Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand together as one for the faith of the gospel, without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Philippians 1:27-28, NIV)
There are times when things can look scary for Christians - and that certainly seems to have been the case for the church Paul wrote to in Philippi. He was himself in prison (how they missed him!) and they were experiencing significant unpopularity / opposition. What a temptation to buckle, and to cool off in their urgent work of helping people to know Jesus.
This week’s fear story has been the spotlight on Christian sexual ethics. Heaps of abuse are poured on those who want to stand true to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a real danger that churches will move away from the Bible on this - not driven by conviction about Bible truth, but simply by fear of opposition and unpopularity.
What is true in this area could be said of other areas where the gospel confronts our culture. Or sometimes the very devil himself mounts a campaign of fear and intimidation to drive us towards panic and despair, as John Bunyan vividly describes when the horrific Apollyon straddles the road confronting Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Back, then, to Philippians. With his warmly reassuring tone, Paul assures these Philippians that God is really in control, so that, knowing this, they will keep on telling the world the Christian message. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that Paul is himself in prison, under possible sentence of death. Paul reassures this little church that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. He will not abandon us! Then, through the letter, we see the sovereign purposes of God worked out through apparently nightmare situations, and the assurance that God is at work in them.
It’s interesting in the book of Acts that the scariest times can often be when the gospel is advancing most - there is opposition, but also conversions!
When we face trials of various kinds, we need to hear some of the Bible’s 63 “Fear nots”. For who, ultimately, is in charge? To adapt the famous wartime slogan, “Look to the Lord, so keep calm, pray, and carry on.”