By Christopher VanDusen
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are the most unique people in the world, since they belong to another world. This is seen in two realms of their lives — their relationships with one another, and their relationships with unbelievers. Some of the uniqueness that’s seen in both of these realms is their treatment of others, which is summed up with the word “bless”. In their communities, they bless one another, and among those outside, they bless when cursed. But how are they to do this, and why? The apostle Peter answers these questions in 1 Peter 3:8-12.
In the letter of 1 Peter, Peter is writing to a large group of Jewish Christians who were experiencing 3 main difficulties. First, they were Jews who were alienated from their earthly homeland through many years of exile, and were living among non-Jews. Second, they were Christians who were living among non-Christians. Finally, they were experiencing persecution from their unbelieving neighbors because they were living as Christians, and no longer as unbelievers. These last two difficulties were mainly what Peter was concerned with in his letter. He’d heard that they were suffering persecution for their faith, and wrote to encourage, comfort, and instruct them in how to respond to it.
In the first chapter, he begins by describing in detail the blessings of the salvation that God has given them in its past, present, and future forms. He highlights the hope that they have a blessed future with Jesus, in which they’ll have perfect bodies, and will be sinless. In the meantime, he says, their suffering is necessary to bring God glory through their endurance of it. He ends this section by saying that their salvation was long anticipated by the Old Testament prophets, who could never understand what it entailed.
Next, he calls them to be hopeful, holy, and reverent toward God in light of their understanding of this salvation. They’re first to do this by loving one another fervently, since they’ve been born again through the gospel. To begin chapter 2, he commands them to stop committing certain sins against one another, and to instead long to learn God’s Word, so they can become more like God and Christ. Then, he describes how this is already happening in them as they seek Christ for His Word, and obey it by serving people as God’s priests. This priestly ministry culminates in their proclamation of God’s goodness to their unbelieving neighbors.
In the next section, he explains to them how they’re to proclaim God’s goodness to the world around them. First, they need to live righteously around their unbelieving neighbors. Second, they need to submit to every human institution of authority over them, and honor every person. He then applies this command to slaves and wives, who must submit to their masters and husbands. Lastly, he commands husbands to honor their wives, applying his command to honor everyone.
To wrap up this section, Peter addresses every single “alien” that he’s writing to in verses 8-12 by saying,
“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 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. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 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.” (ESV)
In this section, Peter gives the aliens nine instructions through his teaching:
- Have the Same Mind (v. 8)
- Have Sympathy (v. 8)
- Have Sibling Love (v. 8)
- Have Soft Hearts (v. 8)
- Have Servant Hearts (v. 8)
- Have a Saintly Answer (v. 9)
- Have Self-Control (v. 10)
- Have a Saintly Life (v. 11)
- Have a Sober Mind (v. 12)
Have the Same Mind
Peter begins his instructions like this:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind . . .”
He begins this section with the word, “finally”, since he’s summing up what he’s just said about how to proclaim God’s goodness to the unbelieving world. The first of his last major instructions for this is for all of the aliens he’s writing to to “have unity of mind”. This means to think in the same general way. It doesn’t mean to have the same personality, but to have the same core beliefs and affections, so they’re all living for the same ultimate purpose. This purpose is to glorify God by revering Him, and by loving people. In order to accomplish this, they must all be thinking according to the teaching of Christ and His prophets, and living accordingly.
The second character trait Peter commands them to have is “sympathy”. The word “sympathy” comes from a Greek word that means “to feel together”, or “to feel the same thing”. Peter’s calling the aliens to put themselves in one another’s shoes, to understand, and appreciate the feelings of their brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, he’s now calling them to share feelings, or emotions, in addition to thinking.
Have Sibling Love
The third virtue that Peter calls for is to have “brotherly love”. This refers to love that not only brothers have for one another, but siblings in the same family have for each other. Because they all share God as their Father, and are all like Him, they need to love one another as if they’re brothers and sisters in His family.
Have Soft Hearts
Fourthly, Peter commands the aliens to have “a tender heart”, or a “soft heart”. The Greek word behind “a tender heart” literally means to be “good-bowelled”. In Greek at that time, the bowels, or intestines, referred to one’s feelings. So, to have “good” bowels meant to have strong feelings. In this case, the strong feelings are directed toward one another, as they have deep affection for one another.
Have Servant Hearts
Peter ends his instructions for the aliens’ treatment of one another by commanding them to have “a humble mind”. The word “humble” means to have an accurate view of oneself, so one sees himself as not inherently better than anyone else, and deserving of no special recognition for anything like that. As such, a humble person sees others as more important than himself. Peter commands all of the aliens to see themselves as they really are, so they can work for the benefit of one another.
Have a Saintly Answer
In verse 9, Peter begins to instruct the aliens on how to treat everyone, and not just those within the church. The first command he gives them is this:
“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.”
First, he forbids them from paying back people for doing them “evil” or for “reviling” them. The word “evil” comes from a Greek word that conveys the idea of something that’s “harmful” to others. So, he’s forbidding them from harming others in exchange for the harm that they do to them. The Greek word for “reviling” literally means “evil speech”, or harsh insult or criticism. Not only are they to refrain from paying back evil in general, but they’re not even to return harmful words with the same.
Instead of paying back those who harm them with their actions or words, they’re to “bless”. The Greek word for “bless” literally means “to speak well of”. This doesn’t mean they’re to call the person who’s harming them, or insulting them, a good person, but they’re to respond with good behavior. Instead of seeking the harm of that person, they’re to seek his or her good through their words or actions.
Why are they to do this? Peter explains that it’s because they were called to this, so that they “may obtain a blessing”. First, they were “called” to bless those who harm them. Since Peter doesn’t say who called them to do this, the implication is that God called them to do this. When God calls His people to do something, they do it, since His calling is all-powerful, and His people are willing and able to answer it. Second, God called them to this, so they would “obtain a blessing”. The Greek word that’s translated “obtain” literally means “inherit”, so they’re getting this blessing as God’s heirs of it. This links the blessing to the inheritance of a new body on a new earth that is spoken of in other passages of Scripture. However, the blessing isn’t just the things that will be received in the future, but God’s approving and kind attitude toward them, which will result in the physical blessings of eternity.
In verse 10, Peter begins to prove from the Old Testament that the aliens will inherit God’s blessing if they bless those who harm them, and in so doing explains how to do this. First, they ought to do this by having self-control:
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit . . .”
First, this Old Testament passage motivates the aliens to bless those who harm them by telling them what they desire — “to love life and see good days”. Since Peter is speaking to those who are being persecuted for their faith, he’s not promising that they’re going to love their earthly circumstances, or see physically good days. Rather, he’s describing them as those who desire to love life in the next life, and to see good days in eternity.
Second, the passage begins to explain how one will come to love life and see good days by calling for self-control. First, it commands such people as the aliens to keep their “tongues from evil”. In other words, they’re to avoid speaking evil things, like those who revile them. Second, it urges them to avoid “speaking deceit”, or lies.
Have a Saintly Life
In verse 11, the Old Testament passage gives its final command for those who want to love life and have good days by saying,
“let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.”
Having just commanded the aliens to have avoid speaking wrongly, the passage now comes to their general behavior. First, they must “turn away from evil and do good”. To “turn away from evil” means to recognize it as evil, and to stop doing it. However, it can’t stop there. The evil behavior must be replaced with good behavior, so they’re next to “do good”.
Second, the passage applies this general command for reformation of life to the treatment of others. I take it to be referring to this, since Peter is using it in the context of the aliens’ treatment of those who harm and insult them. Rather than seeking to do them evil, the passage says commands them to seek peace, and to “pursue it”. In a general sense, this begins with seeking peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such faith causes a person to turn away from evil and to do good. However, this goodness results in seeking peace with people, and pursuing it.
Have a Sober Mind
In verse 12, the Old Testament quotation ends by explaining why those who want to love life and have good days must be self-controlled, and live saintly lives:
“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.”
The first reason only those who are self-controlled and saintly will love their next life and see good days is that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous”. Clearly, this passage is calling those who desire a good eternity, and are self-controlled and saintly, “righteous”. This word means “right” or “just” according to God’s standard of what pleases Him. “The Lord” describes God as the Supreme Ruler of the universe, and the fact that His “eyes” are “on” the righteous means that He “watches over them” with intense care and concern.
The second reason that only the righteous will see good days in eternity is that the Lord’s “ears are open to their prayer”. In other words, He listens to their prayer for a good life, and answers it.
Finally, this passage explains why the unrighteous won’t love their lives in eternity, and won’t see good days. It’s because “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” “The face of the Lord” is just a descriptive way of referring to the Lord Himself, so the fact that His face is “against” evildoers means that He’s opposed to them, and seeks their punishment. Hence, the aliens mustn’t do evil, but good instead, especially toward those who do evil to them.
Be United with Your Brethren and Bless Your Enemies
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, are you thinking in the same general way as your brothers and sisters in Christ who are in your life?
Are you sympathetic toward your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they’re your brothers and sisters?
Do you have a tender heart and deep affection for your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do you have a humble view of yourself, and of your relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do you repay evil for evil, or insult for insult, or do you bless those who harm you instead? You were called to do so, so that you will inherit a blessing. This doesn’t mean that you’ll earn eternal life, but you’ll prove that your an heir of it, since all those who inherit it are those who bless others.
Do you keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit?
Do you turn away from evil and do good?
Do you seek and pursue peace with others?
If these things are part of your lifestyle, then the eyes of the Lord are on you, and His ears are open to your prayer, so you will love life and see good days for eternity.
If you’re an evil-speaker, a liar, an evildoer instead of a do-gooder, or you seek to destroy others, then you aren’t righteous, but unrighteous, and the face of the Lord is against you to eventually punish you with eternal torment. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, to live the perfect life, to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment for our rebellion against Him, to raise Him from the dead, and to take Him into heaven as our King. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Him as their Ruler and Savior from sin and hell to receive His forgiveness, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Him, and punish His enemies for their sins against Him with eternal torment. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against God, and are trusting in Christ alone as your Savior and King for God’s forgiveness. If you’ve done that, then the Lord desires all of His people to be baptized in water by one of His church members as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of their faith.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.