On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a small spacecraft called Sputnik 1, which became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. Sputnik 1 was a small satellite by modern standards. It was approximately the size of a beach ball, but weighed 183.9 pounds. Additionally, Sputnik 1 was a basic satellite by modern standards. Its only function was to transmit radio signals. Sputnik 1’s mission was brief by modern standards. It transmitted radio signals for only 21 days until its batteries ran out on October 26, 1957. It orbited the earth for only 3 months before it burned up while reentering Earth’s atmosphere on January 4, 1958.
Even though Sputnik 1 was a small, basic satellite with a short lifespan, it had a huge impact on the world, particularly on the United States of America. NASA’s website describes it this way…
The Sputnik launch changed everything. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world's attention and the American public off-guard. Its size was more impressive than [the] intended 3.5-pound payload [of the first satellite that the United States attempted to put into orbit, known as Vanguard TV3]. In addition, the public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S…The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In other words, the launch of Sputnik 1 was a major event in the Cold War because it seemed to indicate that the Soviet Union had eclipsed the United States as the more technologically and scientifically advanced superpower. As a result, fear gripped citizens of the United States because the kingdom which posed the greatest threat to our own now appeared to be large and in charge.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union as a socialist state in 1991 temporarily eliminated our fear of their superpower status, it did not eliminate fear as a driving force in our lives. It’s sixty years later, and we still find ourselves battling fear. We fear national division as social, racial, and political tensions continue to escalate. We fear terrorism as both domestic and foreign agents have produced unprovoked attacks that claimed the lives of innocent individuals over the past days, months, and years. We fear religious persecution as our culture has dismissed absolute truth and, as a result, grown ever more tolerant of immorality and intolerant of Christianity.
Sometimes fear can be beneficial to us. It can keep us from getting into trouble, prevent us from endangering ourselves, or cause us to possess a deep appreciation for something that is truly awesome. But other times fear can be detrimental to us. It can keep us from fulfilling our responsibilities, it can hinder our spiritual growth, and it can render us idle and therefore useless in God’s kingdom.
What we need to realize is that we were not designed to operate based on fear; instead, we were intended to operate based on faith. Paul specifically told Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7), indicating that fear does not originate from God. And, Paul told the Corinthian church that “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), indicating that the Christian is expected to trust that God is greater than his or her circumstances. In other words, Scripture asserts that faith should always trump fear.
Do you remember what happened when Jesus approached the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee by walking on water? We’re told in Matthew 14:26-27 that…
when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
After learning that the “ghost” was actually Jesus, Peter grew momentarily courageous. He requested to walk out to Jesus on the water, a request that Jesus granted. When Peter begins his bold excursion outside of the boat, he initially succeeds but then something happens. The text says in Matthew 14:30-31 that…
when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Why did Peter sink? Peter sank because he took his focus off of Jesus and put it on his circumstances. Fear overcame faith and the end result was debilitating.
Fear is a debilitating tool used by Satan to stymy our faith. Satan used fear to cause Abraham to lie (Genesis 12:11-13). Satan used fear to cause Moses to make excuses (Exodus 2:14; 3:6, 11-12). Satan used fear to cause the Israelites to give up (Numbers 14:1-4). Satan used fear to cause Elijah to hide (1 Kings 19:9-10). Satan used fear to cause Peter to deny Jesus (Mark 14:66-71). Satan used fear to cause the one talent man to do nothing (Matthew 25:24-25). In all of these instances, fear was debilitating because it altered their focus, removing it from their Lord and putting it on their circumstances.
That is why the most repeated command in all of scripture is “do not fear” (Deuteronomy 31:6; cf. Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 1:21; 20:3; 31:8; Joshua 1:9; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Matthew 14:27; 17:7; 28:10; Luke 5:10; 8:50; 1 Peter 3:14; Revelation 1:17). In these passages, “do not fear” is not suggested. “Do not fear” is not encouraged. “Do not fear” is commanded. The fact that “do not fear” is a command is an indication that God expects His followers to be fearless. And the reason He expects His followers to be fearless is because He is faithful. Scripture repeatedly follows its “do not fear” command with an explanation as to why fear should elude us, and it’s because “the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6; cf. Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles 28:2; Hebrews 13:5).
So, even though the world is still a fearful place because it “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), we have no reason to be afraid because “the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Thus, we should consistently choose to live fearlessly. I like the way one 20th century missionary said it, “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is.”