Fear and Trembling that leads to Joy and Rejoicing
Fear and Trembling that leads to Joy and Rejoicing
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV)
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony [mystery] of/about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Philippians 2:12-18 (NIV)
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out/on to the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Brothers and sisters, dear friends, this morning we have read two these two passages from Paul’s letters with a very specific purpose. Both consist of an explanation and an appeal; both make a reference to fear and trembling; both address something that man does and something that God does; both emphasise the primary position of Christ in our faith-walk.
Now, having said this, I want you to understand that all of Scripture, every ounce of our faith, all our convictions and actions as believers would be completely and utterly useless were it not for the foundational, pivotal, and historical truth of God’s intervention in our history in Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth and Philippi and with them us as well, that for this very reason he trembled with fear. Since his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus he became convinced that he must proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. And this very message calls to mind two very distinct sensations: On the one hand fear and trembling and on the other indescribable joy!
Friends, in our minds these two sensations are mutually exclusive. I am suggesting to you that this is not true. In the case of the Christian faith they are mutually inclusive. I would like us to consider this carefully.
Allow me to say something about fear and trembling first: We find 18 references in Scripture to this word group: 12 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament. I would like to highlight a few of them for you:
In Exodus 20:18 we are told that when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and didn’t go closer.
The Psalmist was instructed to pen these words in Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.”
In Psalm 119:120 the Psalmist confesses: “My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”
According to Jeremiah 5:22 the Lord God declared: “Should you not fear me? Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.”
Acts 7:32 retells the story of God’s self-revelation to Moses and Moses’ response to this revelation: “‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.”
Hebrews 12:21 reminds us that the sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
In 1 Corinthians 2:3 Paul reminded the Corinthians of his attitude when he started his ministry among them: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.”
In the 2nd Corinthian letter, chapter 7:15 Paul once again appeal to the Corinthians to keep in that: “[God’s] affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.”
In our second Scripture reading Philippians 2:12 Paul mentioned this attitude again: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
There are nine more references that I’m not going to mention today. These will suffice. Friends, I have a major concern lie within my heart. When I observe Christianity around me it seems to me that we lack this reverence and awe for God and that deeply concerns me. There is no doubt about it in my mind – God expects from us to revere Him. There is no doubt in my mind – those who have had a real encounter with God tremble in His presence. Friends, I don’t see that in Christianity anymore. And the nagging question haunting me day and night about this matter is: “Why? Why are we not filled with reverence and awe?” Could it be, dearly beloved in Christ that we have become so used to the Christian message that we have become calloused - that we hear without listening? Could it be that our focus in life is so far removed from God and all that He does that His testimony makes no impact on us anymore? Could it be that the message being proclaimed to us is so watered down that we don’t recognise the awesome, all-powerful presence of God at work in our lives anymore? Could it be that our perception of salvation and eternity is so warped that God’s appeals to live close to Him have no impact on us anymore? Could it be that we have such a distorted view of God’s amazing grace in Christ that we don’t see the need revere God?
If I read Scripture the right way Paul was greatly concerned about this as well. That is why he when he arrived at Corinth he made a conscious decision. He says to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul is not saying that he only had one sermon. He is not admitting that he was a lazy preacher who never spent time in diligent study. Rather, He is saying that all of his sermons were Christ and cross-centred. He preached about “Jesus Christ” – who He is. And he preached about “him crucified” – what He did. “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is the substance of the gospel. And every doctrine of Christianity goes back to “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul said: “All I want to know around you is Jesus.” So we can say:
v The Driving force of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ
v The Subject matter of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ
v The Message of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ
v The basic code of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ
v The Heart of Paul’s preaching was the death and resurrection of Christ
Why is this kind of preaching important? Friends, it is important because it places the emphasis at the right place. It is important because it evokes in us a holy reverence and awe for God. Only when we are filled with reverence and awe do we understand that
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are cleansed and freed from sin
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are made acceptable to God
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are justified
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are eternally redeemed
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are delivered from death
By the death of Christ we are delivered from condemnation
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are delivered from the condemnation of the Law
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are delivered from the judgment and wrath to come
By the death and resurrection of Christ we are delivered from the present evil world
By the death and resurrection of Christ all men are drawn to God
By the death and resurrection of Christ we have access to the presence of God
By the death and resurrection of Christ we know the power of God
Friends, because of these truths Paul were not concerned with entertaining his listeners. Paul states, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom.” Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians that some of his critics said, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10). I don’t believe that Paul was a bad communicator, but he didn’t attempt to impress people with his style of speaking. Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Paul preached the Word of God with authority. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” To “proclaim” the Word of God is to “declare it with authority.” Notice that Paul was not preaching his testimony about God; he was preaching God’s testimony about God. His message came from God, not himself.
Paul’s counsel to the young pastor Timothy was to always preach the Word even if some people don’t want to hear it. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Friends, this is not a 21st century phenomenon. Right from the beginning of Christianity this was the case. If I would ask you: “Who was the greatest preacher of all times,” what would your answer be? No, it wasn’t Paul. I would say it must’ve been Jesus himself. Here is a sobering thought: Less than 1% of the people who listened to Jesus were converted.
People choose to go to church when I want and where they want. People pick churches where they will be told “what they itching ears want to hear,” but that must never cause the preacher to change the message to simply please his listeners. Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the Word” – declare it with authority no matter how it is received.
Paul writes, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” He is not saying that he never tried to persuade people when he preached. For example, he testifies in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” He persuaded people to believe the truth, but he always avoided persuasion that was manipulative. In Paul’s preaching, there were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people’s response.
Paul’s preaching was a “demonstration,” (verse 4) not a “performance.” The word translated “demonstration” means “legal proof presented in court.” The Holy Spirit used Paul’s preaching to change lives, and that was all the proof Paul needed that his message was from God. Sinners were transformed by the power of God! (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Friends, the real power of real preaching does not lie in the person or presentation of the preacher but in the work of the Holy Spirit. John Knox said, “True preaching from start to finish is the work of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit inspired the Word we preach.
He illuminates the preacher’s understanding as to its meaning.
He anoints the preacher’s communication of it.
He enlightens the minds of listeners.
He convicts their hearts and prompts them to respond.
Preaching is the Holy Spirit’s event. If He is left out, preaching does not happen.
Brothers and sisters, at the beginning I said to you that this very message calls to mind two very distinct sensations: On the one hand fear and trembling and on the other indescribable joy! We have focused extensively on the fear and trembling sensation. Allow me to say something about the sensation of joy.
The New Testament makes it abundantly plain. It is relationship with Jesus that is a vital source of our joy. Jesus Himself spoke of two ways that we might find joy in Him. He said, “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10–11). And, “Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24).
When we page through Scripture we make amazing discoveries about joy. It is produced in us by the Holy Spirit, and is a fruit of His presence (Luke 10:21; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). It is not linked with material possessions but rather is an overflow of salvation (Acts 8:8; 16:34). Even persecution could not dampen the joy that glowed in early Christians, for their joy was not dependent on external circumstances (Acts 13:52; 2 Corinthians 7:4; James 1:2). Peter even said that “in this [salvation] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6–7).
Christians know a heightened joy; a joy that is rooted in the bond that exists between the believer and the Lord, and the bond that exists with other believers whom we have come to love (Romans 16:19; Philippians 1:4, 25–26; 2:2, 29; 4:1; Hebrews 13:17; 1 John 1:4). The deeper our relationship with Jesus and with His people, the greater the joy that awaits us, and the less that joy is dependent on external circumstances.
So this is the bottom-line: Jesus is the key to our joy. If we want to experience real joy we must grasp who Jesus is. Paul, in a great and powerful affirmation of faith, made Christ’s true identity perfectly clear in Philippians 2:5–11. Go and read it again when you are home.
How do people who have had an encounter with Jesus live? Paul concluded Philippians 2 with an exhortation to the Philippians that gives us the answer: they continue obeying his instructions. They “work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in them to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Paul is not saying work for your salvation. Our good works cannot save us. Allow me to remind you of Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) where Paul said: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Nowhere does Paul advocate working for/earning our salvation. It’s impossible. However, he does command us to work out our salvation. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
What’s the difference between working for our salvation and working out our salvation? Faith without works is dead. You cannot have real faith if it’s not a working faith. If you’re not exercising your faith, you have a dead faith. All throughout Scripture we see this point emphasized. The difference between the wise man/foolish man (Matthew 7) is which one obeyed. The difference between the sheep/goats (Matthew 25) is which ones practiced their faith. The good seed that the farmer sowed (Matthew 13) was the seed that produced fruit. Saying we believe in Jesus isn’t enough. Our good works back up our profession of faith. The proof’s in the pudding. Our good works prove (not produce) our good faith. Therefore, we need to CONTINUE to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Keep up the good work. Work it out until it’s completed. And while we are doing it we should constantly keep the words of Philippians 1:6 (NIV) in mind: “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I would like to close God’s message to us today with two quotes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that I believe is true for all who have a real encounter with Christ: Philippians 4: 4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Friends, an attitude like this don’t just happen, you choose them. Joy is a command! It’s non-optional and non-negotiable. Joylessness is a sin! The last quote is Philippians 4:13-14 “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing.” Amen.