The Endurance of Our Hope

| 1 Peter 3:8-17

Week of June 28, 2020

The Point:  We can endure suffering because of our hope in Christ.

Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake:  1 Peter 3:8-17.

[8] Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. [9] 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; [11] 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.” [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 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, [16] having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior 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.  [ESV]

“A Summary of the Submissive Spirit [3:8-12]. Peter has been expounding the discipline of Christian submission in the passage beginning at 2:13 and ending at 3:7. He has called for his readers to practice such submission in the civil realm [2:13-17], in the work place [2:18-25], and in their families [3:1-7]. In these verses, the apostle sums up the spirit and godly fruits of such submission when exercised by believers in all areas of their lives. Peter adds a final word which has reference to all that he has thus far written about Christian submission. When he writes, Finally, all of you, have …, we are to understand that the attitudes and actions he goes on to detail should characterize the determined practice of all believers in every situation and relationship of their lives. He lists the components of these attitudes in verse 8, and of righteous actions in verse 9. 1. Harmony. The aim of the Christian is not to dominate others. Neither is his aim to be in cowering subjugation under others. Rather, believers are called by God to cultivate and exercise their gifts and graces, so far as it depends upon them, in an orderly, pleasing, and fruitful blending with the differing aspirations and actions of others. Paul gives a beautiful picture of harmony in the assembly of God’s people when he exhorts believers to speak the truth in love, thus enabling the whole body to grow in Christ by that which every joint supplies [Eph. 4:15-16]. When diverse characters co-operate in loving righteousness, the result is neither a dull monotony nor a disintegrating chaos, but a melodic blending of diversity into a higher and more richly complex unity. 2. Sympathy. The holy harmony that should characterize the community of believers is not to be the result of staged actions or mechanical responses. We are not lifeless instruments producing a harmonious sound, but living souls endeavoring lovingly to cooperate with others. Our concern is not simply that we play our part, but also that we exercise an ever increasing sincere fellow-feeling for those with whom we cooperate. This sympathetic tenderness should prompt us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep [Rom. 12:15]. 3. Fraternity. The exhortation for believers to manifest a brotherly quality is a call for those in Christ to recognize and, with loving respect, to cherish and cultivate their relational bonds in Christ. Malicious thoughts about, and vicious actions towards, others in the body of Christ can only take hold of us when we allow ourselves to forget the vital knowledge that those others are our brethren in the Lord. How much easier it is to honor and cherish other believers when we bear in mind that they, like ourselves, have been bought by the blood of the Savior, and are children of our heavenly Father. 4. Kindness. We are to be kind-hearted toward others. This means that our hearts should manifest a charitable acceptance and toleration of others. Kindness is the tender and positive regard we have towards our kin. We love them and seek to exercise the judgment of charity toward them in spite of their failings. Kindness, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5:22], breeds within us patience, which we lovingly exercise, especially when others manifest their faults or grow in grace more slowly than we think they should be doing. The kind person ever seeks to help, never to harm, others. 5. Humility. Peter instructs his readers to be humble in spirit. This means that we are not merely to affect humility, acting as if we were meek and mild servants of others, when our inner attitude is full of high ambition. Those who are humble in spirit are neither high-minded, nor easily offended, nor self-centered. Instead, the humble in spirit are oriented towards a loving service to others [Phil. 2:1-11]. 6. Righteous responses. In verse 9, Peter proceeds to mention the actions that should flow from the virtuous attitudes he listed in verse 8. Just as the five qualities listed in verse 8 are not exhaustive, but representative of a host of godly attitudes, so also the actions of verse 9 are the summaries of tendencies that should ever characterize the behavior of believers. It should further be noted that the actions fall into a specific class of behavior. Peter is writing particularly about the responses of believers to the unloving and unrighteous actions of others against them. The response of Christians to the evil they suffer should be guided by the standard of the Lord’s righteousness, and not by their own sinful reasoning. Our reaction to the evil deeds that others commit against us should be non-retaliatory. It may seem right to us that we repay others in the same coin as that which we received from them, but that is not right in the sight of God. We are not to fight the fire of evil with the fire of evil, thus corrupting ourselves by our wicked response. We are to control even our speech, not returning abusive words to those who have insulted us. Words are powerful tools for good or evil, and our Lord commands us to control our tongues, using them to express truth lovingly, and not to pour out the pollutions of sinful anger [Eph. 4:15; James 3:1-12]. Not only are believers exhorted not to resist evil with evil, they are even instructed to return good for evil. Our words and actions should convey blessing to others, even, and especially, to those least deserving such blessing. In this we are called to be like our Savior, who bore supreme suffering and returned supreme blessing [2:23-24]. By blessing rather than insulting those who commit evil against us, we allow the light of God’s saving grace to shine from us so that others might be led to glorify God, the source of such gracious blessing [Matt. 5:10,11,16]. Even if men are not converted by such blessing, their rejection of our gracious response will but call forth burning coals of divine wrath against them [Rom. 12:19-21]. This wrath of the Lord is untainted by sin and descends with unadulterated righteousness upon its deserving objects in a way that our polluted and egotistic sinful retaliation could never do. Source and Goal of Directives. Peter, having set out directives for believers’ attitudes and actions, proceeds to speak of the ground and goal of such directives. The ground is our calling by God, and the goal is our blessing. We are taught this in the Holy Scriptures so that we might be certain how we are to think and act in relation to others. 1. Our calling. Peter informs us that believers are called to live in the harmonious and gracious way represented in verses 8 and 9. We have been called by God, not only to follow the example of Christ’s suffering [2:21], but also to manifest our Savior’s sympathetic humility in all circumstances. We are called to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to act like Christ in all things. 2. Our blessing. The call for us to be and act in this Christ-like way is a call for us to give blessing to others. It may seem costly and sacrificial to us when we with humility and sympathetic love bless even those who curse us. But the giving of such blessing returns to us. What Jesus said about it being more blessed to give than to receive is especially true when we give such blessing to those who have been evil towards us. To do so may serve to melt the hearts of those heaping evil and insult upon us. They may be convicted and brought to conversion by the return of blessing for their cursing. If so, they will cease their cursing, and will heap gratitude upon us. However, even if the recipients of our blessings do not return them, God is committed to blessing his children who obey him in blessing others. 3. Precept and promise of Scripture. Peter supports the exhortation given in verses 8 and 9 by quoting several verses from Psalm 34. The first part of the passage he quotes is negative. We are neither to utter evil speech nor to employ deceptive communications. Our cursing and misleading of our enemies may seem to be the way that security and satisfaction can be attained. But the one who wants to have a long and good life resists returning evil for evil. We are also to take no evil action against others. To use evil in response to evil will only corrupt, weaken, and injure us, and will fail utterly to subdue or vanquish our persecutors. The second half of the passage quoted sets out positive duty. We are to do good to others, even to those who act wickedly against us. We are to seek peace with others, and pursue courses of action calculated to achieve peace. We will not always succeed in being peacemakers, but the failure should not result, even in part, from our own impure and graceless attitudes and actions. Good relationships require of us hard and consistent work. We must deny ourselves repeatedly; our desires for things great and small must die a thousand deaths. But a self-denying life far from detracting from our blessedness, greatly enhances it. This is because God is always mindful of our ways and prayers. The Lord is for the righteous with his almighty power and inexhaustible blessing [Rom. 8:32]. Neither need we curse our enemies. If they reject our blessing, it is because they have rejected God’s blessing, and remain objects of his holy wrath. Godly blessing never returns to the giver void. For the God who has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ [Eph. 1:3], sees to it that what we give to others returns to us purified and multiplied. To know and believe this lightens every load, sweetens every relationship, and fills us with blessed comfort, assurance, and power to continue living according to our holy calling.

The Righteous Response to Suffering [3:13-17]. As Peter developed his teaching on how believers should live out their faith in their various personal relationships, he touched briefly on the question of how Christians should bear suffering for their faith. At this point in his letter, Peter returns to the question of Christian suffering, this time explicitly applying his teaching and exhortations to all who stand and serve God by faith in Christ. In particular, our current passage gives practical instruction on how saints are rightly to respond to undeserved persecution. The strikingly simple yet very powerful direction that Peter gives to those who are suffering evil is that they should persist in doing what is good. The Good Policy of Good Works. The harmonious attitudes and gracious actions detailed previously [8-12] not only please the Lord, whose eyes are on the righteous [12], but also form the best policy as to how we should live in company with our fellow-men. If the Lord is pleased by the gracious lives of his people, then men made in his image, should also appreciate and be pleased by the good works done by the godly. 1. A zeal for good. The apostle Paul states the principle that Christians should not pay back evil for evil, but should rather overcome evil with good [Rom. 12:17,21]. We should resist the temptation to repay in kind what the wicked give to us, because vengeance belongs to the Lord [Deut. 32:35]. Peter, in these verses, adds that this righteous principle also makes good policy. We should be committed to being good and doing good to all men, not only because God commands it, but also because men tend to commend those who do good. Peter brings out this point with the rhetorical question of verse 13. Peter goes further than simply counseling his readers to do good occasionally so as to avoid arousing men’s anger against them. He says that we should prove zealous for all that is good. Ours should not be a merely dutiful resignation to appear good and kind to others. We should jealously guard our attitudes and actions, so that they are ever informed by, and conformed to, that which is good, right, and pleasing to our Lord, as well as by that which is lovingly beneficial to our neighbor. A cultivation of an attitude committed to a consistent performance of good deeds will always serve to prove to sceptics that the saints of God are assets to be appreciated, and not liabilities to be opposed. 2. Commendation deserved. Those genuinely zealous for what is good are as lights shining in a dark world. They are different in a way that attracts the admiration of others, as they let the light of God’s grace shine forth from them, through their conversation and actions [Matt. 5:14-16]. Those zealous for good do not pursue the good simply as a policy to placate men. Their aim is always to please the Lord, even when no one witnesses their actions. Accordingly, when the ways of such believers please the Lord, he makes even their enemies to marvel at them and to be at peace with them. Whether those who are zealous for good receive the commendations of men or not, they certainly deserve them. Sanctified Suffering. The readers of Peter’s letter might well have questioned the validity of his assertion in verse 13. The fact is that, however zealous they prove to be for good, Christians do suffer evil from wicked men. The suffering that believers undeniably experience because of loving others and seeking by God’s grace to do them good, would seem to call into question the encouragements mentioned in verses 12 and 13. How can the eyes of the Lord be favorably on the righteous, while they yet suffer ill-treatment at the hands of the wicked? 1. Blessing clothed in sufferings. Although we are told that if our ways please the Lord, he will make our enemies to be at peace with us [Prov. 16:7], Scripture never leads us to believe that obedient believers can avoid all suffering. Men should commend us for our commitment to what is good, but they often perversely hate us and attack us for that commitment. Peter acknowledges this reality in verse 14. Yet, far from teaching that such suffering nullifies the encouragements of verses 12 and 13, he informs us that to suffer for righteousness confirms the great and precious promises of Scripture. Believers are blessed, even if they do suffer. Suffering does not cancel the blessings of the righteous, it contains them. 2. Freedom from fear. When the believer knows and accepts that his suffering for righteousness contains blessing from God, he is set free from fear and agitation. Jesus tells us that while in the world we have tribulation, in him we have peace [John 16:33]. Peter wishes to open the eyes of our faith, so that we might, through the cloud of our suffering, see the blessing that is ours in Christ and the holy retribution that is the lot of those who threaten and try us. 3. Separation unto Christ. Rather than spending their time and energies dreading, or trying to avoid or escape, suffering, believers are called and enabled by God to a more blessed occupation. Christians are to sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts. We are called to regard Christ as holy and worthy of our reverent fear and our absolute trust. When our triumphant Christ is feared as Sovereign Protector over us, we shall find that we have no other fears [Isa. 8:12-13]. 4. Evangelistic consequence. Men will see us being sustained in our sufferings. They will perceive our hope, however vaguely, and sense the peace we have that passes understanding. Peter, therefore, goes on to say that we should be neither unable nor reluctant to account for the source of our standing even when experiencing fiery furnaces or suffering. We must give our account, however, in the proper spirit. Though the Lord Jesus Christ makes us to be more than conquerors in our tribulations, we must not declare him to others in an imposing, triumphalist fashion. With humble reverence for our Lord’s glory, and refusing to take any of it to ourselves, as though we stood by our own power, we are to point men to Christ. With sympathy for the fears and miserable bondage of others, we are to tell them gently of the Savior, who calls the weary to himself to find rest, and by whose gentleness broken sinners are redeemed and made great [Ps. 18:35; Matt. 11:28-30]. 5. Guarding the conscience. We are further told to keep a good conscience in how we stand in our sufferings and in how we tell others about the Lord’s sustaining grace and power. Here Peter is telling us to purge our hearts of impure motives. There is a way to tell others about Christ that is intended by the teller to hurt, rather than to heal those who have hurt him. The pure in heart see God, and are enabled graciously to stand before men so that men are disarmed and even made ashamed of their maltreatment of believers. To return evil for evil that we have received has never this convicting effect, and it defiles our own conscience with sin. 6. The will of God. The blessing we receive in our suffering for righteousness’ sake, and the blessing we share with others by a fearless yet gracious witness to Christ, come to us according to the will of God. We should always fear sinning, but never fear suffering. God has ordained our course, including our sufferings, with holy, wise, and loving intention. He disciplines us [Heb. 12:3-11], refines us [1 Peter 1:6-7], perfects us in grace [2 Cor. 12:7-10], and deepens our loving and holy communion with Christ [Phil. 3:10-11]. All of this is accomplished through our afflictions, which serve for our sanctification under our Lord’s superintendence and through our right response to those afflictions. Thus does suffering become a servant, working for our blessing.” [Harrell, pp. 88-99].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In verse 8, Peter lists five adjectives describing the attitudes with which Christians should treat other people, especially other Christians. These qualities should underlie all our actions, but in this context particularly our response to abuse. List and discuss the meaning of these five adjectives. How can you develop these qualities in your own life? Pray that God will enable you to exhibit these five qualities in the way you treat people.
  2. What contrasts does Peter give in verses 9-12? What is the reason why we should follow one course of action and reject the other (focus on the use of “for”)? What is involved in being “called”? What is the result of following our calling (“that” [9]; “but” [12])?
  3. What practical instruction does Peter give in 3:13-17 concerning how we are to respond to undeserved persecution? How do we honor Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts? What does this look like in our actions, especially towards those who criticize and say false things about us? How would you “defend” or explain your hope in Christ to an unbeliever?
  4. Pray that God will enable you to be zealous for what is good and to honor Christ as Lord even in the midst of suffering various types of social and physical persecutions.

References:

The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

Let’s Study 1 Peter, William Harrell, Banner of Truth.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.