On October 1, 1866, the young Samuel Clemens—later known as Mark Twain—walked the roadway gripped with fear. His first comedy routine was just a day away and he had come to realize that his material was anything but funny. Earlier that day he had hired three stormy voiced men to sit in the audience and laugh with gusto.
But now he happened to pass on the street a drunken character that said to Twain: “You don’t know me, but that don’t matter. I haven’t got a cent, but if you knew how bad I wanted to laugh, you’d give me a ticket. Come, now, what do you say?”
Anyone familiar with evangelism knows that this is not how unbelievers approach the gospel. “If you only knew how badly I want to follow Jesus and receive eternal life, who’d give me the truth. What do you say?”
FEAR MAKES US COWARDS
But we are afraid to tell our family, neighbors, and co-workers about Jesus, and fear can turn us into cowards. The chief priests and scribes sought to put Jesus to death because they “feared the people” (Lk. 22:2). The blind man’s parents didn’t evangelize because they “feared the Jews” (Jn. 9:22). Government big wigs in Israel believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess him for “fear of the Pharisees” (Jn. 12:42). Herod kept John the Baptist alive because he “feared the people” (Matt. 14:5). Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus for “fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).
WHEN FEAR IS GOOD
A few preliminary points may help here. First, our goal in evangelism should not be to eliminate fear all together. Rather, we must strive to work through the fear and overcome it. Even the great apostle Paul ministered to the Corinthians “in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
Second, fear in evangelism is healthy and mixes well with other emotions. Matthew tells us that the women at Jesus’ tomb left “with fear and great joy” (28:8). After Jesus raised the widow’s son, Luke tells us: “fear filled them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16). So fear mixes well with joy and worship. It also blends well with evangelism. If we never felt the sting of terror while telling our boss the Gospel or our neighbor the truth of Christ, we would be tempted to forget the enormity of the message. We talk of football and shopping casually. We speak of Jesus and redemption with measured trepidation.
Finally, the object of our fear must be the Creator, not the creature. Christians are commanded to “fear [Jesus] who has authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:5), but not to fear suffering (1 Peter 3:14). “Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11), but we are not to fear man (Prov. 29:25). Continue reading