One of the most often commands from Jesus to his disciples was, “Don’t be afraid.” He challenged them after his resurrection to “Fear not little flock for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Several of the times he challenged them about not being afraid he also tied it to a lack of faith. It seemed clear to Jesus that strong faith and fear didn’t go together. He also illustrated for us the problem that fear brings into life when he told the story of the master going on a journey and calling his servants to give them talents of gold for them to use while he was away. When he returned from the journey after a long time, he called the three servants to give an accounting of their work while he was away. The one who had been given five talents of gold came with the good news that he had traded and gained five more talents of gold. The one who had been given two talents of gold came and reported that he had gained two talents more of gold. To both of these the master said, “Well-done! you are a good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will put you in charge of many. Enter into the joys of your Lord.” But the man who had been given one talent of gold, which was still a huge amount of money, came with his one talent. He laid it before the master and declared, “Here is the talent of gold that you gave me. I knew you that you are a hard man. You reap where you haven’t sown any seed and you gather where you have planted anything. So, I was afraid and took the money you gave me and hid it in the earth. Now here is what you gave me.” I’m not sure what the man expected when he returned. But the master’s response was likely much stronger than he expected. “You wicked and lazy servant. Since you knew me, you should have taken the money and put it into a bank at then I would have at least received my own money with interest on my return. Take the talent of gold from him and give it to the one who has the ten and cast him into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Fear often has horrible consequences for us. It leads to worry and stress over things that should have been laid at the feet of the Lord for him to take care of. It often closes our mouth to sharing the message of the gospel that is so desperately needed in the world. Fear causes us to fail to speak up for what is right and to simply allow those who are working for the devil to have their way and even do harm to others without our interfering at all. Perhaps that is the reason that in Revelation 21:8 in picturing the final judgment he said, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, and the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The thing that should mark us as God’s children in the world is the very opposite of living in fear. It is BOLDNESS. In Acts 4:28-30 the church gathered in Jerusalem after Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin to testify about their healing of a man who had been cripple all his life by the name of Jesus Christ. When they were commanded not to preach or teach anymore in his name they stood strong and said,”We must obey God rather than men.” When they were released and went back to tell the church about what had happened, the church prayed to God about the whole affair. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your hold servant Jesus.” Persecution was just getting under way against the followers of Jesus. Notice they didn’t plead for protection or safety but for boldness to speak his word clearly.
Later, when Paul asked the church in Ephesus to pray for him in chapter six and verses 18-20 he marched down very similar ground. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
It concerns me that it is rare today to hear anyone in public prayer pray about the preacher or the preaching of the word to others and even more rare to hear anyone pray for boldness on the part of those who do preach God’s word. We pray lots for the sick, the hurting and the people facing hard times. But boldness has dropped from our list. Safety has become the big thing. Even the plea for greater faith and trust in God in the times of stress has largely dropped out of sight.
What would it change in church, in daily life and in our world today, if faith, boldness and trust became big items at the top of our prayer lists? Would it change the hearts of those who preach and spend more time being concerned that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings than whether or not the gospel is preached in its fullness? Would it change the teacher or the worker on the job who struggles with fear to ever speak up for God and to openly speak of one’s faith and commitment to Christ? Fear is killing our growth, our witness for Christ and our commitment to stand for what is right no matter who stands on the other side. “God please give us greater boldness as your people today and every day to follow.”