One of the things that Christians are prone to do is engage in what is known as “hagiography.”
You probably know what a biography is. It is a writing about someone’s life. A hagiography is similar. It is a writing about someone’s life, the difference is in the way that writing takes shape. Hagios is the Greek word for saint. And in a hagiography, as you write about the person, you tends to idolize or idealize the person.
In a biography, you talk about someone as they are, even with all their flaws. In hagiography, you ignore people’s flaws and inflate their good qualities.
This is something that Christians sometimes do. We tend to engage in hagiography when it comes to our forefathers in the faith or the martyrs of the church.
For instance, we might do this with regard to Martin Luther. People will talk about Martin Luther as if he had the boldness of a lion. We think of him as one who has veins of steel. Like when he stood his ground at the Diet of Worms and making his famous profession, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
But few actually know that this is not what he said at first. Luther appeared before the counsel twice. The first day he appeared, he was asked if the books that had been laid out came from his pen and if he was ready to recant them. He didn’t answer right away. Instead he asked for more time to deliberate. So the counsel was adjourned until the next day.
We don’t know what might have possessed Luther at that moment. I don’t doubt though that he might have been touched with a bit of fear. For to answer in a way that the Church didn’t like could likely mean death. Luther might have employed a stall tactic and may have seriously been questioning whether or not he should recant & spare his life.
But we don’t talk much about that. We like to focus on the second day where he made his bold declaration that he wouldn’t recant.
The same is true when it comes to things like “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” or the stories that are put out by “Voice of the Martyrs.” They put forth stories about fearless men and women who stood courageously in the face of persecution.
The problem with this is that we hear of these bold stands for Christ and we begin to think that there is no room for fear among the believing. What we are going is engaging in hagiography; make men into angel like warriors in the face of persecution.
And we do a great injustice to many believers. We’d like it if it were true. We’d like to say that fear is something that isn’t a reality. But it simply isn’t the case. We need to admit and say, “Persecution can be scary.” While there may be some people who don’t blink an eye when faced with it, that isn’t the norm. Most people will experience some degree of fear. It could range from a slight alarm to outright terror.
Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t do hagiography. The Bible portrays man in all his weakness. They say that is one of proofs for the inspiration of Scripture; there is perhaps no other book that is so honest about how feeble and pathetic men can be.
As we come this morning to Psalm 56, we see one such text. Here in this passage David writes about his fear. There is no hagiography here. David is willing to give up his man card and say, “This situation is not good and I’m terrified.”
Look at verse 3. Verse 3 begins by saying, “When I am afraid.” Now I want to pause there and let that sink in. I think it is important that we acknowledge the fact that fear may very well come upon one’s faith.
I. The fear that may come upon one’s faith
I really appreciate David’s candor here. David may very well be a mighty warrior who demonstrates great valor. He goes into war, he fights his enemy in hand to hand combat. He’s a guy who has fought the lion and the bear and tangled with a 9 foot freak of nature named Goliath. He’s a guy who had extra-ordinary amounts of courage, but he was still a man. And there were times where even he had bouts of fear.
And on this occasion he admits that his emotional state is not altogether where it needs to be. His enemies have him in a bind. His life is threatened, and he is afraid.
What I want you to understand is that this is a valid reaction. We shouldn’t think that stoicism is some sort of Christian virtue and there is nothing inherently wrong with being afraid when a real threat to your life or job or reputation presents itself. Good Christian people can experience fits of fear.
Fear is simply that emotion that arises out of a sense of personal harm. It is typically the natural reaction one has to a situation where there is a real and present danger. And we should not think that this sensation is sinful.
As David admits his fear, we should be comforted in knowing that this is not in and of itself a bad thing. I say this because some people think that it is. Some people are actually afraid of being afraid because they think that this is somehow sinful or dishonoring to God. That’s not true though.
To be sure, there are situations where fear can become sinful. When fear escalates and turns into panic or gives way to sin, that’s when we have a problem.
In this regard we might think of Peter as good example of how fear gave way to faithlessness and evil. Remember how Peter was confronted by the little girl when Christ was taken captive and was being tried. She said, “Hey, you are a Galilean. You must be one of his disciples.” What happened to Peter? Peter was stricken with fear, wasn’t he? And that fear got the better part of him. He ended up denying Christ saying, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Now, that first moment of fear, was that altogether wrong? Not necessarily. But that fear dominated him. It became the controlling force driving peter’s reaction. In fear Peter chose self preservation over and against affiliation with Christ. That his fear gave way to panic, that was not right.
So, yes, fear can become sinful and it can result in sin, but the fear in and of itself does not necessarily have to be sinful.
As David shows us here, fear is an emotion that any God honoring Christian can experience. Even Jesus dealt with fear. I think that it is safe to say that when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was dealing with a little bit of fear. He was terrified and overrun with fear because the fury of the wrath of God loomed over him. So much was his fright that blood formed on his brow. The blood vessels in his forehead burst because of the terror that had gripped him and the blood seeped from his pours.
Why do I point this out? Because I don’t want anyone here thinking that because they fear death or fear being put out by their persecutors, that they have committed a great sin. I want you to understand that is perfectly normal.
Some people can really beat themselves up over this. They’ll worry and fret because they are afraid and that’s all due to the fact that they think they are supposed to have veins of steel. They think that they are failing God because they think they are to have nothing but courage.
But that’s not true. Fear and faith are not mutually exclusive concepts (not necessarily, anyway).
Fear is an emotion that good Christians can have this side of heaven. There will come a time when all our fears will subside. When Christ comes again, we will bid these feelings farewell once and for all. But until then fear may come upon one’s faith.
But our text does not just show us how fear may come upon one’s faith. It goes on to show us how faith may rise out of one’s fear.
II. Fear’s faith
Look at the rest of verse 3. David does not say, “When I am afraid, I run and hide and cower and put my tail between my legs and a pillow over my head.” He doesn’t say that he shrinks back from my foes and ends up despairing and denying his faith. No. He says, “When I am afraid, I trust in you.”
His fear doesn’t consume him. Instead his fear leads him to greater faith. Even though the conditions are adverse—even though his enemies might very well take his life, he resolves to rely on God and trust that God’s way is best.
David is not like Cain and Peter, who we talked about just a second ago. David’s fear does not give way to faithlessness. Out of his fear springs forth faith a sure and true belief in God.
Sure, fear may come upon his faith, but faith comes forth from his fear.
And notice what motivates him to put his faith in God. In verse 3 he says, “When I am afraid, I trust in you. In God whose word I praise, will I trust.” Now, some of you may have something slightly different. This part of the verse can be translated differently. But the sum and substance of it is that God’s word is praiseworthy. God’s word is worthy of praise.
Why is david trusting in God? What makes him put his faith in God in the face of fear? It is because God’s word is praiseworthy.
Why is God’s word praiseworthy? It is because it is perfect in what it reveals.
Think about it this way: What makes for a praiseworthy apple? If I pulled out an apple that was rotten, would that be a praiseworthy apple? Of course not. How about if I pulled out an apple that was perfect on the outside, but had a worm on the inside. It’s only one worm, so it’s not that bad. Well, that’s not a praise worthy apple either, is it?
What makes for a praiseworthy apple? It’s an apple that is perfect.
That’s what I think David is saying here. I trust in God because he has given us a perfect revelation of truth. We have a perfect revelation of who God is, what we are to believe, and our hope for eternal life.
One of the reasons our faith can rise out of our fears is because Scrpture gives us a perfect revelation of who God is. God is revealed to be kind and mighty. He’s one who will be our defender. This Psalm shows us that.
Look at verse 8. It says that God has all our tears held up in a bottle. Isn’t that a picture of a God who cares deeply for us? It is a way of saying that God is one who loves us so much that he will take care of us.
But not only does scripture give us a perfect revelation of who God is, it gives us a perfect revelation of what we are to believe. The scripture is praiseworthy because it reveals a perfect system of belief.
Now, one of the things that Jim asked me to speak on this summer was the topic of apologetics. Apologetics is the art of defending your faith. God’s word calls us to give a reason for the hope within us. So we are called to defend our faith.
How do we do that though? Well, I think we have a tip right here. We defend the faith by showing off its “praiseworthiness.” If I might return to my apple analogy: We show how all the other faiths are flawed (i.e. they have worms all in them) and not worthy of praise.
Those who persecute you? They do not have the truth. They are living a lie. And we should expose that. Every other holy book and religious text is not praiseworthy because it does not give a sound, comprehensive revelation of the truth. Every other religion, being based on lies and false assumptions, will eventually contradict itself and reduce to absurdity.
So, one of the ways we prove Christianity to be true is by showing how it is the only religion that stands up under serious scrutiny!
Take atheism for example. Atheism is a major philosophy today. But atheism is completely illogical. It is nothing but foolishness. One of the main objections atheists have to Christianity is the so called “problem of evil.” They say, “If God is good, how can there be evil?” And they think that is just a hum dinger of a case against Christianity. But it is the silliest thing an atheist can say!
This is what we say, “As a Christian, we can believe that God is so great that he can ordain, permit, and use evil for his good purposes and still not be the author of it. Just because evil exists, doesn’t mean God isn’t good. As a matter of fact, you need God to even comprehend what evil is! As an atheist, how is it that you can even distinguish between what is good and what is evil? If you deny God, you erase any absolute standard for determining morality. If we are all just accidents of random chance and highly evolved germs, who’s to say what is right and wrong! Really, if I live my life by the motto ‘Survival of the fittest’ then any thought of what might be evil flies out the door!”
You see! God’s word is to be praised because it gives us a sure way of distinguishing between good and evil. It reveals the truth about God, reality, and ethics. It reveals that there are no other options out there when it comes to faith.
Scripture reveals a God who is true and it reveals a system of belief that is true. But there is another reason our faith should hold fast in persecution. It also reveals promises that are true.
God’s word is praiseworthy because it reveals the promise of eternal life.
Our verse goes on to say, “What can man do to me?” Well, the answer to that question is, “A lot of things.” As a matter of fact, verses 5-6 list a number of things: they can twist your words, plot harm, they can lurk around and watch you steps. And they can take your life!
But ultimately, they can’t do anything. Look at verse 13. It says, “You have delivered me from death.” Sure, God has the power to stop them in their tracts. But even if He doesn’t, He has promised us eternal life. Our persecutors do not have that luxury. They may live for a while, but justice will come to the earth. And in the end, we will stand because Christ has given us the promise of salvation.
In the end, you know that there is no hagiography. For there is nothing in us that is ultimately worthy of praise. The only thing that is truly worthy of praise is our God. Our faith in fear is not due to any great thing in us. It isn’t because of any courage that we can muster or boldness that dwells naturally in us. Our ability to face our fear is solely based on who our God is and what he has revealed to us in His word.
And, my friends, this is to be your comfort. Let us never think that we are required to be immune from any and all fear. Let us understand that fears may come. Fears can seize us, even as they fell upon our dear Lord. But may those fears turn us to the only place where we have refuge.
As a frightened child runs to his parents for solace, let us run to the only place that offers us relief. Let us run to the Scripture and to the God who is revealed therein.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.