“Fear or Faith?”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
March 22, 2020
Down through the years, one verse of scripture has come to mind more frequently than any other when facing adversity or intimidating challenges. Every personal problem or national crisis has directed my attention to this reassuring verse.
It has calmed my spirit when it appeared my life or the world was spinning out of control. This has certainly been true in recent months as reports of the Corona Virus Pandemic have painted a bleak picture.
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Who penned these encouraging and hopeful words? They were written by the apostle Paul, the first missionary and church planter.
Over the course of twenty years, Paul took three missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire. His intent was to preach the gospel, plant churches and recruit leaders. He was passionate about making disciples who would follow Jesus and adopt his values, priorities and lifestyle.
To whom was Paul writing? It was a young man named Timothy who was born in Lystra, a city in Asia Minor. On his first missionary journey, Paul became acquainted with Timothy, his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois. Paul endeared himself to this family and stayed with them whenever it was feasible.
Paul was so impressed with Timothy he took him under wing and became his mentor. When Timothy came of age, he traveled with Paul and became a valuable co-worker.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul shared this assessment of Timothy, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news of you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father, he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22)
Why did Paul feel the need to pen this powerful promise to Timothy? I believe there were two reasons.
For starters, Paul was preparing to turn the reins of his ministry over to Timothy. Paul was in prison in Rome facing an imminent death. The Roman emperor, Nero, had already publicly declared his intention to kill Paul.
Slaughtering Christians was not uncommon during Nero’s thirteen year reign. It has been reported Nero needed someone to blame for his misdeeds, and he used Christians as scapegoats. It appears Paul’s death, the most prominent Christian leader at that time, would buy Nero goodwill among those upset with him for his brutal and vicious behavior.
Further into this letter to Timothy, you can sense the urgency Paul felt about moving Timothy into a leadership role. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” (2 Timothy 4:6)
Paul lived each day as if it was his last. Writing this letter was something he wanted to accomplish before his voice was silenced.
Secondly, Paul knew from experience the challenges awaiting Timothy would be intimidating and overwhelming. At times, his knees would buckle under the weight of that burden.
He would wrestle with fear and self-doubts. He would deal with conflicting emotions and be tempted to quit.
Too much was at stake for Timothy to abandon his divine mission. To a great degree, the spread of the gospel and the future of the church rested in Timothy’s hands. Much was riding on the way Timothy handled his responsibilities. He had to remain strong, passionate and faithful.
So, what did Paul want Timothy to know? The success of his mission was not dependent upon what he could do, but what God could do through him.
By himself, Timothy was no match for this challenge and the fears that accompanied it. Relying upon God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Timothy could be as strong and faithful as Paul had been.
Paul wanted Timothy to know God had already given him three things he needed to combat fear and to be an effective and faithful leader: power, love and a sound mind.
Power would give Timothy the ability to do more than he ever thought possible. Like Paul, Timothy would need to make sacrifices and take risks.
Was he ready for this? Was he up to this challenge? Would he lean into danger or run from it?
If he was depending upon his own strength and abilities, he would falter. Trusting God and making himself available to be God’s instrument of change, Timothy could do far more than he ever thought he would.
Love would give Timothy the ability to do what was right and best regardless of how difficult it would be. Like Jesus, love would enable Timothy to adopt a selfless, servant’s heart. No task would be too menial for him to do and no sacrifice too great for him to make if it would honor God and make hope visible to those who were struggling to survive.
A sound mind would give Timothy the ability to make wise decisions while under pressure. God would open his eyes, heart and mind so that he would clearly see what the next best steps would be. God would grant Timothy the good judgment and self-discipline needed to lead those looking to him for direction.
What do you think these words meant to Timothy? What did they do for him?
I believe they gave him a great sense of peace, calm and confidence. I am certain they provided the frequent reminder Timothy needed to draw close to God and to depend upon God for what he lacked.
I have good news for you this morning. What Paul promised Timothy and what God did for Timothy are available to all of us in these uncertain and critical times.
I cannot stress enough the need for us to draw near to God in the days ahead and to rely upon God for guidance, strength, courage and wisdom. Let me encourage you to begin each morning by quoting 2 Timothy 1:7.
Every time you hear an update on the Corona Virus Pandemic, repeat this verse. When facing tough decisions, speak these hopeful words.
Don’t give fear the microphone. Give it to God. Let your faith speak louder than your fears.
On the Thursday before Jesus was crucified, he gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room to eat the Passover Meal. While gathered around that table, Jesus informed his disciples of his impending death.
From the expressions on the faces of those disciples, Jesus quickly picked up on their confusion, anxiety and fear. Of the many things Jesus said to them at that critical time, this is worth repeating today.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Years ago I came to realize the peace Jesus offers us is not the absence of anything, including tension and turmoil or tears and fears. His peace is the presence of someone who will always be by our side providing what we need to handle every challenge that comes our way.
That someone is our Lord, who through the Holy Spirit, will accompany us on our journeys of faith to help us deal with life’s stiffest challenges. Because Paul experienced Jesus’ presence and peace everyday under all circumstances, he could reassure Timothy the Lord would meet his needs, too.
For the same reasons, Paul can reassure us, too. The Prince of Peace is also our constant companion.
In a former pastorate, I was visiting with a church member by the name of Barbara whose brother died suddenly in a tragic accident. He was a young man in his forties and an essential leader in the family businesses. He was also a devoted husband and loving father.
Prior to this accident, this young man’s father had been turning over to him the management of the family enterprise. He was already considered to be irreplaceable.
The family’s shock and grief were immeasurable and inexpressible. I wondered what my visit with his sister and her family would be like.
One of the first things I saw when I walked into the kitchen was a post-it-note hanging on the refrigerator. It appeared to have been written in Barbara’s own handwriting.
“For this, I have Jesus,” it said.
When I pointed to it, Barbara walked over to me and told me this note had been hanging there for some time. “I am sure you understand why,” she said to me as we hugged.
Yes, I thought to myself, I understand, and I wish everyone did.
This has never been truer than today in these perilous times.