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Suffering for Doing Good

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October 2, 2005

1 Peter 3:8-12

Peter knew that the believers would soon face persecution so he reminded them that they would need unity, and love and support from one another. Peter also assured the believers that no matter what sufferings they might have to face, God would vindicate them and punish their enemies. So, let’s read this passage together: Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say, "If you want a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil, and keep your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Work hard at living in peace with others. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil."

In verse 8, Peter says: Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.”  In saying finally, Peter was obviously not concluding the epistle; rather, he was summing up a series of exhortations concerning submission (which began in 2:18). After speaking to slaves (2:18-25), wives (3:1-6), and husbands (3:7), Peter next turned back to all of you, referring to his audience of all believers (1:1-2; 2:11).

Peter listed five building blocks for Christians who lived in this pagan culture. These blocks will build relationships among any group of believers.

First: Live in harmony, or “be of one mind”, or"have unity of spirit," refers to working together for the common goal of spreading the gospel, having common attitudes and ideas. While there were many types of Christians from many types of backgrounds in Peter's audience, Peter knew that harmony would be possible. Just as different notes form chords to make beautiful harmonies, so different people can live and work together for God. If we read Romans 12:16, we will see that Peter and Paul are in clear agreement. The New Living translation says it this way: “Live in harmony with each other. Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all! And Romans 15:5: May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other—each with the attitude of Christ Jesus toward the other.; Philippians 1:27 and 2:2 continue with this theme of unity. I won’t read them now, but you can look them up for yourselves later if you wish. In Jesus final prayer for all believers in John 17:20-26, He asks the Father to make us one As They are one, so that the world may believe He was sent. Jesus knew the power of oneness. He wanted us to be one flock and He the One Shepherd  

Secondly, he wants us to be sympathetic. That means being willing to share in others' needs and being responsive to their feelings, having sensitivity toward others. The believers to whom Peter wrote, although scattered across the world and unknown personally to one another, lived and worked in "sympathy"; that is, they understood and appreciated one another because of their mutual relationship with Jesus Christ.  Again, Peter affirms Paul’s message in Romans 12:15: When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. 1 Corinthians 12:26; Hebrews 4:15 affirm this teaching that we are to be full of sympathy as well as unity.

Third, love as brothers means loving fellow      Christians (brothers and sisters in Christ). The Greek word is philadelphos, referring not only to family love, but to the special love that should draw all Christians together. One of the things that attracted Marcy and I to this body is the love you obviously had for each other. We thank God each day for showing us that same kind of love. You’ve made it pretty easy for us to respond in the same way because you guys are a pretty easy bunch to love.

When iron is rubbed against a magnet it becomes magnetic. Just so, love is caught, not taught. One heart burning with love sets another on fire. The church was built on love; it proves what love can do.

Frank C. Laubach

4.  Be compassionate (the NLT says “be tender-hearted while the NKJ uses “compassion” instead of sympathy and tender-hearted), like "sympathy" (above), means to be conscious of others' needs but includes a drive to alleviate the need in some way. The Greek word eusplagchnos comes from splagchna, literally the internal organs, and refers to one's deepest feelings. Believers ought to be deeply touched and moved by the hurts, pain, needs, and joys of fellow believers and then act to help them. Is not his what Debbie and Paul do through Divorce Care? Isn’t this what you ladies do with your friends and neighbors. You show the compassion of Christ, which shows you are living what you believe. We should be affectionate and sensitive, quick to give emotional support.

5.   Besides being unified, sympathetic, compassionate, and loving we are to be Humble.  This means having an honest estimate of ourselves before God. Humility does not negate our worth or abilities, nor does it inflate them. Instead, a humble Christian can honestly view his or her characteristics and abilities with thankfulness to God. Do not think of yourselves more highly than you should, says Romans 12:3. Have you ever noticed that the Scripture never says, “do not think so lowly of yourself”? It warns us of our tendency toward arrogance, because that is a common problem of mankind.  Matthew 11:29 says, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Ephesians 4:2 adds, “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.”  Jesus is our example of humility.

In summary, if you remember these five things – love, humility, sympathy, and compassion are the building blocks of the church – not the building – the church – us – our relationship to one another. We are the church, the body of Christ! Peter developed the qualities of compassion and humility the hard way. In his early days with Christ, these attitudes did not come naturally to his impulsive, strong-willed personality Remember Mark 8:31-33: Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man, would suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and three days later he would rise again. As He talked about this openly with His disciples, Peter took him aside and told Him He shouldn't say things like that. Jesus turned and looked at His disciples and then said to Peter very sternly, "Get away from me, Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's.";  and John 13:6-9: When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, "Lord, why are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You don't understand now why I am doing it; someday you will." "No," Peter protested, "you will never wash my feet!" Jesus replied, "But if I don't wash you, you won't belong to me." Simon Peter exclaimed, "Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!"  These are examples of Peter's blustering. You might say that Peter suffered from chronic “foot-in-mouth disease”. But the Holy Spirit changed Peter, molding his strong personality to God's use and teaching him compassion and humility.

God also chose Peter and others to show what a difference true faith makes in the real world. So here the once rash, belligerent, domineering, and arrogant Peter bears witness to a life of harmony, compassion, love, and humility. What a difference God makes! Amen!

You, too, are God's witness to skeptical people. Let your life be evidence of God's truth.

Verse 3:9 says: ”Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it.”  So, after describing how Christians should act toward one another, Peter described how they should act toward those in the pagan culture—a culture that would soon (if it hadn't already) become very hostile toward them. While it would be most natural to repay evil with evil and to return insult with insult, Jesus had taught and exemplified otherwise and said, in Matthew 5:39 and 44,  “But I say, don't resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  When Jesus was abused, he did not return abuse, so believers should follow his example of not repaying abuse for abuse or insult for insult. Peter had already encouraged his readers to follow Christ's example when he said in 1 Peter 2:21: “This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps.” Believers were not to retaliate, but were to do good, even to those who harmed them. Proverbs 25:22 says we are to heap coals of fire on the heads of our enemies. Now this may sound like eveil is being repaid with evil but NOT SO! Supplying hot coals to heat the home and cook the next meal is doing them a favor – blessing your enemy – doing the opposite of bringing them harm. You would be following Christ’s example and loving your enemy.

The words are similar to Paul's recommendations for how believers should act when persecuted for their faith (all verses quoted from nLT):

·         "If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. " Romans 12:14

·         "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. " Romans 12:17

·         "We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. " 1 Corinthians 4:12

·         "See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to everyone else. " 1 Thessalonians 5:15

Evil and abuse ought to be repaid with blessing. How would these believers "bless" their enemies? Believers' speech should always be characterized by blessings, never curses, but "blessing" refers to more than words of kindness. The spiritual sense of the word refers to believers offering the gospel to those who persecute them. The passage says “That is what God wants you to do.” He wants non-retaliation; He wants gracious words to come out of our mouth because He wants us to bless ourselves and others. We are called to inherit blessing: now and in the future.

Now let me back up a wee bit, back to our passage: “Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you.” In terms of real-life application, Peter says we are not to retaliate, but a child’s first impulse is to hit back, especially when the aggressor is a sibling. Adults do their hitting back in more sophisticated ways, by shunning or gossiping or making backroom deals. But retaliation is not the Bible's way.

Do you have a complaint? Have you been hurt? Has a colleague been bad-mouthing your work? Notice the Bible's way to respond: Show cordial respect; give the opponent the benefit of the doubt; then figure how to build up your antagonist social stock by being gracious. It's such a radically positive way of getting back that everyone will assume that you have an ulterior motive. And that gives you the opportunity to witness to the motive God has given you, to show Jesus love in a supernatural way. You will be a living testimony of Christ’s love, humility, sympathy, compassion, and unity.

Verse 3:10 in the NRSV says "For those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit." In Verses 10-12, Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16.  Now the theme of Psalm 34 is that God hears and helps those who are afflicted or in trouble—a perfect psalm considering the theme of this letter. Peter quoted these verses as his "proof text" for his words in 3:8-9, thus he began verse 10 with the word for the Scripture says, if you want a happy life and good days.” NIV says, “those who desire life and desire to see good days refers to people who trust God and who are (or want to be) enjoying their earthly lives no matter what the outward circumstances.” These people have found contentment in God and can live "good days" no matter how bad their situations might become. The answer to such contentment and enjoyment is found in living righteously, as suggested by both the psalmist and the apostle.

In order to do so, watch what you say. People who desire life and good days keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. As reported by James in James 3:3-12, people who don't keep their tongues under control can cause all kinds of problems. Like the rudder on a ship, this small part can cause large upset, as we all know from experience. Thus Peter was telling the believers not to return insult for insult, and to rid themselves of malice, deceit, and slander.

In verse 3:11, again in the NRSV, Peter states "Let them turn away from evil and do good." People's words are connected to their actions. Those who "keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit" have turned away from evil. Their God-honoring speech is then accompanied by God-honoring action. Thus Peter called upon the believers to be sympathetic, compassionate, and humble and to return good for evil. In previous verses (2:12, 14-15, 20; 3:1), Peter emphasized good works. In this verse He sums up that emphasis.

In verse 11 we’re told, in the NRSV, "Let them seek peace and pursue it." Peace means more than simply the absence of conflict, and peacemaking requires an active, not a passive, role. Effective peacemakers must seek peace and pursue it. They build good relationships, knowing that peace is a by-product of commitment. They anticipate problems and deal with them before they occur. When conflicts arise, peacemakers bring them into the open and deal with them before they grow unmanageable. To "desire life and desire to see good days", one must actively seek peace. This also pleases God, for Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9 nkjv).

Do we always respond peacefully? The Life Application Commentary says that “in this fallen world, it is deemed acceptable by some to tear people down verbally or to get back at them if they have hurt us. Peter, remembering Jesus' teaching to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), encouraged his readers to respond to wrongs by praying for the offenders. As Matthew 5:44 says: “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” God considers revenge to be unacceptable behavior, as is insulting a person, no matter how indirectly it is done. Rise above retaliating against those who hurt you. Instead of reacting angrily to these people, pray for them.” Pray for yourself too, for pent-up anger is very destructive.

 Verse 3:12 (again, in the NRSV) says: "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer." Those who do not retaliate, as described in verses10-11, can rely on God's protection. The righteous ones are God's people. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous means that God not only sees them but also that he watches over them for their good. God sees all their difficulties and persecutions. Nothing happens to God's people that he has not allowed for some purpose. As it says in Romans 8:28: 
”And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  That’s us folks! We are called by God and He has a purpose for your live. His first purpose is to save you and bring you into His kingdom. Are you there? If not, know He is calling you to be His child. All you have to do is recognize your need for a Savior and come as you are. Don’t worry about your sin. Just acknowledge it and He’ll forgive you. Don’t worry about your bad habits, He’ll clean you up later.  Whatever happens, God's people know that his promises of blessing—whether in this life or in the life to come—are certain.

Not only are the Lord's eyes open and watching, but his ears are open to their prayer. He listens when his people call to him. He knows all our needs. He hears our prayers of suffering. These words would have been a great comfort to these suffering Christians Peter was talking to.. Not only were they seen, heard, and ultimately protected, but those who hurt them would be judged. Verse 12 goes on to say, "But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." This warning implies a drastic threat of imminent judgment, not just God's disapproval. As Psalm 34:16 says, But the LORD turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth.  and in Ezekiel 14:8 he says, “ I will turn against such people and make a terrible example of them, destroying them. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”  These words refer to the most severe judgment God could have on humanity. Therefore, believers are not to retaliate; instead, they must trust that God will avenge the wrongs his people have suffered

In these verses, the scattered and persecuted Christians learned that those who trust God and live righteously have no reason to fear. God will reward his followers with blessings (both in this life and in the life to come) and will punish those who have hurt them.

Let me close by quoting Billy Graham: The storm was raging. The sea was beating against the rocks in huge, dashing waves. The lightning was flashing, the thunder was roaring, the wind was blowing; but the little bird was sound asleep in the crevice of the rock, its head tucked serenely under its wing. That is peace: to be able to sleep in the storm! In Christ we are relaxed and at peace in the midst of the confusions, bewilderments and perplexities of this life. The storm rages, but our hearts are at rest. We have found peace—at last!

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