Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:28a “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill
the soul:. . .”
Good words to live or die by. They were the dying words of our Baptist Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, who fell in battle at Kappel, Switzerland, in October 1531.
We must fill the world with words (v. 27), and can do so with courage, despite the danger of scorn and abuse, because our persecutors can hurt us only in limited ways within restricted parameters. Jesus here was not implying we can earn our salvation if we fill the world with words about Him in the midst of persecution. He was rather saying if we boldly spread His message despite abuse we give evidence salvation has already come, we truly are saved. Silence about Christ in a time of opposition is a red flag of warning that something is wrong spiritually.
Fearlessly fill the world with words. Our foes do have the power to ruin our earthly enjoyments, to make life miserable for us. They can even kill us, but this is all they can do. The pains they can inflict are at worst surface and temporary.
Antagonists are unable to reach our true self. In us exists an essence disease and death cannot reach, and weapons cannot destroy. Our persecutors’ reach extends only so far, to the grave holding our dead bodies, but not past it. Our spirits are beyond firing range. Enemies cannot permanently damage us. Fear them not.
This is not to say we minimize how terrible the gruesome power to afflict and kill the body is. Christianity neither scoffs at suffering nor treats it as trivial. Pain hurts. We are humans, not robots. Our faith does not disdain the body. It is the instrument of our service before God. To lay down our lives for Him entails presenting our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice (RM 12:1). There is no true spiritual worship till our physical body has been totally yielded in service to Jesus.
The Bible teaches that our bodies are valuable. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 C 6:19 NAS). The body is holy, should be kept clean, handled with dignity, and reverenced, but if its pleasure and existence have to be forfeited to maintain spiritual honor, then so be it. Our Master taught us by His own example. If, to avoid dishonoring God, hands and feet and sides must be pierced, and life itself poured out and extinguished, then we have to let it happen.
Our spirit is the crown jewel of our existence, the part of us that can commune with God, or refuse to do so. The immaterial, invisible part of our nature is our real, most valuable self. To give up the body to save one’s spirit is a small price to pay. It’s like casting a boat’s cargo overboard in order to save the crew.
Losing body for spirit is a very good bargain. I always look for a good deal. Anyone have two twenties for a ten, or two tens for a five, or five fives for a one?
These would all be great deals, but not nearly as good as giving up body to save spirit. Martin Luther said it well, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
It is wrong and foolish to buy temporary body-gratification at the price of a treason that will yield everlasting repercussions for the spirit. To sinfully pamper the body here for a brief span is to barter foolishly. Ease and comfort can cost too much, can come at way too high a price. Only we can cause the destruction of our own spirits, and we do so when we indulge the body to the detriment of our spirit.
Matt. 10:28b “. . .but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and
body in hell.”
God, like our persecutors, can kill the body. He can also do much worse harm. Fear Him, for He is able to destroy body and spirit. We are commanded to display not a tormenting terror or paralyzing phobia of God, but a deep, respectful acknowledgment of His power to bring retribution against human beings. A proper fear of God is one that bolsters us against evil, and animates us to do good.
Fear is a natural, God-given emotion. Christianity is not Stoicism, which says we should be indifferent, unemotional, and suppress all feelings. The Bible instructs us not to nullify feelings, but to control them and to direct them aright.
Needless fear, one that makes us cowards and apostates, should be bridled. Fear misplaced sidetracks us from the mission of filling the world with words. If we fear persecutors, we lose focus, run amok, helter-skelter, ending up ineffective.
Necessary fear, one that makes us heroes and high achievers, should be cultivated. Lord Lawrence’s epitaph in Westminster Abbey says, he feared men so little because he feared God so much. Therein was found his key to success.
Anyone who fears God properly is master of his or her own world, a ruler unafraid of the twists and turns of life and of what others may say or do. As Colonel Gardiner said, “I fear God, therefore there is none else that I need fear.”
“Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” is a straightforward statement by Jesus Himself regarding the stern nature of God. Our culture wishes to ignore this aspect of the Divine. Our permissive age has created a god without backbone, a deified Santa Claus who carries in his sleigh a key to Heaven for everyone. No such god exists, he is merely a figment of sissified imaginations.
Your opinion and mine matter not one whit when it comes to knowing what God is truly like, how He really feels and acts. The only opinion that counts is that of our gentle Savior, Jesus. He is the only One who ever left the Father’s side, who knew firsthand what God is like, and who could tell us the truth about Him.
The one God, the only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 P 3:9 NAS). God wants everyone to be saved. He proved His sincerity in this by sending His only begotten Son to die on a cross as a substitute sacrifice for us.
God loves each and every one of us. He wants no one to go to Hell, but He can and does allow it to happen. In our text, the word translated as “destroy” does not refer to annihilation. It rather denotes utter ruin, the undoing of all that makes life worth living. Hell is not the loss of being, but of well-being. The torments are material and mental, emotional and spiritual, the never ending, ongoing destruction of both body and spirit. The spirit is the chief instigator in saying no to God, but the body quickly follows suit as an accomplice in rebellion. Thus, both suffer.
To be human is to be a being that will live forever, to possess a body and a spirit, both of which have an everlasting future. Once body and spirit converge to make life, that life will live after death forever, either with God or apart from God.
The rules of the game never change. They are not negotiable. God does not respond to opinion polls. He rules a kingdom, not a democracy. He is loving and kind, and absolutely sovereign. We come to Him in the way prescribed by Him or we never come at all. His Son has died that we might live. If we renounce our sins, repent of them, turn from them to Jesus, we shall be saved. But if we choose to prefer our body over our spirit, we shall be lost forever. Jesus gave a body of deity for us. Is it too much to ask that we give puny bodies of flesh to Him in return? Heaven and Hell hang in the balance, hinging on our answer to the question.
God’s sovereignty is not limited to this world. Outside this existence, beyond this current realm, on the other side of death, every human will have to do business with God, on His terms. A day of reckoning is coming. Philo wisely said, “Men reckon the extreme penalty to be death; but in the divine court of justice this is scarcely the beginning.” Death is not the end. It is only the beginning.
When I get in the car and forget to fasten my seat belt, Ruth often says, “Honey, fasten your seat belt; there are things worse than death.” She’s referring to brain damage, having to live in a coma or a vegetative state. “Buckle your seat belt; there are things worse than death” is good counsel, as is, serve the Lord; there are things worse than death. Yield your life to Jesus; there are things worse than death. Don’t wait till it’s too late to become a Christian; there are things worse than death. Never prove disloyal as a Christian; there are things worse than death. Do not flinch in terror, but do stay mindful, to scorn this danger is to fling one’s whole self into ruin, to inflict on our own being, body and spirit, everlasting woe.
God loves you. He wants you to live forever in Heaven with Him. Do not delay one minute longer. Repent of your sins and receive Jesus now.