Updated: Sep 4
Sharing the gospel is not an easy thing to do, especially in a resistant culture. It is even harder when the people around you are sceptical about you personally. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, they had questioned his leadership, his authority and his ability to speak and teach well. They had already started their own little factions and personality cults saying "I am of Apollos" rather than Paul.
What did Paul do in this situation? The church had already been planted in a city that was wealthy, promiscuous (the cult of Aphrodite employed thousands of temple prostitutes) and full of other gods. There were thirteen main gods including the usual characters like Zeus, Poseidon and Athena, plus there was a list of demi-gods (human and divine) who interacted with the populace. This was not easy ground for the gospel (especially as Jesus would have been seen as just another demi-god) and now members of the fledgling church were contentious and divisive. Most of us would be tempted to give up or move on. However in Paul's second letter to Corinth he tells them:
"We know what it means to fear the Lord, and so we try to persuade others. God knows us completely, and I hope that in your hearts you know me as well." 2 Cor 5:11 GNB
The fear of the Lord was one of the reasons Paul tried to persuade people about the good news of Jesus. What does this phrase fear of the Lord mean? Some translations speak of holy reverence. There are a few examples of it in the Book of Acts. Each time it is a response to the presence and power of God. One example is in Acts 9. This is the chapter speaking of Paul's conversion and the subsequent attempt by the religious Jews to kill him. Paul had to be lowered in a basket over the city wall to escape. The church are amazed that their number one enemy should become a champion for their cause. Once Paul escapes it says in Acts 9:31:
"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers."
In the midst of persecution and attempted murder the church thrived. Rather than being downcast, a combination of the fear of the Lord and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit resulted in increased converts to the faith. This should help us see that our circumstances, whether good or bad are not that relevant to a move of God or our ability to share the good news. It is all about our response, are we in a place of holy reverence? The prophet Samuel had some parting words in 1 Samuel 12:24:
"Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you."
However Paul also says in 2 Cor 5:14 "For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all." The word compels in New Testament greek is synechō. It is used to describe a strait that forces a ship into a narrow channel or cattle being forced into a narrow gate. It is a constraining force. When we feel ourselves being pulled in a certain direction, whether it is apathy or discouragement, or even a sense of failure, the love of Christ is our map, our compass to keep on the straight and narrow.
The context of this verse is important. Earlier in 2 Cor 5:2 Paul had said "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling." This was not an easy time for Paul and his companions. He had seriously wanted to go to heaven and be rid of the harassment of being an apostle on mission. I am sure some of you reading this blog have felt the same. I know I have. There are times when I ask "is this worth it? Could I not have an easier life, one that is less costly?"
This is why the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ are two motivators we must nurture and remind ourself about on a regular basis. As the chapter continues in 2 Cor 5 that is exactly what Paul does, he gives himself a pep talk.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Cor 5:17-21 NIV
I actually think Paul was saying this, as much for himself, as for the readers of his letter. He needed to be reminded of this wonderful truth.
What is the modern day application? If you are struggling with motivation, if you are in a discouraging situation or if those you believed in are giving you negative feedback, stay motivated by the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ. Remind yourself that you are called to a ministry of reconciliation. Find others who can encourage you and help you walk the narrow path.