of Gehenna. The Talmud lists Gehenna among the seven things created before the world ( Pesh 54a). Although a certain development of the idea of Gehenna is discernible in extra canonical sources, central aspects of the idea are early OT ideas. The nebulous deep (Sheol, Deut 32:22; Amos 9:2), the fire of judgment (Gen 19:24; Exod 9:24). and destruction/slaughter as punishment for wickedness (esp. apostasy: Num 25:5; Deut 13:10) are found in the OT. These ideas of deep, fire, and (profane) destruction were all localized and concretized in the accursed valley of Hinnom.

In the NT, the idea of Gehenna is simply stated as understood and accepted. With the exception of Jas 3:6, Gehenna occurs only in the recorded teachings of Jesus, where it is apparent that Jesus assumed his hearers would understand what was meant by Gehenna. In the teachings of Jesus, the traditional images of Gehenna are prominent: deep, or a place/state into which one may be cast (Matt 5:29; Mark 9:45; Luke 12:5); (unquenchable) fire (Matt 5:22; 18:9); and (profane) destruction (Matt 10:28; cf. “the worm” at Mark 9:48). One must distinguish between Gehenna and Hades in the NT, a distinction obscured in the KJV which invaribly translates both as “hell.” The distinction in the NT is not always clearly drawn, indicating fluidity in the development of terminology. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19ff.), e.g., the place of fire (Gehenna) appears as a “compartment” of Hades.

While Gehenna is routinely translated as “hell” in most English versions, one must take care not to routinely read back into the NT ideas of “hell” that developed only much later in Christian theology.

Edd Rowell, “Gehenna,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 319.

Bold Preaching

Verses 26-31 try to encourage the disciples not to be afraid of their critics and persecutors. They are not to be afraid even of those who would take their physical lives, so long as they didn’t kill their spirits or souls. They are only to fear the one who can destroy both their bodies and their spirits in Gehenna. This reference to the body going down to Gehenna may surprise some, but it is consistent with one form of Jewish afterlife theology that suggested no one went to Gehenna until after they had been raised from the dead, faced the final judgment, and then as whole people either been condemned to Gehenna or allowed into the messianic kingdom. This line of thinking should be compared to the parable and its explanation in Matthew 25:31-46, where the eternal destiny of a person is not determined until after the Son of Man returns and executes final judgment. The “goats” are said to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. This is an interesting way of putting things and suggests that Gehenna is seen as a place of punishment for Satan, fallen angels, and condemned human beings.

The disciples are to proclaim what they hear in private in the most public of places, even shout it from the housetops. The revelation Jesus is conveying is meant to be an open secret now that the Dominion is breaking into human history. The reference to the sparrows and the worth of human beings compared to them in vv. 29-30 is an echo of what is said in the Sermon on the Mount about God’s providential care for his own, especially since humans are worth so much more than sparrows.

Verses 32-33 indicate that there are eternal consequences to publicly acknowledging Jesus, namely Jesus will acknowledge such a person before the Father, but whoever disowns Jesus will be dis- owned before the Father (cf. 12:36-37; John 12:42; 1 Tim 6:12-13; Rev 3:5). The most important thing about this saying is that it makes how one reacts to Jesus and whether one is prepared to bear witness to him, even under the threat of rejection and death, the deciding factor in the coming judgment.13 In other words, Jesus calls for an unswerving allegiance and confession about himself, as early Jews expected they must muster up in regard to God. The implicit high Christology in this saying is remarkable.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 224–25.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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