1 Peter 3:8-12 - Blessed, Bless, Blessing
November 10, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 3:8–3:12
[Text: 1 Peter 3:8-12] “Blessed, Bless, Blessing”
This passage is asking something of us that is not just difficult but impossible. So, pray with me that the Lord would help us do it.
[Pray – Father, you are the God who loved your enemies, the King who died to rescue rebels against you, the Lover who remains when we spurn you and play foolish games with you. For that we praise you and ask that you continue in your faithfulness to help us this morning. Help us to hear and understand your Word. Help us to know how much grace has been shown to us. And help us give grace to those around us. We ask this for the sake of the honor of Jesus, that he might be seen in us and he alone be worshiped as the gracious Savior of sinners – even sinners like us. Amen.]
[Read 1 Peter 3:8-12]
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist as well as a famous, rather vocal, atheist. He writes books on atheism, delivers lectures on atheism and gives interviews on atheism – all in an effort to convince people that religious faith is pointless – “a fixed false belief." He often levels his sharp and scathing wit at Christianity, although to be fair, Dawkins mocks all religions equally, blaming each one for the troubles of the world. Now, we do need to respond to some of his questions and challenges to Christianity. We’ll talk more about that next week. But today, I want us to think about the attitude behind those challenges and ask the question of how we’re supposed to meet that attitude.
Last year he gave instructions to fellow atheists at the “Reason Rally” in Washington D.C. (“Reason Rally” since a false dichotomy is created between “reason” and “faith,” suggesting that faith cannot involve reason). Focusing on Christians in particular, Dawkins encouraged fellow atheists who encounter a person holding on to something by faith to “mock them, ridicule them, in public … with contempt.”
If you have set your hope in Jesus, what would you do if someone did that to you? There you are, sitting in Stick Boy [our local coffee shop/bakery] having coffee with a friend, talking about something like the Lord’s Supper. You just finished saying how thankful you are for that meal, how it confirms God’s care for you and assures you of His grace in Christ. And what if someone sitting nearby began to belittle your ideas as simplistic and ignorant and utterly lacking proof? What would you do?
Well, maybe those words just roll off your back. (Do they really?) Okay, but what if it went further?
What if mocking turned into outright discrimination? What if belittling words turned into you getting passed over for a job? What if an unbelieving spouse makes the shift from passive disdain to wanting divorce? When ridicule and worse comes against people walking by faith in Jesus, how are we supposed to respond?
Well, anyone who grew up on the playground knows there are a few normal responses in situations like these. First, there’s the push-back, when the bully meets his match and insult is met with insult. I can’t tell you how many deadly serious exchanges of “Your momma…” jokes I heard growing up at T. Harry Garrett Elementary School but I know that there is a tendency in some of us to meet animosity with equal animosity.
Or there’s the less confrontational approach of a quiet grudge. Nothing gets said; no external response is given but there is a burning bitterness toward the offender that wishes – just wishes – for some kind of revenge. It’s the heart that takes quiet joy in the bully finally getting a punch in the nose from someone braver than one’s own self.
And then there’s the kid on the playground who retreats into the corner of the yard. It’s the heart that has been truly wounded – maybe once, maybe dozens of times – and then fully withdraws, not willing to open itself up to more hurt.
Which one of those responses is normal for you? Fight, quietly seethe, hide? Me? I tend toward the first two, depending on the situation. But when I hear the text today, I have to understand that my reactions aren’t the right ones at all.
I say that because when faced with mocking and worse, Peter tells these early Christians that what comes normally to us isn’t the way of Christ. Suffering beneath the mocking of Roman culture, they themselves would be tempted to meet aggression with aggression, to answer mocking with bitter hearts, or to withdraw from society altogether, turning their gaze inward in an act of self protection.
But when Peter thinks about the Gospel, he sees a different way. Following the pattern set by Christ, Peter would lead us outside of ourselves. So, what we hear in this passage is a call for the new people of God to imitate their God – the God who shows mercy to people who don’t deserve it; the God who suffered to do good to rebels; the God who received wounds in His own flesh and still turned outward, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
That’s what Peter means when we hear him say (in v.9), “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless….” It’s the call to costly grace, given freely by us to people who don’t ask for it.
But in order to show it to others, we first have to receive that grace for ourselves. Before we bless, we must be blessed. Ah, but once blessed to bless others, we can expect a blessing once again.
I know. I know. That’s a bit of “blessing” overload. So, let’s consider this passage in three movements. First, there’s the mindset of those who are blessed (v.8). Second, there’s the call to bless (v. 9a). And third, there’s the expectation of blessing (vv.9b-12). It’s the movement and the expectation that makes this possible, so let’s start at the beginning with the mindset of those who are blessed.
In our verses today Peter is concluding a larger section on suffering. So, he’s summarizing by pulling together a group of qualities his brothers and sisters in Christ should possess if we have heard and believed the Good News of Jesus. All believers should “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
Passing over the earlier portions of this letter, we see that those who believe should “have unity of mind” because we share a common origin in the foreknowledge of God (1:2); a common inheritance kept in heaven for us (1:4). We share the same living hope through Christ’s resurrection (1:3). We are together under the protection of the Father by faith in Christ (1:5). We together are the children of God (1:14), born of the imperishable, living and enduring word of God (1:23). We together are being built up like living stones as a house for God Himself (2:5). We together are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…God’s people,” recipients of mercy (2:9-10). Why shouldn’t we have unity of mind? Why shouldn’t we live in harmony with one another?
And if we are so united to one another in Christ, we ought to sympathize (the second quality) with one another when we see our own brothers and sisters suffering. Sympathy means “suffering with.” It’s the sharing of suffering, the feeling it in your own body even though it is experienced by another. To sympathize with someone else is to do for others what Jesus did for us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus came and sympathized with us, meeting us in our weakness and helping us. The people around us both here and in all the towns in which you live need sympathy from you. The call then is to give to them what has been given to you by Christ.
The call to have sympathy on others is tied up with the next quality, too – “brotherly love.” And brotherly love as those in the family of God is what enables us to have “a tender heart,” which is the next quality Peter mentions. The imagery here is of those who set their common hope in Christ living together as a family – a family learning to live with one another. It’s the picture of forgiving one another when wronged, of mercy being freely extended to one another, of grudges being let go and grace being given and received.
It’s the picture of husbands and wives learning to image Jesus one another in their self-sacrifice and gentle respect for each other. It’s the beauty of the Gospel on display in our relationships, specifically within the church. And it’s what happens when we think rightly about ourselves and, as Peter puts it, have “a humble mind.”
A humble mind. That’s the proper mindset for us. If we hear and understand what Peter’s been saying, then we have to say that a prideful mind just doesn’t fit a follower of Jesus. A humble mind is what comes from believing the Gospel of Jesus that says God rescued us not because there is anything good in us but because He himself is good and merciful. A humble mind comes from believing that it took the death of God the Son to pay for what I’ve done. A humbled mind is what gets produced in us during our long struggle against the sinful pride that remains in us, only to hear again that because of the sprinkled blood of Christ on us, our sin is removed and we are set apart as the people of God, His own beloved children. We are humbled when we realize that the suffering we endure here – as Christians and as pilgrims in a broken world – that suffering is God’s means of conforming us to the image of His Son who himself suffered before he was raised up.
This mindset of those who are blessed is what comes from the Good News of Jesus. It is the mindset that God will increasingly give to us as He continues to conform us to the image of His Son. That has a way of making us feel deeply loved in Christ and very small. But that, I would argue, is a good thing. Because to be loved in Christ though we are very small prepares us to see ourselves in others – even in those who hurt us – because we begin to see them as small, broken people who need the very same blessing we have been given in Christ.
That’s the movement of Peter’s thought. He wants us to understand ourselves, to understand our utter dependence on Christ so that we are humbled. And understanding ourselves rightly – both our new identity in Christ and our humble, forever need of him – is what empowers us to do the hard work he tells us to do next.
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless….”
Think about this; is that command – because it is a command – is that command possible if I hold on to pride? If mocking or worse comes because of my hope in Christ and my pride leads me to meet contempt with contempt, or mocking with bitterness, or ridicule with retreat, then can I really say that I’ve been obedient to Christ?
No, we’ve been rescued “from the futile ways inherited from (our) forefathers,” Peter wrote (1:18). And I would argue that the normal responses we’ve learned are absolutely futile when it comes to responding to this kind of suffering. So, again, Peter calls us back to what we’ve seen in Christ, what we’ve already received from him.
Look up in 2:23-24. “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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Now, of course, I’m not saying that you blessing someone when they mock you will be the same as dying for their sins. But what I am saying is that when we return evil with good, when we are cursed and blessed in return, we are walking in the steps of Christ. The results of that absolutely belong to God and we need to entrust ourselves to Him. He may use us to draw people to Himself or He may use us to harden hard hearts. But that is not for us to decide. The call for us is to bless and bless and bless – especially those who would do us harm – because God has blessed us already in Christ.
So, what do we mean when we say “bless?” Well, for starters, we’re talking about much more than mere words (although words are important). What I mean is this; blessing is more than just platitudes. It is certainly more than the classic Southernism, “Bless your heart.” Those are often dismissive “blessings” if they were ever meant as a blessing in the first place. No, we’re talking about something more costly than that. After all, do you think the plea of Christ, “Father, forgive them...,” was an empty request or a disguised wish for their harm?
When we are called to “bless” we are first being called to costly forgiveness. Let me say that again. We are being called to costly forgiveness, even forgiving those who aren’t asking for it. I say “costly” because true forgiveness is never cheap or free. It always costs the forgiver something. We see the cost of our forgiveness in the body of our Savior on the cross and in the blood that flowed from five bleeding wounds. For us, forgiving someone who has hurt us costs us the right to hold a grudge. It means we lay down our right to be angry and instead give them something they do not deserve. It means we forever forfeit our right to bring the offense up again or to use it to hurt that person in return. And that is a blessing, indeed, whether they receive it or not.
Second, to bless someone who hurt you is (in the words of v. 11) to “do good…seek peace and pursue it.” If we’re back on the playground, this is reaching out a hand to help the bully up (after the other kid finally laid him out with a punch to the nose). This is showing kindness to him in his moment of weakness, maybe when no one else will.
I think that sometimes we feel pressure to know just what to do in a moment of hurt. Maybe we really are trying to bless, but we just don’t see how. That’s okay. It is okay to be quiet in the face of mocking or contempt, quietly entrusting ourselves to the God who sees us. But what about after that moment? This can be a call to be ready to do good and pursue peace even at another time.
We may very well find ourselves in positions like that in our marriages, in the workplace, in our families where someone mocks our faith (or worse) and then we see them in need after that. Maybe it is a vulnerable moment for them – their weakness or failure is open for all to see. They’re a sitting duck – so what do you do? The question for us becomes this; “How can I pursue peace in this moment? How can I bless them by demonstrating the love of God in Christ? In what way could I – in word or in deed – point them to a God who loves the very ones who’ve hurt Him?”
I want to say here that we’re not talking about abandoning all barriers. I’m not suggesting that you intentionally open yourself up to this kind of suffering. There are good and proper boundaries to draw in relationships with “serial offenders.” If that is happening in your life right now, then the Elders here would love to talk that through with you, to listen to your story and (if you desire) to think through healthy boundaries with you.
But what we’re talking about is the disposition of our hearts toward others. What we’re talking about is knowing ourselves well enough and understanding the Gospel of Jesus in such a way as to see ourselves in other sinners, showing to them the same grace that has been given to us so that they – at some cost to us and at great cost to Jesus – might come to him for grace, too. And for those who do, we can joyfully welcome them into the family of God, having “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” with them.
In the last movement of this passage we see a theme of Peter’s coming again to the surface. When we are blessed in Christ and, in turn, bless others, this word gives us a promise that such faith and obedience will be seen – and blessed – by the Lord. This is the expectation of our future blessing in Christ.
“…bless,” Peter says, “for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 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.
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.”
Quoting Psalm 34 (which we used in the beginning of our service), Peter understands that the blessing of God on his people has always led them to bless others in return. And that is pleasing to God.
It pleases Him and He gives more blessing. A lovely life and “good days” are the rewards for the people of God. Now, some people turn this to say that real Christians don’t suffer, that God wouldn’t allow that. But that doesn’t fit with everything else we’ve heard in 1 Peter. One of his main points is that suffering actually typifies our time in the Story right now. But in the suffering there is a joy that belongs to the people of God in Christ. In Christ we do love life. In Christ we do see “good days” with the promise of better days to come.
For those who reject His blessing in Christ and mock His people the opposite is true; “the face of the Lord is against” them. And there is a warning here that if we think ourselves blessed in Christ, we should be careful to live out that blessing in our relationships with others. And we should repent and humbly run back to Jesus when we fail. But for the one blessed in Christ and seeking to bless, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers.”
Now, if you’re thinking, “But, Sam, I don’t feel very righteous. How can the Lord look at me and listen to me,” then take heart. Take heart because the “righteous” one mentioned in Psalm 34 is ultimately Jesus. And as we humbly come to him, confessing our unworthiness and receiving his grace, we can know for certain that his own righteousness is given to us. His righteousness is ours so that when God looks at us He sees only His beloved son, with whom he is well pleased. Because of Jesus, the smile of God is upon you. And because of Jesus God’s ear is open to you when you pray. That is the blessing we have in Christ and in him we have the promise of more blessing still to come. It is that hope for today and hope for tomorrow that helps us recklessly bless others today.
[Pray – Father, this remains a hard calling for us. So for Jesus’ sake we ask that you help us. Send your Spirit to impress upon our hearts just how blessed we are in Christ with costly grace and extravagant forgiveness. And may that knowledge humble us even as it creates in expressible joy in us, so that we might see ourselves in those who hurt us and bless them really and truly. As you help us, Father, may you use us to draw many to yourself. We ask great things of our Great God, praying it all in the name of the righteous one, Jesus, whose prayers are always answered. Amen.]
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
 Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Transworld Publishers. p. 5.
 A portion of the speech can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QocLHL-sVc