The April 2017 issue of Christian Standard focused on the question, “Why are we so afraid?” Throughout the issue there are articles about living in a culture of fear and how to resist it. One article was written by a couple who have been missionaries in England for the past twenty some years. Having returned to the United States recently, they observed how our culture has become overwhelmingly fearful. They noted how news broadcasts seem to inspire fear and how our last election cycle seems to have been driven by fear, from all sides. While they also made it clear that such fear is not purely an American phenomenon, they expressed their concern for Christians who seem to be overwhelmed by this rampant culture of fear.
I share that concern. While I understand the misgivings that many people have regarding the secularization of our culture, I don’t understand responding to it in fear, especially among Christians. I especially do not understand it when such fears extend to the church itself; that is, I don’t get it when people are afraid for the future of the church, as if it may someday disappear from our country, if not from the earth altogether.
Jesus himself gave the definitive statement regarding the resilience of the church in Matthew 16:18, saying, “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.” So, in light of such an emphatic statement, I have to wonder, Church, “What are you afraid of?”
Granted, this congregation has seen trouble throughout its history (what church hasn’t?), and there are days when it seems that those troubles continue to simmer beneath the surface. When it comes to looking at attendance numbers and giving statements, yes, that can be discouraging, but it should not inspire fear. Regardless of the struggles within the church and the attacks against the church, we should not fear the demise of the church because Jesus himself said it just can’t happen.
With that in mind, we ought to live differently from the world around us. While the world lives in fear – of war, of economic failure, of “others,” of whatever – we must live differently.
Timothy was a young preacher who lived in a world that was hostile to the church and, it seems, within a church that might have been hostile to himself, perhaps because of his age. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encouraged him to keep at it, regardless of the opposition:
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:9-13, NIV)
Paul reminds Timothy of what we must remember; first: “We have put our hope in the living God.” Second: keep at it; keep preaching and teaching the Scriptures. Our hope is not in this world; so we must keep at the work that God has given us. We all know that is not an easy thing; so Paul wrote to encourage Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Regardless of the opposition he faced and the great task he was called to do, Timothy could not be cowed by fear.
We must take encouragement and direction from Paul and Timothy. Regardless of the changes in our country, our culture, and our world; regardless of the opposition against the church; and regardless of the struggles within the church, do not be afraid. Our hope is in God; so we must not fear. Our hope is in God; so we must keep on preaching and teaching the Scriptures. Our hope is in God; so we must trust the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Our hope is in God; so we must love others and discipline ourselves. And when the world sees that we are not afraid, we can lead them to the One who takes away our fears.