Dealing With Dead Flies
(Drawing Near in Times of Fear)
Robert Wurtz II
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5–7 ESV).
“And he departed thence and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:7–11 KJV).
Paul acknowledges the fact that sometimes in our lives we have to deal with fear. He writes, “… our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.” We can speculate as to the cause of this fear. Some commentators suggest that it was anxiety related to the severe letter that he sent to the Corinthians rebuking them (in effect) for numerous fleshly behaviors—not the least of which was their tolerance of a man living in incest with his stepmother. Others cite the persecutions of believers from Jews and Gentiles.
My opinion (and it’s only that) is that Paul experienced the same fears that you and I would experience if we were in his shoes. He was being persecuted and assaulted physically on an almost regular basis and on top of that was the care he had for the churches. He never wanted to say or do anything that would harm the saints or cause trouble for the local churches. In other words, he was very conscientious about his words and deeds. This reality helped keep Paul (whether he needed it or not) focused on God and walking in holiness. He had to depend on God to the uttermost.
Fear of death or fear of suffering tops the list of all human fears. Sometimes people will say that public speaking is the scariest thing one can do but I’m not convinced. What about public singing? Surely that would cause great distress for a lot of people. But these things are not to be compared to the prospect that one might be beaten to death with rods, stoned, beaten with a Roman scourging tool, or face an unpredictable and violent mob. Fear of pain is right up there with fear of death. Unregenerate human beings can be exceedingly cruel and callous. They have the very nature of murderous Satan working in them.
Modern Creature Comforts
It’s hard for us to understand these things because we never face them. If we do, we are in rare company in the West. Keep in mind that there were no hospitals in those days. If a person received a cut that became infected there were no antibiotics. It wasn’t uncommon for people to die of gangrene up to the early part of the 20th century—whereas they would have been saved with a $5 antibiotic today. There was no way to treat a host of diseases. Christians generally had to pray and trust God for healing. Physicians would have had a one-star rating at best. They took peoples’ money (as with the woman with the issue of blood) and often the patient grew worse.
In modern times, we have the military to protect us from foreign enemies, police officers to protect us from bad actors, and hospitals to treat nearly every disease. That’s just for starters. But all these protections cannot possibly quell all of our fears. We deal with issues similar to Paul’s day in regards to the care of the churches. We are subject to family concerns, marital concerns, job fears, financial fears, and even health scares. In 2020 we were introduced to Covid-19.
Fear as a Motivation
We never know what a day brings forth. James reminds us of this reality when he writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14). He then exhorts us to say, rather, “If the Lord wills we will live and do this or that.”
During the last eleven months, the world has been gripped by the fear of Covid-19. Some people contract the virus and have no symptoms and others end up in ICU or pass away. Not knowing how this scourge will affect you, as an individual, can create enormous anxiety. I spent many months in 2019 watching my beloved father deteriorate with lung disease so the prospect of suffering from Covid-19, which generally attacks the respiratory system, is quite real to me.
As Christians we have a hope that God will protect us from the disease, heal us if we are infected, or comfort us with the grace we need, no matter what happens, to endure to the end. What’s the worst thing that can happen? We will meet the Lord at the point of death. What about people who have no hope? What do they do? I tremble to think what it would be like to face these difficult days without God. I suggest that fear of Covid-19 has done more to impact peoples’ decision making in the last nine months than anything else. Why? FEAR. We spent trillions on this pandemic already.
Fear isn’t always a bad thing. God uses it for His purposes. No less than four different times in the book of Acts we see “fear” or “great fear” getting the attention of the people (Acts 5:5, 5:11, 16:29, 19:17). Fear is one emotion that has the ability to turn our thoughts to God and give Him our undivided attention. Is this not what He longs for? I have often said that people will never come through to God until He gets their undivided attention. Fear can aid in bringing this about, though it is a very unpleasant experience.
Covid-19 has breached the walls of this great fortress of peace and safety that society has spent decades and trillions of dollars building. It is a silent and invisible enemy. It is very real. Politicians and activists have used Covid to stoke fear because they know that fear is a great motivator. But this doesn’t make COVID any less of a concern. For all of our technologies, we found ourselves vulnerable. It’s been a long time since many Christians and non-Christians alike have experienced real fear. What was the last real fear-provoking threat in America? Was it Y2K, 9-11, or Global Thermonuclear War?
Fears in the life of a Christian must yield to our fear of God. We mustn’t fear people who can kill us or diseases that threaten us. When the enemy comes in like a flood the Spirit of God will raise up a standard against him (Isaiah 59:19 AV). If we follow the rendering in the AV, God is depicted as raising a standard or a rallying point from which the Saints can turn in the heat of the battle, gather, and regroup with a renewed focus and resolve. In other words, when the enemy seems to be getting the upper hand, God is able to orchestrate circumstances that bring us all back into focus (at least those of us who may need it).
Anytime we face difficult and fearful circumstances, our instinct, as Christians, is to turn to the Lord. We should allow God to search our hearts and weigh our ways. Is there a dead fly in my ointment (Eccl. 10:1)? Is there something about me that God wants to deal with? A dead fly is a metaphor for anything that contaminates a fine perfume causing a stench. It could be pride, lust, bitterness, gluttony, selfish-ambition, and a host of other things. If it’s spoiling the fragrance of your life God is going to deal with it. God will not relent until we exude the pure aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15-17).
Maybe you are reading this and you are experiencing fear for the first time in your life as a Christian. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you—cleanse your hands if you have been sinning or compromising. Stop believing the TV evangelists who convince people that they can live in sin and still have God’s favor. Those false teachers are actually a judgment upon the listeners and they don’t even know it. Perhaps now is the time that God is showing you that He requires holiness in the life of a believer.
Sometimes people assume that if you are calling for personal revival that you must be living in gross sin. This is not true. It’s a matter of being sensitive to God and introspective. People who desire to please God are sensitive to things that other people are not. What can you do? Allow God to go through your life with a fine-toothed comb and eliminate anything that He wants to go. Repent of words, deeds, attitudes, that He puts His hand on. Get rid of anything that offends God or causes you to stumble. Stay your mind on the Lord. Get your house in order in such a way that you don’t fear physical death anymore. Let the love of God flow in your life by the Spirit until the fear is cast out (1 John 4:18).
Paul dealt with fear by a longing to be with Jesus. We won’t do that if our hearts are earthbound. God wants to loosen our grip on this present evil world. Let Him do it… not just during times of fear, but for the rest of our lives.