God’s Grace & Suffering, part 1

Peter starts to close this epistle by beginning a final major emphasis he wants to impress on his readers: suffering. This section will carry the reader nearly to end of the book (3.8-5.11). Interwoven in this section on suffering is how God’s grace relates to it. These are Christian people who are suffering for doing good on Christ’s behalf, yet they are suffering. Peter puts them (and us) in mind of God’s grace when we are suffering.

Suffering for Doing Good (3.8-17)

Christians are blessed if they suffer for doing good & continue to live graciously toward all.

8Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Finally, all of you: Some read finally as a summation of the material covered beginning in 2.11. Peter is summarizing and proceeding forward in to new material. All of you indicates this is address to whole Christian community. Peter uses five (5) adjectives to describe the church…

“All of you” who claim to be Christian, who claim Christ’s name for yourself. Thus, every Christian has an obligation to cultivate obedience in all five of these areas put forward. Obedience in each of the areas marked out by Peter here will promote peace in the local congregation and smooth relationships among church members. Though he does not repeat the word, the proper expression of each of these characteristics requires submission – the theme Peter has expounded on as primary for Christians (2.13, 17; 3.1). Unwillingness to submit ourselves to one another will result in failure to manifest each of these characteristics.

Have unity of mind: Gk homophrones (unique in NT). Lit. “same-minded.” Like minded. This is a characteristic which would bring “harmony” (NIV) to the church & family.

Sympathy: Gk sumpatheis. (unique in NT) This is feeling with others in their joy, sorrow, & needs.

Brotherly love: Gk philadelphoi. (unique in NT) Brother-lovers, i.e. love for fellow Christians.

A tender heart: Gk eusplagchnoi. Cf. Ephesians 4.32. The distress & affliction of others should touch a Christian’s heart. As is sung, “His heart is touched with my pain.”

A humble mind: As opposed to a proud heart. Attitude & outlook should be humble.

Each characteristic is elsewhere enjoined on Christians in Scripture:

  1. Unity of mind: Romans 15.5; Philippians 2.1-2
  2. Sympathy: Romans 12.15
  3. Brotherly Love: John 13.34-35; Hebrews 13.1 [this is the lynch pin which holds these together]
  4. Tender-heartedness: Ephesians 4.32
  5. Humble-Mindedness: Philippians 2.3-4

These are the backbone to healthy relationships among brothers & sisters, yes, even a healthy church. Where these are absent, division, bitterness, & hard-heartedness abound. When these characteristics are absent from the church, repayment of evil rears its ugly, sinful head. So v.9…

9Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

Do not…reviling: Evil is all-around bad behavior, bad actions, even abusive actions. Reviling is focused on the slander which is spoken; abusive & harmful speech. This injunction or a similar form of it is all over the New Testament (Romans 12.17; 1 Thessalonians 5.15).  Of course, Christ is the example of this (2.23).

As Acappella sang: “Don’t be talking ‘bout friends when they’re not around,/ Don’t be cuttin’ their hearts and puttin’ them down,/ Don’t be temptin’ the Lord and makin’ Him frown,/ Don’t be talkin’ ‘bout friends when they’re not around.” Beyond words are our actions, which typically speak louder than words. The flesh desires to get people back. If someone has slighted us, our flesh wants to slight them back. It does not have to be to a greater degree (though if we can get them back more, great!); it could be to a lesser degree. Someone did something untoward to you & now you ignore them. Maybe they wave at you across a room but you just turn your head & ignore them like they don’t exist. Is this not repaying evil for evil? Treating a fellow creature of the Creator as if they do not exist is bad enough; how much worse is it when they are your brother or sister!

But…bless: On the contrary is an emphatic contrast. It is not merely enough to not repay evil; we must invest goodness. Once again, Christ is our example. His teaching (Luke 6.28-29) & life are a testimony to returning good for evil. Following His example, Christians desire God to show grace to those who have caused them to suffer.

“Bless,” says Peter. “When reviled, we bless,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 4.12). And this is not the tepid and usually sarcasm filled “God bless” or “Jesus loves you” which is plastic and phony. Can we imagine Peter or Paul ejaculating a fake “God bless”? Can you imagine Paul or Peter spitting out “Jesus loves you” through gritted teeth? No, this is calling upon God to show those who have injured or insulted us His grace & favor. And to really mean it! And bless not merely in word or talk, but in deed and in truth. Let your actions bless those who revile you and persecute you. “Do good to those who hate you.” This is profoundly personal. One personal was to do good to someone which will also adjust your attitude toward them so you might move past how they hurt you is to pray for them. Talk to the Father about them & speak of them to Him.

  1. Send an encouragement note, appreciation card, thank you note
  2. Speak a kind word of appreciation
  3. Visit them when they get sick

For to this…a blessing: Christians have been called to emulate Christ in returning evil for good. The purpose of this is to obtain a blessing. Most commentators say the blessing is eternal life since the text Peter quotes from in v.10-12 mentions “life.” The blessing is ambiguous , though, and no doubt includes present blessings in this life. God blesses godly behavior now & in the life to come.

10For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

Psalm 34.9 is an exhortation to “fear YHWH.” Peter has already exhorted his readers to “fear God” (2.17). Psalm 34.11 tells us these verses which Peter quotes (v.12-16) are instruction concerning the fear of YHWH. Just existing is not life. “Life is real! Life is earnest!” Living well (& dying well) eludes many because it abides in the realm of living for God. Many people can live a long life (70 or by reason 80); but to live a full, happy life begins with, continues in, and ends in the fear of God.

For…good days: For (gar) links this to v.9. Peter quotes Psalm 34.12-16 to make his point. The quote is from the Septuagint with the second person changed to third person. The blessings (love life and see good days) are for this present life, strengthening the argument that the blessing in v.9 is for the present life. Love life speaks to enjoying life (present & eternal). Good days is a way of speaking of God’s favor in the life of the faithful person. Basically, this is a full & beneficial life.

Let him…deceit: The keys to this kind of blessing are two-fold: controlling the mouth (v.9b) & seeking goodness (v.10).  Controlling the tongue includes abstaining from evil speech, especially deceit (cf. 2.1). Truly a heart & mind free from evil intentions (v.9) would have a mouth free of evil.

James tells us that “no one can tame the tongue” & it is “full of deadly poison” (James 3.8). Jesus tells us we will give account for every word – thoughtful or thoughtless – we utter & our words will justify or condemn us (Matthew 12.36-37). No wonder Peter, quoting David, exhorts us to cease from speaking evil & deceit. A happy life is interrupted by evil speech & deception. Indeed, life with God is interrupted when our lips are full of evil.

11let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Let him…do good: Like Job (1.1), the Christian is to stay away from evil actions & behaviors. Rather, Christians are to a be an active, positive force in society following the example of Christ who “went about doing good” (Acts 10.38).

Evil is close at hand, nor far from each one of us, desiring to have us. All evil is to be shunned, avoided, turned away from. Evil companions, evil words, evil works, evil thoughts, evil people, every appearance of evil is to be abandoned.

“Do good” is Peter’s two word exhortation for how Christians are to live. This exhortation is all over this epistle: 2.12, 14, 15, 20; 3.6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17; 4.19. It is juxtaposed with doing evil: 3.9, 12, 17; 4.3-5. Of course, the motivation for doing good is that “the Lord is good” (2.3). He is the source & reason for any goodness from us.

Let him…pursue it: Seeking peace would involve the desire to be at peace in one’s spirit knowing that one is right with God as well as peace with fellow man. Pursue denotes intense effort exerted to chase down a thing, in this case peace. There is diligence & eagerness involved in the quest for peace.

12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

For…[the] righteous: Or “The Lord’s eyes are on those who are righteous.” The all-seeing eye of God is a theme prevalent in the Bible (e.g. 2 Chronicles 16.9; Zechariah 4.10). It denotes His omniscience. He sees all & knows all. It echoes what Jesus promised in Matthew 28.20.

What comfort to know that God is watching you. When you suffer, He knows. When you hurt, He knows. When you resist temptation, He sees. As we strive for a godly, holy life, He sees & knows and is there to provide for us when we cry out to Him (see Psalm 34.17-18).

At the same time, what a fearful thing to know that God is watching. When you gossip about someone, He knows. When you tear someone down, He sees. When you think unholy thoughts, He knows. Let us avoid these practices lest we sow a habit of sin and incur God’s displeasure so that He turns away and turns against us.

His ears are open to their prayer: What a marvelous blessing which accompanies a life lived to honor & glorify God—He hears our prayers. See Psalm 34.17. For Christians suffering persecution this is a much needed assurance that God’s ear is open to their plea for help.

But…do evil: A regular theme in the Bible is that God sets His face against ungodly people for their wicked behavior (Leviticus 26.14-17; Jeremiah 21.10; Ezekiel 15.7). It is judgment language. The rest of the verse in Psalm 34 says God will “cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

Now…what is good? A possible Old Testament allusion (cf. Proverbs 16.7; Isaiah 50.9). Certainly this question is rhetorical anticipating the answer “no one.” But this was not these Christians’ experience. No doubt they already were deeply committed to the One who is good & doing what is good. Yet they were suffering injury & hurt for their devotion to goodness.

It’s embarrassing to talk about suffering in an American context when we really do not know persecution like the 1st century church. We are actually the proof of this proverb: no one harms you if you eager to do good. However, these Christians in Asia must have thrown their hands up & rolled their eyes while uttering an exasperated “Really, Peter?!”

14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,

But…you will be blessed: Peter has Jesus’ voice ringing in his ears (cf. Matthew 5.10). But (Gk all’) introduces the potential scenario. Righteousness seems equivalent with “zealous for what is good” in v.13. If you should suffer is in the rare optative mood, a form used if the possibility was unlikely. Yet even if such should happen or even is happening in Asia Minor, those who experience such persecution are blessed. Hence, no harm can really befall the Christian since God blesses (He sees & hears, v.12; cf. Psalm 34.15).

Knowing that these Christians are suffering for the sake of righteousness, Peter reminds them of the eighth beatitude Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. For the coming increase in persecution he wanted them ready to face it. The bliss of God belongs to those suffer for being a Christian.

Have no fear…troubled: Quoted from Isaiah 8.12. The context in Isaiah is preparation for the coming Assyrian invasion. Here the context is assurance during & preparation for persecution. Lit. do not fear what they fear. Also, though different, Peter no doubt has in mind the words of Christ: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Fearless & courageous living is what Peter calls these Christians to be. Christians are not to fear impending circumstances or threatening opponents.

Christians are not to fear what the world fears. We do not fear ISIS or Russia or Saudi Arabia. We do not fear the creeping infringement of our rights by the government. We are fearless while the world is fearful. We are courageous while the world is cowardly. Why? Back in Isaiah (8.12-13), he was not to fear the advancing armies of a foreign foe; he (and we) are to fear YHWH, leader of angelic armies of heaven. By quoting that text in relation to Christ he puts Jesus on the same as YHWH, rightly so. Christ the Lord is God & it is Him we reverence though the world retreat.

Should the whole world turn against & Christianity be illegal (as it has been in years long past), we will not fear their threats by which they seek to instill fear in us. We will not fear their attempted fear inducing slander or hate-speech. We will not be emotionally or psychologically shaken or disturbed. While it shouldn’t be that we suffer for good (v.13), even if does happen we will trust Christ, come what may.

15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

But…as holy: Peter continues the quote from Isaiah 8 but makes a significant change: whereas in Isaiah the one to be revered as holy was YHWH, that same reverence is now to be rendered to Christ who is the Lord (even YHWH, thus Christ is God). This is a typical move in the NT: Christ deserves the same honor & reverence as YHWH. No doubt Peter intends for his readers to “let Him be your fear and let Him be your dread” (Isaiah 8.13b). Peter wants his readers to fear Christ and fear no other. How? By having & holding the Holy One in their hearts.

Always being…in you: Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27), that is, anticipation of resurrection & eternal life. Christians ought to be in a state of readiness to make a defense (Gk apologian), i.e. a verbal response & answer. Asks is actually more of an urgent, even demanding request for explanation. Anyone is any person who sees Jesus in us but does not know Christ. All of this indicates that people ought to be able to see Christian hope on display in the lives of Christians.

Yet…respect: When Christians offer a word of explanation for the hope in them, it must be with gentleness & respect. Gentleness is how we are treat our fellow man. It requires humility. Respect (Gk phobou) is our attitude toward God. We hold Him in reverence. Christians who fear God & walk humbly before Him & others will treat people the way they want to be treated—with dignity & understanding. Proper perspective of God will enable Christians to respond properly to non-believers.

This is a key text for our evangelistic efforts. Four factors for evangelism – 1 Peter 3.15

  1. The Sanctified/Holy Factor – “sanctify Christ in your hearts as holy”

First, what Christians need to do before they engage anyone in rational, religious discussion: “set apart Christ in your hearts as Lord.” If we do not do this first, we have no business telling others (denominational or otherwise) about Christ the Lord “who can change your life.” Unless He has changed our life first, we hamstring any (every?) effort we may attempt in reaching out to anyone. That is why Christ is set apart “in your hearts.” The heart is the source of our behavior (cf. 1.22; 3.4). Everything we do comes from the heart. The inner self cannot be separated from the outward person. This is why we must be holy as He is holy inside & out.

  1. The Preparation Factor – “always be prepared”

Second, if we would engage anyone (denominational person or non-believer), we had better “always be prepared to make a defense.” Christianity is not a “blind leap.” Instead, it is based on historical facts, “evidence which demands a verdict” (as Josh McDowell puts it). So we need to arm ourselves with these facts which bolster our faith. By the way, these facts are contained in our NTs: the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as the emergence of the 1st century church. Now this can go as shallow or as deep as you want to take it. But the point remains: Christians are a prepared people who can “give an answer” or “make a defense.” While not every Christian need be a skilled apologist (a la Josh McDowell or William Lane Craig), every Christian should have a firm grasp of the essentials & why Christianity is true.

  1. The Obvious Factor – “to everyone who asks you about the hope”

Third, it should be so obvious that we are a Christian, that people are asking about our faith. “…be prepared to make a defense to anyone who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” One author calls this “permission evangelism.” People want to know what makes you different. And if you live differently than the world (a key tenent of the Christian faith, btw), people will take notice. Specifically, this is related to our “hope,” that is, our anticipation & expectation that “every little gon’ be alright” and even now is being made right through us & how we respond to circumstances. Ask yourself this: if being a Christian were against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If not, something is wrong. Not only that, don’t bet on anyone asking you about your “hope”; chances are you may not have any!

  1. The Attitude/Gentle Factor – “with gentleness and respect”

Fourth, when someone asks you (and they will), give your answer/make your defense “with gentleness and respect.” There’s no need to beat someone to death with the doctrine stick; most people, however, respond very well when we approach them with the mentality that we’re all trying to find the truth and it is contained in the Bible, which is God’s word. Together, let’s see if we can find it. That’s gentleness – not compromising (since we are pointing them right back to the Bible). But also, understand that this person is coming to the study/discussion with a lot of presuppositions. in other words, time, culture, and environment has affected the way this person views the world. Respect that, but also don’t be afraid to challenge them with what the Scriptures say. Great cross reference – 2 Cor 10.5: “we destroy arguments…take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Having a good conscience: conscience is the minds ability to distinguish between right and wrong. One maintains a good conscience when 1) one maintains clear views of what is good & bad and 2) one obeys the dictates of the conscience. In this evangelistic context, there is a right & wrong way to “make a defense” and one’s conscience is kept good when one seeks to do that which is right & avoid what is wrong in giving reasons for their inner hope.

So that…put to shame: cf. 2.11-12, 15. A good conscience is the result of good behavior in Christ. Slander is silenced and slanderers shamed when Christians live the Christian life well. The aim of shame is that those who slander & revile would themselves consider the gospel & believe.

Someone has said, “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.” Barclay calls the Christian life “the only unanswerable argument for Christianity” (274). Once more Peter is calling to live the life excellently. So excellently that “those who revile your good behavior in Christ” are ashamed they opened their mouths in the first place. The aim of shame is not shame in & of itself; the aim is that our enemies and persecutors are embarrassed they misunderstood Christian conduct, regret what they have done, repent & trust Christ.

17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

For it is better…than for doing evil: cf. 2.19-20; 4.15. It must be for doing good that a Christian suffer. If suffering is deserved for doing evil (e.g. the penalty for crime), it is not good or better; it is merely justice. But when suffering is unjust (i.e. for good Christian behavior) yet according to God’s will, it is superior, better, indeed, Christ-like (v.18).

If…God’s will: Lit. “If the will of God should will it.” If this happens in some instances (optative), strange though it may seem, when it happens, it is better to suffer for good rather than evil.  Cf. 1.6.

When we grumble and complain and accuse of injustice when we are caused to suffer, we spoil the whole thing. Instead, there are lessons in suffering; we rob ourselves of these by 1) avoiding suffering at all costs or 2) complaining about what we are suffering. Peter wants us to know what a “better” thing it is to suffer at the hands of evildoers for our doing good. In fact, it is most Christ-like.