2 Corinthians 5:6-8. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
There is no end to the list of things that want to steal your courage today. Fears. Doubts. Loss. Tragedies. Thinking about tragedies. The list seems endless. And these things are not imaginary. There actually are bad things out there. Paul’s trials in 2 Corinthians aren’t made up, and neither are yours. There is wisdom in living your life with a healthy fear of dangerous things. And, at the same time, there is futility in living your life in constant fear.
How do we find the middle ground? Is that where courage lives? How do we find this courage?
Twice in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 Paul says that he is of good courage. But let’s remember that when Paul entered Corinth for the first time (around 5 years earlier) he was very afraid.
1 Corinthians 1:3-5. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Acts 18:9-10. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city [Corinth] who are my people.”
We don’t know exactly why Paul was so afraid of Corinth. And I don’t know what you might be afraid of today. But I do know that, in general, we are all either living from the fear of man or the fear of God. My guess is that Paul walked into Corinth and felt the overwhelming fear that comes when we place our hope in our own efforts, or in the acceptance of others. The fear of emptiness, incompleteness, shame, lack, inability, rejection, and even physical harm. This is the fear of man, and it is futile. Living within this fear will only destroy you.
When Paul was terrified in Corinth, God spoke to him and reminded Paul of his presence. He said I am with you (Acts 18:10). In 1 Corinthians the journey to courage continued as Paul moved beyond his paralysis. In 1 Corinthians 1:3-5, Paul said that even though his fear made his message into foolishness, God demonstrated his power and wisdom through Paul’s fear filled message. God actually was with him. Not by taking away the fear directly, but by using him in spite of the fear. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul’s journey towards courage continues.
What made this journey possible? The fear of God was replacing the fear of man.
As we said above, yes, there is a healthy fear that should be part of our lives. God is real and so are his truths. These realities should cause us to fear them in healthy, respectful ways. For example, you should have a healthy fear of jumping off tall things. You should have a healthy fear of anything that God calls sin. Violating these truths can destroy you. You should have a fear of rejecting God. This too will destroy you.
And this is where the journey to courage takes place. In this space between the healthy fear of God and the futility of the fear of man.
Notice that Paul’s courage didn’t remove his desire to leave the body behind and go to Jesus: we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. His courage didn’t erase his reality. It didn’t make him reckless. It didn’t remove his suffering or his desire to escape. It didn’t turn him into a stoic. And most importantly he did not mistake control for courage. Paul never saw himself as being in control. His courage was part of walking by faith and not by sight.
And that is where “to live is Christ” brings us. Our union with Christ allows us to relinquish control. For Paul that meant giving up control of his life, and control of his death, to God. Union with Christ allows us to face life or death, not in the absence of fear completely, but in the fear of God, not the fear of man.
Hebrews 13:6. So we say with courage, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
What are you afraid of today? What would courage look like for you? How does your union with Christ place you in the space of courage embracing the healthy fear of God and rejecting the futile fear of man?