Australia is in the grip of fear. It’s palpable. Some cities and states may be feeling it more than others, but no one can doubt that our nation is afraid. Covid cases are breaking records every day. Covid death numbers are rising. But it’s not only the disease itself we fear – it’s the ongoing consequences that continue to grip the everyday Aussie. Fear of job loss, fear of economic stress, fear of isolation and loneliness. It seems that we are more blind to what the future holds than even twelve months ago. We fear the present, and we fear what the future holds. Nothing seems certain anymore. Australia is terrified.
Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear focuses the mind. It heightens the senses. It cures lethargy. It revives the dozer. Perhaps it is a good thing that the pandemic has caused collective unrest in the Australian psyche. Individually and corporately, we are reconsidering some of our deepest held convictions.
But when will it end? For many Christians, down on bended knee, the confession is whispered: “Father, I’m scared.”
Fear has always been part of the Christian faith, but not the fear that the world experiences. Paul wrote: “Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (2 Cor.5:11). Our earliest Christian brothers and sisters had a lot to fear. They lived in even more volatile times than our own. Paul himself lived a life that many of us would baulk at. In the same letter to the Corinthians, he reminded the Church of his frequent imprisonment, severe floggings, and regular exposure to death (2 Cor 11:23). He goes on to add:
24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Paul had much to fear, yet it was the fear of the Lord that motivated his ongoing mission work. Being reminded of his experiences can put things into perspective for us (as can some of the heartbreaking stories coming from our Afghan brothers and sisters at this time). But more than that, in the midst of a nation whose collective life is driven first and foremost by its circumstances, Paul models to us a life driven by God.
At first, it might seem hard to grapple with what it looks like to be motivated by the fear of the Lord, rather than fear of our current pandemic circumstances. Once again, however, Paul lights the way, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it is all about Jesus. For Paul, to fear the Lord is to live with Christ as both our judge and saviour.
Christ as Judge:
Paul’s reference to the fear of the Lord comes right after his declaration that “we all must appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” Paul might have been drawing on Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body and cannot skill the soul. Rather, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In the light of increasing Covid death numbers, it’s sobering to be challenged by Christ’s judgement. If nothing else, it is a stark reminder that lockdowns are no time to be putting our evangelistic efforts on pause – they should motivate us to double our efforts!
Christ as Saviour:
Paul doesn’t leave us, however, with Christ’s judgement seat. He actually transitions a few verses later to discuss that which drives all that he does: the love of Christ. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). Christ’s love, expressed in his saving death and resurrection, is infinitely deep, astoundingly sacrificial, and irresistibly compelling. Paul’s life is not driven by fear of his current or future circumstances, but driven first and foremost, by Christ’s love. And the same can be true for us.
Because of the love of Jesus, we don’t have to fear economic and personal failure – his death demonstrates the riches of his mercy, and his resurrection demonstrates the provision of our greatest need.
Because of the love of Jesus, we don’t have to fear the future – he has defeated death, evil and disease already, and we have a certain hope that our future is secure in him.
Because of the love of Jesus, we don’t have to fear loneliness – he will always be with us, loving us, guiding us, breathing hope in us by his Spirit. And we are now part of an eternal church family that will always be there for us, in our best and our worst times.
Because of the love of Jesus, we don’t have to be scared, for, in the immortal words of Romans 8:35-39,
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Robert Falls has just begun ministry in Vanuatu