I was 16 years old sitting almost at the top of a small tree near Jinja, Uganda when my mission trip leader started the countdown: "10, 9, 8..." in a panicked scramble I lost my footing and fell about 6 feet landing flat on my side. The wind knocked out of me, I dragged myself up and hobbled through the door of the hut by "1" and was greeted wryly by the leader "Was it worth it?" Still breathless from the fall I fought back my tears and nodded yes. I had preserved the one hour a day I had as "privilege" to either take a cold shower in a door-less building or wash the two outfits I wasn't wearing using a bucket. But for me it wasn't the fear of losing a shower that drove me to choose obedience over my safety, it was the fear of the condemnation. And not just what I might experience from others in my public punishment. What I really feared was being whipped by my own sense of shame, which looked for any opportunity to shackle me in the chains of self-condemnation.
I don't believe this fear served a Godly purpose. Beyond our design there is Godly fear and unGodly fear. In Matt 10:28 Jesus says, "And Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Those who are perishing would do well to fear the One who has the power to throw them into hell, but there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
In Romans 8:15, Paul encourages us, "For you have not received the Spirit of bondage again to Fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Even when we fail, there is no need for flee or be paralyzed in fear, but instead we can run towards God in our time of need with confidence in His mercy and grace.
Fear is not a weapon God intended for use by Godly leadership, neither is a fearful follower perfected by fear. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus time demonstrated the pitfalls of being in bondage to fear and ruling by fear. They feared man over God, feared losing the admiration, power, and glory of their position. They judged and thought themselves higher than the people they were meant to serve. In fear they sought to destroy Jesus.
Jesus did not fear the religious leaders nor the people put under his care. He walked among the sick, sinful, demon possessed and otherwise condemned. He confronted the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 "But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus did not come wielding fear and judgement, but mercy and grace.
When I think of what might have been on that mission trip so many years ago, Oswald Chamber’s words come to mind, “The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship.” Our team did a good work, laying the foundation and building half of a building for the use of future ministry, but the work was done in an atmosphere of worldly fear. 1 John 4:18 states "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." Without that fear, I might have been perfected in love.