I recently have been preaching on the Fruit of the Spirit and have reached the end of Paul’s list of nine fruits in Galatians 5:22-23. For various reasons I have decided to extend my sermon series for a few weeks to include some “bonus fruits.” Paul’s list is not exhaustive. He says, “against such things there is no law,” implying that there are more fruits than the nine he lists. And when you think about it, surely we could add such fruits as humility, compassion, forgiveness, and others. One “bonus fruit” of the Spirit I recently preached on was the fruit of courage. I spoke of courage in the face of persecution, conflict and disaster and we could certainly add other situations.
As I continued to reflect on fear and courage in the Christian life after my sermon, I wished that I had nuanced things a little better. Here is what I mean: Is fear in a fallen world in and of itself a sin or is there a place for responsible fear/concern? When we talk about courage in the Christian life, does that mean that you aren’t afraid or worried about anything at all? I would say no. In fact, I would call that a counterfeit form of courage. Christian courage is not the complete absence of all fear and worry. That’s a sort of Stoicism, in other words, the absence of emotions, and a sort of “oh well, whatever will be will be.” The absence of fear and worry may also be a form of being hopelessly optimistic where wisdom calls for a more realistic approach to life. Or when it comes to conflict, the one who appears to be courageous in the face of conflict, may just not care about what other people think or feel.
I think when it comes to real Christian courage it means recognizing that something is indeed terrifying but trusting that God is MORE terrifying and that if God is on your side, who or what can ultimately be against you? The Bible says to Christians, “be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). While it may not be as explicit, I think it also says to Christians, be afraid in a fallen world, but don’t sin in your fear. The question is not whether or not we worry or fear, but what do we do with that worry or fear and whom do we ultimately fear? There is a kind of worry and fear that is sinful, a form of practical atheism or deism (i.e. acting as if God didn’t exist or that he is aloof) and there is a kind of worry or fear that arises out of a genuine love and concern for people and the problems of this world. The same Paul who said, “do not be anxious about anything,” said of Timothy in the same letter that he is “genuinely concerned/worried” for the welfare of the Philippians (Phil. 2:19-21). And Paul was commending him for his genuine concern/worry! Paul also spoke of his own “anxiety for all the churches” in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:28). It is this kind of responsible loving concern/fear/worry that leads us to pray and to experience the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” so that we have courage in the face of genuinely fearful situations (Phil. 4:6-7).
And when we view fear and worry in this way, we then can say that this kind of courage in the face of genuine concern is truly a fruit of the Spirit that only Christians can possess and express. And that is because in these situations only a Christian bows his knees to his heavenly Father and prays, “Father I know that this is a big concern, but YOU ARE FAR BIGGER than this concern, and you are able to be my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, you have proven this to me in Christ, whom you sent, to free me from my biggest concern, namely your just and eternal wrath, and so I trust that if you are on my side, who can be against me, you who did not spare your only Son, how will you not also with Him freely give me all things, for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from your love for me in Christ Jesus my Lord, Amen” (Ps. 46:1-3; Jn. 3:16; Ps. 27:1-3; Rom. 8:31-39). In this fallen world, fear and courage can and do coexist in a Christian, just as sorrow and joy coexist in a Christian, but ultimately courage conquers and casts out fear in a Christian because of the Spirit that has been given to us (Rom. 8:15-17; 2 Tim. 1:6-7).
The amazing thing about all of this is that though Christ had nothing to be afraid of, being the eternal Son of God and the one who perfectly obeyed God in the flesh, He wrestled with the worst fear imaginable in the Garden of Gethsemane on our behalf (Luke 22:39-46). He was genuinely afraid of the cup of God’s wrath for His people and yet he pressed on in the the most amazing and true courage any human being has ever exhibited in this world. The question is not so much did Christ experience fear in the Garden, no doubt he did, but what did he do with that fear? He took it to his heavenly Father in prayer. And He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly and works all things ultimately for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (1 Pet. 2:23; Rom. 8:28). It was for the joy that was set before him, the joy of being raised and returning to his Father’s right hand in glory, the joy of seeing the innumerable multitude of His offspring from all nations whom he would justified through his blood, the joy of bringing great glory to his Father, that he endured the cross, despising it’s shame (Jn. 17:5; Isa. 53:11; Phil. 2:9-11). And He who now rules all things for the sake of His church is interceding on our behalf and knows the kinds of fears that we face in this world as our sympathetic High Priest (Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 4:14-16).
Therefore, let us trust that His work was not in vain and that surely Christ has conquered all of our fears and we can trust that, because of Him, our heavenly Father will surely work all things for our ultimate good in Christ (Rom. 8:28-39). Beloved in Christ, be afraid in this fallen world, BUT don’t sin in your fear, take it to your heavenly Father in prayer and trust that He is for you in Christ and that, by His Spirit, He will grant you the courage to face life’s terrifying situations and will bring you into the unimaginable glories of the age to come for the glory of His Triune Name! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly (Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5, 20)!