"Do not fear what they fear" (1 Peter 3:14/Isaiah 8:12)
Ok, so who is "they" and what is it that they fear?
Does it help to have a bit more of the verse: Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:13-15)
So, here's the deal. It's hard to be a Christian. It's super-hard to be counter-cultural, and yet God has called us to this. He "set us apart" for Himself. That means we are not as the world is. That means we're going to be fought against. Yes, fought against. In the spiritual realm as well as the physical.
Sucks, doesn't it?
I just had two great conversations yesterday with each half of the same couple. With one we touched on the concept of what it means to be counter-cultural, and with the other we discussed (among many other things) parallel situations that each of us are in where we feel as though we are being overlooked for favor that is being granted abundantly to other people.
So yeah. Separate, set apart, and shat on.
(Look it up. It's the past tense.)
But that's the way it is. Ok, Jesus never said "thou shalt be shat upon," but I think you get the gist of it in the other stuff He said. He said it wasn't going to be easy. He said that His follwers were going to be mocked, ridiculed, harmed and even killed for following Him.
So then here comes this statement: "Do not fear what they fear." It's something that was said alllll the way back in Isaiah as well. Kinda makes you think that there's something going on in the world against the Chosen Ones, eh?
But back to the question: who is "they" and what do they fear?
In the context of 1 Peter, Christians had been scattered about Rome. They were being persecuted and killed. I believe that "they" is the Roman mob, and what "they" feared is being counter-cultural. Being less than Roman. Ironically Rome was a total melting pot of cultures and ideas by this point, and yet Christians found themselves then in the place where Christians in America seem to be as well: we live in a land that is so open to new ideas that it does not accept a belief system built on "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
So what did they fear? The Roman mob. The culture turning against them. Even good little Roman citizens had to fear Roman persecution if they stood out from or went against culture.
So this is where the Christians are told "Do not fear." Peter doesn't, sadly, say "Don't worry God will protect you, nothing will happen." Nope, he said "Yeah, it's gonna kinda suck. But here's the deal. Don't be afraid of it. Have your hope in Jesus." And furthermore, in a somewhat well-known verse, Peter goes on to tell people to always be prepared to tell people about the source of their hope. Which means they have to have hope--even through the persecution!
What does this mean to me today? It means that I can't be afraid of being seen as different, that I was created to be counter-cultural so when I stick out like a sore thumb I may as well be ok with it. And that means that when people see me and know that I am a Christian, I should desire that they would also see the hope that is in me. Hope in the knowledge that this isn't it. If I don't get a promotion, if I lose all my friends, if I get persecuted against, I still have eternity. Because this is just temporary. So I don't have to be afraid of living with pain or sorrow because compared to forever, this is a short time.
And that, my friends, is what "they" fear. "They" fear that this is a one-shot deal, that they only have one chance to live, and as such they have to "fit in" with the societal norms, because they need to have as successful a life as possible, because this is it. There are no second chances with unbelievers.
But we know that, through Christ, not only do we get another shot at existence after death, but we get a guaranteed awesome one that will never end.
So do not fear what "they" fear. Remember that this is only temporary, and have hope. Live out that hope, and you will maybe show "them" a better way. And maybe, just maybe, they'll start wanting what you have. And you can give them hope too.