Monday, January 15, 2024

What Are You Afraid Of?

Are you overwhelmed by the relativistic, hedonistic, and pagan culture around you? Do you fear that the Christ in you is not quite up to the task of doing battle with, much less conquering, that culture? As a Christian, are you intimidated by the world’s bold worship of wealth and pleasure? Do you feel isolated and alone in the world?

Paul, the seemingly fearless missionary and apostle, knew something of that same fear as he took the Gospel to Corinth. He said he came to that great bastion of paganism “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul’s anxiety was so much of an issue that God spoke to him about it in a vision, echoing the most frequent command of Christ, “Fear not”: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9–10).

What was so intimidating about Corinth? Corinth was an international city of trade for both east-west and north-south traffic. She was visited by people of different races, nations, and languages. But that is just part of the story. The Temple of Aphrodite was on a mountain that dominated the city landscape. It could be seen from all over Corinth and even from Ephesus (forty miles) on a clear day. A thousand women were kept at the temple for the celebration of love in the worship of Aphrodite. It was a temple built for sexual pleasure. Down in the city was the Temple of Apollo. This god’s devotees went there to celebrate music, poetry, and sex. The celebrants would pass by statues dedicated to male virility. Apollo’s beautiful young men were there to satisfy every desire of male and female worshipers. These two temples revealed the heart and soul of this seaport. This was Corinth, so infamous, that when a man or woman was grossly immoral, when even the pagans were uncomfortable with the sin of another, the sinner was called “Corinthian.” In the ancient world, these people would have been voted the least likely to become Christians.

I am glad Paul wrote about his fear. Sometimes we think men like Peter, Paul, Luther, and Calvin did not ever fear. We think, “They were not like us. They were so super-spiritual that they did not face the same temptations we do.” Thus, when we are intimidated by the power of the world, when we are frozen with fear, we excuse ourselves from standing for Christ because we are afraid.

Paul would say, “That is no excuse. I was afraid too.” Paul had heard of Corinth all of his life, and there he was, right in the middle of her intimidating and tempting lifestyle. Would the powerful immorality blow him away or seduce him?

What a lesson! All of us will sometimes be intimidated by the sin in the world around us. No one is so spiritual or so holy that he is above intimidation and temptation. So we can’t excuse ourselves by saying, “God does not expect me to make a difference here; the world is too powerful. If He really expected me to do something, I would be more spiritual and I would not be afraid. I would not be intimidated or tempted.”

It is not so much the fear that is the sin. The sin is in the silence caused by the fear. Remember what God said to Paul in Corinth, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent.”

In fact, the fear can be good in the sense that it keeps us from destructive pride. If we are arrogant and don’t realize the power and danger of the world then we are more easily seduced by it. In warning the Corinthian Christians about sin, Paul wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul had just written about the sins the Israelites committed. He was saying, “If you think that cannot happen to you, you just don’t understand.” When a red flag on the beach signals a riptide, fear is a healthy response. Fear can make us properly cautious for our own spiritual safety, so that the powerful temptation of Corinth does not catch us off guard.

Paul’s fear, however, did not silence him. It did not turn him into a coward. He spoke and he learned a great lesson: God can build His church in the most unusual places with the most unlikely people. Once we understand what Corinth was and what God did there through Paul, no situation on earth should intimidate us to silence. Do you believe that? What great pagans are on your prayer list? I have several people on my prayer list who are such renowned sinners that no one would ever think they would become Christians. They are the Corinthians of my life. Every time I pray for them, I am reminded of the truth that they are not beyond the power of Christ, and that I must not be silent.