I was stunned last week when one of my colleagues told me that he didn’t care whether or not he died from Swine Flu. We were talking about the flu season and how the much ballyhooed Swine Flu might affect our campus, and he was simply not very concerned about it. It’s not that he believed the Flu would miss us. He actually felt that things would be okay even if the Lord allowed the worst to happen to himâ€”death.
On Monday, I got to hear another colleague preach to Boyce College students on Acts 20:24 (listen here). He told the story of some missionary pilots that he knew who faced the daily danger of crashing into a tree-line near their runway. The pilots said that they were okay with this and expressed no anxiety whatsoever about dying. They had a ministry to fulfill, and they believed that Jesus would meet them on the other side.
Two colleagues, one message. If you really trust God with the kind of faith that the Bible commends, there is courage and boldness in the direst of circumstances. It is the perspective of the apostle Paul in Acts 20:24: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul didn’t live his life calculating how he might avoid danger in his ministry. Instead, he says that he holds loosely his own security so that he can preach the gospelâ€”a line of work that for him was fraught with danger. There would have been no way for him to preach the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome if he had been fearing for his life. The success of his ministry depended on death-defying faith.
And that’s the message that has landed on me with power this past week. Gospel ministry depends on death-defying faith. Which is another way of saying that gospel ministry depends on resurrection-faith. As Paul has said elsewhere, “We had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). There’s no need to fear death if you believe that God will raise you up immortal on the other side. This truth is what enabled Paul to say that death was “gain” (Phil. 1:21) This truth is the ground of courage, and it is the only proper basis for gospel ministry. Anything less than that is powerless and unbiblical.
Praise God for colleagues who recently reminded me of this. As I ask the Lord to seal this truth anew to my own heart, I pray that he will seal it to yours as well.
Amen and amen! It is not death to die, as the hymn goes.
Courage in doing the ministry that God has called us to is indeed of great commendation.
And I do not mean to demean the faith expressed by these two. It is indeed a great disposition to have toward life. However . . .
I hope that an unconcern with the possibility of death does not mean that hands are not washed or plane maintenance is neglected.
I know of one guy at seminary who arrogantly dismissed his wife’s concerns about living in a trailer with no disaster plans in case of a tornado all in the supposed name of faith.
Paul requested a cloak (2 Tim. 4:13), apparently he was concerned enough about his physical life that he wanted to keep warm.
Denny, good post.
Death is still an enemy – correct?
I hope your colleague washes his hands lots and sneezes into his arm – or else i would think twice about shaking hands with him 🙂
And I assume the missionary pilots still did safety preflight tests.
Re David Rogers comment – I don’t think that was what was implied in any of the statements mentioned in the post. I think it’s more in line with the thought that insulating one’s self from risk and being paralyzed by the thought that death may come is sinful. Yes, believers should be wise in providing for families or in setting examples for other believers, but too often we swing into the extreme on that and end up living as if we are of those who do shrink back.
If you read about the early church, one of the reasons it grew was that believers would care for the sick (believers and unbelievers), even at risk to themselves. The pagans took off for the countryside and fled the cities, the believers walked among the sick and cared for them. This was a powerful witness.
The reason I made my comment was not to throw water on the fires of faith, but as a seasoned pastor who has observed both faith and presumption in idealistic believers, to suggest some clarity about a faith lived incarnationally within a creation designed to function in relationship with our humble stewardship.