Sermon preached on 1 Peter 3:8-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/12/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 3:8-12
“That You May Inherit a Blessing”
Peter has called Christians pilgrims in this world. He’s made it clear that we will live differently in this world. Peter continues to flush this out in today’s passage. The last several passages described this with several different specific examples. He addressed citizens, servants, wives, and husbands. So Peter has given us different examples. For the most part, these examples brought out how Christians are different than the rest of the world. He’s challenged us to live godly when we find ourselves afflicted by non Christians in the world.
Well, today he begins to bring this all together with some general exhortations to all Christians. His exhortations switch back to the whole group. That’s how verse 8 starts off, “Finally, all of you.” He’s transitions from addressing certain sub groups: citizens, servants, wives, or husbands. And now he returns to address all the Christians again, and begins to sum up his previous points made to the specific groups. He calls all the Christians to unite together in their pilgrim living. And he calls them all to have this radical love toward those hostile to the Christian faith. And so today we’ll look first at these exhortations in verses 8-9. Then we’ll look at the rationale given for these exhortations in verses 10-12.
And so let’s begin by considering the exhortations. We can divide these up into two groups. The first category of exhortations comes in verse 8. Here there are five adjectives that describe the identity of God’s people. The second group is in verse 9, though it’s generally echoed in the remaining verses as well. It’s the command to return blessing for evil. We’ll begin then with the first set of exhortations in verse 8.
Verse 8. I’m going to read it from the NASB, a very literal translation. It says for verse 8, “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” What I like about the NASB here is that it captures how the original uses adjectives here in a substantive way. Many translations turn this into something about having these qualities among you. Have unity; have compassion, etc. But this verse actually is saying to be these things. Be harmonious; be compassionate; etc. As Peter turns to address all the Christians as a whole, he talks about their identity. An identity that will call them to certain actions. But the actions are to flow from their identity. They are to be identified as compassionate people; humble people; united people; etc.
And these descriptions are especially inward looking in verse 8; inward in the sense of looking into the Christian community. You see, the last several verses have been talking a lot about how Christians live in contrast to the world. The world treats you horribly, you in turn treat the world with love. Verse 9 will return to that theme. But here he pauses as he addresses all of them to remind how they are to function as a group. As a Christian community. They are to be of one mind. They are to be sympathetic to each other and love each other as brothers. They are to be humble toward each other. But this is so very important. If the world around them is going to hate them, how important it will be that when they are together they can find love. God knows we need that. Isn’t that so powerful that when we gather together we can find a refuge? The world may treat us horribly because we are a Christian, but when we gather we can have a safe place together. When we are with the world, we feel so very different. We feel like outsiders. But when we come together as a church, we can be united. We can be loved as family. We can be treated with compassion and sympathy. We can interact humbly with one another.
And yet let me point out that Peter is exhorting us to be this way. As I’ve just described how church should be, some of us might have instantly thought that church isn’t always that way. Our pilgrim theology should say that we are different than the world, but so similar to one another. But often, when we come together, we can struggle to realize that in practice. Take just this first adjective. Being one-minded. We can come to a church setting and find that we are not that like minded. We can end up quarreling over worldly things. Now, we can understand if the world and we are not like minded. But in the church, we should find a unity of mind in who we have become in Christ. The things of the world that would divide us must become secondary when we are together. There are a number of mundane things that could divide us. Satan would love to exploit those. But in our fundamental Christian convictions we should strive for complete unity. And that unity should be the basis for us coming to like-mindedness in a general sense in other areas of life. It doesn’t mean we’ll all end up agreeing on everything in life. But it will hopefully grow us in a unity that allows for diversity on non-essentials, and a stronger and stronger unity of those things that truly identify us as pilgrim Christians.
The same sort of thing goes for these other labels here too in verse 8. Look again at those labels. We might not find the sort of compassion and sympathy and brotherly love and humility that we’d hope for when we go to church. But that is what we should be striving for. Christians ought to be this way. But it’s not just automatic, brothers and sisters. If it was, then Peter wouldn’t have to command it here. If once we became a Christian these things just automatically happen, then Peter wouldn’t have to call us to this. No, rather that change is that once we become a Christian and hear Peter call us to this, we should recognize that this is right. We should then strive for it, by God’s grace. Part of me wishes we had the time to reflect on each of these adjectives in greater detail, but I think for now I will leave them to you for your personal reflection and devotion this week. But as you meditate on them, realize that all of these are areas we can be growing in. Think specifically how you can walk in each of these.
I mentioned that the other category of exhortation is in verse 9. Peter calls us to not return evil for evil, or reviling with reviling. A reviling, by the way, is an insult. Don’t insult someone back when they insult you in return. Reviling can also be translated as verbal abuse. Don’t verbally abuse someone just because they verbally abuse you. Instead, Peter says we are to bless in return. This is Christian “pay-back.” As Professor Clowney says, this is how Christians “get even.” We bless. We speak love and good will when others treat us with contempt. When people give us evil, we return the favor by giving them good. As Christ says, we love our enemies.
It’s a little ambiguous in the transition here. Is Paul talking about this in regards to the Christian community? Within the Christians community, should we expect people to treat us this way? That our fellow Christian might verbally abuse us, and we should respond with blessing? It’s a little ambiguous just because the last verse seemed to be focused on how Christians particularly interact with each other – we are to be of one mind and have brotherly love, something that most specifically applies to how we treat our fellows Christians. Or is he now returning to a more broader perspective here – how the world might treat us? Well, I tend to think in light of the greater context that we have to see verse 9 especially in light of how the world may treat us. And yet, don’t miss that should this happen in the church, that it would still be applicable. That might explain the close proximity here of these ideas. If we are going to return blessing for evil from the outsiders, shouldn’t we have at least that much grace for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, if they sin against us? Isn’t that brotherly love? Love among family members is one that loves even when close family members hurt us. And close family members will hurt us from time to time. But we can still return that hurt with love for them. That is a way to promote healing in a family. And when done with the world, it’s a way to showcase the gospel.
So then, what does this look like? What are some practical examples of this? When someone gives you evil, what does it look like to bless in return? Well, first think of what it doesn’t look like. If someone treats us with evil or verbally abuses us, what’s our temptation? We are probably tempted to gossip about it. We are probably tempted to outright slander them. We are probably tempted to complain about them, maybe even exaggerate the extent of their fault. We might try to gain people to our side, to form factions against them. Some might respond in a passive-aggressive way. Others might be more overt in how they verbally abuse or treat them evil in return. These sorts of things would not be the right response.
But that being said, the response commended here is more than just clenching our teeth and trying to ignore their evil. We’re told to bless. To speak well of them and even call God’s blessings upon them for their good. This doesn’t necessarily mean you speak forth the Aaronic blessing upon them when they insult you. But it means that you work for their good, and look for your response to be a blessing from God to them. As John Piper points out, this means you have to be genuine in your response. You can’t say something nice in return but then hold ill-will against them. That’s not fulfilling this command. It’s calling you to really bless them out of your heart.
And so the response commended here is twofold. One, we are not to be vindictive. No, we can trust God’s justice in all of this. Two, we are to be a blessing to them in return, because we know God’s own goodness. We’ve experienced God’s own goodness, even though we didn’t deserve it. Christians are called then to express this in return. And that’s even the language of verse 9. “To know you were called.” Peter’s uses that language a lot in different ways. Here he tells us of another thing to which we’ve been called. We’ve been called to bless; even bless those who curse us. He even tells us why – that we might inherit a blessing.
Well, that’s a pretty significant thing. It’s a pretty important thing to consider. He says that blessing people who treat us evil is in some way connected with us inheriting a blessing. That’s a comment worthy of flushing out more. And Peter does just that. That’s verses 10-12. He flushes out that statement. We see that he’s describing this further with the first word in verse 10. “For.” He’s giving the rationale for these exhortations in verses 10-12. He’s explaining the rationale for verse 9, what he meant when he said how we have been called to bless that we might inherit a blessing. That’s the point of verses 10-12. Let’s turn now to consider that rationale further.
He actually makes this rationale with an Old Testament quote. Verses 10-12 are actually quoting Psalm 34:12-16. Let me read it again for us: 1 Peter 3:10-12, “For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.'” Let’s make it pretty clear. This carries on the sense of verse 9. If you want to find blessings in this life, speak good with your tongue. Don’t go the way of evil. No, do good instead. Seek peace. When you read Psalm 34, you see that there’s a similar context there of other people afflicting you and trouble coming into your life. But in the tone of wisdom literature, Psalm 34 commends godliness. This is similar to how the proverbs read. If you want a good long life, one where God hears your prayers, and watches over you, then live godly. If you want blessing from God in your life, live godly. Let him worry about the evil people – his face will be against them. That is what this quote from Psalm 34 specifically says. It connects a blessed life under God via godly living. So much of what we have been talking about here in the last several passages from 1 Peter are embodied by this passage. God’s way for us as Christians is one where to do good when others treat us evil. This is way God would have us to live a life blessed by him.
Well, as Christians, I think this raises a few questions for us. First, is the blessing it is talking about here in this life, or the next? Is this a promise that if we but bless those who curse us in this life, that God will bless us with physical blessings of good long life here and now? Or is this blessing promising good life in eternity? Well, the context of Psalm 34 seems certainly to be about this life. Surely that is the most immediate context here. At the same time, in light of the new testament, I think we can’t disregard our eternal life in this context either. I think in fact, that we’d be best here to not demand that it even has to be one or the other. Remember, Christians have already been given new life. We’ve already been born again. Our eternal life has already begun. There’s just a difference in how we experience it. Now we experience it on a sin-cursed world where we live as pilgrims. We await that day when we can taste of that inheritance reserved in heaven for us.
And so, I think that we can understand this Psalm’s promise of blessing for godliness as something that has value both here and now and into the future. Living a godly live, will have real blessings and benefits here and now. Those blessings are especially something we’ll realize in heaven. That can be understood even with the language of inheritance in verse 9. Chapter 1 told us our inheritance is currently reserved in heaven for us, even if for now we suffer for a little while on earth. That’s when we’ll really taste these blessing in their fullness. But that doesn’t mean that godly living has no blessings here and now. Already we can taste of blessings in this life as we live for Christ.
But both 1 Peter and Psalm 34 would tell us that those blessings are not experienced in this life, free from any trouble. No, Psalm 34 even describes those who would trouble believers in this life. 1 Peter is all about that. And so those blessings we can experience here and now in life, can’t be divorced from this context of suffering. Such love of life and good days can be experienced even now, in the context of Christian suffering. We can have God hearing our prayers and watching over us, even in this world when people persecute us. Those are the blessings mentioned here, and they can be experienced in this life as a pilgrim Christian. You see, our Christian mind changes how we view a good life on this earth. It redefines it. It’s no longer, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” No, it’s I’m willing to suffer now for a little while for Christ, following in the steps of my savior, looking forward to that tomorrow when I will go to be with him forever. That’s why the book of Acts records the saints doing things like rejoicing under persecution and singing praises to God while in jail for their faith. The new mind we have in Christ redefines for us what a good life looks like here and now. That we can find a blessed life now even if it involves suffering and trouble in this world.
A second, very important question, comes up when you think about this. Is this promise of blessing, a works based promise? If it is, how’s that relate to our salvation? If we are justified by faith, not works, how’s that relate to this? Let me say that from other Scriptures we know clearly that we don’t earn our salvation. Good works will always accompany our Christian life, but ultimately we are saved by God’s grace. So, how’s this passage related to that? Well, there’s two important ways to respond to that. Please listen carefully and don’t miss them.
First, in one clear sense, this is reminder that there is blessing in obedience to God. God’s way is the way of blessing. However, just because God blesses us in obedience does not mean that we are under God’s law as a covenant of works. We don’t earn a right standing before God by doing what’s commanded here. We don’t earn eternal life by doing what’s commanded here. And yet certainly the connection here and in Psalm 34 is that there is a benefit of blessing for this kind of obedience. And so Scripturally we must acknowledge that there is a path to general blessing in this life. Various manifold blessings that come to us as we keep God’s commandments. Maybe another way of putting it is, that God has organized this life as one that will go best for us as we obey him. Even if that involves some suffering here and now, life is still lived best here in this world through obedience. This is not diminished by the fact that we don’t obey God perfectly. Rather, it’s a wonderful way God grows us when he does bless us for obedience. That’s another way God teaches us that obedience and righteousness is the best way to live. And so, none of this takes away from the fact that sinners are still justified before God, not by their works of righteousness, which are always lacking, but by faith in God’s grace given in Christ.
And that actually leads me then to my second response here. How does this passage relate to the fact that we are saved ultimately by grace not by our own works? Well, because even as we are shown a connection that good works are blessed, we are reminded that that our obedience is not perfect. That’s the conclusion that we just came to. Whenever we are told in Scripture that obedience yields blessing we should also remember that our obedience falls short. That should drive us to have a clearer sight of our need for Christ. Well, brothers and sisters, this truth is present even in the backdrop of our passage for today.
You see, Jesus Christ is the only one who truly lives this Psalm 34 out in perfection. That has been the point Peter has been making and will make. In chapter 2:22-23 he explicitly said that. Jesus had no deceit in his mouth and did not revile in return but did good in return. Peter essentially states there that Jesus kept Psalm 34. Later in chapter 3 he’ll make that point again. In 3:18 he’ll say how Jesus suffered as the just for the unjust. That’s giving blessing in return for evil – when Jesus who is perfectly just gave up your life for you and me who were unjust. Peter is saying that Jesus fulfilled Psalm 34.
Psalm 34 also finds fulfillment in Christ elsewhere in the New Testament. This is the same psalm where the psalmist goes on to say that God guards all his bones, none of them will be broken. That’s Psalm 34:20. John’s gospel says that was a prophecy fulfilled on the cross. John 19:36 finds a very literal fulfillment of that when Jesus was on the cross and his leg bones were not broken like the others who were crucified with him. His legs were spared by the Romans because Jesus had already died at that point, and so they instead pierced him in the side to verify he had really died. And so John’s gospel sees that Psalm 34 is ultimately about Jesus. Well, that’s right. Jesus takes up the subject matter of that Psalm as he does so many other psalms and shows how he ultimately fulfills them. Jesus is the one who truly earned the blessings of good long life. He earned it by loving his enemies and entrusting himself to God who judges justly.
And so He earned the blessings of this psalm. Blessings that ultimately looked to eternal life. And that is what Jesus offers to us. That we can have the blessings he earned by faith in him. This is the gospel call of finding our life in him. His life is to become our life, through faith. We unite ourselves to him by turning from our sins unto he who gives life. In Christ, we have this blessed eternal life. So that we would inherit blessing – even every spiritual blessing – through Christ’s life of righteousness.
And so, saints of God, this is how a Christian now lives in this world. Foundationally, Christ has earned our blessings for us. He gives them to us by his grace, through faith in him. This is how we ultimately inherit- receive as a gift – his blessings. And yet, God still calls us to follow Christ. Our faith now calls us to obedience, even the obedience that returns blessing for evil. God will even grant us further blessings as we grow in living this out. These are so intimately connected. So closely, interrelated. You see, we won’t perfectly obey God. No, it’s Christ who has lived this out perfectly – he lives in us! It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. May we live out this life of Christ as we bless those who curse us. And may we even all be one in Christ in this. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.