Moving beyond fear​ (March 17, 2024)

Sometimes we can suffer from doing what is right, but fear should not control us, writes Brendan McLean.

Outlook Standard Lesson for March 17, 2024
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: ​​​1 Peter 3:8-17

In the 1991 movie “Defending Your Life,” the legendary comedian, actor, director and screenwriter Albert Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a Los Angeles advertising executive who dies in a car accident on his 39th birthday. He finds himself in a fantastical version of the afterlife for the recently deceased, an urban waiting area called Judgment City staffed by lawyers and bureaucrats who have transcended to a new level of existence, and yet are extremely condescending.

Over a week, Daniel’s life on Earth is put on trial. The burden of proof lies in demonstrating whether Daniel overcame the fear dominating human lives, preventing us from enjoying all life offers. If it is ruled that he has conquered his fear, Daniel gets to transcend into the next phase of existence.

In one exhibit, Daniel is a young boy covering for a classmate who forgot his art supplies. Daniel gives his art supplies to his classmate and lies to the teacher, saying he broke the rules and took his supplies home. The evening of that same day, Daniel is chastised sternly by his father before crumbling and admitting that he lied to protect his classmate, who is expelled two days later. What started as an argument for Daniel overcoming his fears with thoughtfulness turns into an argument by the prosecutor for Daniel letting his fear control him.

This moment of Daniel Miller’s life portrays a universal human moment — the realization that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean you will be rewarded or recognized. Indeed, as today’s Scripture from 1 Peter reminds us, sometimes you can suffer from doing what is right (v. 14).

Fear should not control us

The writer of 1 Peter, who presents himself as the apostle Peter, knows that the world will not always praise people who choose to do the right thing. Because of this, fear can reign in our choices (v. 14). Yet, Peter argues that this fear should not control us. He reminds us that we have inherited a blessing from Abraham in Genesis: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you … and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). Through this Abrahamic blessing, we can move beyond the “eye for an eye” mentality, instead favoring reconciliation over revenge whenever possible (v. 9).

Furthermore, Peter reminds us that we are called by God to be signs of God’s blessing in the world through our actions, quoting Psalm 34: “Let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11). We are blessed for overcoming our fear and doing the right thing even if our good action results in criticism or hostility (v. 14). Peter encourages us to sanctify Christ in our hearts (v. 15). This naming of the heart was important to Peter’s first-century audience, who perceived the heart as the source of a person’s will and the guide through which a person makes their choices (much like how we perceive “the mind” nowadays).

Not only is it important that we do good and seek peace, but Peter tells us that we should constantly look at our moral choices and hold them up to the example of Christ, knowing that Christ is walking alongside us even as we attempt to overcome our fear and do the right thing regardless of the worldly response.

A story of trust

Ultimately, as the Word tells us, God desires for us to flourish in the goodness of creation and for all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). Peter affirms this while also speaking to the reality of the world: that in this world, things are not as they should be. Systems meant to support are broken and harmful to people who hunger, thirst and are oppressed.

God’s children suffer, even when they are doing good. And yet, Peter tells us to trust in God’s desire for the good of every living thing and let this trust help us overcome our fear of the consequences when we are called to do good radically and recklessly for any who need it, without regard for how the world might respond.

Questions for reflection 

  1. Can you remember a time in your life when you did a good thing, but the result was not reward or recognition? What did it feel like?
  2. What are some of the fears that might be holding you back in your life here and now?
  3. Where do you feel encouraged in your life to boldly do good?

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