The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, February 11, 2013

Called To Be Saints (Part 8): Called to Bless

By: Thomas Clayton Booher

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.

In part 7 (1 Peter 2:9) of this series, some introductory remarks were made as to who the recipients of Peter’s letter were. Suffice it to say that they were probably as much Gentile as they were Jew.

At the end of the preceding chapter (3:13ff), Peter begins to write about submission to authority. This included the requirement to subject one’s self to institutions (governmental agencies and leaders) that have no root in a biblical world-view even to the point of openly honoring the pagan emperor. This would likely have been easier for Gentile Christians than for Jewish. The Gentile would have grown up living self-consciously as a citizen of the Roman Empire. The Emperor in Rome would have been his emperor, much like one born and raised in the United States honors the President as his President. A Jew may have recognized the absolute sovereignty of Rome, but that would have been softened by his self-identity as a descendant of Abraham and his conscious place in the Old Testament system of worship.

One area of subjection included servants submitting to their masters even to the point of patiently suffering undeserved punishment (3:18-20). It is quite interesting that Peter intends to encourage the victims of such punishment by telling them that that kind of suffering is precisely what they were called to. In their calling to be saints, they were called to suffer, just as Christ suffered, giving them an example to follow (3:21).

In chapter 3, the focus remains on the matter of submission, but he addresses the wives. Peter assumes his readers are familiar with the Old Testament personalities of Abraham and Sarah. Paul uses Sarah as an illustration of how a wife should be obedient to her husband.

Jews would have been thoroughly familiar with that story, Gentiles not likely so. In their early life as a converted Gentile, much of the Old Testament would have been unfamiliar, unless there had been some Jewish influence in their pre-Christian state. That is not as unlikely as one might think, however. There are many New Testament references to God-fearers (Acts 10:1, 2; 13:16, 26), or Gentiles who had taken to worshipping the God of the Jews without taking to their cultic rites, in particular, circumcision. At any rate, Peter uses Sarah as an example of how the wives were obliged to submit themselves to their husbands. The rationale was not only the obvious authority structure God had revealed through the Old Testament (exampled by Sarah and Abraham), but also a practical one. Through their conduct, wives might win an unbelieving husband over to the faith (3:1).

The husband, on the other hand, though he is not subject to the authority of his wife, he must honor her and treat her as he would treat a fragile vessel, such as fine china (3:7; see The Myth of the Weaker Vessel).

Peter then makes a general, blanket charge to his Christian readers, Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.... (3:8). It is clear at this point that the target of his remarks in our text (3:9) is directed to the Christian. In the context of the interrelationships between a countryman and those in authority over him, the servant under the authority of his master, the wife under the authority of her husband, there is this principle of compassion, love, and tenderheartedness that is at the core. It is through an internal, selfless attitude expressed outwardly by deeds of mercy, meekness, humility, kindness, faithfulness, courtesy - in a word, love - that enables one to place himself under the subjection of another. It is even appropriately applicable in his word to the husband (3:7, a word to one who is the authority figure, not the subordinate) – the husband cannot hold his wife up as a prized vessel unless his heart is right and these graces are at work in him.

In our text (3:9), Peter puts his finger on something that is contrary to the requisite internal attributes of 3:8 (i.e., the brotherly love, compassion, tenderheartedness, and courtesy). It is a behavior that expresses anger, disrespect, pride, and hatred; traits that are a product not of God’s Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23) but his sinful heart (cf Gal 5:19-21). It is our reaction to the meanness, selfishness, discourtesy, cruelty, abuse from another. It is often the first impulse that comes when we have been slighted or treated badly by another. Even the slightest offense evokes this behavior, which is to return in kind the offense suffered.

I had a friend once who often declared that he did not get mad – he got even. Such an attitude does not express a work of grace in the heart. God has not called us to this. As saints in pursuit of a holy life, pleasing to the Lord, we are not to get even. When we are personally affronted our saintly response is to render good for evil (Romans 12:17-21), to bless not curse. That can only come with a changed heart through the grace of God’s salvation, and a conscious effort to suppress the sinful urge to render evil for evil and replace it with a trust in God’s purposes and acts of mercy and love toward our adversary.

Again, Peter is directing his charge to the Christian community. This is how we are to act toward each other. It is in line with Paul’s imperative to esteem our fellow believer better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) invoking the great example of our Lord whose humility was expressed in his setting aside his divine glory and taking on humanity so completely that he suffered the frailties of this life and learned obedience to the point of dying the death of the cross (Phil 2:5-8).

Peter characterizes our call as one wherein we must kill our pride, deny our sin (which seeks to win us back), and regard ourselves as less than our peers. This is what Christ required of his disciples as he pointed to himself as the grand example (Matt 20:25-28). The call to be a saint is a call to a humility that the world would laugh at. It is a humility that does not come naturally – we were not born with it, and it is something that we are averse to putting on. It is a hard thing. It takes a lifetime of work, and even at the end, we still need the admonitions of Peter and Paul to keep us faithful.

Let us then strive to be faithful in our call as Paul exhorts, ....walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).

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