Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
When we are engaged in the work God has called us to do in the world, some level of persecution is inevitable. For William Wilberforce, who had chosen to make abolition of the powerful slave trade the “Great Object” of his life, the persecution was intense.
Wilberforce had every reason to be afraid for his life. During his decades-long fight to end slavery, multiple slave-ship captains threatened Wilberforce’s life. One even challenged him to a duel. As one of his biographers wrote, Wilberforce “seriously believed he was likely to die violently when some enemy of abolition made good on one of the several threats he had received since becoming the cause’s chiefest champion.”
Thank God Wilberforce was surrounded by other believers who encouraged him to fear God more than man. On his deathbed, the great preacher John Wesley wrote this to Wilberforce: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?”
Reminders of biblical truths like these kept Wilberforce going, even when he was in fear for his own life. But Wilberforce wasn’t just afraid for his life. He also had good reason to fear for his reputation as he diligently and boldly shared the gospel with his fellow Parliamentarians. In his journal, Wilberforce kept a list of friends, and next to each name, a series of what he called “launchers”—topics and angles he planned to bring up to steer conversations with that person to the subject of eternity.
Wilberforce understood that Jesus has called each of us to be “full-time missionaries” sharing the gospel as we work in every square inch of creation—even if it means damaging our reputations. When Wilberforce was first elected to Parliament, there were 3 members who identified themselves as serious Christians. Fifty years later, there were nearly 200. In the words of his biographer, “Wilberforce’s influence [to this end]…is hard to avoid.”
As you go to work today, fear God, not man. Whether you’re in fear for your life or your reputation, whether you’re fighting evil or sharing the gospel with co-workers, remember that if God is for you, no one can truly be against you (Romans 8:31).