DAILY DEVOTION - MAY 28
Listen to excerpts from today's daily devotion on this video.
This Daily Devotion is from A Living Hope, by Sarah Viggiano Wright, published by Bible Study Media, and made available to us through Presbyterian Women.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,...”
1 Peter 3:13–14
A major trend among the youth of the mid-1990s and early 2000s was “No Fear” T-shirts. The signature logo was an enlarged set of fierce- looking eyes, enraged or even a bit crazed, ready to vanquish any foe.
The T-shirt slogans focused on courage and combat in sports, no fear of death, refusal to be lazy, and readiness to face any challenge. The goal of wearing them was to fuel one’s own tenacity, competitiveness, and discipline. Sometimes the slogans could be quite inspirational, such as, “You can’t win the game when you’re sitting on the bench,” or “Don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams.” Other times they were meant to be intimidating: “It must be hard living without a spine,” or “I don’t come here to play, I come here to win.”
The company was capitalizing on the fact that every human being experiences fear. Their slogans used that fact to fuel competitiveness and determination, urging people to leave the fear behind. This approach is pretty typical of Western sports psychology, which promotes a “mind over matter” strategy: try not to experience fear, but if you do, use it for fuel by turning it inside out—envision yourself as victorious and then you will overcome your fear... and win.
Concerning fear, the Bible gives us a different message. Though we might read the copious encouragements to “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” in the Scriptures and conclude that God is asking us not to feel fear, this is not the case. As we see throughout the Psalms, and later in 1 Peter 5:7, God wants us to bring our concerns, anxieties, and cares to him as he is the only true source of comfort. In God’s plan, “do not fear” is not the absence of the feeling of fear, but the freedom from being controlled by it. It is the courage to trust him in the midst of all emotional, physical, and social circumstances. God’s encouragement goes even deeper, all the way to our identities—if you are in Christ, then ultimately there is no evil that can truly defeat you.
As far as evil’s consequences go in the here and now, pay attention to how verse 14 reads: “Have no fear of them.” All through the Bible, God consistently encourages his people not to fear anyone or anything but him. God commanded Moses and Joshua not to be afraid when he was about to deliver the Promised Land to them. In the Psalms, we are reminded not to fear evil, even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid, that he had overcome the world and that he gives them a peace that the world cannot give them. And in Romans, Paul encourages us that there is nothing to fear because, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Don’t fear them.
It is in this vein that Peter writes his encouragement in verse 13, asking what ultimate harm can befall one of God’s beloved, chosen people? Even if we suffer in this life, it is but a temporary affliction leading to a permanent blessing—so we don’t need to fear them. Knowing the events of Peter’s life, this is a profound thing to say. The younger Peter feared one of the most powerless members of society, a servant girl, who asked about his relationship with Jesus. Peter loved Jesus but, in that moment, Peter’s fear-filled response was that he did not even know Jesus. Devastating!
Thankfully, that denial is a far cry from Peter’s encouragement here, as Peter has learned many lessons since then. He has learned that suffering for Christ’s sake is a good thing because it means you belong to God. He has learned that earthly consequences and evils have no power over those held by the One who conquered death. He has discovered that it is a witness of comfort and peace to a world plagued by fear and intimidation when we face fear with God’s strength. He has learned, and will ultimately show in his martyrdom, that he does not fear them. These are the lessons Peter wants to give his readers now in the midst of all their real-life fears.
Peter encourages that nothing can harm them, no evil can befall them, if they are zealous for what is good. The word zealous literally means “boiling over with passion.” If doing God’s “good” consumes you with that kind of enthusiasm, there will be no misery that will have a lasting effect. Thus, all the threats from the evildoers of this world are rendered hollow. As pastor, theologian, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “Those who are afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who fear God have no more fear of men.”
Early Church Father Polycarp is a prime example of this fearlessness, as well as not reviling when threatened. At the age of 86, he was arrested, brought into a stadium, and commanded to denounce Jesus lest he have wild animals unleashed on him. Polycarp replied,
Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? . . . Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.
I truly cannot imagine facing what Polycarp did. But I would hope that, if my life were on the line, I would be able to say with this brave martyr that all my life the Lord has never harmed me, so how can I now repent of what is good. May we all have such deep rootedness in Christ that all earthly fears and evils pale in comparison with his power and goodness. He is faithful and he will never leave us—we need not fear!