Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 11

Originally posted January 12, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

Happy New Year, and welcome back to our study of 1 Peter! I must say, the break we took for the holidays looked at the beginning as if it would last forever, but now it seems that the time flew by. I’m so glad to resume our study and renew our fellowship around the Word of God.

We are beginning with a summary. Depending upon whom you consult, Peter is summarizing either his call to action which began in 1:13, or his call to submission which began in 2:13, or both. These are not mutually exclusive calls, so I see no reason not to see this as a summary of both, which flow together as a call to act on our faith with full hope in Christ, even as we follow him in submission to the authorities set over us and to one another as we entrust ourselves to God.

Our text for this week begins with Peter writing, “Finally, all of you, …” We are going to take this opportunity to remind ourselves to whom, exactly, Peter is writing, by going back to the beginning and working through the letter to this point to see how he describes his audience.

Peter is writing to:

Elect exiles, foreknown by God, who are being sanctified by the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and are sprinkled with his blood (1:1, 2). Those who God has caused to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to an imperishable inheritance, who are being kept and guarded by God’s power, through faith, for the consummation of their salvation which will be revealed on the last day (3-5). Those who are now grieved by various, necessary trials, and yet rejoice in their salvation as their imperishably precious faith is proven genuine in the refining fires of those trials (6,7). Those who love and believe in Christ, even though they have not seen him, rejoicing with inexpressible and glorious joy (8).

Those who the prophets of old were serving when they prophesied about the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories; to whom the good news has been announced by Holy Spirit-empowered preaching (10-12). Those who prepare their minds for action and set their hope—fully—on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ (13). Obedient children, who are called to be holy because their Father is holy (14-17). Those who, because they call on the impartial Judge as Father, conduct themselves with holy fear (17). Ransomed-by-the-blood believers (18-21). Those whose souls are purified by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, and are therefore to love one another earnestly from pure hearts, since they have been born again of the imperishable seed of the living and abiding word of God (22, 23).

Those who have tasted that the Lord is good (2:3). Living stones who are being built up as a spiritual house; the holy priesthood (5). Honored believers (7). The chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for God’s own possession who proclaim his excellencies (9). God’s people now who once were not, who have now received mercy though they formerly had not (10). Beloved sojourners who are to resist evil and do good, for the glory of God (11, 12). Those who are free to live as servants of God, following in Christ’s steps and entrusting themselves to him who judges justly (16-23). Straying sheep who have returned to their soul-Shepherd (25). Those who are inwardly adorned with imperishable beauty, and precious to God (3:4). Heirs of the grace of life (7).

If you are in Christ, this is you.

Alrighty, now that we have established the “who,” let’s look at what Peter commands the who to do.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (3:8).

These five commands present to us an ideal portrait of what healthy relationships in Christ’s church should look like. As we prepare our minds for action and sober-mindedly set our hope fully on Christ; as beloved sojourners, resisting evil and doing good for the glory of God, our Christian lives and conduct will show forth a pattern of unity, in humility, which will result in sincere and earnest love for one another.

This ideal portrait, however, is not dependent or conditioned upon ideal circumstances. Remember, Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering increasing persecution. In every era since, his audience has consisted exclusively of sinful human beings who are in a daily battle against indwelling sin, regardless of the political climate towards their religious preferences. He has just finished addressing several situations in which believers find themselves subject to others, situations which can be and often are difficult to the point of suffering unjustly. The conduct which Peter here describes shines forth to God’s glory more brilliantly the darker the circumstances in which it is found.

Unity of Mind

“‘Unity means that we are agreeable and sensitive to each other’s concerns.’ Unity comes not from a creed or law laid upon us, nor from a pretense that we agree when we actually disagree, but from relationships, respectful dialogue, and common causes.”[1]

This is the very thing Jesus meant for us in his high priestly prayer when he prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23). Jesus’ perfect unity with the Father is our example, the goal toward which we aim.

Paul also called for this unity when he called upon the Philippians to, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).

Unity of mind does not mean that we are all to become carbon-copies of one another; pasteurized, homogenized, milquetoast Christians who are indistinguishable from one another. As Simon Kistemaker comments on this passage, “In view of the variety of gifts and talents God has given his people, differences of opinion exist. Peter, however, wants Christians to be governed by the mind of Christ, so that differences do not divide but rather enrich the church.”[2]

Sympathy

“Sympathy is the ability to feel what another feels, whether in joy or sorrow. We must ‘rejoice with those who rejoice [and] mourn with those who mourn’ (Rom. 12:15) . . . . To sympathize is to enter into the experience of others and, if possible, to act on what we feel.”[3]

Jesus himself entered into our human experience, when he, divine and eternal, took on our human and mortal flesh. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He is able to sympathize with us because he became one of us. He not only knows and feels what we feel, but, because he is more than we are—he is God—he was able to act on our behalf and defeat Satan and the power of sin for us.

Paul calls us to this same sympathy when he writes in 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 that we who are in Christ belong to one body, and therefore, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored; all rejoice together” (26). If I have a toothache, the rest of my body will feel that pain. If my sister in Christ suffers loss and is grieving, I share that pain and grieve alongside her. And in times of joy, if my only connection to the happiness is through my sister, then that is reason enough to rejoice.

Brotherly Love

Jesus taught, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34), thus setting a high bar for the love we are to share. “In his kindness, insight into our souls, and his sacrifice for our sins, Jesus embodies love.”[4] His living example of this love extended even to his death, as John later wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16a). And though he did immeasurably more for us in dying than we can possibly do for others, we are still called to love others with the same sacrificial, costly love: “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk [only] but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16b-18).

Tender Hearted

Also translated as ‘compassion,” tender-heartedness is to be the texture and temperature of our love for one another. This love is warm and tender, generous and caring. This is the love Jesus felt for the people of Israel as he traveled through the cities and villages, proclaiming the gospel and healing diseases. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). And this is the love Paul describes as he writes to the Ephesians (and us), telling them to, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32).

Humble mind

“To be humble is to suppress the desire to be important and to put our interests first.”[5] Humility clearly corresponds to unity of mind, the first quality in our list, and is also an indispensable ingredient for the sympathy, love, and compassion to which we are called. Jesus’ entire life was an example of humility, as Paul taught, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). Though we aren’t called to literally die on a cross for one another, we are called to die to our own selfish desires for the sake of one another: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4).

These five virtues to which Peter calls us run inseparably together. If I put self-interest first, self-love quickly follows. If I forget how very much I owe to my Savior, then I will consider every blessing I receive as rightfully earned, and will look on others not with compassion but with contempt. Where humility is lacking, true love for others cannot be found.

But God doesn’t leave us to summon these qualities on our own strength. He has provided the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, to intercede for us even when we don’t know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). And he has provided weaknesses in our flesh to remind us to depend fully on him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). When we learn that God is sufficient for us in everything, then we can face all things, because, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

Do Not Repay, But on the Contrary…

 “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.” (1 Peter 3:9)

Oh, friends, this is where it gets hard. Not hard to understand, mind you, but hard to swallow, harder to live out. Just in case we think we may have missed a loophole, John Calvin ends all doubt when he comments, “In these words every kind of revenge is forbidden; for in order to preserve love, we must bear with many things.” Alright, fair enough. But should we now hope that at least Peter means this sacrificial love is reserved only for other believers, Calvin clears that misconception away when he writes, “At the same time he does not speak here of mutual benevolence, but he would have us to endure wrongs when provoked by ungodly men.”

Sisters, we’re not called to do difficult things, we are called to do the impossible! But God supplies the strength we need. The world calls Christians weak, but we are called to do the hardest things, and we are fighting against our very nature when we swallow back the easy reaction to evil treatment, and depend instead upon the strength of God to respond with blessing. As Calvin continues, “though it is commonly thought that it is an instance of a weak and abject mind not to avenge injuries, yet it is counted before God as the highest magnanimity. . . . Peter teaches in general, that evils are to be overcome by acts of kindness. This is indeed very hard, but we ought to imitate in this case our heavenly Father, who makes his sun to rise on the unworthy.”[6]

Why do we bless instead of returning evil for evil and reviling for reviling? “That [we] may obtain a blessing.” As believers, we have already been “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), so this isn’t a declaration of earnings for obedience. What Peter is saying here, at least in part, is that by relinquishing our ‘rights’ to offence and retribution, we are relieving ourselves of a burden that is a curse to carry. Revenge is too heavy a weight for us to bear; we must entrust ourselves to “him who judges justly” (2:23). In doing so, we are imitating our Lord Jesus, who taught and perfectly modeled repaying evil with good throughout his ministry and especially in his death at the hands of evil men.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:32-34)

Peter has already told us why we need to imitate Jesus in this way, and he will tell us yet again before his letter is finished.

“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (2:20b-23)

This is “a gracious thing,” means that God’s favor rests upon those who humble themselves in the obedience of the imitation of Christ. We are called to this; we are helped to do it; we are blessed in it. What more reason do we need?

Jesus gave his life for those who hated him as the ultimate example of blessing one’s adversaries. When we think about blessing those who have wronged or hurt us, it will likely look very different, but will always require dying to self. These blessings may take the form of words and/or actions of kindness, prayers offered on their behalf, and/or seeking to promote their well-being in various ways. For those outside of Christ, what could possibly be better than preaching the gospel to them? Isn’t that precisely what Jesus accomplished on the cross for you and me? But even if they don’t respond to the good news, we are to seek their blessing.

The Good Life

Peter reinforces his point by quoting from Psalm 34.

“For, ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.’” (3:10-11)

By quoting this passage from Psalm 34, Peter is reminding us of a positive view of life, even if we are suffering trials and grief. He isn’t giving us a ‘formula’ for achieving it, but setting before us the principle. After all, who doesn’t desire to “love life and see good days”? God has given us many blessings, among which are the very commands to obedience, which if followed will—in general principle—result in a good life. But even in less-than-ideal circumstances—which, frankly, are the norm—obeying God’s commands leads to a better life than disobedience. “Life is a gift from God and so are good days. Christians whose hearts are attuned to God and his Word participate now in the fullness of life here on earth and afterward with Christ in eternity.”[7]

Until we reach heaven we will not fully experience the goodness of life because we live in a sin-filled world. In the meantime, God has told us how best to live here and now, and this is the point Peter is driving at. He tells us, through the Psalm, to avoid evil speech, to turn away from evil, and to pursue peace. Cautions abound in Scripture for how we ought to control our speech:

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking,     but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19)

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;     he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3)

“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:3-12)

If our words come from our hearts, as Jesus taught (Matt. 12:33-37), then it is wholly inconsistent for a tender-hearted and humble-minded Christian to speak words tainted with evil and reviling. Blessing others, as we have seen, involves more than words, but it involves no less than our words. Our words matter. The ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a lie. With our words we can inflict great damage, as James makes abundantly and graphically clear. Sisters, this should not be how we use our words. We are to use them not to harm, but to bless others, even those who have hurt us.

Moreover, we are to “seek peace and pursue it.” If it sounds like it will take active effort, there’s a reason for that. “Because peace itself is fragile and elusive, we can never take it for granted but must actively pursue freedom from strife and discord. . . . Jesus himself pronounced the beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”[8]

Because God’s blessings here and now are not limited to good days, Peter continues his quotation to include the blessings which we most need to know when we are hard-pressed by grievous trials:

“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.” (12)

Oh, sisters, we may be exiles far from home, but as beloved sojourners, we are never far from our loving Lord. When we are pressed against the hardest of circumstances, when we have been misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, or abused, God sees us. When we are overwhelmed, the pain is more than we can bear, we have cried all the tears, and cannot move for fear we’ll break, God hears our prayers. His eyes are upon us for our preservation as his power guards us, through faith, for the salvation which will be revealed when our race is finished (1:5; 2 Tim. 4:7). His ears are open to our cries as we bring our concerns to him in prayer, approaching his throne of grace and receiving mercy in times of great need (Heb. 4:16).

“Peter, in his first epistle, applies this passage very judiciously, for the purpose of assuaging our sorrows and appeasing our impatience, as often as the pride and arrogance of the wicked carry us beyond due limits. Nothing is more useful for preserving our moderation than to depend upon God’s help, and having a good conscience, to rely upon his judgement.”[9]

Peter finishes his quotation of Psalm 34 with: “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (12).

“Those who delight to do evil do not have God as their friend but as their adversary. He is against the. Peter is not interested in explaining what God does to his adversaries. In fact, he does not finish the quotation from Psalm 34:16, which describes the end of God’s adversaries. The desire is to give the evildoer time and opportunity to repent and establish a living relationship with God.”[10]

Indeed, the gospel is the main reason to refrain from evil and pursue peace with those who are outside of Christ. For, once, such were we. Paul makes it abundantly clear that it was only the love-driven grace of God which brought us to life when we were dead in our trespasses and chasing after the world and sin (Eph. 2:1-10). But God, in his great mercy, saved us. How can we forget? How can we fail to show such mercy to the lost and dying world around us? This is the ultimate way to, “on the contrary, bless” (9).

There are limits beyond which we can be carried, pushed, or shoved by the pride and arrogance of others. But there is no limit to the trustworthiness of our good and loving Lord, who is the just Judge to whom we may safely entrust ourselves. So, let us keep our eyes on Christ, as we purposely cultivate the virtues of unity, sympathy, brotherly love, tender-heartedness, and humble-mindedness toward our fellow believers, and determine to turn away from evil and do good toward everyone, knowing that his eyes are upon us and his ears hear our prayers.


[1] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 126.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 127.

[3] Doriani, 126.

[4] Ibid., 126.

[5] Ibid. 127.

[6] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, translated by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 102.

[7] Kistemaker, 129.

[8] Ibid., 130.

[9] John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms 1-35, trans. by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 570.

[10] Kistemaker, 130.

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