1 Peter 3:13-17 ~ 20090419 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/19 1 Peter 3:13-17 Suffering the Pathway to Blessing
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 regard 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; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, 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.
Last time we were in Peter we saw him quote Psalm 34 and encourage us in our pursuit of life and joy to pursue the favor of God by righteous living. The abundant life that Jesus promised is a life lived in relationship with God; within the parameters of God's rules. We want the eyes of the Lord to be on us and his ears open to our prayers. We don't want his face to be against us. But the standards are high. We are to control our tongues - something James tells us is humanly impossible. We are not merely to avoid evil, but to actively do what is good, to seek peace and vehemently pursue it. This kind of righteousness is clearly beyond our grasp, and Peter is well aware of this. He has highlighted the fact that we were chosen by God 'to be a people for his own possession, that we might proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light' (2:9). It is only possible because we have become recipients of God's mercy. It was 'according to his great mercy he caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead' (1:3). When we live this way, we demonstrate that it is God's resurrection power at work in our lives and not our own strength, so that the glory and praise goes to God and not to us.
2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Peter in these next verses addresses the issue of when Christians suffer for doing what is right. He tells us that ultimately, no lasting harm can come to someone who is living in the favor of God. Any suffering we do experience in this life is merely a pathway to blessing. Practically speaking, there are things we are not to do and other things we are to do when these circumstances come. Negatively, we are not to fear or be troubled. Positively, we are to set apart the Lord Jesus in our hearts. We are to be prepared to give reason for the hope that is in us, living in the fear of God with such integrity that those who slander us will be ashamed.
Peter starts with a rhetorical question: who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? In 2:14 Peter has pointed to good government that is sent by God to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. If we do what is good, we should have nothing to fear. Here we are described as 'zealous for what is good'. Titus 2:14 tells us that he redeemed us...
Titus 2:14 ...to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
More than avoiding evil, more than grudgingly doing what we know we ought, we are to be passionate and fervent for what is good. There is to be an intensity that characterizes our pursuit of good. We should have a burning desire to do what is right. In our relationship to our government, in our relation with our employer, in our relationship with our spouse, in our relationship with one another, we are to be zealous for good. How do you zealously pay your taxes and enthusiastically obey the speed limit? How do you zealously submit to a stupid boss? This is where an understanding of the bigger picture is essential. You don't submit to your boss for the sake of your boss or the company. You don't obey the government for the sake of the government or the country. We submit to and obey every human institution so that the reputation of God in our community is seen to be excellent and praiseworthy. We can be fervent and passionate about putting the glory of God on display through our relationships with those around us. If that is our goal, no-one can frustrate it. Yes, there may be those that seek to destroy what we are doing, but if we are truly seeking God's glory and not our own, by God's grace we can maintain a positive attitude in spite of whatever men do to thwart us. In fact, opposition provides a platform on which to elevate God's glory even more. It is not surprising to find someone working hard and doing a good job when their boss is treating them well and acknowledging their hard work. But if someone continues to work diligently and cheerfully in order to make their abusive egotistic ungrateful boss look good, that is nothing short of supernatural.
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.
Suffering for doing what is right is not the norm. Good government does not punish good citizens. But, if you believe in absolute truth and Jesus as the only way to God, you may be seen as subversive and a threat to society. In fact, if you are really zealous for what is good, you might feel hostility from those who are apathetic toward justice. Your fervent passion for righteousness is intimidating to those who are excelling at mediocrity. The world does not hate benevolence in itself, but when good is done in the name of Christ, it arouses vehement anger. The bible is clear that in the world we will have difficulty.
But as Jesus said: Matt. 5:6,8,11-12
Matthew 5: 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. ... 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. ... 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Peter has used two different words for blessing; in 1:3 the focus was on God as the source of blessing, the word here concentrates on the happy result. This is not merely a good feeling, but a deep sense of joy when one looks on life from the perspective of God. Indeed, the present suffering is not a sign of punishment, but of God's favor both now and in the future.
First, Peter gives us what we are not to do in response to suffering for doing good; 'have no fear of them, nor be troubled'. Literally, this phrase is 'do not fear the fear of them'. Jesus taught us:
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Peter has been very clear that we are to fear God alone. We may be inclined to fear those that threaten us, but we are to consciously calculate the impact of their threats and their ability to carry it out and compare it to God. Then we can exclaim 'I will not fear; what can man do to me?' (Heb.13:6). 'Neither be troubled' - we are not to be upset, agitated, disturbed or shaken. This refers specifically to emotional turmoil. He has already instructed wives in 3:6 to 'do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.'
Verse 15 gives the positive; what we are to do instead. This is the main thought of the verse: 'in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy'. Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8:12-13
Isaiah 8:11 "For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
He has already referenced this passage in 2:8 in reference to Christ as the stone of stumbling. Here again, he makes explicit his belief in Jesus as the YHWH of the Old Testament. 'The LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy'; Peter adapts to read 'in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy'. Jesus is the YHWH of the Old Testament. Jesus is to be sanctified, set apart, regarded as holy. This is the same word we find in the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6:9 "Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name" or "may your name be treated as holy or reverenced". Jesus is the Holy One of Israel. Jesus is the sovereign Lord, the one who reigns supreme over all creation. That is the objective fact. Jesus is Lord. The question we are to ask is 'have we acknowledged him as such?' Have we bowed the knee to his sovereign demands? Is Jesus our fear and our dread, or are those who threaten us? Who causes us to tremble? In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Jesus is King. Do we own him as our only absolute authority? Have we bowed our hearts to him? Specifically in suffering, do we surrender to him as ultimately in control of our painful circumstances? Do we really believe that it is Jesus, and not our enemies, who is truly in control of our circumstances? And do we believe that he is holy, doing only what is right and good in bringing these trials to us? In the midst of suffering unjustly, can we bow to his sovereign hand and say:
Job 1:21 ... The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Now Peter describes for us what will naturally flow from the authority of Christ in our lives. As we joyfully surrender to a higher authority, the hope in us will be so apparent that it will elicit questions from unbelievers.
15 but in your hearts regard 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;
Hope is the defining characteristic of the Christian life. Hope is what we were born again into; (1:3) According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope'. Hope is the first command that is given in this letter; (1:13) 'Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ'. Our hope is fixed firmly in grace and firmly on God (1:21) 'who through him are believers in God ... so that your faith and hope are in God.' Hope is what the unbelieving world notices. Hope is what we are called to give reason for. The hope of the believer must be so noticeably different from that of the uncertainty and fear of the world around that unbelievers are driven to find out why. What is the reason for the hope that is in you? This question assumes that there are reasonable solid intellectual grounds for the hope of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is objective public truth that can be reasonably defended in the public arena. Christianity is rooted in indisputable objective historical facts centered around the person of Jesus. And we all are to be prepared to give defense of that hope - at any time to any one. Martin Luther put it this way:
"We must here acknowledge that Peter addresses these words to all Christians - clergy and laity, male and female, young and old - of whatever state or condition they may be. Hence it follows that every Christian should know the ground and reason of his faith, and he should be able to maintain and defend it where it is necessary." (p.158)
And he goes on to discuss this key part of the reformation, to get the scriptures into the hands of every believer. This is not to say that every believer must become an expert in philosophy and apologetics. But every one of us should know what we believe and be able to explain why we believe it - at any time and to any person.
Peter goes on to describe how we are to defend what we believe. This has been widely misunderstood. 'yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience'; literally, 'with humility or meekness and fear'. These are primarily Godward attributes. We are to fear God and God alone, so the 'respect' is first respect or reverence or fear toward God. Meekness or humility also describes our relation to God. A proper view of the gospel throws out all pride. As Peter has said 'Once you were not a people; ...once you had not received mercy; ...but now you are God's people; ... now you have received mercy' (2:10). There is nothing in us that is better than any unbeliever. The difference - the only difference - is that we are sinners who have been shown mercy. Out of reverence for God and his ultimate authority, out of humility that we were sinners deserving of judgment and are no better than those we speak to - it is out of this humble Godward attitude that we give reason for the hope that is in us. This is the same attitude that Paul promotes his Gentile readers to have toward Jewish unbelievers in Romans 11:
Romans 11:18 do not be arrogant... If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you... 20 They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast though faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe... 30 Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
Do not become proud but stand in awe. God has shown mercy to you. He may also show mercy to them. Having a good conscience - this is your personal integrity before God. We live under the watchful eye of God in everything we do, so we must confess our sins to him and maintain a clear conscience. Fear of God, humility before God, and nothing to hide must define our tone and attitude when we speak to others on behalf of God.
The purpose of our defense is now given:
16 ...so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
This is a different purpose than the one stated in 2:12
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
There the purpose is that the unbelievers would turn and give glory to God. And it is different from the purpose of the wife in submitting to her unbelieving husband in 3:1
...so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives...
There again the purpose is the conversion of the unbeliever. The silent testimony of the wife's conduct may win the unbelieving husband to Christ. But here the purpose is different. The conversion of the unbeliever is not the only possible outcome. There are some that will persist in unbelief right up to the day of judgment. They will be put to shame by God himself and forced to admit the goodness of your behavior as a testimony against them. Notice, they are reviling 'your good behavior in Christ'. Any behavior that is truly good is done 'in Christ' - by his power and through his Spirit. There is no good behavior that is truly good outside of Christ. That is why the 'good deeds' of unbelievers are considered 'filthy rags' in God's sight:
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Peter concludes 'For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.' There is a blessing attached to suffering for your good behavior in Christ. The promised presence of God both now and forever is yours if you are in Christ. However, there is suffering for doing evil. Peter has already addressed the possibility of Christians suffering because they have violated laws in his instructions to slaves in 2:18-20
20 For what credit is it if, when your sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
But he is saying more than that here. It is better to suffer now at the hands of persecutors for doing good and enjoy eternal fellowship with God than it is to suffer at God's hand on the day of judgment for doing evil. It is better to suffer for doing good because that is a powerful witness to unbelievers, bringing them to faith in Jesus, or to shame in the presence of God on that day.
'It is better... if that should be God's will...' Literally 'if the will of God should will it'. God's will is supreme, even in suffering. Any suffering that comes to a believer was filtered through the loving hand of God, and it is ultimately for my good.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
We can take great comfort in this, that our suffering is designed by the affectionate hand of our creator to do us good. There is no random occurrence in the universe. There is purpose. There is order. God is ruling in this world. Even Satan must obey his command and can go no further than God allows. God has given you new birth to a living hope, he is keeping your inheritance in heaven for you, and by his power he is guarding you for it. Necessary trials prove the tested genuineness of your faith so that it will result in praise and glory and honor and joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. (1:3,5,6-8)