Fear has no place in the life of a Christ follower.
We should not fear people not like us, or people who might harm us, or the crisis of the month. We should not be afraid of politicians or terrorists or Supreme Court rulings or any of that stuff. Not either (or any) presidential candidate.
Leading evangelicals are on record as saying one candidate or another “scares them to death.” Really?
Maybe they haven’t heard the story of Polycarp.
Polycarp was 86 when he was killed. This was more than 1800 years ago, in the days of the early church. He lived in Smyrna, which is in modern-day Turkey (Izmir, to be exact). He was killed by politicians who didn’t like him talking about Jesus all the time. It’s kind of embarrassing for the government, in retrospect, because even the guys that arrested him liked him. When they showed up at his house to cuff him and stuff him, he offered them something to eat. No joke.
Super nice guy, Polycarp.
Later, at the arena, when he was given one last chance to deny Christ and live, he uttered some pretty memorable words:
“86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
The politicians, perhaps taken aback by his resolve, threatened him with beasts and fire. Polycarp didn’t relent.
“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
No fear there.
They went to nail him to a post so he wouldn’t run around like a crazy person once he was set on fire, but he told them there was no need. He was willing to burn alive for Jesus, and he didn’t require aid in staying put. He could take it.
So he took it. Polycarp, at the age of 86, died when all he had to do to live was deny Jesus.
Or fight back.
Or lawyer up.
Or run away.
Instead, his flesh burned off his bones and he was faithful to Christ until the end.
I don’t know quite how to say this, and I don’t say it lightly, and I don’t say it without understanding that some people won’t know what to do with it, but I am not afraid. I am not sure I have Polycarp’s gumption, but I’m inspired by it. I pray about it. I think about it. I’m preparing for it.
There’s a lot of talk these days about fear. Fear has a way of making us lack faith. Fear makes us run away from people who aren’t like us. Fear makes us take up arms against those who mean us harm. It can make us crazy, in fact. Illogical. Unreasonable. It paralyzes us from otherwise behaving in a civil manner. We live in a society gripped by a bold-faced fear in a variety of shades.
It leads to debate — some healthy and some not-so-much. It divides. It makes progress trickle to a stop.
This makes sense for people who don’t follow Jesus. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the Church. What are we afraid of? Why are we afraid at all? What do we have to lose?
I can’t escape the fact that in Christianity we worship a God who allowed himself to be killed by his enemies because he loved them so much. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with that as Christ-followers, but I think we probably should do something.
For starters, maybe we should not be afraid. Maybe we should stare fear full in the face and not flinch.
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16-18, emphasis mine)
Not afraid of people not like us.
Not afraid of guns.
Not afraid of change.
Not afraid of the ongoing moral decay.
Not afraid of politicians.
Not even afraid of dying.
I’m not saying we have to like or agree with all the things we’re inclined to fear.
I’m just saying we shouldn’t fear them.
They shouldn’t “scare us to death.”
“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.” Those are Jesus’ words in Matthew 10. He is sending his disciples out into a world that was cruel and violent. And his instruction is not to fear. Why?
Because, as radical as this might sound, the worst that could happen is they would be killed.
When you view death as a beginning to be embraced instead of a tragedy to be avoided, it sort of changes your perspective.
I think Polycarp understood that.
I’m trying to.
There’s a whole lot I’m not saying in this blog post. Please don’t read it with the intention of a policy debate. I’m not a politician, I’m a pastor. Debates can happen elsewhere online. I just want to encourage you.
Whatever you do right now, if you’re a Christ follower, don’t fear. Like Polycarp, stare death full in the face — all the unfairness of it, all the injustice, all the hatred — and declare that this world can bring on whatever it wants.
You have nothing to fear.