Peter’s 1st Letter to Christians in a Pagan Society – 10 (“Our Conduct as a Church”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 14 February 2021)]

  1. SCRIPTURE READING:

1 Pet.3:8-17 (ESV) ~ “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do 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. 10 For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For 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.’ 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honour 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, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

  1. INTRODUCTION:

The Apostle Peter continues to develop his theme of believer’s relationships within society (2:13-17), the workplace (2:18-25) and the home (3:1-7), and now he focusses on relations within the church family and in general when experiencing ridicule and persecution for the sake of our faith.

He begins this passage with the word “finally,” and he does this, not that he is about to conclude his epistle; but having finished his exhortations respecting the obedience of subjects to rulers; servants to their masters, and the duties that husbands and wives have. Peter now proceeds to sum up what he had further to say, in general rules; which regarded all sorts of Christians – that is why he says, “finally” and he does this by addressing four main points. Furthermore, he says this because he wants them to understand that what follows is not to be separated from what has gone before but rather is the natural result.

  1. EXPOSITION:

We can look at these four points that he addresses as a final summary of his exhortations regarding relationships with the following headings:

  • Living Harmoniously (3:8);
  • Rewarding Both Good and Evil (3:9-12);
  • Suffer for Righteousness Sake (3:13-17).
  1. LIVING HARMONIOUSLY (3:8):

Peter addresses believers in his letter, and he tells them that they as believers in general, not only husbands and wives, are to manifest, at all times, oneness of spirit, sympathetic consideration for each other, with brotherly love, the product of a gracious heart and a lowly mind. Let us look at these character traits that Peter says that we, as believers, must manifest:

  • Oneness of spirit: “Oneness of spirit” can also be translated with, “Unity of mind.All of us are to have unity of the mind, that means that the mind of Christ must govern our minds. Unity of mind will only come when we have two things working: (1) A shared focus on Jesus. We must all desire to serve Jesus and follow Jesus above all else. We will not have unity if we have another primary life focus or purpose. (2) We will come to unity of the faith when we study together and discuss the Scriptures together. This is why it is so important that we don’t miss a Sunday service, or a Wednesday evening of fellowship and gathering around the Word and other Bible Studies.
  • We need to have a fellow feeling (or sympathy) with one another. This means we are emotionally connected and have great care for one another. We need to be moved by those that we know and have a fellow feeling for what our brother or sister is going through or what their needs are. The implication of this is an openness and honesty and sharing attitude with those in the family, because we can trust them (and what if someone in the church family breaches your trust? Then “Matt.18” is therefore to solve the problem). We therefore, see that we can and must trust each other and this leads us to the following word or expression that Peter uses in v.8.
  • Brotherly love.Brotherly love is another trait that shows we are to be connected. Peter taught us this earlier in 1 Pet.1:22 where he commanded us to have sincere brotherly love, loving one another earnestly from a pure heart. We must develop kinship (i.e. relationship) with one another. In 1 Cor.13 Paul also teaches us how to live harmoniously with brothers and sisters. V.4  ~ “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.”

Last week I mentioned that men must realise that there is a consequence when they live in disharmony with their wives – the consequence being, your prayers won’t be heard. In vv.11-12 Peter applies the same principle to brothers and sisters who don’t seek and pursue peace with their fellow brothers and sisters when, he says ~“…let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For 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.”

  • Tender heart.Peter also tells us that these characteristics must be the product of a gracious or tender heart. This is a beautiful picture of a heart that is not callous (i.e. uncaring or cold-hearted) toward each A loving person truly cares about others. He or she puts the needs of others in front of his own. We can and must love others because God first loved us in Christ ~ “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In the body of Christ, we are not just fellow travellers in this world, but we are family, and family sticks together through thick and thin.

A compassionate person is kind, tenderhearted, willing to forgive, does not want to hold grudges against others, knowing that Christ has also forgiven you. Paul says in Eph.4:32 ~ “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

  • A humble mind. Peter also says that a tender heart must be the product of a lowly or humble mind; in other words, a willingness to take a lower place – to be a servant to others. Even in the first century, humility was considered a sign of weakness and shame. That belief is still true today. But humility is a sign of great strength, that we have the ability to take second place and let others be first. Just like Jesus acted so we also must act in humility – Phil.2:5-10 ~ “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The family of Christians, or the church, is a place of comfort, not of suffering. We have suffering in the world. We need to come together to find words and actions to be godly and encouraged and grow in sanctification (The term for sanctification’ as used in the New Covenant is “HAGIOSMOS” and means basically ‘set apart’, in the sense of being set apart from all else and dedicated for God’s use. This work of grace at salvation sets the believer apart as separate from and holy unto God, therefore, sanctification is the action or process of being freed from sin or purified and to be more and more like Jesus). This is true for all Christians, not just Christians here in this building and not only Christians with whom we agree. We need to discuss our problems and differences, working towards a solution, not wounding each other with our words, pen, email, blog, or social media.

  1. REWARDING BOTH GOOD AND EVIL (3:9-12):

In vv.9-11, Peter gives three instructions regarding “evil”:

  • First, there is to be no repaying evil for evil (v.9a) – a lesson already seen in the life and suffering of Jesus Christ (1 Pet.2:23 – “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly”), now applied especially within the church family.
  • Second, tongues must be kept from evil and lips from speaking deceitfully (dishonesty) (3:10).
  • Third, the believer must actively turn away from evil (3:11a).

All of these commands are in line with Peters original instructions set out in 2:11, where he says ~ “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”Believers must abstain from the passions of the flesh. Though it would be entirely natural to respond to an evil action or insult like manner, we as believers must combat such desires. Obedience to Jesus Christ and His example must guide us in this regard and become part of our character.

This might be the easier part. How must we, as believers, treat non-believers? Are we allowed to treat them differently, especially if they are causing us to suffer? To get an answer to this question, we can just read the first few words of v.9 again – it says ~ “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” It is clear that we cannot repay the evil someone does to us with evil. When someone insults us, we do not respond with insults. We learned this from the example of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:23. We are told that we should not react in this way because we have been born again into a living hope. Our love is not constrained to the people in this hall. Our love is not constrained to those who treat us well or to people that we like.

So, what are we supposed to do with people who are mocking us, insulting us, injuring us, or discriminating against us? Peter commands us to bless them. Do not curse them. We are called to bless those who curse us. This is precisely what Jesus did (1 Pet.2:23), and Jesus Himself calls us always to follow His example… ~ “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt.16:24). To be a Christian is not having a “Sunday School picnic” or, “to be a Christian asks for a man on a horse” – it is not fun and games.

No matter how evil men, motivated by Satanic hatred for the Gospel, may seek to injure believers, “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” (v.13). Paul says in Rom.8:28 ~ “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This includes persecution, sickness, financial distress-anything that men think of as evil, but all of which God sanctifies to the good of the believer.

Beloved, we must learn to live according to the fact that our God is sovereign – under all circumstances and always. We must realize, and know; we must proclaim and live according to the firm knowledge that our God is a sovereign God. God’s sovereignty is one of the essential principles in Christian theology. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience (knowing everything), omnipotence (the quality of having unlimited power and unlimited potential), and omnipresence (i.e. the presence of God everywhere at the same time). God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Ps.147:5), outside of time (Ex.3:14; Ps.90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Gen.1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, saying that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God. When people act in an unloving, discriminatory, or whatever harmful and unacceptable way unacceptably against us, we must remember that God “allows” even, according to our standards, the unacceptable to happen with us. Submit to God’s sovereignty and act accordingly. Act in a loving, forgiving and non-retaliatory way, by taking up your cross, or handling the situation with “holy anger” like Jesus at the temple with the Money Changers in John 2:13-16. Nehemiah got upset after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor – Neh.5:6 ~ “I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.” And, David called down curses on sworn enemies of God (Ps.109). We also see that God was angered by men when they turned from trusting and worshipping Him, to the worship of idols (Ex.32:10; Deut.6:14-15; Ezra 8:22).

So, what is holy-, or righteous anger? Righteous anger has specific earmarks, by which it can be distinguished from unholy wrath. According to Tim Challies  (https://www.challies.com/christian-living/3-marks-of-righteous-anger/), “Eph.4:26 may be one of the most difficult imperatives in all of the Bible ~ ‘Be angry and do not sin.’ This verse assures us there are times we ought to be angry, but with one all-important caveat (or reservation): we must not sin in our anger. Any honest person will need to acknowledge the sheer difficulty in doing this. Anger comes easily; righteous anger does not.” And I want to add: Holy anger (or any anger for that matter) – may never and can never be against God, or aimed at God – never!

In his book “Uprooting Anger” (Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Uprooting-Anger-Biblical-Common-Problem/dp/1596380055/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=uprooting+anger+Robert+jones&qid=1613279135&sr=8-1), Robert Jones offers help. He gives three distinguishing marks of righteous anger.

  • Actual sin: The first mark of righteous anger is that it reacts againstactual  What is actual sin? The Shorter Catechism summarizes sin as any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” This is what ought to arouse our anger. In other words, for anger to be righteous, it cannot arise in response to a violation of MY preferences. It cannot arise because I have been inconvenienced or feel that MY rights and freedoms have been trampled upon. Righteous anger reacts against what is really sin. 

Righteous anger reacts against actual sin, not a violation of my desires or preferences.

  • God’s concerns: When we turn to the Bible to find accounts of righteous anger, we see that this kind of anger focuses on God and his kingdom, His rights, and His concerns, not on me, my kingdom, my rights, and my concerns. It is the violation of God’s Name or God’s fame that motivates anger, not my name and my fame.
  • Godly expression: Finally, righteous anger is accompanied by other godly qualities and expresses itself in godly ways. True anger correctly diagnoses what is actual sin, it focuses not on personal offence as much as Godward offence, and then it expresses itself in ways consistent with Christian character.

Anger is too often opposed to self-control. When we are angry, we lose control of words, of tone, of facial expressions, and even of fists. But righteous anger expresses itself in a controlled way. It does not rant and rage, it does not swear and curse, it does not mock and sulks, it does not sink to self-pity and despair, it does not blow off people and storm away from them. Righteous anger is controlled anger that moves toward good and specific ends. ‘Godly strains of mourning, comfort, joy, praise, and action balance it.’

We can, therefore, rightly ask, ‘does God allow His people to express anger?’ And, the answer is, ‘Yes, He does.’ But only under these circumstances that Robert Jones mentioned: You are reacting against actual sin, you are more concerned with the offence against God than the offence against yourself, and you are expressing your anger in ways consistent with Christian character. And as we can all testify, this kind of righteous anger is difficult and rare.”

We must always ask ourselves the question, “Is my motive to be right or to be righteous before expressing anger? Always keep in mind what Solomon says in Prov.12:16 ~ “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults.” 

  1. SUFFER FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS SAKE (3:13-17):

So far, Peter has outlined a relatively positive upbeat set of guidelines to show how Christians are to live as exiles within the world. In the last couple of verses, he now gives some advice on how to respond in times of persecution.

He starts by asking a rhetorically question (a question someone asks without expecting an answer) in v.13 ~ “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” Although the answer may often be ‘no-one,’ he is preparing his readers for the times when their Christian lifestyle will lead to conflict with the non-Christian society around them. He gives some basic instructions concerning how Christians should respond:

  • Christians cannot be harmed: Men and devils might do their best to hurt believers, as they did Christ, but they cannot harm them in the sense that no evil can touch them. This reminds us of Paul’s words in Rom.8:31 ~ “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Similarly, the author of Hebrews, also says in Hebr.13:5-6 ~ “…‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So, we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” This does not mean that the world cannot physically or emotionally hurt Christian’s, what it means is that nothing and no one can separate the believer from the love of Christ and his place in heaven is insured. Therefore, nothing temporal can prejudice that which is eternal (Rom.8:38-39). Peter says, that when you do you experience suffering for the sake of Christ, you are blessed, and therefore, ~ “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (v.14).
  • Ready to speak about salvation: Second, Peter encourages believers to give an account of the hope that is in them when they are on trial. They have to be ready to speak about the glorious salvation they are one day to receive and experience fully.
  • React humbly: Third, in v.16, Peter encourages believers that, when confronted with hostile questioning, or humiliation of their faith and reviled for their excellent behaviour, they must always react and answer humbly. This reminds me of Ps.34:13-14 ~ “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

The way we respond, even if we are not able to win the argument is vital in our witnessing. Furthermore, if we respond in a humble and Christ-like way, our non-Christian opponents will one day, be put to shame by the Lord. God is not mocked, and though His servants may be ill-treated and reviled, He will have the last word.

  1. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

We see that God has set a very high standard of conduct for those of us who are saved. It is indeed an impossible standard, apart from His grace. We are to manifest the mind of Christ and seek to bless those who harm us rather than seek revenge. We are to be a blessing to those in this world, even our enemies, knowing that we are destined to receive God’s blessings in the future and experience them now in the present. May God give us the grace to understand and apply the words of this precious text in 1 Peter.

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