CHRISTIANITY IS WEAK AND DISTORTED BECAUSE OF FEAR
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
American Baptist - United Methodist
23 FEBRUARY 1997
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 John 4:18-21
Christianity is weak and distorted because of the fear of the people who call themselves Christians.
Many of today’s Christians and churches think they are strong, but their strength is only worldly.
As we are told in 1 John 4:18-21, spiritual strength is based upon love, not fear:
18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
19. We love, because He first loved us.
20. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
To love ones “brother” means to love all of God’s creation. Francis of Assisi, among others, including many early Church fathers, understood this very well.
In Revelation 19:4 we find:
4. And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures [“zoa,” in the original Greek, ξωα, which means “animals”] fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
Last week we talked about missing the boat, the Ark of Salvation.
This week we're going to talk about another symbolic boat, the boat that the fear-filled people of this world are on: the boat that is heading for hell.
And like it or not, many of us are on this boat, too, for we live in this world.
The problem with Christians, in general, is that we're afraid to rock the boat.
We're afraid to tell others that they’re heading for hell.
We're even afraid to say that their actions are not pleasing to God.
We're afraid of being excluded from their groups, so we keep quiet and go along with the things they do, and we ride along on their journey to hell.
I really don't understand about people who know the truth yet continue to go along with lies, even to the point of their own destruction.
When people first become Christians, they usually speak out about all the things the Lord has done in their lives.
Then, when they find that very few people are listening, and they find themselves being ridiculed and excluded from their activities, they begin to keep quiet and to go along with the ways of the others.
They may believe inside, but outwardly, they are the same as the world.
This is the situation we find ourselves in today.
But this is nothing new, for way back, almost 2,000 years ago, the writer of Hebrews found himself facing the same situation.
Listen to what he says in 10:32-39:
32. But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,
33. partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.
Probably none of us has truly suffered for being a Christian as they suffered, but if we have spoken out, we most likely have experienced the public ridicule and reproaches.
So we need to ask ourselves, "Did we endure these things, or did we stop speaking out?"
In the beginning, these early Christians continued to speak out concerning Jesus and the ways of God, and they were persecuted because of their faith.
34. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.
So much for the “health and wealth gospel”!
But then something obviously happened, for many must have turned back to going along with the rest of society.
In reality, they became “closet Christians,” like many Christians today who are afraid to express their faith and compassionate convictions.
Thus the writer of this letter says,
35. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
36. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
37. For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
And we are asking, "It's already been 2,000 years, how can this mean Jesus is coming soon?"
When we think this way, we give up.
We give up because of our lack of faith.
That's what happened to the people of Noah's day; they didn't have enough faith to get on the ark.
They went along with the rest of the world, for true faith was seen as foolishness, just as it is today, and just as it was some 2,000 years ago.
They feared the unknown and the promise of God more than they feared the pending disaster.
So listen carefully to what God says about this type of believer:
38. But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
A scary thought, isn't it?
But then the writer to the Hebrews gives them some encouragement, hoping that they will realize what they are doing and return to the Lord.
39. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
I pray that this includes all of us here today; but alas, I see signs that the other is true, too.
I don't want anyone to go to hell.
I want everyone to be saved.
That's why I've been preaching to you these past nine years, and I want others to hear and change, too.
Listen to what we are told in the last paragraph of Mark 8, beginning at verse 31:
31. And He [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Jesus was trying to give the disciples hope.
He knew that the fear of losing their positions as leaders was the driving force behind the rebellious and destructive attitude of the elders, priests and scribes.
He also knew that He would overcome them and all their evil intent.
He didn't want the disciples to be fearful, too.
Jesus told them He would rise from the dead.
32. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
Peter missed the whole point.
He feared the physical loss of the Lord from his presence, even to the extent of finding fault with what Jesus said.
Jesus recognized this fear in Peter, and knew that if it went unchecked, it could become contagious.
The disciples needed to be strong in their faith.
33. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
Remember that the opposite of love is fear, and that Jesus was fulfilling God's love gift for us; but through his fear of losing Jesus' physical presence, Peter was trying to block the will of God.
Peter wasn't looking heavenward. His eyes were still fixed upon the earth and earthly ways.
In essence, Peter was listening to the voice of Satan, and not to Jesus.
Satan has no love in him; thus he continually tries to thwart the work of the Lord.
So Jesus goes on to explain the difference between a heavenly vision based on love, and that of an earthly vision based upon fear.
34. And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
It is fear that prevents us from denying ourselves, for we fear the loss of what we have, and we aren't sure of what lies ahead.
Such decisions are totally based upon fear.
So Jesus continues, and says,
35. "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it.
When considered from a worldly position and because of the fear of the unknown, this sounds like foolishness, for what Jesus is saying is totally counter to the ways of the world.
It is only the love of Jesus that allows anyone to put his or her faith and trust in Him.
36. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
Obviously nothing, but the world simply doesn't look at things this way.
The worldly way is to gain more and more, that in such possessions we would find security and happiness.
We do this because of our fear.
37. "For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Once again: nothing.
We have nothing with which to buy our way into heaven.
We fear death, so we don't want to face it.
We lie to ourselves, and say to ourselves that we have a long time to get our house in order with God, or that God isn't really the way the Bible tells us He is.
It's really strange: we fear the good things and trust in the bad things, even when they fail us over and over again.
We fear the invisible and trust in the visible, even when we know it's untrustworthy.
And because of this fear, we won't speak out about the ways of God and what Jesus has done for us and the hope that lies ahead.
As a society we are afraid to be the loving and compassionate, peacemaking children of God that Jesus called upon us to be.
38. "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."
Why would any Christian, or for that matter, anyone else, want to give up the gift of eternal life?
Overcome this fear and live in the love of the Lord.
Overcome this fear and become the Christians that God wants us to be.
Overcome this fear and let others see Jesus.
Overcome this fear and make a difference in this world by being the most loving, compassionate, and peacemaking children of God we are capable of being.
For if we overcome and change this world, there will be more of us in Heaven, enjoying eternity with God’s creatures—humans as well as many, many animals.
Overflow with love and compassion.
Your Comments are welcome
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