In 1 Peter 3, the apostle talks about how husbands and wives should relate to each other with love and respect. Then, in verse 8, he broadens what he is saying to include everyone in the church:
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (vv. 8-9).
We are to remain tenderhearted, as opposed to becoming hard-hearted. Jesus said that people divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. This is also the cause of most church splits. A hard heart refuses to reconcile or to forgive. It wants to hurt in retaliation.
Being courteous pertains to how we treat those we are at odds with. Too often the concerns we raise become drowned out because of the tone of disrespect that we often inject into the argument. It is our tone of disrespect that is long remembered, not our issue or the initial concern we tried to resolve.
Our flesh has a natural reflex to want to do to others whatever we think they have done to us—which results in our returning evil for evil, reviling for reviling. If someone says something bad about us, we say something bad about them. This happens automatically as it is our first nature to do this. It would require another nature, the nature of Christ, to not do it. To go beyond this to actually do something good to those who hurt us is not natural, but super-natural.
Instead of acting this way, Peter reminds his readers that we are promised a blessing if we bless those who are at odds with us, which we will inherit, both now and forever. What would this blessing look like? It can manifest in many different ways, but it is so valuable that he used it as an incentive to not respond in kind. Peter quotes what David wrote in Psalm 34:12-16:
“For he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain 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 prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The road of retribution is filled with landmines and ruined spiritual lives. When we dish out whatever we feel we have been given, cold-shoulder for cold-shoulder, silent treatment for silent treatment, or slander for slander, we will find that it only makes matters worse. The original offense will become lost in the fog of war. Our giving tit-for-tat will result in our behavior spiraling downward like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which seems to go on endlessly, until it is beyond repair.
The idea of refraining our lips from speaking deceit may pertain to the fact that our flesh has a tendency to embellish any offense against us, making it look worse than it really was, in order to justify our being offended or our retaliation.
Peter reminds us that we are called to bless those who mistreat us. When people treat us badly, it can ruin our days and haunt our nights, but David said in verse 10, that if we respond with blessing we will “love life and see good days.”
Doesn’t that sound good? It would make a good chorus to a song. When someone asks us how we are doing, we can almost sing, “I am loving life and seeing good days!”
But wait a minute. How can we say this when someone has treated us badly?
Both Peter and David understood that our happiness is not based on what others do to us, but only on how we respond to it.
If we want to love life and see good days, we must do the following:
§ When an offense happens, and they always will, Peter said that we can actually get excited about it because we are being set up to inherit a blessing, if we will respond the right way.
What is the right way? Verses 10 and 11 say, “Let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good.”
§ When someone says something bad about us, which hurts us, we must determine to stop the cycle right then by refraining from saying something hurtful back about them.
§ Once the cycle is stopped, then we can go beyond this by actually doing something good to them is where we will inherit a blessing, causing us to love life and see good days.
Peter adds a final step in verse 11: “Let him seek peace and pursue it.”
In other words, we must be the ones who take the initiative to try to make peace. We must seek it as it will not come to us. We must be the ones to pursue it, rather than waiting for it to come our way. Pursing it sounds like we might have to do this more than once or twice.
All of this fits in with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, when He told us that if we become aware that someone has an issue with us, we should take the initiative and go to them:
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus said we should do this immediately, even leaving our gift on the altar. This shows the importance of this response. God would rather have us work at reconciliation more than any offering or sacrifice we could lay on His altar. Today we could say He wants this more than He wants our prayers or worship.
Our fallen nature will want to stubbornly refuse to reconcile until they come to us and admit their wrongdoing, but this is not likely to happen. As a result there is a standoff, a long period of silence, where we no longer talk to each other. We can try to ignore it or pretend that we don’t care, but it will limit our ability to love life and see good days.
Peter and David said the reason we need to be the ones to take the initiative is because God is looking and listening. Knowing that He is looking and listening is my best definition for the “fear of God”, which provides the highest incentive to live according to His word. Peter writes in verse 12a, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers.”
Broken relationships, which we neglect to work at, can ruin our prayer lives and inhibit our ability to worship.
Let’s go back to Psalm 34, where this teaching originated and read verses 11 through 16, where David teaches us how to fear the Lord:
Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
Anytime we take steps to please the Lord because we fear Him, it will result in our loving life and seeing good days. God sees everything that is going on in our hearts, He hears our words, our tone and attitude. We need to adjust these, so we don’t offend Him. When God resists our prayers, it feels like they barely leave the room before falling to the ground. Not only that, but it will also cause Him to turn His face against us:
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (v. 12b).
When His face is against us, we forfeit the presence of the Lord in our lives. His face is His presence. We can go to church and everyone around us will be sensing His nearness, except us.
There were times in Israel’s history when God hid His Face from His people. In essence, He removed His presence from their lives:
And I will wait on the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him. (Isaiah 8:17)
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)
Then they will cry to the Lord, but He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, because they have been evil in their deeds. (Micah 3:4)
Again, Peter said that by doing this, we will “inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). When I was going through a difficult time of being spoken against and rejected, I was reminded of this promise. At the time, I thought of one of those old-fashioned cash registers that would make a loud “cha-ching” sound whenever the drawer opened. I decided that every time someone said something bad about me, and I chose not to respond in kind, I would make this “cha-ching” sound in my head. Sometimes, I would do this several times a day, reminding myself, that there was a blessing on the way. This made me feel like I was walking on the sunny-side of the street, rather than living under a dark cloud hanging over my head because of the way I was being treated.
I think what Peter was teaching here was his boiled down rendition of what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, 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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Doing what Jesus said is not easy, but it is easier than any alternative you can come up with.
It is never too late to pursue peace with those who have hurt you or rejected you in the past. Trying to make contact with them again, inviting them to your home for a meal or to meet you for coffee. The goal is not to become best friends with them, as this is not usually possible, nor does it mean we have to rehash everything that was said or done. Simply being the one who pursues peace pleases our heavenly Father.
2023 © Copyright by Penn Clark
Published by Wordsmith Publishing of Penn Yan, New York