I know I’m supposed to share the gospel. But fear always seems to get in the way.
To wit: I once had a conversation with a staunchly liberal (and probably unsaved) lady in my town. I invited her to my church and mentioned how faith inspires us to love the least of these. As I walked away, though, I realized I had only wanted to talk about topics she wanted to hear. I held back the portions of the gospel that caused friction with her worldview — namely, that Jesus is the only way to the Father.
On another occasion, I discussed faith with a deeply conservative (and probably unsaved) man. After I explained my interest in international missions, he said, “I hope you don’t leave the country. I hate any country that’s not America.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. I held back the portions of the gospel that caused friction with his worldview — namely, the parts about Jesus saving us to share his good news to the ends of the earth.
In both instances, fear prohibited me from sharing parts of the gospel my listeners didn’t want to hear. So I stayed away from controversial topics. And both of them heard something less than the full gospel message.
I’m not the only person to feel this kind of fear. Jesus’ disciples did, too. As they followed Jesus around Galilee, across stormy seas and into perpetual controversy, I imagine they’d begun to realize how unconventional Jesus’ message was. He made countercultural statements, like “the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16). He made controversial claims, like “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). And sometimes his words were simply odd, like “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53).
I’m sure Jesus’ disciples faced a temptation to shy away from the hard parts of Jesus’ message and to share only the easy parts. I’m sure they were fearful.
But Jesus knew about their lingering fears. So in Matthew 10, as Jesus was preparing his disciples for a short-term mission, he reassured them.
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Matthew 10:26)
Jesus charged his disciples to have no fear of the people they would meet — not because he was going to make his message more palatable, but because he was going to back them up. Everything they were going to preach would eventually be revealed to everyone.
This encouragement also added a sense of urgency to their mission. The people the disciples met were going to hear this message one way or another — either from them now (when the listeners had a chance to repent) or from Jesus on Judgment Day (when they would be beyond hope).
After allaying their fears in this way, Jesus continued:
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. (Matthew 10:27)
Speak his gospel in the daytime. Shout it on the rooftops. Proclaim it over dinner tables. Talk about it when you walk the dog. Share it at the water cooler. In this verse, Jesus didn’t simply charge his disciples not to fear; he charged them to be bold.
Jesus’ reassuring words continue in the subsequent verses. They could fear God more than the people they’d speak to because God is just, holy, loving and trustworthy (Matthew 10:28-33).
Jesus’ encouragement in the face of fear still resonates with us. When we are fearful of speaking boldly, Jesus reminds us that we’re speaking his message in his timing through his means with his support. God is greater than our fears.
Today, we need to hear this message again and again. There was a time when many of our neighbors knew about Jesus and the cross; they simply never submitted their hearts to him. Yet today many of our neighbors consider our most deeply held beliefs to be patently absurd.
Our beliefs are increasingly foreign to our neighbors. And talking about our beliefs is increasingly scary to us.
Yet if we want to engage our neighbors with the gospel, we must speak up about our faith. And we can’t just share the parts that agree with their worldview, as I did with my liberal and conservative friends. We’ll need to share the whole truth with clarity, conviction and boldness.
We will be tempted to fear. We will be tempted to hold back the difficult parts of God’s word. And we will be tempted to retreat to our safe spaces. But we must heed Jesus’ reminders in Matthew 10. God is greater than our fears — even our fears of speaking boldly.