I am constantly trying to learn skills and tactics to help me be a better dad, husband, writer, teacher, and how to be a better disciple maker. In my reading of Matthew 10, I came across Jesus’ teaching on how to conquer fear and immediately wanted to figure out how to put it into practice. To implant the teaching in my mind, I created an alliteration that I affectionately call Jesus’ “3 R’s” for overcoming fear in disciple making.
To understand Jesus’ teaching, it’s important to be reminded of the context of Matthew 10:26-33. Jesus sends out the 12, instructing them to go and to proclaim the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 10:5-6). He instructs them to stay with whoever welcomes them and to allow their peace to fall upon that house (Matt. 10:11-13).
Furthermore, he warns that they will be like sheep among wolves, so they are to beware of people who have reason to harm them (Matt. 10:16-18). They should not worry about what to say, but the Holy Spirit will speak through them, and when they are persecuted in one town, they should go to the next (Matt. 10:19-23). Jesus goes on to remind them “that a disciple is not above his teacher.” So just as he was slandered (as “Beelzebul,” the prince of demons), we the disciples of Jesus should expect the same kind of persecution (Matt. 10:24-25).
“It’s in light of this expectation that we (the disciples) will be persecuted that Jesus teaches his disciples how to overcome fear in disciple making.”
It’s in light of this expectation that we (the disciples) will be persecuted that Jesus teaches his disciples how to overcome fear in disciple making. Here, Jesus gives three solutions to overcoming fear in disciple making. First, we release our fear on account of the truth. Second, we remember God holds the power of the body and the soul. Finally, fear has no place since God’s repertoire includes sparrows and hairs on our head. Again, here are the three R’s which help disciple makers to overcome fear: release, remember, and repertoire.
Release Our Fear on Account of the Truth
First, we release our fear on account of the truth. Jesus tells his disciples to release their fear or to “have no fear,” for the truth of who we are will be revealed. If we are people who proclaim Jesus from rooftops, he will proclaim our name to the Father (Matt. 10:26-27, 32). The truth is that God recognizes the hearts of all people. Nothing is hidden from him, so being faithful is of such great importance that it eliminates any need to fear those who persecute us or who malign the name of Jesus.
In the early 1980’s I was a child growing up in Gothenburg, Sweden, where we were cross-cultural missionaries and church planters. I joyfully learned about Jesus while watching my parents bravely learn the culture and teach others about him. They practiced Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” This included little quirks like taking off shoes upon entering homes, being extremely punctual, and practicing three new vowel sounds that are in the Swedish language. My parents had courage and believed in the truth that the gospel has power to transform lives.
“If we are people who proclaim Jesus from rooftops, he will proclaim our name to the Father.”
I look back on my experience of passing out gospel tracks on the promenade as a young child and recognize my ability at that age to release any potential fear. Why? It’s because I trusted in my parents’ confidence. Children have this ability to conform to the confidence of their parents. My parents were probably extremely fearful, but they were willing to stand and speak about Jesus because of their love for others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this courage well: “Neither failure nor hostility can weaken the messenger’s conviction that he has been sent by Jesus.” Jesus teaches his disciples to release fear because of the confidence that we find in the truth that God will reveal all things in the end.
Remember Who Holds the Power of Body and Soul
Next, we remember that God holds the power of the body and the soul. The contrast described in this passage really got to me when I was in high school. I had already made my commitment to follow Jesus but was beginning to understand what it looked like to have courage in this new stage of my disciple making.
I was a shy young man and struggled to make friends, let alone share with my non-Christian friends about Jesus. After reading a famous book by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps, I was reminded that I wanted to do whatever Jesus would do if he walked in my shoes. At the same time, I memorized Matthew 10:28 from the NIV: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Surprisingly, this verse gave me great courage. In my senior year of high school, I invited teachers, administrators, and students that were in my classes to come to church. On one Sunday, there were more than 50 who came for the first time.
“On one Sunday, there were more than 50 who came for the first time.”
A 2016 Lifeway Research Study found that “half (51 percent) of unchurched Americans say a personal invitation from a friend or family member would be effective in getting them to visit a church.” Thom Rainer in his book The Unchurched Next Door quotes 82% as the number who would likely attend if invited by a friend. The research and my own personal experience suggest that about 50% of friends will attend if invited to church. However, the fewer the invites, the harder it will be to recognize these data points.
The fear that disciples of Jesus often face in the North American context is that of embarrassment or insecurity. This statement by Bonhoeffer helps me to consider fear in light of my faith in Jesus: “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” He is simply saying the same thing that Jesus is saying in this passage, namely that our awesome fear of God causes us to not fear man.
Remember the power of God that speaks to the wind and waves and causes them to be still. Remember the power of God that thwarts great armies of men. Remember the power of God that destroys evil through the cross.
“Remember the power of God that destroys evil through the cross.”
God’s Repertoire Includes Sparrows and Hairs
Third, fear has no place since God’s repertoire includes caring about sparrows and numbering the hairs on our head. Jesus’ two examples of God’s care highlight the seeming worthlessness of sparrows and hair. The sparrow is shown to be worth a simple Roman copper coin, like that of a penny today—yet God cares about the sparrow. Likewise, even the hair on our head is numbered, reminding us that God knows even when we have lost hairs—something we ourselves would have trouble noticing. If God values you enough to know such things, there is no need to fear. God’s repertoire includes caring for orphans and widows, caring for even enemies of the cross, and, of course, caring for persecuted disciples of his Son.
I am reminded of the old cartoon for “Underdog.” Those who were children in the 1960’s and 1970’s will remember the theme song, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” For the rest of us, we should be reminded that the verses include language about “criminals, thieves, and those whose hearts are full of greed.” Although Underdog can literally do nothing to fight evil in our world because he is a cartoon character; there is one who is in the image of an underdog, namely Jesus Christ who has defeated evil. God’s repertoire—the story after story of his work in our world—is too great to write down in a summary fashion here, but as we learn more of what he has done, we have no need to fear.
“If God values you enough to know such things, there is no need to fear.”
In summary, three R’s help disciple makers conquer fear: release, remember, and repertoire. Fear is a recognizable barrier to sharing faith, but Jesus teaches us not to fear by repeating it 3 times in Matthew 10:26-33. The disciple of Jesus has been called to be faithful to following the footsteps of the master teacher.
John echoes this teaching in 1 John 2:5-6: “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” So, we release fear, remember who holds the power, and acknowledge God’s repertoire.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 213.
 Bonhoeffer, 218.
 See, https://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/underdoglyrics.html.