1 Peter 3:8-12 – To Suffer and To Bless

Light and Dark

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
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.” (NRSV)

Its one thing to give blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless insufferable persons. Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life. Yet, I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well.  We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we need not respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.

God has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 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.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)

Church Light in Dark

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.

One of the spiritual practices I occasionally do is to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. 1 Peter is not a long letter. Depending on the pace of your reading, it can be done between 15-30 minutes. I encourage you to take some time today or this week to slowly read it. Pay attention to how adversity affords Christians the opportunity for hope and the encouragement to live well.

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Luke 22:31-33, 54-62

            Peter denied Jesus three times.  It is an infamous story.  Jesus even predicted it would happen.  We might either relate with Peter, or think him a putz.  Whichever way we view him, there was a reason Peter ended up denying the Lord, even though he sincerely believed he would never do such a thing.  And therein belies the problem:  Whenever we are cocky and believe we are above falling into sin, we neither listen well nor trust well.  Pride goes before the fall.
 
            Our sins and failures stem ultimately from a lack of real faith and commitment in Jesus.  We think we can do it ourselves.  We got this.  Well, not so much.  We blew it again.  We keep trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps because we are just too anxious to follow Jesus.  To live life on Christ’s terms will mean a loss of autonomy and control.
 
            When Jesus was arrested the text says that Peter “followed at a distance.”  If we are honest, that too often describes our own mode of following.  We want to see how everything will shake-out before we commit.  But only until we let go of our own ideas and stubborn thinking will we discover what true discipleship is all about.  Only the grace of letting Jesus lead will bring us to the point of standing strong and not living in denial.
 

 

            Gracious Lord Jesus, I admit my pride and cockiness to think that I could follow you on my terms instead of yours.  In humility I come to you and confess my great need to follow you unconditionally.  Thank you for your forgiveness and your provision for my life.  Amen.

Galatians 2:11-14

            “When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong… I corrected Peter in front of everyone.”  The Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter on a matter of hypocrisy.  This was not just any run-of-the-mill hypocrisy.  What Peter was doing was totally out of sync with the gospel that they both proclaimed:  that forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is for all people, Jew and Gentile, whom both together make up Christ’s Church.  Out of fear of his fellow Jews, Peter began withdrawing from his Gentile brothers in Christ.  That stinking fear will get us every time.  At the heart of every hypocrite is a spirit of fear that keeps him/her in bondage to the wishes of others.
 
            Whereas Peter was deepening into the world of learned helplessness and terminal niceness, Paul chose to operate in the world of seeing all things through the lenses of the gospel and confronting that which had nothing to do with it.  Please note that Paul rebuked Peter, and not every single person who came along who didn’t agree with him.  They were both part of the apostles’ fraternity, and each had both a right and responsibility to confront and rebuke when needed within that fellowship.
 
            I live in Mid-West America.  We, like Peter, suffer from the malady of sometimes being too nice for our own good.  If we aren’t careful, we can be pleasant and affable to people to their face, but then turn around and speak ugly words and do our own thing behind someone’s back.  Our hypocrisy is born of the fear that we might hurt someone’s feelings.  But we need to grab ahold of the fact that our hypocrisy hurts God’s feelings, and he will call us to account for our fearful ways.  God does not want us hiding our true feelings, but bringing them into the light of the gospel so that the church can be built up and thrive in grace.
 

 

            Holy God, you desire grace and truth in all relationships.  Help me to speak with boldness, in a spirit of mercy and integrity, so that there will be growth and spiritual fruit in all of my relationships through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Luke 5:1-11

            One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is that he is generous.  God’s benevolent generosity defines his basic stance toward humanity.  This may not seem overly remarkable with only a cursory thought about God.  Yet, when the infinite holiness of God intersects with the prideful arrogance of sinful people, gracious generosity is the quite unpredictable result.
 
            On one occasion, Peter was going about his business fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  Having not yet encountered Jesus, Peter met him and came under his teaching.  After Jesus was finished speaking, he told Peter to put the boat out and cast his nets.  Peter, an experienced fisherman and knowledgeable about the water, knew that he would not catch anything.  But, out of deference to Christ, he did so, anyway.  The result was such a large catch of fish that the nets nearly broke from the weight.
 
            Peter’s response is instructive.  He fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Peter understood that he had no faith in Jesus.  He rightly discerned that he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus, an overflowing abundance that was given to him despite his lack of belief.  In the face of such grace, in the vortex of an incredible mercy, having seen the generosity of God directed squarely at him, Peter left it all behind in order to follow Jesus.
 
            Jesus does not strong-arm us into faith.  His tactics do not involve manipulation through guilt, or mind-twisting others through shaming them.  Instead, God is beautifully and simply himself:  showing grace and generosity in places where one would least expect to find it.  When confronted with such love, what would you do?
 

 

            Gracious God, you sent your Son to me even though I was neither looking for him nor expecting anything from him.  Thank you for breaking-in to my life so that I could break-out for you with glory, honor, and praise.  Amen.

Acts 2:14-24

            In the Gospels, the Apostle Peter was a flake.  He sometimes got it, and sometimes didn’t.  Peter could discern Jesus was Messiah, but then turn around and refuse that Christ had to die on a cross.  He would get bold and walk on water, but end up falling short and needing help from drowning.  Peter stood tall for Jesus, and then denied him three times.
 
            In the book of Acts, however, Peter is a completely changed man.  He gets it.  He is brave.  He confesses Christ.  And all the while he does not falter, flinch, or back down.  What is the difference between the Gospels and Acts?  The Holy Spirit comes upon him and he is never the same again.  Everything falls into place for Peter, who preaches in such a way that thousands repent of their sin and believe Jesus is the hope of the world.
 
            “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,” Peter proclaimed about Jesus, “because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Let that one seep into your soul.  If it was impossible for death to keep its grip on Jesus, then there is absolutely nothing that can deter Jesus or hold him back from accomplishing what he wants to accomplish.  Flaky believers are not going to frustrate Jesus or upset his plans; he’ll just send the Holy Spirit. 
 
            We too often imprison ourselves in self-made spiritual jail cells, flaking-out in the Christian life, sometimes getting it right and once-in-a-while hitting upon some right combination we can’t explain, like a golfer who hits an amazing shot but can’t reproduce it no matter how hard he tries.  The truth is:  Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell.  By faith, we have forgiveness of sins in him and have the way opened to a new life in the Spirit.  It isn’t a secret; it is a new reality.
 
            The season of Lent is a time of remembering those things that hinder us in our walk with Jesus, and repenting of our sins so that we can live anew.  As we quickly approach Holy Week, the golf clubs of vulnerability, confession and prayer will keep us in God’s fairway and allow us to shoot par.
            Gracious God, who raised Jesus from the dead, may the same power reside in me so that I can do your will in every situation through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-18a

            Sometimes people say things that are uncaring, insensitive, and even downright stupid – things that do not reflect the gospel of grace.  Indeed, there is enough sinfulness to go around no matter where you go.
 
            The Apostle Peter gave some practical commands to occupy us in the midst of troubling speech and actions that people say and do.  Rather than responding in kind by verbally decapitating another person, either to their face or behind their back, we are to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  Peter sums it up by saying, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.”
 
            If we ever wonder or struggle with what God is calling us to, it is clear as a bell in this Scripture.  Grace is our business, and we are not to respond ungraciously to others’ lack of mercy.  If we put our focus on blessing others with these practices, no matter who they are, we will set ourselves apart as people who follow the way of Jesus.  And make no mistake about it:  the way of Jesus is the way of suffering grace.  It does not mean keeping silent; it means actively blessing through a tender heart and a humble mind.
 
            Humility is the cornerstone of all other biblical virtues.  Every Christian must be ready to accept the things that are not within his/her control, and then respond humbly with love.  If this sounds wishy-washy to you, then I would say you have never even tried it because it takes a courageous strength of faith to put into practice a spirit of meekness.  To this we are called.
            Gracious God, who sent Jesus to humbly suffer for my sins, engraft your humility in me so that I might respond with love in thought, word, and deed to every person and circumstance in my life.  Amen.

Acts 11:1-18

            Grace trumps everything.  One of the most scandalous truths of Christianity is that God graces common ordinary people who seem as dead as a bowling ball with the Holy Spirit and gives them life.  The Apostle Peter had to learn this with some difficulty, but he embraced the work of God among the non-Jewish Gentiles.  “The Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” is Peter’s plain account and confession of the reality that God grants repentance that leads to life for all kinds of people no matter what their race, ethnicity, class, or background.  It is a wondrous and astounding spiritual truth that God’s gracious concern is not limited to a certain type of person.
 
            Along with Peter and the other believers so long ago, let us rejoice in the work of God that brings deliverance and transformation.  Grace is and ought to be the guiding factor in how we interact with people.  Losing sight of grace leads to being critical and defensive.  Embracing grace leads to the humility to see the image of God in people very different from ourselves.  Grace tears down barriers and causes us to do away with unnecessary distinctions between others.  Our appropriate response to such a grace is to glorify God for his marvelous and amazing work.  Let it be so.
            Gracious God, just as you saved people from ancient times and gifted them with your Holy Spirit, so today continue your mighty work of transformation in the hearts of people I share the good news of Jesus with.  Amen.