Fear in the Face of Adversity

If there’s one thing that is reasonably easy to do for the student of God’s Word, it is to assume a false pretense of the man Paul and his ministry. So often, such as in the letter to the Philippians, we find him upbeat and enthused even in dire conditions. It would seem he was nearly inhuman in his approach to the radical suffering and persecution he endured for the sake of the gospel.

But is that entirely true? Did Paul never display discouragement and fear in the face of adversity?

The adversity was surely present during the penning of Paul’s letter to these believers in Philippi. On one hand, he was imprisoned and unable to personally go to them. A large reason for the letter was to give thanks for these people of Philippi who so graciously helped him with gifts to ensure he was able to eat and have the other necessities while in chains. But rather than portraying the fear of punishment, lack of substance, and possible death at the hands of his captors, Paul applauds the intervening ability of God to use a very bad situation to accomplish a major push in the forwarding of the gospel. The Imperial Guard, employed to announce the coming of a new emperor, was spreading the news that this man Paul had been arrested for announcing, as he claimed, that the crucified and risen King of kings was now sitting on His throne (1:13). The irony of this seems to prep Paul for responding to the adversity in Philippi.

Apparently there were those who were desiring leadership roles in the church at Philippi with wrong motives. These saw the gospel as a tool for personal advancement rather than a life in Christ that called them to lay down their lives for Jesus’ body. In unreal optimism, Paul declares, “even though they do it for the wrong reason, the name of Christ is being proclaimed (1:18).” Through adversity, Paul seems unmoved by fear.

Could it be that the seeming fearless statements Paul forwards to them are more so for their benefit than a true reflection of what Paul was enduring mentally and physically?

If this letter is read beside the words of the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, then it’s probably a plausible thought. There, rather than hearing words like “to live is Christ; to die is gain,” we hear of his time in the Asian prison being described with terms like “affliction, burdened, and despair.”

The greater evidence though may be found in a letter from Paul to his good friend Timothy (2 Timothy). The agony in his closing words pours into the reader’s heart, revealing a man who is broken, alone, abused, and staring into the eyes of death as the executioner’s march has begun.

It’s comforting for me to know that Paul was human, and willing to admit it. Mainly because I am too. Sometimes much too human, at least in my fears and failures.

For Paul, he placed his faith in Christ, not in his feelings. He was fully aware that feelings come and go, both the good and the bad, but Jesus promised to never leave him. Through trials, regardless of emotion or feeling, Paul’s belief never wavered. In fact, it appears he was strengthened by his feelings as though they were simply another step in Christian maturity. As he described his abusive treatment from Alexander, and how he stood alone at his sentence of condemnation, he reminded Timothy, “Jesus was with me (4:17).” Maybe there are some times when He is the only one who can be there, our Strong Tower in the face of our fears… and in those times; He is sufficient.

About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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17 Responses to Fear in the Face of Adversity

  1. camgal says:

    I absolutely love this post 🙂 Thank you for stopping by my blog and following me.

  2. Pingback: Standing strong in the face of adversity « camgal

  3. Wayne Augden says:

    Michael, excellent post! We should remind ourselves daily that feelings aren’t to be relied upon. Nothing is better for putting feelings into context than the word of God.

  4. Left to our selves, we would so very often feel discouraged and defeated, but thankfully we are never left to ourselves. Our triune God is always with us, always ready, willing and able to undertake for us, in the MIDST of our circumstances. His promises are yea and amen and He will never leave us.

    What will stop His intervention? Sadly, I do. If I do not cry out to Him and submit to Him, I remain defeated. How absurd that of all His creation, we are the only part that can LIMIT Him.

    Someone said that FEAR is faith in satan. How true – and how absurd to place faith in him. I will trust the living God who has defeated satan and who gives me that victory in Jesus.

    • mtsweat says:

      Excellent points, Angela. I love Paul’s next encouraging words to those Philippians, “never let them see you sweat.” Because Paul KNEW (really knew) that Jesus was with him and would never leave him, he could look beyond what normally brings us humans to our knees. That’s where I want to be. Blessings good friend.

  5. For he knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. (Ps. 103:14)

    Thank God for His tender mercies toward us humans. Paul’s life is such a testament to the grace and mercy of God. We would never know that if Paul were somehow immune to or dishonest about the trials and struggles of this life. So, in that Paul’s life is a great encouragement.

    Great post!

  6. Chrystal says:

    I have to admit that I’ve done what I’m not supposed to do when I think of Paul…compare myself & find myself very lacking. He is a hard role-model in Christ to emulate….so thank you for reminding me that he was human with fears, despairs but relying on the Lord for his strength, no matter what his feelings were.

    • mtsweat says:

      Right there with you Chrystal. I find comfort in Paul’s humanity and also in others, not just biblical figures, but the here and now. I fear one of the pitfalls we’ve created is to put on a fake sense of security before those we would minister to by not letting them see we are totally dependent on Christ, and left to ourselves without Him… well, we can do nothing. Blessings

  7. alwayzhis says:

    EXACTLY!! We are to live by faith and not our feelings– which at least for me are not the nicest sometimes. Very good post. I was much encouraged by this today… thank you!
    Many blessings

    • mtsweat says:

      Blessings to you Stephanie. Faith trumps feelings! You are right… not the nicest sometimes, and would probably render a roller coaster ride faith rather than one firmly rooted in Christ. Thanks!

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