Caution VS Fear

Growing up on the playground our courage is often tested by our friends. Jump over this. Throw that. Stand there. These are all challenges to our courage. They also establish our ‘pecking order’ among friends. We naturally strive for the top tier, so we regularly risk danger in the name of courage.

In those days, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran and told that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are mad.” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell this to James and to the brethren.” Then he departed and went to another place.

Acts 12:12-17

When Saint Peter was led from prison by the angel, he did do in silence. He didn’t call out to the guards, “HEY! I’m free! What are you going to do about it?” That would have defeated the purpose of the angels coming to him at night when the guards were asleep.

Once free, he went to see his friends. He silenced their ‘exuberance’ and went away quietly. It wasn’t fear that kept everyone quiet. It was caution. The guards would have sounded the alarm in the morning anyway. Saint Peter didn’t remain hidden, but he didn’t turn himself in either.

There are many stories throughout Church history of saints that kept quiet out of caution. Many of those same saints ended up slaughtered as martyrs for Christ. If it had been fear that kept them quiet, their faith wouldn’t have been strong enough to endure the pain of torture.

The Church didn’t ‘publicly’ preach, risking death, unless there was no other choice. Even Christ quietly walked away from the crowds several times before allowing Himself to be captured. We weren’t afraid on the playground because we refused to jump off the roof. We were cautious.

I will admit it can be difficult to understand the difference between caution and fear. For me, caution is when we assess the level of danger as compared to our ability. If our ability to jump ‘gets us over the hole’ then we jump. If we are poor jumpers, caution helps us find another way.

When it comes to our expressing our faith, caution helps us spread the Gospel. We should assess the situation before ‘jumping in’ with our preaching. Even Saint Basil warned against engaging people who ‘just want to argue’ rather than know the truth.

We desire dialogue about our faith, not a fight. Over time we learn to discern our conversations. We learn to ‘keep quiet’ when a ‘riot’ is about to take place. Saint Paul reminded us to live at peace, as much as in our control. (see Romans 12.18)

Fear, on the other hand, paralyzes our faith. Fear ‘stops us in our tracks’ even before we assess our abilities. Fear has only one motive, self-preservation. Caution moves us forward in our goals to preach Christ. Fear only keeps us safe, for the moment.

Self-preservation for the sake of self-preservation is not holy. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16.26) This week I encourage you to pay attention to the difference between caution and fear, and then choose wisely.

Christian evangelists are not suicide bombers. Our goal is not to intentionally get into danger. Our goal is to reveal the love and grace of Christ to those who what to know Him. Proceed with caution before you preach. Your goal is to dialogue in love, not fear.

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