God’s Word for You
1 Peter 3:13-14 Be brave
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 27, 2022
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (NIV)
Peter doesn’t mean that nobody and nothing will harm us if we are eager, zealous, for doing good. He means that if we are eager for good, the things that might cause suffering will not truly harm us, even if “take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife.” Surely, when the devil rips and tears at us, and when he even truly murders people we love with his diseases and infections and cancers, we will grieve. We will be hurt by these things. But we have put our trust in Christ, and these earthly pains do not affect our eternal status apart from being opportunities for us to strengthen our faith.
This doesn’t mean that we should be eager for persecution. Not at all! There is a vast difference between rejoicing when we are persecuted and happily confronting those who might possibly oppose us or bring about a persecution of some kind. We don’t need to go looking for trouble. Just as we want to flee from evil desires, we also want to flee from evil and wicked adversaries. “When you are persecuted in one place,” Jesus said, “flee to another” (Matthew 10:23). When the Kaiser tried to make changes in the Lutheran churches in the 19th century and threatened to imprison those pastors and churches that refused, the Saxon migration brought many hundreds of Lutherans to America just a few years before the Civil War. This is why so many of the older churches in Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have similar founding dates. This persecution also brought a blessing. The Lutheran Christians who arrived in America and settled in what was, at that time, the western and northwestern frontier of the country were tied together by language, culture, family, and a common history, but also by doctrine. Wars came (Civil, Spanish-American, and two World Wars), and the language of our group shifted from German to English. Culture shifted from European to American. Families grew, intermarried with other families, and otherwise changed as families do. The common history was somewhat forgotten by many of our ancestors especially in the wake of wars, the Depression, and other upheavals (like a plague of locusts that covered Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota and as far away as Montana) and people thought about recent history far more than the ‘ancient’ history of what happened in the 1840s. So language, culture, family and common history changed, but the one common binding factor remains: doctrine. Our common faith in Christ and our doctrine, which is explained using the word of God by the creeds and by our Lutheran Confessions (such as Luther’s Small Catechism, which we all have in our homes) binds us together.
This brings up another example of a persecution which brought about a blessing. Without the abuses of the Medieval Catholic Church, Luther’s reformation would not have taken place, and we would not have such a useful blessing as the Small Catechism in our possession. Perhaps you can think of some specific example or examples of these sorts of blessings in your life. But this may also lead you to ask: Does God plan to bless me by permitting terrible harm or suffering in my life in the future?
Peter gives us immediate comfort: “Do not fear their fear. Do not be afraid.” This is a very close quotation of the Greek translation of Isaiah 8:12. But what do Peter and Isaiah mean by “Do not fear their fear”? Many translations take this the way the NIV does, “Do not fear what they fear.” That is to say, do not be afraid of what your persecutors fear. What do the devil and his demons fear? They are terrified of Christ and of judgment day. Remember the shrieks of the demons when Jesus drove them out: “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). Does Peter tell us not to be afraid of judgment day, and for that reason, to be comforted when troubles come? There is certainly comfort for us. In fact, most unbelievers “are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and the eternal punishment reserved for the wicked.” “The things they treasure are worthless… they are ignorant, to their own shame” (Isaiah 44:9). We have a comfort that they don’t even know about.
But there might be another possibility.
“Do not fear their fear” might also be what is grammatically known as an objective genitive. Luther lays this out simply: “Have no fear of them.” Jesus said: “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). If this is Peter’s intention here, then he would be saying: “Do not be afraid of them and what they think should scare you.”
Remember the genius of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who has inspired the word of God, the word that is “sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God does what man can’t imagine could happen (how can anyone divide soul and spirit? How sharp does a knife have to be to perfectly and completely detach joint from marrow?). But God’s word does many things that amaze us. It shouldn’t amaze us at all if Peter means two things at the same time: Don’t fear what your persecutors fear, and don’t be scared of them, either. Our comfort is in the very gospel that the world mocks.
All of the mocking and the other attacks will come to an end, but our comfort from Christ will never end. Humble yourself before God, but be brave and courageous here in the world. Give when asked. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Flee when persecuted. But be brave, dear Christian. God is with you.
Pastor Timothy Smith