On April 16, 1521, Martin Luther arrived in the city of Worms to appear before the imperial court of the Holy Roman Empire. The previous year, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull against the German monk for his writings. Now Luther was summoned before Emperor Charles V and the electors, princes, and nobility of the empire to renounce his views. The following day, in the presence of the whole court, he was asked two simple questions: “Do you, Martin Luther, recognize the books published under your name as your own? Are you prepared to recant what you have written in these books?” To the first question, Luther answered yes. To the second, though, he wavered. Offering an answer to this question was more than he could handle at that moment. He realized that if he did not recant, there was a very good possibility that he would be condemned as a heretic, taken to Rome, and burned at the stake. Feeling in over his head, he asked for some time to think about how he should answer. The court granted him one day.
We can imagine the sort of fear that Luther must have felt as he mulled over his options that night. The Reformation was on the line, but so was his life. Where would he find the strength to do what was right and speak the truth in the face of harm?
Fear can be crippling. It can paralyze us when we ought to act and silence us when we ought to speak. This is one of the chief reasons that the Apostle Paul near the end of his life wrote a very personal letter to his trusted colleague, Timothy, the pastor of the church of Ephesus. Like Luther at the Diet of Worms, Timothy faced a situation that caused him to feel that he was in over his head. Persuasive false teachers were launching attacks on the gospel. Some in the church were questioning his authority as a pastor. He was discouraged and probably a little embarrassed about Paul’s imprisonment and declining reputation. He needed to stand up for the truth and faithfully preach the Word of God, but he was afraid of suffering. His flame was burning low. Paul found it urgent to remind Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and of love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
We need that reminder too. Our circumstances can sometimes make us feel that we are in over our heads. At times it is quite certain that God has given us far more than we can handle. But it is also true that the Holy Spirit has equipped us in a threefold way so that we can fulfill our callings and persevere in the faith, even in the face of fear. The Holy Spirit has been given to us not to remove every form of suffering in this life but to conform us to the image of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:15–17). He is the down payment of the full inheritance we will receive in glory (Eph. 1:13–14). God’s Spirit gives us power to persevere in this life, even in the midst of the most difficult trials and hardships, providing us with the grace we need to go through them. He provides us with love, the first evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), so that we can use our gifts sincerely not for our personal gain or advancement, but for the genuine benefit of others. He strengthens us with self-control so that we can serve others with self-discipline in regard to our thoughts and behavior, despite the discouragement of suffering or the threat of opponents.