Whom Do We Fear?
by Doy Moyer
Peter wrote to Christians who faced persecution. Along with persecution and threats come the fears and anxieties of what may happen. We face intimidation and are worried about the outcome. Peter knew what that felt like. He denied Christ three times when faced with intimidating circumstances. When he wrote this epistle then, it is likely that he felt the pangs of that situation and did not want others to follow that path. He knew what betraying the Lord in the face of potential dangers felt like.
Christians know that they need to trust God, no matter what else may happen. To that end, Peter wrote:
“Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear them or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (I Peter 3:13-17 CSB).
Notice the phrase, “Do not fear them or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy.” This is a likely allusion to Isaiah 8:11-15, where Isaiah tells the people, “Do not call everything a conspiracy that these people say is a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the LORD of Armies as holy. Only he should be feared; only he should be held in awe.”
In both passages, God’s messengers talk about what the people fear. In both, God’s people are called upon to honor the Lord as holy. The implication is that if we are fearing “what they fear,” then we are not truly honoring God as holy; we are not sanctifying Christ in our hearts as holy. Instead, we have let the world’s concerns invade our hearts. Fearing what the world fears is a sign that we are more focused on the world than we are on the Lord.
What is it and who is it that we fear? We can choose to fear “what they fear” or we can choose to fear God and honor Him as holy. When we fear God, we can have a good conscience and know that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” We need not fear suffering when Christ is honored as holy. Remember that the apostles rejoiced that they were “counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name” (Acts 5:42).
Peter is no stranger to Isaiah’s message. In the Isaiah 8 context, the Lord “will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling” over which many will stumble. In I Peter 2, Peter combines this passage from Isaiah 8 with Psalm 118:22 to make the point that many do indeed stumble over Christ. Notice the contrast Peter makes between I Peter 2:8-10 here:
“They stumble because they disobey the word; they were destined for this. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
“They stumble … but you are chosen.” We are not the world. The world will act in fear. The world will stumble over the truth and falter. God’s people, on the other hand, are chosen and have a distinct purpose. we need to act as God’s chosen possession proclaiming His excellencies (I Peter 2:9). Next, Peter urges his readers “as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” If we act as we ought, we become lights to the world. When the world seeks to destroy, God’s people seek to do good and God will be glorified.
Now let’s think back to I Peter 3:13-17. If we are God’s chosen people who are given a special purpose, then on what grounds should we ever be afraid of what the world will throw at us? The world will try to intimidate us as God’s people. Don’t buy into those kinds of tactics. There are the theories of the world that can grip us with fear, and there are plenty who seek to bully and intimidate. We can be gripped by a fear that will cause us to stumble, or we can choose to fear God, honor Him as holy, and proclaim HIs glory.