“Whom Shall I Fear?” (I Peter 3:13-15 sermon)

In Marie Beth Jones’ Tales of the Brazos, she tells of Dr. William F. Bruner, who was one of the first doctors who lived in what would later become Angleton. One day Dr. Bruner was called to treat a young man who had suffered a gunshot wound in his hip. The young man told Dr. Bruner what happened: he said he’d seen a shadow on the way to his girlfriend’s house, and he just knew it was his rival for her affections. He’d known his rival might be there, so he had brought a gun for protection. But when he saw the shadow he started running for the woods and reached for his gun. But it was too late: a shot rang out, and he realized his rival’s bullet had struck him.

Dr. Bruner examined the wound, asked about the distance of the shooter. He looked at the pants the man was wearing, and noted the damage to them. Then he looked over the pistol the young man had been carrying for protection. Dr. Bruner’s conclusion: the shadow that the patient had been running from was his OWN shadow, and he had been so panic-stricken that he had managed to shoot himself! (p. 122)

Fear can be very destructive, can’t it? It can cause us to do a lot of foolish and harmful things. Unfortunately, even many of God’s people just live surrounded with fear. And God tells us here in I Peter 3 that if Jesus is our Lord, it should not be this way: 

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. ‘And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,’ but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts …”.

That last sentence is the one we are going to focus on this morning; that we are not to fear the fear of men, but sanctify Jesus as our Lord:


I. Fearing This World

When verse 14 says: “and do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled” this is actually a quote from Isaiah 8:12 and following in the Old Testament. The context here is important: The southern kingdom, Judah, was being threatened by the Northern Kingdom of Israel (which had turned to wickedness) and the kingdom of Aram (what is now Syria). They were threatening to come against Judah, remove their king Ahaz, and install another king in his place. Many of God’s people in Judah were very fearful of this threat. So here is what God said to them in Isaiah 8: 

“You are not to say ‘It is a conspiracy’ in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.

It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy, and HE shall be your fear, and HE shall be your dread.  Then HE shall become a sanctuary.”  

God told Judah and King Ahaz, do not fear this plot or those people. He says, Fear ME! (We’ll talk about that in just a moment). But that is the context of I Peter 3:14.  When Peter quoted “do not fear their fear”, he was specifically speaking of Christians in his day who were afraid of those who were persecuting them — or of those who MIGHT potentially persecute them. He was saying, don’t be afraid of what people might do to you because you are a Christian.

And God’s word to us today is the same: He is telling us today just like He did them: do NOT be afraid of people who are trying to intimidate you because of your Christian faith. But sadly, the fear of other people and what they think, or what they can do to us, is very common. 

I was just reading this week in my daily Bible readings in Matthew 14 about the infamous episode of King Herod and John the Baptist. Herod had imprisoned John because he preached against him committing adultery with his brother’s wife. In fact it says Herod wanted to put John ti death, but it says “he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet.” So Herod was “afraid” to do what he really wanted to do, because he was intimidated by what other people thought!  And then, a few verses later, when he had promised Herodias’ daughter anything she wanted and she asked for the head of John on a platter; he didn’t want to do it (not because he loved John but because he was afraid of the people) but ironically enough it says he DID do it, “because of his dinner guests” — again, he did what he did this time because he was afraid of his dinner guests!  It seems like everything Herod did, one way or another, was out of the fear of other people!

Now that may seem extreme, but the fact is, SO many people today are exactly like Herod: the motivation for just about everything they do is fear of what other people will think, say, or do to them — and sadly even many of us as Christians get caught up in that:

— How many of us as Christians have thought we should say something as a witness to somebody about the Lord, but we hesitate to because we are afraid of what someone might think if we did?  Many of us are just like Peter, who sat there and denied Jesus three times; only many of us have denied Him much more than three times, because we’re so afraid to open our mouths and say anything. We’re “fearing their fear.” 

— Someone made the observation a few days ago that the Gay and Lesbian agenda has basically “muzzled” many Christians in America today and is intimidating them from standing up for Biblical values, because they are afraid of reprisals, or afraid being called out. God says, do not fear their fear. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right — in ANY cause. Now, we should never purposefully “stir up” trouble — there is a kind of person who just relishes controversy, but we are NOT to be that way. We are always to seek to be peaceable. And we should never be obnoxious to anyone, or use slurs or ugly  names — NO Christian should ever do that!  But as :15 says, “with gentleness and reverence” we should share the truth, and not to be afraid to do it. 

— And it’s not just fear of persecution as Christians, either. This has all kinds of applications for us: as God’s people, we are not to let our lives be controlled by fear. SO many people just LIVE in fear:

— fear of what people think

— fear of getting sick

— fear of something happening to a loved one

— fear of a crash in the economy

— fear of crime 

— fear of international war or crisis

— fear of the next hurricane or flood 

— fear of death — and on and on! 

Sadly, much of what we watch on tv news and weather channels can just play into these fears. If you spend very much time watching tv, you may notice it often just goes from fear to fear to fear, and it can just build fear into your life. If you sense that happening to you, you may need to decide to spend less time watching shows that are feeding fear into your life. 

What about you? Is fear controlling your life? Or is there some AREA of your life in which fear is holding you back: whether it is fear of witnessing or sharing Christians values; or fear of stepping out in faith when God is calling you to do something; or fear of failure in something you think you should be doing?  Maybe there’s a specific decision right now, in which you need ask yourself: “Am I making this decision because I really believe that this is what God wants me to do? — or am I making this decision based on FEAR?” Fear is not the reason to make a decision. Make your decisions based on faith and obedience to GOD, not FEAR of something.

Whatever area it is in, God says here: “DO NOT fear their fear.” Do not let your life; don’t let your words and actions; don’t let your decisions, be controlled by fear.  And especially don’t let your Christian witness be hindered by fear. God says: “Do not fear their fear.”  

Now, it’s one thing to just say: “don’t fear the fears of this world.” It is another thing to replace those fears with something else. And that is just what we see here in verse 15: 


II.  Making Christ Lord

“BUT sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” 

So God shows us a contrast here: He says do NOT fear men and the fears of this world; BUT rather He says, sanctify Christ as your Lord. God has used some things in this verse to speak to me about some areas of my life before, and maybe it will help you as well:

First of all, when He says “do not fear their fear, but sanctify Christ as Lord,” we need to see that he’s CONTRASTING these two things. He’s saying, on the one hand, you can fear all those fears, OR on the other hand, you can “sanctify” (or “set apart”, which is what that word means) Christ as Lord. But you can’t do both. If you are fearing that fear, then you are NOT making Christ Lord. See, if you are fearing fear, then FEAR is what is controlling your life. And if fear controls your life, that means that Jesus is NOT controlling it!  Whatever controls you is your “Lord;” that is what “Lord” means: the “master” or “boss” of your life. So you may not have realized this, but if you are controlled by fear, then FEAR is basically the Lord of your life, not Jesus!  

— If Jesus tells you to witness to someone, but you don’t, because you are afraid, then Jesus isn’t your Lord; fear is. Fear has determined what you are going to do. 

— If Jesus tells you to go on a mission trip, but don’t go because you are afraid of traveling, or of dangers, or whatever, so you don’t go; then Jesus is isn’t your Lord; those FEARS are your Lord. THEY have determined what you are going to do. 

Whatever controls your life, is your Lord. I don’t think any of us would want to ADMIT that fear is our “lord;” but the truth is, if fear is controlling us, and if it is causing us to make the decisions that we do, then fear really IS our Lord — doesn’t that make sense?  

So God is saying to us here, do not let FEAR be the “lord” of your life. Do not let FEAR control you. Instead, He says, make JESUS the Lord in your heart. Obey HIM. Let HIM determine what you are going to do, in every area of your life. Fear and obey HIM more than anyone or anything else.  

And yes, there IS a healthy “fear of the Lord.” The scriptures are full of this expression: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” and so on. “The fear of the Lord” is one of the most important qualities we can have. It doesn’t mean we have just a “craven fear” of God, but that we have a healthy respect for the holiness of God, for His power, and for our accountability to Him:

— Romans 3:18 says of the sinner: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” They don’t respect God; they have no sense of accountability to Him; they don’t fear His judgment; so they do whatever they want to do. The sinner has no fear of God. 

— But the Bible says the righteous person WILL have “the fear of the Lord.” This is not just “Old Testament;” it is a New Testament expression as well. The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Corinthians 5:11)

Christian people are to have a healthy “fear of the Lord”: NOT that we are afraid that He is about to send a lightning bolt down on us at any minute; but a reverence; an awe of His holiness, and His glory; and knowing that we are accountable to Him and will be judged by Him. There is not much talk of “the fear of the Lord” this these days, when so many act like the Lord is their “best buddy” and show no respect for Him at all. 

But look at what the NEW TESTAMENT teaches us about the fear of the Lord:

— Jesus said in Matthew 10:28  “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear HIM who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You’re afraid of what someone might say or do to you if you witness for the Lord? Jesus was talking about witnessing in Matthew 10, and He said, don’t fear those people who might be able to kill your body; if you’re going to fear someone, He said fear HIM who can destroy your whole soul and body forever in hell!  That’s what Peter is saying here: Don’t let their fear be your Lord; let JESUS be your Lord!

Someone says, “Well, I don’t ‘fear the Lord;’ He’s just my friend.” There is a sense that by His grace, we are His friends; but a genuine follower of Christ never loses their respect and awe for the Lord and His glory.

We see that in the life of the Apostle John for example. John knew Jesus better than perhaps anyone who has ever lived. He was one of Jesus’ “inner circle” of three: Peter, James, and John. And John may have been the closest of them all to Jesus. He wrote in his Gospel that at the Last Supper he was leaning back on Jesus as they were talking, like you might lean back on a friend.  But read Revelation Chapter 1: when the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him, John said “His eyes were like a flame of fire; His feet were like burnished bronze; His face was shining like the sun in its strength” — and John wrote: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.”

JOHN: who KNEW Jesus; who was one of His “inner circle;” who had leaned back on His chest at the Last Supper — this JOHN “fell at His feet like a dead man” when He saw Him in His glory!  

So we NEVER lose that “fear of the Lord” in the sense of awe and respect and wonder and glory. And if we “fear” anyone’s power and respect anyone’s command, it is going to be HIS.  We’re not going to be afraid of the person we’re witnessing to; we’re going to be more afraid of the One who told us to witness! 

I’ve read where soldiers have said that they were more afraid of their commander than they were the enemy! They moved forward despite hostile fire, because they sure weren’t going back to face the wrath of their commander!  That’s kind of like what Peter’s saying here. Don’t fear those inconsequential human beings; they can’t do anything to you ultimately. The worst thing they can ever do is kill your body, and send you straight to endless glory! No, he says, if you’re going to fear someone, fear HIM! 

Fear Him who has eyes like a flame of fire

Fear Him whose feet are like burnished bronze

Fear Him whose face shines like the sun!

Fear Him who leads the armies of heaven

Fear Him to whom we are accountable for every thought, word, and deed!

Fear HIM who is able to throw soul and body into hell!

Fear HIM!

I love the picture in Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” where the demons are being cast out of heaven for siding with Satan, and they suddenly skid to a stop when they see hell opening its jaws before them, and they start to turn back — until they see the wrath of God Almighty driving them on — and in the face of His Almighty wrath they willingly plunge themselves into hell!

FEAR HIM!  That’s what Peter is saying here. If you’re going to fear anyone; fear HIM!   

“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” Peter says. Don’t fear anyone more; don’t respect anyone more; don’t obey anyone more than you do HIM.  Make Jesus the real Lord and Master of your life. 

Claim Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation? whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” Don’t fear all those fears you’re tempted to be afraid of; take refuge in Jesus. Make HIM the Lord of your life, and obey Him, no matter what other fears you are tempted with.

And I think it’s instructive that Gd sets this before us here as a choice. If we didn’t have a choice, He wouldn’t have put it before us like this — but since He did, must have a choice. We can either choose to let fear rule us — or we can choose to let Jesus rule us. The question is, which one will you serve?  This is just as clear and striking as the choice that was set before Israel at the end of Joshua, where he said: “Choose you this day whom you will serve” — all those other gods, or Yahweh?   We have that same choice from God here today: Choose you this day whom YOU will serve: you can choose to serve all the fears that come at you; or you can choose to make Jesus your Lord. Which one will it be for you? 


Let me also say, in conclusion, that this verse has a LOT of application for our lives, and more than just in this area of fear. The principle here is that ANYTHING that controls your life, is basically your Lord. If fear is controlling your life, then fear is your lord, not Jesus. But we can also apply this same principle to ANY area of our life: is there ANYTHING besides Jesus that is determining the direction of my life or my decisions? If so, then THAT thing, whatever it is, is your Lord, not Jesus:

— Some of us are letting money determine what we are going to do instead of the Lord. If so, then money is your Lord.

— Some of us let FOOD determine what we are going to do. If that’s so, then food is your Lord. (Which is one reason for fasting I believe; when we fast, we are basically saying: food is not going to control me; food is not going to be the most important thing in my life; the LORD is!)

You can apply it to any area of your life: of any activity or any habit or any desire in our life, we should ask ourselves: is THIS thing controlling me — or is Jesus controlling me? And our goal should be that NOTHING EVER controls us more than Jesus.  It’s not just fear; we can put ANYTHING in that blank, and say, “I am not going to be controlled by _____ — whatever that thing is — but I am going to make Jesus my Lord.”  

So this goes back to the very basics of what being a real Christian IS: being a real Christian means that you are making Jesus the LORD of your life. And making Jesus “Lord” doesn’t just mean you are going to go to church an hour or two a week. It means that He is your “Master;” the “Boss” of your whole life. That HE determines what you do. Not fear, not money — not anything else. The question that every one of us should ask ourselves today is, Is Jesus really my Lord? Is HE controlling my life? Or is fear controlling me — or something else? I believe this is a real word from God here for many of us today. In whatever area of your life it applies:  “Do not fear THEIR fear … but sanctify CHRIST as Lord in your hearts.”  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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