Chapter 14: BoldnessYea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4Opening Prayer: Father, it gets pretty dark down here sometimes. But I know that You are with me, even through the worst valleys. Comfort me and give me courage to move forward in faith, I pray. Amen.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
Have you ever walked through the valley of the shadow of death? Of course you have. Sometimes that valley contained the shadow of physical death, for you or a loved one. Perhaps you experienced terrible injury, illness, or failure of a relationship.
Our Lord, the Great Shepherd, calls us to walk boldly through this dreadful valley. This will truly prove the durability of the joy that God has birthed in your heart.
Two backwards truths
Most worldly boldness is based on feelings of personal strength and competence. A professional athlete boldly approaches competition, knowing that he or she has the personal gifts and training to achieve great performance. God calls us to be bold for reasons that seem backward to human logic:
- Although we are weak and vulnerable, we can trust an invisible God to protect us because His faithfulness and His love for us.
- Although we despise the dark valley, it is often the shortest path to places of great joy and peace.
God's plan calls for a change in your heart. He wants you to discern between healthy fear and unhealthy fear. He also wants you to respond in faith when our enemy tries to discourage you from following Jesus. The key is understanding the character and faithfulness of our Lord.
When I was a boy walking with my earthly dad, nobody (except him) could touch me. My only fear was a healthy fear of displeasing my dad. I knew my dad loved me and would take care of me.
Jesus applied this principle to His eternal Father in Matthew 10, verses 28-31:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Strange as it sounds, fear is a gift from God. Fear is a normal, human response to a situation or person that could harm us. Growing up, we learn healthy fear of fire, heights, poisonous snakes, and playing in the street.
Here is another backwards truth about Christianity: Healthy fear will enable us to overcome the fears that our enemies try to use as weapons against us.
Healthy fear defines our safe boundaries. We instinctively stop when we encounter a dangerous situation or person.
By contrast, unhealthy fear can stop us from making any type of progress in life. Our enemies strive to gain their goals by striking fear into our hearts. God wants to give us the wisdom and boldness to rightly discern healthy from unhealthy fear.
Healthy fear is an essential part of maturity. The most difficult fear to learn is fear of proper authority. We are all born rebels, self-centered and impatient. We resent being ordered around, especially by those who appear to enjoy it. We take perverted pleasure in escaping the consequences of our secret violations of the rules.
Unfortunately, the most obvious target to rebel against is God. The easiest rules to violate are God's commandments in the Bible. And it seems like we never get caught and punished for seemingly harmless violations like coveting other folks' property or spouses.
Our generation has lost its healthy fear of God. We have grown up watching celebrities in movies and TV break all the moral rules and get rich in the process. But are they really getting away with anything? Do you really think God ignores or approves of rebellion?
The book of Proverbs is mainly concerned with God-fearing wisdom. In the very first chapter, Solomon shows the powerful contrast between the foolish and the wise:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Wisdom is intelligently applied knowledge. We need knowledge before we can start gaining wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is the very first thing we must learn as we acquire knowledge.
God freely offers to teach us, but our sinful natures struggle against Him. Proverbs 1, verses 23 through 29 tell a sad (but familiar) story:23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you. 24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; 25 But ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would none of My reproof: 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28 Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me: 29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD.
If we accept His knowledge and learn healthy fear of His power, we will grow stronger and wiser. God promises to strengthen and encourage us. But if we get comfortable in our rebellion against Him, He is under no obligation to bail us out when trouble strikes.
Psalm 110 verse 10 shows that we should pay close attention to what God expects from us:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.
Overcoming Fear through Faith
Now that we have learned about healthy fear, we can talk about our enemy's tactics. Our enemy loves to work behind the scenes, using political and religious "terrorists" to attack us. These misguided human zealots are not our enemy, as we remember from Ephesians 6:12, which says:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.
The evil, invisible "rulers of the darkness" are much more powerful than we are in our human nature. However, our heavenly Father is infinitely more powerful than all these rulers combined. If our heavenly Father can be trusted, then we should seek His protection. We should position ourselves very near to Him.
Positioning yourself near Him is the same as abiding in our Lord Jesus Christ, as we saw in an earlier chapter. When you abide in the written word of God, and spend quality time in prayer with the Living Word, you will come to understand the character and faithfulness of God. You will know, by personal experience, that God loves you.
When you know that God loves you, and you are actively abiding in His love, the terrorists cannot make you fearful. The Apostle John, famous for his loving relationship with Jesus, expresses this truth in his first epistle, chapter 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God has in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 In this is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that as He is, so also we are in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has torment. He who fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. (MKJV)
Please pay special attention to verse 18: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." When you are truly in love with God and abiding in His Son, Jesus, you will be filled with His love. His love will displace your unhealthy fears.
Perhaps your physical dad was not as caring and strong as mine, so maybe it's difficult for you to directly relate to this feeling. Then let me encourage you to move out in faith to earnestly seek this relationship with Jesus and His Father.
When you spend the quality time with Jesus and the Scriptures, you will become convinced of His faithfulness and His love for you. You can trust a God like ours. His love will give you courage to face the inevitable hard times.
When somebody asks, "How could a good God allow…?" I have two standard responses. The first response is explained in the next chapter, "Blessings." The second response takes the form of a question, "How could a good God allow professional football?"
Don't laugh. Think about what a professional football player must endure:
- A childhood that includes being pushed and tackled by the biggest kids in town, plus endless amounts of verbal abuse from coaches and opponents.
- High school and college years filled with grueling physical work and painful injuries.
- Having the biggest and fastest athletes in the world knock you down (or unconscious) all day long.
- An extremely short working lifetime, typically less than 7 years and frequently ended by a crippling injury or concussion(s).
- A "retirement" haunted by physical pain and often an early death.
So why play professional football? Your immediate response is probably: "For the rewards! The money! The glory! The excitement!"
God allows us to suffer for the same reason: for the rewards.
The apostle Paul puts it very neatly in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4 verses 15-18:15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Paul begins this outrageous passage by saying the dark valley is good for you (verse 15) and that we even though our human lives are whipped and torn (verse 16), our inward character can be renewed day by day.
Then he has the nerve to call your problems "light affliction." Of course, he had the right to say that. For him, the walk of faith included being stoned by hostile mobs, being whipped by Roman torturers, being shipwrecked, and being beaten by religious fanatics. If Paul can call his problems "light," I shouldn't be too fearful of mine.
It's wrong to think that only great heroes of faith can endure suffering boldly. On the contrary, enduring suffering boldly makes great heroes of faith out of ordinary men and women.
If God's promises are true, then we have much to gain from the difficult times, as we'll see in the next chapter.
Love: An Action Verb
God's love gives us boldness, but not if we receive it passively. We must respond to God's love in faith, so the Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of love in our hearts.
When we first begin to grasp God's love, we're blinded by its power and brilliance. We're stunned, wondering what to do next. Then, as His love is poured into our hearts, we feel compelled to share it with a world that desperately needs it.
Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7, verses 16-17:16 You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. (MKJV)
As we abide in Jesus, spending quality time with Him in Bible study and prayer, He plants His love in our hearts and makes us fruitful in Him.
The apostle Paul expressed it beautifully in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing. (NKJV)
No matter how much or how little you have achieved in the Lord, you must measure yourself with the yardstick of God's love. These first three verses give us a unique perspective on Christian ministry:
- You can be the most gifted teacher and preacher on earth, able to speak profound truths in English and profound mysteries in tongues. But all those words are wasted if not spoken from a heart of love. You have said nothing.
- You can be the most charitable person on earth, working night and day like Mother Theresa. But if God's love is not your burning passion, your works won't do you any good. You gain nothing.
- You can be a miracle-worker for God, healing the sick, foretelling the future, and casting out demons. But if your miracles are not motivated by God's love, moving through your heart, you are just religious. You are nothing.
Years ago, I was looking for a new church fellowship and visited a church whose pastor was prominent on local radio and TV. The pastor was truly gifted, but I did not sense any love in the fellowship. It was not a complete ministry. I did not return there.
Let's continue with 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-5:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, 5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. (NAB)
Re-read the above verses, substituting "Jesus" for "love," and remember that our primary aim is to follow Jesus and become more like Him.
These two verses are also a very succinct marriage manual. Your marriage will last a lifetime if both of you agree to:
- Be patient and kind toward your mate's shortcomings. This will help him/her be gracious toward yours.
- Understand that God gives different gifts to different people. Don't waste a millisecond envying your partner's gifts or boasting about your own. What do you have that you did not receive from Him?
- Behave appropriately when you are together. Since you are one flesh, your behavior will reflect either honor or dishonor on your mate.
- Remember that you have merged your lives, and have become as one body. If you seek your own agenda at the expense of your mate's, you are behaving as a cancer within the body. If your mate is behaving as a cancer, you should seek treatment. Consult your pastor.
- Be careful when you encounter areas of disagreement, which are actually opportunities for mutual growth. You will both grow in grace if you continually seek to strengthen the bond of love between you. Sincere apologies, accompanied by love in action, are coin of the realm.
- Resist the temptation to get "historical" during arguments. Forget the person that your mate used to be. Focus on the person that your mate is trying to become, and see what you can do to help him/her get there.
Do this and live.
Verses 6 and 7 are general statements about how love looks in action:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Now let's read verses 8-10 and try to maintain our sense of perspective:8 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (NAB)
When you read these verses in context, the meaning is clear. God expects our hearts to bear the fruit of His love, and He expects our actions to be motivated by His love.
As we have seen in the earlier verses, exercising love (a Fruit of the Holy Spirit) is more important than exercising prophecy or tongues (Gifts of the Holy Spirit). When we enter Eternal Life, we will retain our changed character but not necessarily our gifts. In Heaven, our knowledge will seem perfect compared to our present limited understanding.
Some mainline denominations and theology schools have devised a peculiar interpretation of this passage. They teach that "the perfect" in verse 10 is the Bible, and therefore the gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in verses 8 and 9 (tongues and prophecy and knowledge) are no longer in operation and are no longer needed. Consider the implications of this interpretation:
- To believe this doctrine is to declare that any manifestation of these gifts since the second century A.D. must be from the devil and not the Holy Spirit.
- If the Holy Spirit really does give the gifts of tongues, prophecy and knowledge to believers today (Hint: He does.), then these teachers are attributing God's work to the devil. That could be interpreted as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - the unpardonable sin, according to Jesus. Don't go there. It's OK to declare that the devil raises up lots of phony manifestations, because he does. I've encountered dozens of charismatic wolves in sheep's clothing, and so have you. But it's very risky to make a blanket statement that all manifestations of tongues and prophecy and healing are from the devil.
- To declare that we don't need the gifts of the Holy Spirit today is the height of arrogance. Human nature did not evolve to the next level with the publication of the King James Version or the invention of Bible Colleges.
- Since prophecy is telling forth the Word of God, and if the gift of prophecy stopped 1900 years ago, why are pastors from these denominations still ascending to the pulpit on Sundays? Every word spoken from the pulpit in Jesus name should be God-breathed prophecy, holy to the Lord.
The very next verses prove that Paul did not refer to the Scriptures when he mentioned "the perfect" that was to come:11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly; but then face-to-face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (NKJV)
If "the perfect" has already come, then verse 12 must already be true. So ask yourself, do all believers instantly get perfect wisdom and face-to-face understanding of God as soon as they start reading the Bible? Are these theology teachers perfect in their face-to-face experience of God? Do their faces shine like Moses' when they emerge from their prayer closets? I don't think so.
As usual, the plain meaning of Scripture makes more sense. Paul had been teaching about the gifts of the Spirit before he digressed into this chapter. He wanted to drill home the point that character change (brought about by love) has more value than operating in the gifts. Verse 13 reinforces that plain meaning:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (NKJV)
The obvious implication is that God wants to transform your life from the inside out, to equip you for ruling and reigning with Him during the Milennium. You must reflect His character before you can be trusted with a portion of His authority.
One other observation: We can have faith by ourselves, and feel a certain measure of love by ourselves, in isolation. But hope is a fragile, perishable commodity. We strengthen each other and renew each other in hope when we manifest the love of God toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That's why you should never miss an opportunity to make the love of God real for somebody. They might need a transfusion of hope (and the resulting boldness) more than you realize.
When I'm feeling down, don't bother telling me to be brave. Show me you care enough to spend time with me. Walk with me through the dark valley where my fears live. Let the love of God shine through your heart, to give me renewed hope and boldness.Closing prayer: Lord, I'm so grateful that You love me so perfectly. Your love gives me the courage to go forward, through the dark valleys ahead. Let Your love transform my heart, that I may be a light shining in the dark valley, giving hope to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.