As I was leaving a party, having just been celebrating all that God has done in our church through our summer kids camp, my friend and I stumbled across the poster you left on the driveway.
Clearly you know your bible somewhat to have found these three passages that you assumedly think are so contradictory. Clearly you're passionate about it enough to waste $2.99 on the blue poster board and the time to write it out, find rocks to weigh it down and leave it on the driveway. Clearly, you hate religion. Clearly I, as a strong believer and lover of my church, my pastor's family and all they sacrifice for Jesus, am not going to let you get away with it-- not because I just want to argue, but because I want you to know the truth and to see that there is love in God, and that's what we're about.
I'm no theologian by career, but I've learned a bit over the past few years studying the bible, and I can tell you this much: the idea of fearing God is not what you think it is in this verse, and there is a lot more to understanding and interpreting scripture than the English words that stand out to you on any given page. Let me break it down for you.
1. When you put quotes around something and even go as far as to give the reference, you should probably understand something about the idea of quotation marks. They are put around items that are DIRECT quotes- exact wording of the thing referenced. Matthew 10:28, in no version, says "We should fear God." That being said, you clearly did your homework to know who "Him" or the "One" is talking about in this passage, so good job.
2. Context, context, context. Context is EVERYTHING. That wasn't just a joke teachers said in English class growing up. In order to really understand this verse, you need to understand the verses surrounding it. In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing the disciples to be sent out among the nations to declare the good news. He is giving them a sort of pep-talk that has some very helpful pointers for their journey- namely, don't fear men, they hold no power over you.
We do a lot of stupid things to please men. We lie, we cheat, we drink, we eat, we waste money, the list goes on. Why? Because there is a fear of men within us: the fear of not being liked for who we are, the fear of not having enough, the fear of not "feeling" (or feeling too much), the fear of looking too health-conscious (or not enough), the fear of being weak because we don't have enough money. Jesus is speaking of these fears, and earlier in the chapter talks about being "hated by everyone because of [Him]," "handed over to local counsels," and being "flogged in the synagogues." I don't know about you, but that would stir up some fear of man in me.
Thus enters the verse you so poorly referenced in your poster (including the two verses before because well, context is everything)...
Matthew 10:26 “'So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 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.'"
These disciples had to decide: would they let their fear of these physical pains and fear of men define their lifestyles or would they allow confidence in Jesus to overwhelm them with more fear (turned into comfort, see below), pushing them toward a lifestyle of love and spreading love? Doesn't make sense yet?
When you were a child, your parents had to sometimes let you learn things the hard way. Would you let your fear of smashing your hand in the door stop you from living your life and leaving the house or would you allow your confidence in your parents' decision making, rules and guidance (though they might seem harsh and mean at first) overwhelm you with more fear (turned into comfort), pushing you to be a better version of yourself?
Alright, you may see my point a little bit more clearly now, but what the heck am I talking about comfort for? There is nothing comforting about that verse, saying God can destroy my body and soul in hell... You're right. That's where context comes in.
Reading on, 29 "'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.'"
Get it? I didn't skip a verse. This is exactly what Jesus says to his disciples after "scaring" them into obedience. He doesn't want you to fear God, he wants you to know that God is more powerful and, should you fear God OR man, you should fear God because he is far superior, BUT there really is nothing to fear if you obey him, because you are precious to him. He says to not be afraid... Did you miss that?
Finally, the truth of the meaning of this passage as a whole, 32 “'Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.'" That's what Jesus is really getting at here: don't be cowards, scared from standing up for the truth about God in the face of men who can only harm your body physically. God can do far worse, but for those who obey and recognize him in front of men, He will protect because "you are worth more than many sparrows." Do you believe that?
I have to say, I was shocked and somewhat angry at seeing the poster at my feet when leaving such a splendid evening of celebrating Jesus. I wasn't shocked that there was someone out there who believed that; I was more shocked that someone cared so much to go out of their way to make an uneducated point about something that is totally not what we stand for. We don't stand for fear because you're absolutely right in quoting those other verses. "Perfect love casts out fear" and that is God. God is love, and love starts with God. This passage doesn't discount those others, it simply edifies them. The second part of this exact verse in 1 John lines up with the three verses after Matthew 10:28 about "fearing God." It says, "The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18b. If you don't believe in the amount of love God has for you, that His love will protect you as he says, then you will constantly live in fear of everything that has no real power over you.
As irked as I was, in defensive mode of my faith as a whole, I didn't write this letter to you in hopes to stir the pot. My hope is to spread the truth, shed some light on the verses at hand, and hopefully illuminate an area of darkness that you are holding onto.
"You are worth more than many sparrows," and I hope you believe that today. I hope you cease to live your life in fear, maybe it's fear of religion, fear of man, or fear of yourself. I pray that you learn to live in love, love of God, love of the people you can share that love with, and love of yourself- the sparrow that He desires to hold, cherish, set free, but always protect. And thank you, for reminding me why I'm so passionate about the God I call Father.