Proverbs 12:25 ESV
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
The book of Proverbs has a way of stating truths we all know with clarity we often lack. Being in debt gives another control over you, generous kings are better liked than misers, and anxiety is no fun. The question, then, is what we ought to do with this divinely granted knowledge.
Let’s start with the second part of the verse. What is a ‘good word’? Why does it make a man glad? The question is easily answered: in this verse, a good word is a pleasant word, a bringing of comfort to the worried man. Of course, it should also be a true word. A false word may bring gladness for short period, but lies do not conform to reality. Falsity will crumble and the ailment the lie patched over will be worse in the end and not better
So, what do you say when you legitimately can’t think of a true word, but you want to help ease the burden of yourself or your loved ones or even a stranger? The answer here lies in God’s commands regarding fear.
To understand fear, we must define it. Fear is the emotional apprehension (or expectation) of future unpleasantness. The proof of this definition is simple. Fear is an emotion, and though it may derive from logic, it is not a coherent thought. Fear si directed towards what we don’t like, not towards bad things (you can fear evil and good alike). Fear is always future-facing. Even when we say we fear that which is currently happening or which has already happened, we are actually referring to a fear of continuation or repetition of the unpleasantness, a future event.
The definition of fear thus established, let us consider the different types of fear the Bible enjoins upon man, remembering always that to fear what the Bible does not give us grounds to fear is both foolish and sinful, though it may be natural. Unfortunately for us (and consonant with the complexity of the world), the Bible’s position on fear is not as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Simply skimming the Bible brings back a number of apparently contradictory results. Matthew 10:28a condemns fear of man, fear of the world, even fear of that which the world can do. That same verse, continues, “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 1 John 4:18, though, states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” At first blush, these two statements are in direct contradiction to each other- one tells us to fear, one not to fear. What then should we do?
Fear, under the above definition, can be different not only quantitatively but qualitatively. In other words, we don’t fear just one thing; we have a whole myriad of possible fears. The fear which God forbids and the fear He enjoins, properly understood, are fears of different aspects of Him. The fear of the world is condemned, meanwhile, because the world is not worthy of fear, being His creation, a footstool for the Creator and utterly under His dominion (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 110:1).
What type of fear, then, is prescribed to man?
Exodus 18:21, Acts 3:16, Revelations 19:5, and a myriad more of verses call for believers to give to God a specific type of fear. Fully defining that fear is not in the scope of this short explication; in short, however, we are to possess an emotional apprehension (remember the definition above) of the magnitude of the mercy of God, the magnitude of the judgement which would have been due were His mercy not interposed, the consequences and gravity of sin (which, though it cannot separate God from us, is still an abomination worthy of eternal damnation, from which we are preserved only by His grace), and the infinite majesty of God. We cannot, in truth, ever fully understand any of these; our minds are not capable of comprehending infinity. Still, when it comes to such matters, we are called to apprehend, even if we cannot comprehend. To do otherwise would be to disregard the weightiness, the glory (weightiness being a near-translation of the Hebrew word for ‘glory’), of God, a travesty which would require ignoring the majority of the Bible, including the entirety of Psalms.
Believers, however, are not to fear God’s ultimate judgement. They have, by God’s love, been preserved from that judgement, and to fear it would be a repudiation of the efficacy of God’s work. This does not hold true for the unbeliever; he has not so been saved.
The evildoer is called to fear God’s coming judgement by the Bible in passage including 1 John 4. That fear has, as 1 John 4 tells us, been rendered invalid for the believer because Christ Jesus took upon Himself the judgement which was due to His people. We honor God and glorify His name in recognition of His majesty and glory and weight. The unbeliever, in contrast, must fear this same majesty, for all men know, in their deepest parts, that they stand condemned. As Roman 1:18-19 proclaims, all men actively suppress the plain truth of God’s existence, of His character and commands, of His right position in their lives. This truth, which all men know however they deny it, should drive them to fear, for to stand against a holy God is no small matter.
In summary, then, God calls us to fear Him properly without fear for man; He tells unrepentant sinners also that they ought to fear Him utterly. What does this mean for our question? What do we then say to bring gladness when anxiety has made our hearts heavy?
For the believer, we ought first to remember the famous words in 1 John 4 and Matthew 10:28 already quoted above. We should not fear the world, for God has conquered it, made it a footstool for Himself (Acts 7:49). We should not fear His judgement, for we are redeemed by His sufficient grace. To doubt this grace is to doubt the sovereignty and integrity of God.
Because this is a fallen world, however, many people lack perfect assurance of their salvation. They are unsure of their place at God’s side, unsure whether they in truth can claim His blood to cleanse their sins. For such, God has given His word, and for such Christ intercedes in grace. Perhaps they are not truly saved; for such unhappy souls, the fear is truly warranted. Let them fear and rejoice that God has given them warning, given them the opportunity to turn to Him. For those who are saved, however, God’s grace will be sufficient, and He has given prayer and His word for their comfort.
For the unbeliever, a heavy heart, when rightly directed, is a warning worthy of heeding. Some fears will be frivolous or unnecessary. They may be distractions from greater matter or even motivated by pride and sin. Fear of God, however, is not something which true words can or should lift the unbeliever out of. In truth, God is a judge whose perfect goodness and perfect justice should utterly terrify sinful man, for they are the assurance of his ultimate and eternal damnation to perfect suffering. This warranted fear cannot be dispelled; it can only be overcome or ignored. Of the two, to overcome it should be man’s desire, for ignoring it only brings the culmination of its terror nearer. Due to the sinful nature of man, however, the person who fears cannot themselves overcome it. Only the love of Christ, as worked out through His redeeming sacrifice, can destroy this right fear (1 John 4:18).
Let the redeemed of God seek always to follow Him, honoring Him in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, both in private and before the world, without terror of His judgement and with respect for His discipline, holding always in our hearts a right fear of His infinite majesty. The ungodly meanwhile ought to see God’s people, ought to see that they do not fear the world, that when they fear the world, they have a higher power to turn to, a higher power always sufficient to destroy evil fear. The ungodly should thus see in us the image of God made more and more clearly manifest (Genesis 1). He should see all this and fear, for God’s wrath is quickly kindled (Psalm 2). Blessed, though, are all who in Him take refuge (Psalm 2).
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.