Beware of the fear of man!
Christians in America these days live out their lives in fear and trembling. The only problem is it's the wrong kind of fear and trembling. We're afraid of offending people with the truth of the Gospel, more specifically their sin. We're afraid that people won't come to our church and our church will die out. Is this a rational fear though?
There once was a man in a boxing gym who wanted to be the champion of the world in boxing. He was there everyday and worked hard. He ran, did push ups, sit ups, the speed bag, jumping rope, heavy-bag and weight lifting. However, there was one thing he refused to do: when it came time for sparring, he never threw any punches at his sparring partner. When I made this discovery, I asked why he never seems to throw any punches. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't want to hurt anybody... I used to land punches, but people kept getting mad at me every time I did. So I decided to come up with a more gentle approach to boxing. Now people love getting in the ring with me!"
Fight night arrived for this well-conditioned young man. He jumped in the ring, danced around, tapped gloves with his opponent and proceeded to not move his hands in any way other than to block. Within 30 seconds of the first round, the referee called off the fight. This man who wanted to be the boxing champion of the world, yet didn't want to hurt anybody, was disqualified within seconds of his first and only fight. How tragic...
My question to you, brothers and sisters is this: Are you like this boxer who refuses to throw punches? Are you afraid to share the Gospel with someone because you're afraid you might hurt their feelings?
"After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds."
I was reading this passage this week on Good Friday and this particular part broke my heart to pieces. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were prominent figures among the Jewish people, so their position held a lot of weight. They also had just watched the man they believed in get crucified, so it's almost understandable. You can have some compassion on these people in that context, I suppose... However, let's rewind in the book of John a little bit and you'll see where their heart really is.
"Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
Yes, that was before the crucifixion! In that context they were afraid to confess Jesus Christ as Lord because they would be put out of the synagogue. Boo freakin' hoo! I have no sympathy on those people because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. That's why we hear nothing else about these people in church history.
But, are we really any better?
Seriously, what are we afraid of? Whatever we're afraid of, we're controlled by. Whatever we're controlled by, we worship on some level. So let me ask you again, what is it you bow down to? Are we afraid of people not wanting to come to our church? I mean, if people don't come to our church, how can they get saved? How will they ever know about Jesus? If people tell us they don't want to come to our church, does that mean we're responsible for their eternity in hell? Let me give you a clear answer: NO!
We are not responsible for the decisions other people make as to whether they want to follow Christ or not. We can't make up their minds for them, we can only tell them the truth and let the Lord do His work in the heart of the one hearing it. For it is written,
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,Who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
So, if a boxer has to throw punches to win a boxing match, what is it a Christian has to do to win souls? Preach the Gospel of course! The Gospel is our weapon, without which our entire lives are to be pitied more than any man. When I talk about preaching the Gospel, I'm talking about bringing about an awareness of the person's sin and the need to repent of it along with the finished work of Christ's death and resurrection. If we leave the Gospel out of our witness, what are we actually accomplishing? All we're accomplishing then is nothing more than adding bodies to vacant spots in a church room. One more cup of coffee to brew, one more bagel to cut (if you live in New York of course) one more person to give financial offerings to keep the lights on, but not necessarily one more soul in the Kingdom of Heaven though.
Perhaps you're thinking, "Of course I preach the Gospel to people! I tell them how much Jesus loves them and if they accept Him into their hearts they'll go to Heaven. I just don't want to make them uncomfortable by telling them they're going to end up in hell without Jesus because of the bad things they've done. I just want to love people. I just want them to come to church, maybe then I can preach the rest of what they need to know..."
That reminds me of the that punch-less boxer after his first defeat. In sparring he finally began to extend his arm in a punch-like manner, but none of the punches ever made contact. He thought to himself, "It's part of a bigger strategy. I'll keep feinting him until he gets off balance and maybe that can be considered a knockout." Once again, he never was allowed to even finish the fight because he still didn't throw a single punch.
An incomplete punch doesn't count in boxing, neither does an incomplete Gospel in salvation.
Consider this: If you try to leave out the uncomfortable part of the Gospel in an outreach setting just to get them into your church, you're going to run into the same trouble once you talk about it within your church. If you think, "They won't want to come to my church because I scared them off. If I get them to come to church first, then I can talk to them about it," what will actually happen is they will get comfortable in your church... and that's it... They'll attend regularly, become a voting member, serve in leadership roles even. They'll become indispensable! However, as soon as you finally bring up the truth about their condition before the Lord, they will leave and a trail of destruction will follow. I'm not saying this will always happen. It's just like playing with fire: It may not always result in the building burning down, but the chances of getting burned are always there. Therefore be careful!
Rather, we must fear the Lord. Instead of being afraid of incurring the wrath of man's displeasure, we ought to be afraid of incurring the Lord's displeasure. Consider what is written in the book of 1 John. Let this verse be something you print out and post all over your home so you see it everywhere you go.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."
1 John 4:18
There's still going to be some fear. There will be anxiety. I get nervous the day of a big evangelism outing as well as when I'm stepping into the boxing ring to spar someone. This is when we can look to Almighty God for our ultimate source of comfort.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
I know that's a popular passage for people to post everywhere, but as I've been studying the Scriptures to prepare this article I looked at the verse immediately following.
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
This, my friends, is how you can battle fear in the middle of it. Focus on what is TRUE! The Word of God is true, and so are all of His commands in it. He Commanded us to preach the Gospel and He promised He would be with us always. Even to the end of the age! That means when you focus on what is true as you share the Gospel with an unbeliever, you'll remember the Lord is with you, right there! Have you ever considered that maybe is the reason why people are so affected by the Gospel, both in the positive and negative? It's like if a boxer had lead weights in his gloves during the fight, every punch he lands will have quite the impact. (Obviously, it's not legal to do that, I just want to make the point of the punches being powerful.)
Remember: You have the Power of God at the tip of your tongue. It has the power to transform lives. We hold the power to raise the dead back to life! Don't be like the punch-less boxer who had the best intentions but never hit the mark. Be the one who will stand victorious with Christ at the end of fight!