[Though I promised to talk about how an awareness of “power, love and self-discipline” counter fearfulness, we’ll have to wait till next time for that. This time I’ll differentiate between fear and fearfulness, and then ask you if you’re ashamed of Jesus!]
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 did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God… 2 Timothy 1:6-8
Instead of being courageous lion-killers, many Christians are timid, and frankly, quite cowardly about the grand adventure into which God has invited us. Of course, the most extreme form of timidity, when the pressure’s on, is to turn one’s back on the Lord and deny him altogether. No doubt, that’s the meaning of the apparently out-of-place reference to “cowardly” among other fatal lifestyle choices in the Bible’s second-to-last chapter.
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8
Are fear and fearful the same?
Some people are just more naturally – some supernaturally – bolder than others. I don’t really know why that is, but I’ve been talking about how if you’re not one of them, you’re not necessarily let off the hook of a risk-taking approach to the way you live your life in Jesus. Paul’s protégé, Timothy, was one such guy who was not given to living courageously. He grew up with a dad who couldn’t mentor him spiritually, was given to sickness, fearfulness, and introversion; nevertheless, Paul wouldn’t give him a pass on his responsibility to live for Jesus out loud. You might reason that your calling is not one of those that would require a particularly audacious outlook. I’d counter that while your calling may not demand an outgoing temperament, it most certainly will take courage on your part. Courageous faith seems to be the constant in all the callings.
Spiritual bravery is not the same as being gregarious. One is a personality trait and the other is a choice that we make in faith in order to accomplish our purpose on earth. God created (or allows for) all sorts of personality types, calls people to all types of responsibilities in his world, and then requires – and supplies upon earnest request – faith and courage for each of us to do what he calls us to do.
Though he urges us over and over not to “fear” (somebody counted 366 times in the Bible, one for every day, even in leap year!), he doesn’t object to fear as much as to fearfulness. Being afraid of snakes is natural and has its upside, while a tentative or timid tendency may not be so natural and carries with it mostly a downside, especially as it impedes us from following God in his adventure. If he’s honest, the brave soldier will admit, with people dying all around him in battle, that he’s scared but chooses to do his duty in spite of it. It’s that general sense of apprehension, a universal sense of insecurity, with which so many believers are afflicted. They’re afraid to live in an upstream direction in a downstream culture, to be identified as an adoptee of God, and to tell people the truth about their Father.
Paul was about to have his head removed by sword on the Appian Way in Rome. Afraid? Terrified, I’m sure. Tempted to recant? Undoubtedly. Even Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” He even asked his Father to come up with an alternative plan that didn’t include him hanging on a cross. Jesus was afraid, but not fearful. He was the bravest Man on earth, who dealt with his fear by facing it down and denying it control.
Are you ashamed of Jesus?
It’s true that “a text without a context is a pretext,” and you’ve probably noticed that before and after Paul told timid Timothy to be brave he referenced the young disciple’s ministry assignment. The Message Bible makes the context clearer:
“The special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze! God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible. So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner.”
You may not be called to be a street preacher or missionary to the lepers in India, but whatever your assignment, it will require courage on your part to fulfill it. If, due to fearfulness, your gift has ebbed to a smoldering cinder, and your timidity holds you back from admitting to others that you’re a Jesus person, you need to tap into the power, love and self-discipline that the Spirit puts into your spirit.
Throughout the letter – his final one before his own beheading – Paul told Timothy not to be “ashamed,” which is another way to say, “Don’t be afraid.” “I am not ashamed because I know whom I have believed… He (Onesiphorus) was not ashamed of my chains… Don’t be ashamed to testify about the Lord or of me his prisoner…” Fear and shame are cousins. We fear the consequence of being shamed or embarrassed by something or someone. I hate it when someone treats me condescendingly and I walk away feeling less. It’s this prospect that tempts me toward timidity. I have lots of excuses and worries – I might fail, I might look stupid, they might not like it, God might not show up and help me. With each alibi the flame inside me recedes and the voice of the Spirit fades. Conversely, when I push my fears aside like obstructing branches on the trail that I’m cutting with the sword of the Spirit, fear subsides and faith commences to blaze again.