Faith over Fear (2 Cor. 4:13-15)
Fear can be a paralyzing force in the life of the Christian. Whether from fear of being rejected or persecuted or perhaps not wanting to be seen as lacking cogent answers to controversial questions, many remain silent.
I doubt if there has ever been a believer who hasn’t at some time kept his or her mouth shut when they should have spoken. With hindsight, we look back on the occasion and feel the sting of guilt, even shame, for having let cowardice rather than courage dictate our behavior.
Most of you will remember the famous incident at the Diet of Worms in 1521 when Martin Luther stood resolute and firm in affirming his faith. It was April 17, at 4:00 p.m., when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, challenged him with two questions. First, did he acknowledge that the books on the table before him were his? And secondly, would he stand by them or retract what he had written?
“Yes, the books are mine,” said Luther. “But whether I shall reaffirm in the same terms all, or shall retract what I may have uttered beyond the authority of Scripture, -- because the matter involves a question of faith and of the salvation of souls, and because it concerns the Word of God, which is the greatest thing in heaven and on earth, and which we all must reverence, -- it would be dangerous and rash in me to make any unpremeditated declaration, because in unpremeditated speech I might say something less than the fact and something more than the truth; besides, I remember the saying of Christ when He declared, 'Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven, and before His angels.' For these reasons I beg, with all respect, that your Imperial Majesty give me time to deliberate, that I may answer the question without injury to the Word of God and without peril to my own soul."
Returning on April 18, at 6:00 p.m. he delivered this now famous response:
"Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the Pope nor councils alone; it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound to the Word of God: I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!"
Our circumstances are less threatening. It isn’t with exile or death that we are threatened when challenged about our faith. Yet we long to speak with the same clarity and courage that Luther did. Is it possible? If so, how?
Paul was faced on countless occasions with a similar situation. Scorn, ridicule, imprisonment, beatings, and the possibility of martyrdom threatened him each time he ventured to open his mouth. Yet he refused to remain silent! How did he do it? How might we do it?
Here in 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 we catch a small glimpse of what motivated and sustained Paul in his courageous and unflinching defense of the gospel. There are five factors that played a role in sustaining him in his bold witness for Christ. Here’s the text.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:13-15).
First, boldness is buoyed by belief. “We also believe,” said Paul, “and so we also speak.” The Holy Spirit who first awakened faith in our hearts, says Paul, has produced in us a deep and abiding conviction of the truth of the gospel. In spite of the daily experience of “death” (vv. 10-12) Paul’s unswerving confidence in God’s purposes in Christ made it inevitable and inescapable that he should continue to preach. Belief in the truth has a remarkably powerful capacity to generate courage in the face of the enemy.
Second, Paul speaks in the face of all opposition because he knows “that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” In other words, what ultimate harm can any man inflict on Paul if God has pledged himself to raise him up with Christ on the last day? Yes, they can crush the body, but God will glorify it. Yes, they can terminate his temporal existence, but God has promised eternal life. Undoubtedly Paul would have strengthened himself in moments of weakness and fear with the reminder: “The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will raise me from the dead. So let them kill me, if that is what it takes to make known the truth of the glory of God in Christ.”
Third, courage to confront unbelief with the truth comes from knowing that God has pledged to “bring us . . . into his presence.” The prospect of standing unashamed and joyful in the blinding, breathtaking presence of the glory of God was enough to sustain Paul and to energize his otherwise hesitant heart (cf. Jude 24).
Paul confessed his need for boldness and asked that other Christians pray for him in that regard (Eph. 6:19). I suspect that when God answered that prayer he did so, at least in part, by reminding the apostle that one day he would stand before him, never again to be insulted, never again to be afflicted, forever and again to be enthralled and captivated by the ineffable beauty of God.
Fourth, Paul could hardly remain silent knowing that to speak boldly was for the sake of the Corinthians whom he loved so dearly. “For it is all for your sake,” he said to them, “so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” My ministry has you in view, said Paul. If I were to cease speaking, if I were to yield to intimidation or pressure or threat of persecution, you are the ones who would suffer loss, for the “grace” that comes through the gospel would not reach those who need it most.
Fifth, and finally, there is an even greater impulse at work in his heart that accounts for his vocal bravery. As I speak, said Paul, the saving and sanctifying grace of God extends to more and more people. And as this grace is embraced and enjoyed, its recipients turn their hearts toward heaven with passionate and whole-souled gratitude to God. And when they do, he is glorified!
It should come as no surprise to us that the ultimate reason for Paul’s refusal to keep silent, the basis of his boldness, was his desire to draw ever greater and more vivid attention to God.
Trace it back, step by step. Thanksgiving glorifies God as the giver of all good things (v. 15c). But people cannot give thanks if they do not experience saving grace (v. 15b). And people cannot experience saving grace unless someone, “for their sake” (v. 15a), boldly proclaims the truth of the gospel. My faith is fixed in this truth, says Paul, and thus I speak (v. 13).
Perhaps Paul, in his own way, may have on more than one occasion uttered words similar to Luther’s: “My conscience is bound to the Word of God: I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!"
Do you believe? Then speak.