Is It Really Possible to Love Life?
Passage: 1 Peter 3:8-12
During my first two years of graduate school, I worked as a Greek Grammar teacher. For the most part, I really enjoyed my work, but there were some difficult aspects. In particular, for many of my students, their two years of Greek were their biggest hurdle in getting a degree. It required a lot of memorization, and the tests were cumulative. And so at test time the students who really struggled with memorization or had poor study habits would feel overwhelmed and oftentimes do poorly. Sadly, I had to fail a few students. Throughout those two years, I reflected several times on the fact that in some sense, I was the trial or the thorn in the flesh that many of these students were enduring. I pictured them on their knees praying, “Lord, give me grace to endure Mr. Johnson and the absurdly difficult tests he gives.” Or I could see their parents at prayer meeting back home requesting prayer that Johnny would endure his awful Greek class. It was discouraging to think those thoughts, or to see the look on students’ faces when I would have to deliver a big assignment. And some students would ask occasionally why can’t we back off a bit. When those questions came up, I would always tell them that I’d rather they appreciate me next year in Greek Syntax or ten years down the road when they were trying to use Greek in sermon prep than to have them love me right now. If they were going to do more than survive, they had to keep perspective. They had to see the long hours of study in light of their future ambitions. Perspective is very important at school, at work, and in most arenas of life. It’s also critical to our relationships. Getting along with people, even those we love—our family and the church, can be very hard. We get tired of people’s quirks, and we just want to be done with them. And we haven’t even talked about enemies. So how do we stay motivated and press on when sinners surround us? In 1 Peter 3:8–12 Peter wraps up his discussion of relationships by challenging us regarding our conduct toward others and by giving some needed perspective to motivate us for the task (read).
Verse 8 begins with “finally” indicating that this section concludes the second unit of 1 Peter, which began in 1 Peter 2:11 and which concerns relationships. We’ve seen that conducting ourselves appropriately toward others is often hard. And so Peter wraps up this section with a summary challenge and with some needed perspective. The thought flow is fairly simple. In v. 8, Peter challenges us regarding our conduct toward other believers. In v. 9 he challenges us about our conduct toward those who treat us poorly, and in vv. 10–12 he grounds this challenge in an OT citation.
Verse 8 challenges us to…
Care for fellow believers (v. 8).
Verse 8 consists of five commands, regarding how we are to conduct ourselves. Peter is especially concerned for life in the church, though these commands are applicable to other relationships as well. Theses commands are in the structure of what is called a chiasm. It’s a common literary device where the middle item is central and where the first and list item are parallel, the second and second to last, and so forth.
First Peter challenges us to have…
Unity of Mind:
The NT talks a lot about unity because it is vital to the life of the church. If there’s competition among believers or lots of different agendas, we aren’t going to support each other well, and we certainly won’t demonstrate the power of God to a watching world. Very few things will cripple a church more than disunity. But the NT also talks about unity often because it was a common problem in many of the churches. The church often struggles to have unity because it consists of people from many backgrounds. Think of our church. We have people have been saved for years and grew up in church, and we have others who have been saved for a few months. Even among those who have been saved for years, there are widely different backgrounds in theology, worship styles, and ministry philosophy. And then there are basic differences of interests, family background, and personality. And of course we all think that our way is the best way, and we want what is comfortable for us. Let’s take music for example. Some of you think we need to sing more new songs, and some of you think we should only sing old hymns. What do we do because there’s no way we can make all of us happy all of the time? I don’t even love every song we sing, but that’s okay because the church and God’s mission is much bigger than me. And all of us have to keep that focus. The church is much bigger than my preferences or pet issue. It is so easy to lose perspective on what really matters and to think only of ourselves. We must guard against this tendency. It’s an awful thing when our selfishness gets in the way of God’s work, and I’d say the same for any relationship. Don’t ever sacrifice the unity of your marriage, your family, or your friendships for foolish interests. Keep perspective. Second…
Peter uses a Greek term that is derived from our English word sympathy. It means to share in the joys and sorrows of others. Romans 12:15 commands us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” It’s a great picture of the kind of support that ought to exist in the church. We must love each other enough that we share each other’s joy when someone receives a blessing. Or when someone receives difficult news or is facing a great trial, we must feel the weight of their burden and do everything we can to help support the load. Are you engaged in the lives of others like this? Do you know the burdens and joys of your fellow-church members? And what do you do with that knowledge. Do you think, “boy, it stinks to be him,” or “I hope someone has time to help.” Or do you move to support others. We must support each other in our joys and sorrows.
As I mentioned Peter put this attribute in the middle of the list because it is foundational to the others. Love is essential if we are going to have unity, compassion, tenderheartedness, and act humbly. In fact, you could say these are all expressions of genuine love. Fourth…
This term is parallel to compassion and has a similar meaning. The Greek term refers to our internal organs—the liver, lungs, heart, and bowels. It seems very strange to us to associate love with my liver and especially my bowels, but in Greek thought the internal organs were considered the seat of our emotions. And so Peter uses the phrase here to challenge us to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ way down deep at the very center of who we are. Our love and service must be more than a surface love or duty. We certainly must be motivated by more than a selfish concern to look good or feel good about ourselves. No, we must cultivate a genuine love and concern for each other that results in compassionate care and the bearing of burdens. Fifth
The NKJ has “courteous,” but “humble” is a more accurate translation. This command is parallel to the call for unity. We may not think about it often, but humility is essential to unity in the church and any other relationship. Think of a basketball team. If everyone on the team thinks I am the best player on the team, and I need to shoot the ball every time down the court, there won’t be much unity in the team, and they certainly won’t be effective in working together to get good shots. No, for a team to be good, everyone must humbly accept his role and put the team first. It’s the same in the church. If we are always worried about getting the best roles or getting our way, we will work against each other rather than with each other. And folks, the work of the church is simply too significant for that kind of petty, childish rivalry, and if you are harboring this kind of arrogance, you need to confess it to God as sin, and you need to drive it out. The NT has very harsh things to say about those who divide the church because of their arrogance and selfishness. Guard your heart against the kind of pride that would divide us or hurt our effectiveness. Instead, let’s work together, humbly fulfilling our roles to reach our city for Christ and to make disciples for God’s glory.
Through these five commands God commands the church to be marked by love, mutual support, and unity. Peter knew that his readers had plenty of enemies on the outside; therefore, they couldn’t afford to be enemies with each other. They needed each other to stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil and to fulfill the mission God has given us. The same is true today. The other people in this room need you. They need the testimony of your faith, the spiritual gifts the Spirit gave you, and the love and support you can provide. Let’s always make sure that Life Point Baptist Church is marked by brotherly love that demonstrates itself in these qualities. We simply cannot afford the opposite.
God commands us to care for fellow believers. Second, he commands us to…
Be kind to all people (v. 9).
Verse 9 is especially concerned with how we respond to evil people who oppose the church, but it has a lot to say for how we should respond to any evil treatment.
It begins with a negative command.
Do not respond in kind to evil.
This command draws on the language of 2:22–23. We must not respond to evil actions and words by sinking to the level of those who treat us wrongly. The Scriptures consistently teach that the sins of others never excuse our own sin. That’s certainly the example that Christ set on the cross. Jesus endured all sorts of false accusations, and he was brutally beaten and murdered. But he never responded in kind. Instead, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).”
And Peter calls on us to do the same. We are to…
Respond to evil with grace.
Rather than returning evil with evil or reviling with reviling, we are to return them with a blessing. This command recalls words of Christ that Peter remembered well. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus commanded us, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” We don’t talk often in our day about blessing other people though it was a common practice in the biblical world. To bless another person simply means to wish grace and favor upon that individual. For us, it would mean praying that God would bless him or her. The implication of such an act is that we forgive this evil person, and we sincerely desire their good. When we endure true evil, this is very hard. Maybe you have had someone slander you, and it brought real harm. Maybe you lost a job over it or a friend. Maybe you’ve had someone say something incredibly mean or physically hurt you. Even worse, they do evil toward your children or spouse. You may not be so bold as to pray it, but you hope that this evil person gets their just reward. You want them to suffer, and if they do, it gives you a sense of joy. When you feel this kind of anger, it’s very hard to pray a sincere prayer of blessing. And yet that’s exactly what Peter calls us to do. The NT ethic doesn’t leave any room for us to hate another person. Now certainly we ought to hate sin, and we ought to desire justice for those who are hurt. We ought to support the legal system in bringing about justice. But as individual Christians, the NT calls us to love all people and treat them with grace.
But again, that’s very difficult to do. When we endure the evils I mentioned a moment ago, we want to hold them over people’s heads and bring our own justice. But rather than taking matters into our own hands, God challenges us to…
Trust in the Lord’s reward.
There are a couple of ways to take the phrase “you were called to this.” It can refer backwards to the conduct God has called us to or it can refer forward to the blessing Christians will inherit. I believe that the parallels between this statement and 2:21 indicate that Peter is referring backwards to the conduct God has called us to. Therefore, Peter is pushing us toward these godly responses by noting that God has called his people to this kind of conduct. And so godly responses are not optional. There is no room in the NT ethic for vengeance or bitterness. We must not harbor hurt toward anyone and especially not a brother or sister in Christ. If you are harboring bitterness or anger, you need to drive it out because it is contrary to God’s call for his people. But thankfully, God hasn’t merely called us to grin and bear it. God promises that when we bless our enemies, God will give us a blessing. But what blessing does Peter have in mind? Is he thinking of a blessing in this life, or is he thinking of eternity? The quote from Psalm 34 that follows clearly looks forward to God’s blessing in this life; therefore, some believe Peter is talking about a present blessing from God. Others argue that the word “inherit” indicates an eternal blessing in heaven. I think it’s possible Peter has both in mind, but based on the quote that follows, I believe he is primarily thinking of present blessing. God never promises wealth or ease for his people, but he does offer many graces in the present when we obey him. He gives grace to endure, peace, and joy. God hears and answers our prayers. And since his Word is wisdom, life will generally go better when we follow God’s Word. In contrast if we take justice into our own hands, our hearts will be filled with anger and bitterness, not joy, and these emotions can easily dominate and destroy us.
And so ultimately, we must trust God enough to treat all people according to his will. Will you trust God enough to do what he says even when it is unnatural or difficult? Will you resist the urge to react in anger when you are mistreated? Will you bite your tongue when you are slandered? Will you believe in the wisdom of God’s Word, and the superiority of God’s blessing?
The challenges of vv. 8–9 can be quite demanding, and they are very unnatural. Therefore, in vv. 10–12, Peter demonstrates that his ethic and promise are the consistent teaching of Scripture by quoting from Psalm 34:12–16. I’d like to summarize the quotation as a challenge to…
Obey God’s will by faith (vv. 10–12).
The Pattern of Godly Conduct (vv. 10–11):
Verses 10–11 are set up as a conditional statement. The psalmist calls to all who want to “love life and see good days.” This is not a promise of prosperity or an easy life because many of the godliest people in Scripture never enjoyed such gifts. But we all know that at the end of the day, prosperity and ease really aren’t the key to joy. You don’t have to look hard to see that there are many wealthy people who are miserable, and many people who face great hardship who are filled with joy. Rather, these phrases speak of a life that is full of significance and purpose because it is God-centered. And because God is the reference point, there is joy. And so how can we have this kind of joy regardless of the ups and downs of life? The Scriptures give several answers to that question, but vv. 10–11 offer a few simple keys. First, he tells us to refrain from evil and deceitful speech. This requirement ties to quotation very closely to what Peter has already said. So often we think that getting that evil thought off our chest or telling that small lie will really help matters, but it rarely works out that way. Our evil words create their own challenges, and our lies are found out or create a deeper problem. And so the psalmist says that if you want God’s blessing, than refrain from such speech. Next he says to replace evil conduct with good conduct. This is a general call to put off disobedience to God’s Word and to replace it with godly conduct. Finally, he says to “seek peace and pursue it.” This phrase describes someone who is an aggressive peacemaker. This individual isn’t content to let discord and hurt feelings simmer. If there’s a conflict, he doesn’t cross his arms in apathy and think, “Well, I may listen if that person ever owns up to his fault, but I’m certainly not budging.” Instead, when he recognizes that a relationship is broken, or he fears that it may be damaged, he pursues making peace. To go back to what we saw in v. 8, this is crucial to the life of the church. It’s simply not okay for church members to harbor bitterness or broken relationships with each other without doing everything they can to resolve them. Do you have any damaged relationships with people in our church? If you do, have you done everything in your power to pursue peace? When someone sins against you or you have a disagreement, do you talk behind his back to others or do you pursue peace? I realize it’s a lot easier to talk about someone than to talk to him. It’s easier to hide behind a keyboard than to look someone in the eye and say that you sinned or that someone hurt you. But God’s will and the health of the church are worth doing hard things. Pursue peace.
The psalmist says that if you want to have a life full of significance and joy, you must watch your speech, pursue godly conduct, and pursue peace. If you will do these things, he holds out a great hope.
The Hope of Godly Conduct (v. 12):
The psalmist notes that God watches over the righteous. Of course, this is intended to be a source of tremendous comfort. Sometimes we feel like no one notices how hard we are trying to do the right thing. Maybe we even feel misunderstood in our efforts to do right. But even if no one else notices, God does. And it’s not just that he sees; the implication is that he cares, and he will watch over us. Not only that “his ears are open to our prayers.” We saw last Sunday that God doesn’t listen to the prayers of the husband who disobeys God’s will, but here we see that God does hear the prayers of the obedient Christian. This promise ought to be very reassuring because sometimes doing the right thing feels very lonely. Some of Peter’s readers were enduring very unjust treatment from unbelieving family members, employers, and government officials. But even when the world feels lonely, if we are obeying God we can be sure that God sees and God hears. When you cry out to him for help, his eyes and ears are open, and he will sustain you and give you what you need. Look to him for grace. When the world rejects you for doing right, don’t compromise in an effort to gain its fickle approval; instead, run to God. God will be faithful as we obey, but then the text concludes with a sobering reminder. In one sense, we might see this as encouraging. God stands opposed to those who would do evil against God’s people. He is for us and against them. But primarily, this is a warning regarding the consequences of straying from God’s path. For those who are genuinely saved, God loves us too much to let us go down a path of sin without bringing consequences. God will correct us, and this warning should remind us to stay on course. But this warning is far more severe for those who have never been saved. God’s face represents his careful watch. Even when the unbeliever doesn’t realize it, God sees his wicked rebellion against him. That person stands under his wrath, and unless he repents, he will one day endure God’s justice in hell. There may be someone here today who really needs to heed that warning. Your heart is evil, and you have never repented of your sin and turned to God for salvation. You may look good to people around you, but your heart is full of secret sins. I want urge to recognize that God sees your heart even if no one else does, and you are on a path to destruction. There is nothing you can do in yourself to avoid God’s judgment, but Jesus already took on himself the punishment for sin. And if you confess your sin before God and look to Christ alone for salvation, you can be forgiven. You can go from being under his wrath to being under his mercy. I want to urge you to call on him today for salvation.
For those of us who are saved, this passage provides some needed perspective as we seek to obey God’s will in our relationships. Cultivating godly relationships is hard work. Sometimes people hurt us, sometimes they let us done, and sometimes don’t understand. But regardless of what others may do, God sees and God will be faithful. And so press on. Obey God’s will. Care for fellow believers and be kind to all people.
Let’s stand and close with #285 “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” Let’s praise the Lord that the grace of Christ stands over us in the form of the cross and that as v. 2 says it has united us together into a family of God.