Fear vs. Hope
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
The apostle Paul’s life took a dramatic change in direction the day the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, where he was going to find Jews who had come to a faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah. He had letters from the religious authorities in Jerusalem to arrest these Christians and throw them in jail. He had previously participated in the execution of Christians.
But Jesus himself appeared to Paul and gave him a new life mission: to take the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles (non-Jews). In one day his life turned completely around. He went from being a persecutor of Christians to becoming one of the persecuted believers that the Jews hated. He had to be let down over the city wall in Damascus in a basket so that he could escape death.
The book of Acts in the Bible gives us a lot of information about Paul’s missionary journeys and all the opposition and persecution he faced in carrying out his mission that Jesus himself had given to him. He wrote once to his young apprentice in the faith, Timothy, the following truth: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Paul spent a lot of time in jail cells, and was physically beaten many times as well, including being stoned one time, and left outside a city for dead. But these things never stopped him from continuing the mission Jesus had given him, as he wrote to Timothy:
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra–which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
Did the pressure ever get to Paul? Yes, it most certainly did. The opening verse above states: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” He was a human being with feelings and emotions just like you and me. He felt the pressure. He “despaired,” or got depressed, and even thought he would probably die on some of these occasions.
But the one thing that kept him going each time was having the proper perspective on his circumstances. He did not give in to fear, but instead turned to God in faith and hope: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” He knew that if he tried to rely on his own strength, his own wisdom or his own education, that he would never make it. His reliance and total trust had to be on God alone: the God who raises the dead. With a God like that supporting you, what is there to fear, when death itself has no power over you?
Are you facing difficult pressures in life today that are tempting you to give in to fear and depression? Do you need a fresh perspective on your circumstances? Could it be that God has put you in the position you are in today because he wants you to stop relying on yourself and instead start relying totally on him?
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh– though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (words of Paul Philippians 3:3-14)