1 Peter 3:8-17 Turn Away from Evil and Do Good WC McCarter
After specific instructions of how Christians are to relate to the secular governing authorities, how slaves are to relate to their masters (employees/employers), and how wives and husbands are to relate to one another, Peter now turns his attention to the church. If you have heard those messages and received them gladly, then you have done well. Thank you to all those who have graciously spoken kind words to me about those messages. If you have heard those messages and still do not know if you can accept them, then please meditate on those Scriptures, pray about it, and come to an accurate, godly understanding of those things. If you have not heard those sermons, then please get a recording so that you can hear what we teach.
We’ve discussed our places in society, the workplace, and the home, now we can talk about the church. So, verse eight begins with the words, “Finally, all of you. . . .” Verse eight serves as a conclusion to the previous context and naturally connects to the next passage. Thus, most of our text flows out of verse nine and concerns the issue of how Christians should handle opposition.
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Christian Unity (8-9)
1) “Be of one mind” (likeminded): congregations are susceptible to discord and disagreements, so the apostle commands them to have unity of mind. They are to function in harmony and thinking on the same page.
2) “Having compassion for one another” (sympathetic): we are called to care “deeply about the needs, joys, and sorrows of” our fellow Christians (Schreiner).
3) “Love as brothers”: this is brotherly love, that is, we are to love one another as family. This was an important concept that Peter wanted to convey. He has already talked about love of the brethren in 1:22 and 2:17, and he addresses the recipients of the letter as the “Beloved” in 2:11 and 4:12.
4) “Be tenderhearted” (merciful, compassionate): just as our Lord has shown great compassion to the multitudes and to us as individuals, we are to care for those who are hurting—physically, emotionally, etc.
5) “Be courteous” (some manuscripts say humble): this is to consider others better than yourself. We are to abandon pride and selfishness. This was a distinctive Christian virtue in the first century. The Greco-Roman culture despised those who would humble themselves to others. They saw those folks as weak and inferior.
The exhortations to the church are many and almost like bullet points. There are five listed, and notice which one is at the center—brotherly love. Loving one another as spiritual family is the heart of the church community. It is the heart of all Christian virtues. This is the lifeblood of the Christian life.
These godly virtues are meant to bind the Christian community together. The New Testament constantly teaches that we are to be united: Christ prayed for Christian unity; Christ died for Christian unity; and the apostles fought for Christian unity. So, I cannot let you off the hook. You must be connected to the local church. You have got to get plugged-in.
The beginning of verse nine is certainly related to verse eight. It is a general principle for the Christian but is specifically applied to how Christians are to conduct themselves in relation to the world. How are we to respond to unbelievers who mistreat us? “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (insult with insult). This is the teaching of the New Testament. Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” and also taught us to love our enemies. Paul said, “Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” The Christian principle is that we bless those who curse us. To pray a blessing is to ask God to show His favor and grace for someone.
Now, at the end of verse nine, Peter once again states that Christians are “called” to a certain action. The action in this verse is repaying evil with blessing. In doing so, we are promised a blessing ourselves. So, it is our high calling to ask God to do good for those who have done evil to us. We follow the example of our Savior who hung on the cross and prayed to the Father, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” The great blessing we receive as those who follow in Christ’s way is the blessing of eternal life.
Christian Pursuit of Good and Peace (10-12)
In verses ten through twelve we have a quote from Psalm 34:12-16. The background of the psalm is intriguing and is recorded in 1 Sam 21:10-15. A quick summary would be: David fled from King Saul and sought refuge in Gath, but those people soon turned on David and locked him up. David feared that Abimelech, king of Gath, would kill him, so he pretended madness in order that the king would send him away, which Abimilech did. When David thought that he would lost his life, he escaped. He thanked the Lord for it.
The language in the first phrase of verse ten must be intended by Peter to refer to eternal life. David says and Peter echoes, the one who loves life and to see good days must:
1) “Refrain his tongue from evil”: good morals are about refraining, that’s ok
2) “Refrain his lips from speaking deceit”:
3) “Turn away from evil and do good”: consciously shun evil (war against), do good
4) “Seek peace and pursue it”: we must actively pursue peace (not wish)
You see, the Lord relates to the righteous and the wicked in different ways:
1) The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous: those who do good, not evil
2) The ears of the Lord hear the prayers of the righteous: those seeking peace
3) But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil: insults, speaking deceit
Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake (13-17)
Verse 13 makes a general statement in the form of a question. While there are certainly exceptions, for the most part, no one will bother you if you do good. From a personal perspective, I cannot really remember a time that I have been treated harshly by an unbeliever. It has always been from supposed Christians.
Verse 14, then, addresses the exception. Even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are promised a blessing. Of course, this promise is not only found in this verse. It is written all over the New Testament beginning with the words of Jesus. In the greatest sermon ever delivered, the Lord Himself said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” So, then, this is a Beatitude. If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are you! You should be happy because the Lord looks favorably upon you!
The last sentence of verse 14 is a quote from Isa 8:12. There was great pressure and many threats hurled from Assyria toward Judah. Of course, Assyria was a massive world power in those days while Israel was a tiny nation. The Lord said to Isaiah, the prophet, “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” The situation of Christians in first century Rome would have been similar. They would have been a very small minority in the shadow of a mighty world empire. Yet, the Lord says to His people, “Do not be afraid.”
Instead of being afraid or troubled by the threats of their persecutors or opponents, Christians are to do two things: (1) Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts (or, some manuscripts say, revere Christ as Lord), and (2) Always be ready to give a defense/answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. The first, “sanctify the Lord in your hearts,” may be based on Isa 8:13 which says, “The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” Believers are to have a long-range view, an eternal perspective. So, we are not to fear the threats of men, but we are to fear Almighty God. When defending the Faith (apologetics), Christians are to respond with meekness and fear. We should speak confidently and boldly but also with gentleness and respect toward the other party.
There is nothing more freeing for the Christian than to live without any regrets or guilt. To have and keep a good conscience, all we must do is have good conduct in Christ. If you know that you are in accord with the will of Christ, then you have nothing to plague your mind, even if you are accused of evil. If anyone slanders you, if you continue in righteous behavior, they will be shamed in the end. There is no clear conscience, approval from God, or satisfaction in Christ for those who suffer for doing evil. But, for those who suffer for doing good, they continue in the will of God and are blessed by Him.
Conclusion and Christian Application
For the last 200 years or so, what has it meant to be a Christian in America?
It has meant that you wanted to be respected. It has meant that you are healthy and wealthy and popular. It has meant that you are an insider and everybody likes you. To be a Christian in America has simply been to fit-in, but that is all about to change, and we are going to have to relearn what it means to be a New Testament Christian, to be an outside, outcast, in the minority, to not be well-respected or well-loved by the culture. It has been too easy to be a Christian in America, but it is going to get harder. Are you ready for that? I think we need to prepare. Here is a good start to relearning what it means to be a New Testament Christian.