A recent ‘share with us’ slip I received in church rung with me deeply. In our church, when a good chat is not possible, we have a 'share with slip' to pass notes to each other like naughty kids in class. So I received an anonymous 'share with us' slip. I appreciated getting it, and loved whoever had the honesty to write it. I love getting all of these slips, whether they are a sermon comment, or a prayer request, or a doodle of an airplane going down in flames (perhaps this too should be filed under 'sermon comment'). They are very precious to me. This particular slip read,
‘What do you say to people who have no fear of death? I fear the rejection of my family and people I love. I get how wonderful Jesus is, but my words fail me.’
It rung with me because 9 out of ten days I could write that slip myself. This also disturbs me. Deeply. I have been praying and believing to stretch that one day when I live without fear for Jesus out to 9 of 10. Hey, I’m praying for 10 out of 10 days of living for Jesus without fear and shame. I don't want to rest with anything less, and I don't want anyone I know to do it either.
So let's weigh up this common sentiment alongside an open bible. I think the bible is pleading with us, urging us, even cajoling us to commit to speech, not silence.
Speech, not Silence
I am absolutely persuaded that we live too quietly for Jesus. I know people love to say ‘actions speak louder than words’, but the bible says more than this. It also says actions speak loudly (1 Peter 2:11-12), but it insists very clearly that faith comes through words (Romans 10:8-15).
It is very, very clear that we are called to speak about Jesus (Mark 8:34-38). It also promises that he will give us words to say (Luke 21:15). And we are taught at length, on virtually every page of the New Testament, a bunch of things that are always worth saying about Jesus (too many references to begin to quote).
Why do we not speak more?
Please, no qualifications at this point! Do not defeat my point before I have made it. I know politeness is often reasonable. I know you can’t talk all the time or be taken for a windbag. I know some speech is weird and anti-relational. I know some Christians speak without love. I know all this too, but please, don’t beggar my point before I have made it.
Why do we not speak more?
My friend puts it very clearly in their ‘share with us’ slip. There are two reasons. Perceived ignorance, and fear. ‘What do you say’ = a feeling of ignorance. ‘I fear’ = obviously…fear.
I understand feeling ignorant. I feel it often about many things. But the reality is, as the preacher pointed out in our church last week, sitting in church for even a year of your life will make you ten times clearer about who Jesus is and what he was on about than 99 out of 100 people on the street. The fact is, you are not ignorant. You simply can’t be as ignorant as you think. Usually, ignorance is just fear presenting as humility.
If I am wrong and lack of knowledge is the issue, I will try to remedy that in another blog soon, but as I see it, there is one main reason we don’t speak more for Jesus – fear. And if there is a second reason it is also fear.
I know, I know. You can immediately think of relationships where to speak more would be foolish. With you parent. Your child, perhaps your friend. Again, don’t beggar my point. Don’t run to the small handful of deep relationships with long histories that back silence. Consider the many moments with many people where speech would have swelled your heart and given you joy if you had just spoken ‘Jesus’.
Why do we not speak more? We need to think again about fear.
Faith, not Fear
What does the bible say about fear? Let’s just take the New Testament at a glance.
a. Fear God & His Messengers
We are to fear God and his messengers. Fear Him who can throw you into hell (Mark 5:32-34; Luke 12:5; 23:40; Acts 5:5; 5:11; Heb 10:27; Jude 1:23). Fear Him who is the right and just Lord of the earth (Acts 9:31; 10:4; 1 Pet 1:17). Fear Him whose power is greater than other apparently impressive powers (Acts 19:17; 1 Peter 2:17, Rev 14:7, 15:4; 19:5).
b. Fear earthquakes, famines and disease and storms
It is sensible to fear other powers lesser than God that also have power to overthrow you. (Luke 21:11)
c. Fear Authorities
It is right to fear authorities with power over you. Though not to simply do everything they say out of that fear. Romans 13:3; Eph 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18)
d. Do not Fear Anything or Anyone that can Make you Fear it more than God
But the big deal is this….do not fear people or things that invite you to fear them more than God, and so encourage you to be faithless to God. Not the parent, not the spouse. Not the bully, not the friend. Not the emperor, not the devil. (1 Peter 3:14).
It is very, very clear. In many, many pages of the New Testament, fear is the opposite of faith. Given in to fear and you give up on faith. Faith called Peter out on fearful waters (Matt 14:22-36). Faith was not possible for Pharisees who feared the crowd (Mark 11:18; John 12:42) One Pharisee believed secretly in fear, but it is hard to see this recommended (John 19:38). Fear of disturbance drove out faith in Jesus in Gerasene (Luke 8:37). Jesus sought to replace fear with faith in the boat in the storm (Luke 8:25).
Faith in God drives out fear. Fear of guilt and shame (John 3:20). Fear of crowds (Acts 9:27). Fear of sin’s power (Romans 8:15). Fear of rejection (2 Corinthians 5:11). Fear of spiritual and earthly powers (Ephesians 6:19-20). Fear of persecution (Philippians 1:14). Fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Fear of threats (1 Peter 3:14). Fear of punishment (1 John 4:18).
Speech, not Silence.
I think it is all abundantly clear. We are to have faith, not fear. And this will concretely mean we favour speech, over silence.