I Peter 3:8–12
Key Verse: “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.” I Peter 3:12
These few verses of 1 Peter 3 conclude the apostle’s exhortation to good works, which he had begun in 2:11–12. Specific groups in the church citizens, slaves, wives and husbands—were taught specific forms of ‘doing good’ within their relationships, and now Peter’s instruction expands to include the entire congregation.
It is worth noticing that Peter supports his general teaching, found in verses 8–9, with an appeal in verses 10–12 to Psalm 34:12–16. This psalm has been called a recipe for covenantal blessing, so you might profit from meditating on Psalm 34 along with the passage we are studying in this lesson. (Question 1)
Quality of life in the pilgrim community (read 3:8–9)
Five virtues characterize the communion enjoyed among Christian pilgrims in a pagan world.
• Like-mindedness. This does not rule out differences of opinion among Christians. Rather, Christians governed by the mind of Christ will cultivate the harmony of faith-confession and worldview over against those of their pagan competitors.
• Sympathy. We must “feel along with” fellow Christians. Believing pilgrims share both joy and sorrow as they travel together through this world.
• Brotherly love. We are members of one faith family, because believers all have one Father!
• Compassion. Mercy enhances the quality of life among pilgrims. It arises from divine compassion and lives deep within the human personality (literally, our intestines). Mercy takes visible form in the forgiveness exercised among the pilgrim fellowship, so necessary to keep believers from becoming isolated from each other in the face of hostile assaults by pagans.
• Friendly courtesy. This gives outward expression to the believer’s inner kindness and gentleness. Soft answers turn away anger, and a quiet spirit douses many a fire. (Question 2)
Each of these virtues, and all of them together, characterize people who have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). Our Lord Jesus demonstrated each of them in His earthly life, so that any who follow Him are motived and obligated by His example.
These virtues lead Christian pilgrims to avoid the negative exchange of evil for evil and of reviling for reviling, and instead yield the positive exchange of blessing for both evil and reviling. From biblical example (Jesus, Stephen, Paul) and Scriptural precept we know that such a response disarms critics and interrupts the spiral of recrimination and hostility. Blessing one’s enemies means to pray for them, to be a blessing to them in word and deed, and to promote their interests and well-being to the best of our ability.
Peter supplies a motive with these words: “knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (v. 9). Within this context the word “this” can look either backward to the duty of blessing one’s enemies, or forward to the prospect of inheriting a blessing. Everyone who knows Christ also receives the summons to be a blessing; only along this route will divine blessing be enjoyed. We might put it into a maxim: be who wants to be blessed must himself have been a blessing to his adversaries.
The clear biblical principle here is that a life of blessing consists first not in receiving, but in spreading blessing. Praying for our enemies, for those who spitefully use us and persecute us, necessarily leads us to kindness and meekness toward them.
A biblical recipe for a blessed life (read 3:10–12)
Introducing his quotation from the Old Testament with the little word “for,” the apostle alerts his readers to an authoritative basis for his appeal. His argument runs like this: if you want to inherit blessing, then you must not repay evil with evil but with blessing; for if anyone wants to love life and see good days, then he must stop his tongue from evil.
Three times the term evil appears in the Old Testament quotation, coupling back to the warning in verse 9 against repaying evil with evil.
It is worthwhile to pay attention to the structure of these verses. They begin with a general condition (“He who would love life and see good days”), followed by three negative commands (“let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil…”), following by three positive commands (“…and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it”).
Peace does not come by itself. You must seek peace and pursue it diligently.
To stimulate us in that search we are reminded of God’s eyes and ears—that is: of God’s seeing (= protecting) and hearing (= responding to) the righteous. The assumption is that the righteous need and pray for protection and deliverance from their enemies.
“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” (1 Pet. 3:12). This final verse constitutes a double warning. The first is for Christian pilgrims living among pagans: they are comforted by the LORD’s succor and deliverance of those who live righteously by returning good for evil, and are warned of the LORD’s opposition also to them if they do evil. The second warning is for those pagans among whom Christians are living: keep your hands off the righteous, for the LORD protects them in a special way, and prepare for the LORD’s angry judgment upon your disobedient wickedness.
“The fact that we raise storms in teacups,” writes John Calvin in commenting on this passage, “that we suddenly flare up in anger, and that we burn with the passion of revenge, all happens because we do not remember that God cares for us, and because we do not rely on His aid.” Here then is our calling: “when we are fully persuaded that God defends the cause of the righteous, we shall first give our minds simply to innocence, and then, when we are molested and hated by the ungodly, we shall flee to the protection of God.” (Question 3)
Questions for Reflection and Reply
1. Read and meditate on Psalm 34. Then jot down three or four things the LORD does for His children and corresponding heart-attitudes that should characterize believers as a result of these divine activities.
2. Gentleness is mentioned many times in the New Testament, with reference to both Christians in general and officebearers in particular. Study the following passages and describe this gentleness.
Christians: Gal. 5:23 and 6:1 Eph.4:2 Phil. 4:5 Titus 3:1–3 James 3:17
Officebearers: 1 Thess. 2:7 1 Tim. 3:3 and 6:11 2 Tim. 2:24
3. How must we determine whether to suffer for doing right or to appeal for justice on the basis of our rights? Identify several factors that might lead you to forego your rights.