When Fear Prevents You from Being a Good Neighbor

A Task Full of Risk

Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan sets the stage for the risky task of loving our neighbors. It was dangerous for the Samaritan to even approach the bloodied body. The gruesome scene testified to the peril—what if an ambush awaited anyone who stopped to help? Surely this is one reason the Pharisee and the Levite passed by. It’s easy to judge them, but how often do our actions reflect the same type of fear? How often does some sort of threat prevent us from seeking and serving the afflicted? Understanding these temptations, Jesus shows that compassion compels us to respond in mercy to the suffering, even at personal risk.

One of the greatest detriments to being the neighbors Christ has called us to be is fear. Sometimes, fear is what keeps us from sharing the good news of the gospel, though we know people who are under God’s wrath and in need of his grace. Sometimes, fear of the unknown keeps us from pursuing adoption, though there are countless children in need of families. Sometimes, fear of financial insecurity keeps us from giving generously, though there are people sick, starving, and suffering because of abject poverty. Sometimes, fear of people’s opinions keeps us from speaking against injustice, though our silence speaks volumes to the oppressed we ignore. Sometimes, fear of terrorism causes us to recoil from welcoming the refugee, though it relegates them to displacement, destruction, and despair. Sometimes, fear of discomfort keeps us from living with less and giving more, though the corruption of our consumerism often hurts the laborer we disregard.

And somehow, instead of identifying our fear as sinful we often call it by another name: wisdom.

Go and Do Likewise

Amy DiMarcangelo

In Go and Do Likewise, Amy DiMarcangelo explores how the gospel compels Christians to extend God’s mercy in their everyday life—displaying his compassion, justice, generosity, and love to those who need it most.  

Of course, wisdom itself isn’t the problem here—the problem is when fear masquerades as wisdom. The book of Proverbs is full of instruction to seek wisdom, pursue counsel, avoid folly, plan ahead, and be faithful stewards. Christians are called to be thoughtful and discerning people.

The simple believes everything,
      but the prudent gives thought to his steps
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
      but a fool is reckless and careless. (Prov. 14:15–16)

Jesus’s parable isn’t a call to recklessness, but to loving risk. It’s not a rejection of wisdom, but an invitation to walk in true wisdom—the kind that fears the Lord. The more we walk in the fear of the Lord, the less other fears will factor into our decisions.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
      and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
      and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
      fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Prov. 3:5–7)

When I was in college, I suspended support for a child I’d been sponsoring. My reasoning: I was going broke paying for tuition and wanted to be wise. Before stopping the sponsorship I’d already cut most personal spending—I wouldn’t go to the movies with friends or shop for new clothes and rarely ate out. So my decision to discontinue the sponsorship wasn’t rooted in selfishness. However, I feared going into debt. God had generously provided me with a great job and affordable tuition rates, but rather than imitating his generosity, I clung to every penny. While it was wise to minimize spending on optional things for myself, godly wisdom compels generosity toward others, and fear prevented me from living generously throughout college.

Mistaking fear for wisdom will hinder us from showing mercy in all sorts of ways.

Mistaking fear for wisdom will hinder us from showing mercy in all sorts of ways. It will keep us from serving in those neighbor hoods, ministering to those people, and taking those risks. Sometimes, “being wise” is just a mask for being afraid.

The temptation to idolize physical safety is especially prevalent for parents. It wasn’t until becoming a mom that I fully recognized how my parents had to overcome their own fears to let me serve in India for two months as a seventeen-year-old. Granted, there was every reason to believe it was a safe situation, but it’s still unsettling to send your kid to the other side of the world. I’m grateful my parents trusted the Lord’s leading rather than letting fear dictate the decision.

We can (and should) be thankful for whatever safety we enjoy, but we cannot let our appreciation for it become worship of it. I am so grateful the sound of warfare doesn’t echo outside my house and that I don’t experience PTSD like my refugee friends. I’m so grateful I can read my Bible in public, unlike so many of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. I love going for walks in my well-lit and crime-free neighborhood at night. These are blessings to enjoy—glimpses of light in a dark world. But as a Christian, I also can’t demand that God give me such circumstances. We live in a fallen world. If the Creator of the universe wasn’t shielded from suffering when he walked the earth, should we expect a safe and easy road?

Jesus calls each of us to take up our cross to follow him, and taking up a cross is hazardous. We don’t know the exact paths he will lead us down, but we can be sure of two things: living as faithful followers of Christ will include risk, but those risks can be engaged confidently because he will never leave or forsake us. He is present through every twist and turn and valley and obstacle and hardship and hurt. We can trust him, remembering the psalm of David: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

This article is adapted from Go and Do Likewise: A Call to Follow Jesus in a Life of Mission and Mercy by Amy DiMarcangelo.

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