27Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
Jesus warns in Revelation 20 that “the cowardly” will not inherit the kingdom of God but will instead be cast into the lake that burns with fire. As we meditated on His warning, we said that cowardice is shown whenever we turn away from a good purpose in the face of opposition because of fear. And we have begun to explore the different types of fear that make us cowardly. Today let us consider the fear of persecution.
The Philippian church was facing opposition and threats from adversaries. The word that Paul uses to describe these people is the same word that Peter uses elsewhere to describe Satan himself: “Be sober, be vigilant;” Peter writes, “because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). So these folks who raged against the church in Philippi were acting like Satan himself, seeking to devour and destroy God’s lambs.
But though these adversaries endeavored to intimidate and threaten the Christians in Philippi, Paul commands them to be “not in any way terrified.” First, they are not to be terrified. The word means “to be fearful as the result of being intimidated—‘to be afraid, to be scared, to be intimidated’ (Louw-Nida, 1:316). Our natural response to intimidation, especially to intimidation by those who have power or influence, is fear. But Paul instructs them not to be terrified. Rather, they are to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” They were to serve the Lord together with unity of heart and mind and action; to stand strong and not cower in the face of this intimidation.
Second, they are not to be terrified in any way. In nothing, not in anything. Nullo. Don’t be terrified when they drag your name through the mud. Don’t be terrified when they threaten your family. Don’t be terrified when they burn your home. Don’t be terrified when they arrest you. Don’t be terrified when they sentence you to death. Don’t be terrified in any way.
So why shouldn’t we be terrified in any way by our adversaries? Paul writes, “which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” When we refuse to be intimidated by opposition, when we refuse to be terrified in any way by our adversaries, we testify that our adversaries are doomed to be judged by God and that we shall be saved by Him. We notify the world, “God is on our side so we are not afraid.”
So Peter wrote to other Christians who were suffering persecution:
13And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
We are not to be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. God promises to bless all those who suffer for righteousness’ sake. Hence, it is far better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
So what of you? Are you afraid of your adversaries? Or you afraid of those who rage against God and against His Christ? Is your fear causing you to distance yourself from Jesus and from His people? To be ashamed of the Gospel? To be silent when you need to speak? To speak when you need to be silent? Mine often is. And so reminded that we are not to be terrified in any way by Christ’s adversaries, let us confess that we are often terrified in many ways. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our fear to the Lord.