1 Peter 3:8-12 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.”
“Finally” – this is the last set of instructions on the topic of submission that began in 1 Peter 2:13.
Remember to whom he has been speaking about submission:
Citizens under the rule of government
Slaves under a sometimes harsh master
Women with unbelieving husbands
Husbands called to a life of self-denial and consideration of their wives.
Now he says, “All of you.” He addresses the church – men and women, young and old. These qualities and instruction are for all believers
He sets forth a charter for Christian character. Here are the inner qualities and outward actions that are developed in a life that is submissive to God and transformed by the gospel.
As ‘aliens of the dispersion’, living in a hostile world is the crucible in which Christian character is formed. The church thrives and grows not in a protected Greenhouse but in the storms of life. Our difficult circumstances do not release us from the obedience God requires rather they test the reality of our commitment to the gospel. The unregenerate heart is naturally defiant to submission. Only the gospel brings that defiance to surrender.
There are three things that this text encourages us to pursue in regard to the submissive life.
1. Develop the Inner Qualities of a Submissive Life
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
These are reciprocal qualities within the Christian community – the qualities of the new creation, the values of the kingdom (Bautitudes), the ethics of the new community that God has created in an alien world).
Unity of Mind – The unity of mind to which Christians are called is a mind that is gospel-centered, rooted in the Bible-based ethic of love and brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:3-6 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This unity of mind is a commitment to think God’s thoughts after Him.
Philippians 4:8 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.
Unity of mind works against the natural divide that the mind often creates. Look at the various schools of study in in a university.
Sympathy – Submission means having deep feeling for others. Submission comes out of a heart that says, ‘I care for you.’
Christians are not robots who are programmed to act coldly and mechanically in a certain way. They do not simply act out or obligation. They care for each other. They laugh together and cry together.
Brotherly Love – Submission means loving others in the church as your family. Love as bothers (or as brothers should).
“be true philadelphians”
A tender Heart – Submission means being softhearted to those in distress.
You can choose to either hate or disdain those who suffer and place upon you the duty of mercy or you can be merciful to them. And you should be merciful to them, for God has shown mercy to you in your suffering.
A humble Mind – Submission means seeing myself as a servant to others.
Ultimately submission is an issue of the heart. Unless your heart seeks Christ-centered unity, feels sympathy, desires brotherly love, is tender, and humble, you will be a cancer eating away at the life of the church, a tornado leaving destruction in your path, an open painful sore that won’t go away.
We may try to convince ourselves that the evil in our heart is justified. We blame our circumstances, our past, people, and even sometimes God.
The kind of inner life described here is beyond our ability. The kind of heart described here calls us to the gospel, causes us to cry out for grace and mercy.
Listen to Jesus’ word about the power of the inner life:
Mark 7:20-23 20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”
A few years ago I wrote these words as I thought about Jesus’ words:
It’s My Heart, LORD
It’s my heart, Lord, yes, my heart
Corrupt and filthy in the inner part
Secret admirer of all called – sin
A burning passion for evil within
It’s my heart, Lord, yes, my heart
Greed and malice in the inner part
Envy, slander, deceit and folly
Far apart from all called holy
It’s my heart, Lord, yes, my heart
Lewd, immoral in the inner part
Theft, Murder, and adultery
Arrogance ruling within me
It’s my heart, Lord, yes. My heart
It’s who I am in the inner part
Unclean within, it’s not the outside
I’m vile, unholy, full of pride
It’s my heart, Lord, yes, my heart,
Cleanse me deep in the inner part
The blood of Christ can wash the soul
The blood of Christ can make me whole
It’s my heart, Lord, yes, my heart
Through faith alone, a brand new start
Though warring now with latent sin
Assured in Christ the war to win
Take my heart, Lord, Take my heart
Cleanse me deep in the inner part
Conquer vice that lives within
Freed to love and not to sin
It’s my heart, Lord, it’s my heart
Life proceeds from the inner part
Wellspring of life is the heart indeed
To love Christ it’s greatest need
These inner qualities require gospel-transformation which only takes place in view of Christ and His work for sinners which brings about repentance and renewed dependence on His grace. We sing and pray with King David: “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew and right spirit within me.”
2. Pursue the Outward Actions of a Submissive Life
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
These actions are especially meaningful in the context of an environment that is hostile to Christianity (aliens of the dispersion). Those they are needed along believers, the focus is on the exercise of these actions in the midst of a hostile society. These actions flow out of a heart, as described in verse 8, that is being transformed by the gospel.
We are neither capable of being just nor do we have the right to as judge and punisher.
Romans 12:19-21 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Bless (a ‘good word’, i.e. a benediction).
This is what Christians are called to – Bless. Abraham was called by God to be a blessing to the world. Israel was called to be a blessing. Christians are called to be a blessing. If cursing and judging needs to be done, that is God’s jurisdiction.
There is power in blessing those who hurt you. Calling down blessing from God on others who hurt you is tangible evidence of the power of God at work in your life.
Peter says that we are called to this. Along with the gospel call to discipleship is the call to meekness, to bearing injustice, to non-retaliation, to acts of kindness in the face of injury. These qualities are subversive to a hostile society by the greater power of love and blessing our enemies.
As Jesus suffered on the cross, he cried out, “Father forgive them …”
As Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was being stoned, he cried out “Father, forgive them.” He blessed them.
Keep tongue from Evil and deceit
“Who when he was reviled, reviled not again; who when he suffered he threatened not …”
We should avoid facing hostility by the power of evil words which seek to defeat or by lying words which seek to deceive.
James 3:6 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Turn away from evil and do good
The response of the flesh is tit for tat. “Hit back ..”
Here the context is that we not return evil for the evil that is done to us. Exceptional goodness in the face of provocation is the duty and delight of believers.
Seek and Pursue Peace
James 3:17-18 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Have you ever played the game ‘hit-back’? I’m sure that you have either physically or verbally. You hit me; I hit you harder. You hit me a little harder; I hit you even harder. Etc. The purpose of ‘hit-back’ it to win. You hurt me; I’ll hurt you more.
Nobody likes to lose. Unfortunately, we play by the world’s rules of the game instead of God’s and we lose anyway. We lose friendship; we lose opportunity for a Christian witness; we lose inner peace; we lose the favor of God.
I’ve never met a vengeful person who enjoys peace. You become a prisoner of those whom you hate and desire to hurt. The very thought of them brings you to anger.
For those committed to revenge there is even a website to purchase items for revenge like, 1 dozen wilted roses, stink bombs, itching powder, fake winning lottery tickets, There were over 1 million hits on the site in less that 2 years.
Instead we should heed the words of Mirslav Volf:
When blessing replaces rage and revenge, the one who suffers violence refuses to retaliate in kind and chooses instead to encounter violence with an embrace. But how can people give up violence in the midst of a life-threatening conflict if their identity is wrapped up in rejecting the beliefs and practices of their enemies? Only those who refuse to be defined by their enemies can bless them. (Mirslav Volf in Soft Difference http://www.northpark.edu/sem/exauditu/papers/volf.html).
Can we begin to imagine the impact that this kind of life has on a pagan society? What a powerful confirmation of the gospel!
3. Know who you are in Christ
9, 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.”
There are three phrases/conepts within these verses that identify the uniqueness of believers in Christ.
• We are called to inherit blessing – ‘that you may inherit a blessing from God’
The phrase ‘for to this you were called’ – is difficult to determine whether it goes with what is before or after. Peter does this often – he leaves it ambiguous because it is both. In Christ we are called to inherit blessing and to be blessing. This is who we are as Christians.
Unfortunately we are more interested at times in inheriting a blessing than being a blessing. Peter refuses to separate the two. We are called to be bless and to be blessed.
The saving grace of the gospel is also life-transforming grace.
• We have transformed values of what constitutes the good life – Literally – ‘wishing to love life and to see good days’.
Whoever desires to love life and see good days – this phrase is a description of believers in old covenant terms. Only those in covenant with God could expect life and good days.
The gospel transforms the way we think of ‘life’ and ‘good days.’
I was talking to a neighbor one day who mentioned that he wished he didn’t have to work and hoped he could win the lottery. Our conversation raises the perennial question: “what is the good life.” I imagine that most people have had at least a momentary fantasy of what it would mean to win the lottery. Personally, I have never bought a lottery ticket, but have been tempted a few times to believe the seductive lie that more money is the road to the good life.
I was listening to Joel Osteen talk to his congregation about how God had blessed them by giving them the convention center in downtown Houston where the Houston Rockets used to play. He told them that because they gave to buy that property, God would bless them materially. He told them that God did not want them living in apartments but owning their own homes. God was going to bless them materially because they had given to purchase the new property. Let me say that Joel Osteen has bad theology and bad theology is always a lie. What is the good life?
It is not only people on the street but preachers in the pulpit who are mistaken about the good life.
Can ‘the good life’ possibly be a life of obedience, of holiness, of submission, and of suffering?
We long for the good life – to love life and see good days – but who will define that good life for us. Did Jesus have the good life? It ended at the cross. Did Stephen have the good life? He was stoned to death. Did Peter have the good life? He was crucified upside down. Did Paul have the good life? Read 2 Corinthians 6 and 11. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and suffered numerous deprivations. Most of the original apostles died in cruel martyrdom. Did they have the good life?
Do I measure God’s blessing in worldly comforts which any sinner with money can buy, or do I measure it by the gifts of the Spirit that enrich the soul which can only be had through Jesus Christ?
In this text the ‘good life’ is essentially a life in which the gospel is transforming the way you respond to evil.
Believers are not only called to a righteous way of living but to a righteous response to evil. Here is where we are more likely to fail.
• We are the righteous ones whose prayers are heard by God – “the eyes of the Lord are watching over the righteous’, i.e. those who are in Christ and pursuing the obedience to which we are called.
This is the classic, biblical division of humanity – the righteous and the evil.
The righteous are those who believe, who submit to Christ as Lord and seek to live righteously under that Lordship. God hears their prayers.
The wicked (evil) are those who resist God’s offer of grace. They may be self-righteous, religious, or blatantly immoral and profligate. God turns his face away from them.
Who you are in Christ (Blessed in order to bless, understanding what ‘the good life’ is; prayer that God hears) undergirds the development of the inner qualities the outward practices in this text.
These verses set before us a beautiful portrait of Christian character. Along with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5; the great commandments in Mark 12, this is basic Christian living.
This character is not the product of human effort; it is the effect of the gospel at work in our lives. This character comes as a result of dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus Christ. To truly believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior is to become like him in living as a Christian in a non-Christian world.
Why should we think personal righteousness important, and make it our daily aim? First, because God commands it. Second, because it pleases him, and gratitude for grace must make us want to please him. Third, because hearty obedience is basic to honest doxology: glorifying God with our lips is hollow and phony unless our lives are right. Fourth, because our own moral transformation gives credibility to our gospel whereas unchanged lives will destroy its credibility; no one will believe what we say about the power of Christ if we ourselves do not show its fruit. To pull the threads together —yes it matters much how we live! (J.I. Packer, http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086|CHID559376|CIID2066484,00.html)
This loftiness of this character is not meant to call us to despair and defeat because it indicts us, but to repentance and renewed dependence upon Christ because apart from his grace this is beyond our natural ability.