A great deal of the sin in our lives is little more than a lame attempt to protect ourselves from the possibility of being sinned against. Whether it’s a preemptive strike or a full-scale retreat, we’ll do just about anything to avoid the hard work of loving others. But the way to God is through loving others. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). We long to be perfect, but God’s perfect work in us cannot be completed without a willingness to expose ourselves fully to the people and situations God has placed before us.
Even the difficult matters in our lives are signs of God’s love for us. When we can place ourselves before those circumstances, neither shrinking back not attacking, the perfect love of God can be fully manifested in us.
Almost all of us struggle with fear, whether we show it or not. No less a man than Timothy—who helped Paul write the books of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon—clearly struggled with fear throughout much of his ministry. Consider the advice from Paul, near the end of his life and while in prison, to the man who by this time had become bishop of Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:5–14, emphasis mine)
What’s Paul’s remedy to fear, then? Several exhortations come up here:
- Remember your faith, and who you are in Jesus (v. 5).
- Take the spark God’s given you, and fan it into a flame (v. 6).
- Exert the “power of love and self-control” you’ve already received (v. 7).
- Be willing to take some heat for the gospel you believe (v. 8).
- Remember that Christ conquered death—what more is there to fear (v. 10)?
- Accept suffering as part of the package of both sanctification, and of life itself, and realize that even in those times God’s protection remains upon you (v. 12).
- Do what you know to be true and right. Obey God, faithfully and in love (v. 13).
- Through the Holy Spirit, guard what God’s already given you (v. 14).
Which of these is at the top of your list right now? In what ways can you step out of fear and into “life and immortality to light through the gospel”? Eternal life begins now. So lay down your fear, and step boldly into the light.
Lay It Down Today
If you can’t do this final activity immediately, do it in the next twenty-four hours: Read Paul’s two letters to Timothy in one sitting. They’re ten fairly modest chapters (less than two hundred verses total), but chock full of fatherly advice and en-courage-ment to a son in the faith. As you read, put yourself in Timothy’s place, reading these personal letters from a spiritual father he might never see again in the flesh. Think of these letters as a mentor writing to you, sharing his life experience while he still has the opportunity. Feel the immediacy.
After reading, ask God to show you how to act upon what you’ve just read. Which of Paul’s words struck you hardest, and why? What does God want to do with that? Spend time praying through that, “pushing” God for an answer. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied you’ve laid all out your fears, anxieties, and concerns before God. Then let him go to work, and watch what happens.