Do you consider yourself easy to intimidate or not easy to intimidate? Are there certain personality types that produce a certain level of fear within you when you encounter them? Are there people in your life that you care a little too much about their opinion than you really should?
One of the most common fears we face on a regular basis is the "fear of man." Sometimes, we're afraid of what people might say about us, think about us, or do to us. I have also learned that those who try their best to convince me that this isn't something they struggle with, are also wrestling with this kind of battle (often on a deeper level than they're willing to admit).
Truthfully, it isn't hard to see why people become fearful of other people. In this world, who has hurt you the most... rabid dogs, great white sharks, poisonous snakes, or other people? We all have the same answer to that question. Other people may have slandered us, caused us physical or emotional pain, and may have intentionally conveyed a stand-off attitude toward us that keeps us at a distance.
Because of what we've experienced in the past, it's reasonable to be concerned about what people might have the potential to do to us in the future. That's certainly something the early church that Peter wrote his letters to would have been wrestling with as they experienced persecution, suffering, and disdain in their culture. But becoming overly fearful of other people isn't Christ's desire for His church.
So, if we've been wrestling with the fear of other people, what kind of counsel do we find in God's word to help us overcome that struggle?
1. Don't be afraid to suffer for righteousness
I consider the community that I live in to be a very nice place to reside. I think it looks nice. The weather isn't that extreme. And there's lots of conveniences not far from my home. When we first moved here, I bought a few pieces of furniture for our home including a recliner for our family room. Soon after buying it, while sitting on it, I had a thought occur to me that comes to mind regularly. I have the privilege to live like I do, in a nice community, with a nice chair, not only as the fruit of my labor, but also because of sacrifices others have made for me in the past. The simple comforts of my life are also reminders to me of people like my great-grandfather who spent his entire working day digging coal, deep in the mines of Northeast Pennsylvania. His name was Joseph Lewis, and he died when the mine he was working in caved in. During his life, he sacrificed so that his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could enjoy a better life.
The church displays a very strong similarity to that experience. In our culture, there are certainly challenges that we experience as Christians who take our faith in Christ seriously, but many of the comforts and privileges we enjoy are the fruit of the suffering and investments of believers who lived in generations before ours.
The generation Peter was initially writing to had a very difficult time, culturally speaking, as they lived out their faith in Christ. Peter himself was eventually killed because of his faith, and many of the other believers who lived during that era also suffered greatly. The Lord sees the suffering of His people, and He sought to encourage them through the words He gave Peter to write. Christ wants His family to know that they don't need to be afraid to suffer for righteousness.
As Peter states in this passage, in most cases, it isn't likely that we're going to suffer for doing good. Naturally speaking, suffering often follows as a consequence of making bad decisions or unwise choices. But, it's also possible that even though you may be walking on the right path, suffering can still come your way. If so, don't despise your suffering. Don't resent it. This passage reminds us that the Lord can and will bless your life through it. He will deepen your faith, strengthen your resolve, and give you the opportunity to store up heavenly reward as you respond in a Christ-like fashion to your trials.
Most people spend their entire lives doing as much as possible to avoid pain or discomfort at all costs. But sadly, when that aversion also translates to an unwillingness to suffer for righteousness, they also give up great opportunities for spiritual blessings, heightened maturity, participating in powerful victories, (and some really great stories that are worth re-telling).
2. Remember that only Christ is your Lord
I am 41-years-old, but there's a part of me that's still 7. That part comes out whenever a member of our family walks in front of our van before getting into it. When the opportunity is right, particularly when I don't think they're paying attention, I love to blast them with the horn and make them jump. I promise you, that trick never gets old. In fact, if anyone else is in the van with me and we all collectively notice this is about to happen, I usually hear, "Dad, get ready to beep the horn!" We all seem to enjoy scaring each other.
In the context Peter was serving in, however, he encouraged the church not to be fearful of, or troubled by those who were trying to frighten or harm them. And he gives them an important tool to utilize in that effort. Please notice what he emphasizes in this passage.
Peter encourages the church to honor Christ the Lord as holy. There's a few aspects of what he's saying here that I want to point out. Who is Peter reminding the church is their "Lord"? Jesus is the Lord of the church. He's the one in charge. He's the one that's calling the shots. He's the one we bow the knee to in worship. Only Jesus is to be given the place of ultimate prominence in our lives. No one else.
In a related thought, Peter encourages believers in Christ to honor Christ as holy. When someone is considered "holy", we're acknowledging that person as being "set apart." In this case, we're regarding Christ as the one we're called to worship. Ironically, when we overvalue the whims and opinions of someone we live with an unhealthy fear of, we may be attempting to place them in this esteemed position that should only be occupied by Christ.
If the way you feel about yourself can be overly elevated or depressed based on the comments, look, or attention paid to you by someone else, you might want to ask yourself if you have unknowingly given that person the position in your life that should only be occupied by Jesus. You might want to wrestle with who you're really setting apart as Lord.
If we're going to experience true victory over our tendency to fear other people, we need to recognize who really is the Lord of all creation. Jesus is our all-powerful, sovereign Lord. Who we are to Him always supersedes who we are to anyone else.
3. Be ready to explain why your hope is in Christ
About ten years ago, my father asked me to stand in his place before a local magistrate. My Dad owns rental properties and was dealing with a problem tenant, but the hearing was scheduled on a day he wasn't available. I agreed to help him out, but before hand, I did my best to learn everything about the case. I was nervous before the hearing, but when I discovered that I was able to supply accurate answers to the judge's questions, I felt a lot better. I was also grateful to be able to tell my father that the judge ruled in his favor.
Preparation reduces fear. Many Christians are fearful of sharing much about their faith in Christ because they're worried they won't be able to answer questions that might be directed at them. Yet Scripture tells us that unless someone takes the time to share the gospel, people are not going to come to faith in Christ.
So what counsel does Peter give us in this chapter? He tells us to be prepared to explain why our hope is in Christ and he cautions us to do so, not smugly, but with gentleness and respect. We're encouraged to do this so that more and more people will come to know the joy of salvation we've experienced through faith in Jesus.
But how can someone become prepared to do this? The Bible is a large book and most Christians don't have the benefit of receiving formalized training on how to study it. If someone asked me, "How can I learn the content of the Bible in a thorough way?", I would give them this advice.
- 1. Read a portion of the Bible every day. Keep a notebook handy and jot down any questions that come up as well as verse references that sparked your questions.
- 2. Make use of the many available study resources we have access to including; sermon recordings, podcasts, books, online articles, local church study groups.
- 3. Understand that the main theme of the Bible is Jesus and His redemptive plan.
- 4. Repeat this process regularly and quiz yourself on what you're learning.
- 5. Never be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'll look it up" if someone asks you a question you've never thought about before. Odds are, you'll never forget what you learn from it.
- 6. Don't minimize the power of sharing your personal testimony when talking to others.
Preparation reduces fear. Be ready to help someone else understand why your hope is in Christ.
4. Keep your conscience clear
The last thing Peter encourages the church to do in this portion of this chapter is to maintain a clear conscience. When your conscience isn't clear, you continually live with the fear of getting caught. Maybe some of us are afraid of being audited by the IRS because we weren't honest with our tax returns. Maybe some of us are afraid of someone reviewing our internet history. When we violate our conscience, we invite fear and depression into our lives.
But when we live with Christ-empowered integrity, always mindful that His eyes are upon us, we don't need to fear being slandered or attacked. The way we carry ourselves will serve as a testimony to our genuine belief in Christ, and the long-term trail of evidence produced during our lives will back that up. If we're going to suffer, it's better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
This portion of Scripture gives us great counsel as to how we can overcome our fear of other people if that's something we're wrestling with. We don't need to be afraid even if suffering comes. We've set apart Christ as our Lord. Our ultimate hope is anchored in Him. And we're resisting the decision to violate our conscience by remaining mindful of Christ's presence with us and within us.
© John Stange, 2017