What Can Man do to Me?
Because the values of societies either differ one from another or change over time, it seems that some parts of the Bible carry more relevance to some generations. For example, Ecclesiastes is particularly well suited to identify the consequences of humanistic or atheistic thought in a post-modern world. John’s gospel account bears greater weight in a generation that questions the deity of Jesus. To a generation of American Christians for whom the prospect of legal and/or physical persecution has grown increasingly more real, the book of First Peter gains a new relevance. Peter’s first epistle offers a perspective of Christian suffering that we would do well to heed.
In the third chapter, Peter asks, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” (verse 13). His question invites us to assess what harm the enemies of Christ can inflict. Can they cause physical pain? Yes. Can they separate us from our loved ones? Yes. Can they disparage our faith and blaspheme our God? Yes. Can they enact laws that are antagonistic to biblical morality? Yes. Can they alter the values of the country that we hold so dear? Yes. However, the question Peter asks remains unanswered: will these things harm us?
Jesus counsels, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). From Christ’s perspective, the damage His disciples suffer for His sake is of little consequence. Why? Because what is eternal cannot be destroyed by a dull blade in the hands of a jihadist. A body can be bruised, but a life that is hidden with Christ cannot be touched. Who then can harm you if you follow what is good?
Peter echoes both Jesus and the prophet Isaiah in 3:14, “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” Here is the original verse: “Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12-13). Neither the surrounding text nor other scriptures tell us anything about the conspiracy. However, we do not need to know the content of the rumors in order to learn from the exhortation. Isaiah and those who followed God were not to repeat the popular speculations circulating among the people. Such empty chatter pulls one’s attention from the Lord and troubles the heart.
Among the many relevant exhortations in First Peter, the previous paragraph concerns me the most. Far too many of us share or retweet or repeat the opinions of men and women who, in some cases, claim to be advocates of faith. I am sure that there are noble and well-intentioned people of integrity within the American media complex. However, do not be deceived my beloved brethren. Invoking the name of God does not legitimize either what they say or the organization for which they speak. Every time they use the words God, Jesus, and/or Christian to support any worldly ideology or agenda, the subject at hand becomes a spiritual matter. A skeptical eye must measure these claims against the word of God.
Jesus says we will know false teachers by their fruits. In his second epistle, Peter says that false teachers have “a heart trained in covetous practices” (2:14). Jude describes them as “grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (verse 16). Though righteous voices may indeed rise out of the confusion, let us not forget that the talking heads are cogs in a worldly machine, churning out dollars for a handful of media conglomerates. Unsubstantiated “facts,” outright lies, and misinterpretations season their commentary and reporting. They engage in character assassination and dishonor our leaders with ungodly criticism. Phrases like “true patriots” and “great Americans” flatter us. Revisionist narratives of American history stir our emotions. Our blood pressure rises as we view images or videos of Christians kneeling in the sand surrounded by malevolent, hooded figures. Then they repeat all of this again, and again, and again.
Can you not see what is happening? Slaves of corruption promise us liberty, and we tune in repeatedly because our eyes are on man and not on the Lord. These merchants of fear prey upon our naiveté, and we keep coming back for more, lining their pockets with subscription and advertising dollars. However, the real travesty is the fruit harvested from this tree. Can a good tree bring forth the rage, fear, complaints, despair, and discontent voiced by too many Christians? We quench the joy and peace of the Spirit. We allow a spirit of fear to captivate us rather than the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind given to us by God (2 Timothy 1:7). Beware my brethren.
What if the swelling tide of antagonism toward Christianity carries us to the rocky shores of physical persecution? What then? Peter says that those who suffer for righteousness’ sake are blessed (3:14). Eighty-six words into this letter, the apostle recognizes what his audience had already suffered for the sake of Christ. To help them cope, he describes these trials as a fire purifying their faith. Such genuine faith, Peter says, is worthy of praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Those who suffer anticipate His return with inexpressible joy. In the second chapter, Peter says that though people may call our good works evil, those good works will compel them to “glorify God in the day of visitation” (verse 12). This handful of verses tells us why we find blessings in suffering for the name of Christ. Persecution purifies our faith. A genuine faith glorifies God and compels the enemy of Christ to do likewise. The one who endures rejoices in hope. The faithful Christian receives blessings when suffering for the Lord.
If fear and worry over what may happen troubles you, fix your eyes upon the author of our salvation. Jesus did good and suffered. Yet He joyfully endured the cross and sits glorified on the right hand of God. Turn your ears and eyes away from the merchants of fear and trust in the Lord. Rediscover the living hope that Peter eloquently celebrates at the beginning of his epistle. With all of this, learn to say with boldness, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).