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.

The Evil of Dehumanization

 
 
            I understand I am just one voice.  But it is a pastoral voice.  It is a voice that seeks to uphold the best of biblical ethics and human dignity.  Because every person (and I do mean every person) on planet earth is created in the image and likeness of God, each individual human being is a person of worth and deserves respect as a person.  People do and say terrible things every day.  But this never alters the biblical reality that God’s image has left or taken a vacation, or that someone deserves a pejorative label which stigmatizes and ostracizes them from the human family.  For the Christian, the supreme ethic of life is love.  We hold to the Great Commandment:  to love God and to love one’s neighbor; all other commands of Holy Scripture hang on these two bedrock commands, upheld by Jesus himself.
 
            Therefore we must all ask ourselves if we are living our lives and loving others in this world as intended by our Creator and Redeemer.  In these past few days I have had conversations, read social media posts, heard pundits and prognosticators analyze and predict, conceive and conjecture, all upon the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.  Some have been ennobling and heartwarming; others have been full of fear, ignorance, and lack of reason.  There is such a constellation of issues, fears, and problems to unpack and deal with that I do not nor cannot even begin to try to do such a task.  I only want to bring at least a small bit of light to the shadows of the human heart which inevitably tries to dehumanize others who do not agree with his/her opinion and group-think.
 
            There is no lack of people who persist in dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals and gay communities.  For example, one man told me yesterday in a matter-of-fact manner that the Orlando shooting was most likely a judgment from God upon homosexuals because of our government’s straying from godliness.  Those in LGBTQ circles are quite familiar with this kind of speech.  To label it correctly:  hate speech – dehumanizing speech.  When people of any particular kind of group, whether gay or not, are mowed-down like animals and then looked upon by another group as being nothing but animals, then we have become the apple eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
 
 
 
            Whether anyone agrees with same-sex marriage and life or not, we must come to grips with the fact that the people who were killed were human beings created in God’s image.  Therefore this was a tragedy.  If mass killings of people are to be kindred to God’s judgment, then mass murder of the unborn and mass killing of American soldiers would also be a judgment.  In other words, going down the path of claiming to know whom God judges is, at best, a journey of extreme hubris, and, at worst, germinating the seeds of a future holocaust of killing. 
 
            In the ancient context of Scripture, eunuchs were a sexual minority and excluded from most everything to do with the worship of God.  Yet, Jesus upheld their inherent worth, the apostles welcomed them into the family of God, and the prophet Isaiah foretold this would be the situation (Matthew 19:8-12; Acts 8:26-40; Isaiah 56:3-5).  Suggesting that eunuchs or any sexual minority simply be wiped off the face of the earth as not deserving of existence is more than disturbing.
 
            Yet, the light must also be shed upon those who would vilify all evangelical Christians as backward patriarchal homophobes.  When any person or group just paints a wide swath of labeling a large subculture of persons as having nothing but hate, as being monstrous, then they must come to grips with their own poverty of spirit and embrace the real love which Jesus has demonstrated and offers.
 
 
 
            No matter what side one falls on there is absolutely no biblical precedent or place to dehumanize another person or group of people, period.  Christians and churches need to stop acting and reacting to the parts of culture and society they don’t like and start living and loving like Jesus by building relationships with a broad spectrum of groups and individuals.
 

 

            It falls to the churches of this land to initiate love and to live above hate speech.  I admit that many do not have a good track record on this.  And I further admit that I have observed an eerie silence from far too many of them, as if nothing of particular consequence has happened.  This is a small and very meager attempt on my part to offer something of the loving Christ to others.  For, the church is nothing at all if it isn’t all about Jesus and his gospel of grace.