Wednesday, 28 December 2011

It is better to be full of fear than to be afraid (1 Kings 18:7-19)

I am off to Irish Preacher's Conference in a couple of weeks.  We all have to prepare something on given passages.  Here is mine.
Jerry Bridges writes a book entitled The Joy of Fearing God. Other than those adrenalin-junkies that get their kicks by confronting their fears there are not many in our society who would associate fear with joy. The Bible speaks of fear both positively and negatively. There is a fear that spurs the Christian towards joyful obedience and there is a fear that leaves us paralysed. This passage helps us to move from disabling fear to empowering fear.
Fear of people stops us acting in faith (7-14)
We are first introduced to Obadiah at the beginning of the chapter. There we read that he feared the LORD greatly (3b). One writer explains that the fear of God is ‘reverent submission that leads to obedience’.  Such fear had spurred Obadiah to act courageously and hide God’s faithful prophets from the persecuting Queen Jezebel.
But such godly fear is not what defines Obadiah now. When Elijah gives him a command Obadiah protests. ‘If I arrange a rendezvous between you and King Ahab and you don’t turn up he I will be a dead man.’ The fear of a person has replaced the fear of God. When that happens we feel unable to act for God. Obadiah could be described by the book title, ‘When People are Big and God is Small.’
God’s promises are the antidote to the fear of people (15-16)
Obadiah isn't just someone with a fear of a person, he is also an example of someone who fears death.  The person he fears has the power of life and death over him.  He has fearfully exclaimed, 'Ahab will kill me.' 
So what is Elijah's antidote for Obadiah’s paralysing fear?  Elijah gives him a promise rooted in the character of God.  “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” Obadiah’s fear of a man is dispelled, his fear of God is reinvigorated and now he steps out in faith going to meet Ahab.
The same principle can work in our lives.  God's champion has commissioned us to go with his message.  But he gives us promises to remove paralysing fear.  He promises that we are special to the Father and that he himself will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  As for the fear of death, our champion has dealt with this ultimate fear.  As the writer to the Hebrews explains, Jesus passed through death that he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).
People need to be told to fear God rather than people (17-19)
The third person we encounter in our passage is King Ahab. Ahab seems to be someone who has no fear of God. He fails to see the trouble that he has brought the people of Israel; he opposes God’s champion; he ignores God’s commands and he replaces worship of God with devotion to god-substitutes. We might not think of our non-believing friends and family as being like this terrible man but the Bible says there is a similarity. After all it is of humanity in general that the apostle Paul writes, 'there is no fear of God before their eyes' (Rom. 3:18).
I know people who look down their noses at those who seek to provoke fear in their presentation of the gospel. But Jesus was blunt.  When he sent out the seventy-two on mission he told them not to fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul but rather to fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).  That is a reality which Obadiah. Ahab, our friends and we ourselves need to hear. 
Conclusion
It is better to be full of fear than to be afraid. Think of the many commands in the Bible telling us not to be anxious or afraid of anything. We are not to be afraid of people, circumstances, or even death itself. But the fear of God is ‘reverent submission that leads to obedience’ and the ‘person who fears God will fear nothing else’ (Ed Welch). So let’s ponder the promises that are the antidote to paralysing fear and be spurred on in godly fear to joyfully act for God as we swim against the tide.

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