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Pursue Peace – 1 Peter 3:8-16

1 Peter Bible Study Notes Week 12

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For, 

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:8-16

Additional Reading:  Romans 12:10-17 or Psalm 34.

Things to think about

Can your relationships with other Christians be described as harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble?
Have you ever been insulted?  How did you respond?
Are you known for saying discouraging or unkind things, or uplifting things?
Are you ready to give an explanation of your faith if someone asks?

5 Qualities of Christian Relationships – 1 Peter 3:8

Peter wrapped up the preceding verses about the behaviour of citizens, slaves, wives and husbands by listing five qualities. He wanted all Christians to be harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble in their relationships with each other.

1. Be Like-minded or Harmonious

The Greek word used here (homophrones) means thinking the same things. With the explosion of information (including all sorts of good and bad information about Christianity), and the disintegration of denominational distinctives, it has probably never been harder for Christians to think the same thing. But a level of agreement and cohesion is necessary if we are to work and worship together and enjoy real fellowship as a community.

2. Be Sympathetic

This means to understand and identify with the feelings of others, including their pain and joy. Selfishness is a barrier to genuine sympathy.

3. Love One Another

“Love” here is brotherly love, philadelphos. In commenting on philadelphos, Jobes (2009:216) writes, “The emphasis on brotherly love often falls on ‘love’ rather than on ‘brother’, which sometimes leads to a misunderstanding that affection is more important than the resolve to do right by others with whom we are substantially related by faith in Christ.” Love means doing the best thing and the right thing for others. Love for one another is the command of Jesus (John 13:34), and love is the defining trait of his true followers (John 13:35).

4. Be Compassionate

Compassion was the motive for many of Jesus’ healing miracles. Jesus was a compassionate person and, as his followers, we are called to compassion also. It is too easy “to be satisfied with sentimentalism which feels a moment’s comfortable sorrow and which does nothing about it.” (Barclay 1973:269)  Compassion moves more than our emotions, it moves us to actions.

5. Be humble

Humility was regarded as a sign of weakness and shame in the Greco-Roman world. Yet genuine humility is an important quality of a child of God. We are to recognise our utter dependence on God; and not rely on our own strengths, merits and honour. And we are to regard other people as more important than ourselves.

Later on in his letter, Peter would write:

Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility 1 Peter 5:5b NKJV (cf. Eph. 5:21; James 4:6).

Paul covered these five qualities, and more, in his passage about Christ-like behaviour:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 3:1-4 (NIV)

Insults and Blessings – 1 Peter 3:9-12

It is not too difficult to display these five qualities when in the company of equally loving, compassionate and humble Christian brothers and sisters.  The Christians in Asia Minor, however, were often in the company of antagonistic pagans and were being insulted by their unbelieving neighbours, masters and husbands. Peter’s advice is that they should not respond to evil with evil, or to insults with insults.  Paul gave identical instructions in Romans 12:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:15.

In honour-and-shame societies, a person could increase his honour by insulting and putting down another person. The person who had been insulted often responded with another insult to defend his honour and reputation.  Peter did not want his readers to get caught in this unedifying cycle.  Peter had previously reminded his readers that Jesus had not retaliated to insults but remained silent (1 Pet. 2:23).  Here Peter writes that Christians should not respond to insults with insults, but should respond with a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9 cf. 1 Cor. 4:12). The Greek word used here, eulogia, is the word we get “eulogy” from. It literally means a “good word”, but it also means “blessing” in a broader sense.

We need to be very careful with our words. We need to be able to control what we say and take care that we do not speak malicious, deceitful or hurtful words.  Rather we should be saying encouraging and beneficial things. We should be speaking blessings to our opponents.

We should also be speaking blessings to our brothers and sisters. “The Christian community is to be an alternate society where believers should not face the same kinds of insults and hostility that come from those outside the church . . .” (Jobes 2009:214)

Peter gives the reason why Christians can respond to unkind, hurtful and slanderous words with saying good things: Because we have been called to inherit a blessing (eulogia). We can overlook present hardships and dishonour because of our future glorious blessing. Peter backs up his point by quoting Psalm 34:12-16.

Psalm 34 and 1 Peter 3:10-12

Peter had previously quoted from Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 2:3. In 1 Peter 3:10-12, he quotes from it again. The language of Psalm 34 (Psalm 33 in the LXX) “echoes throughout the first half of Peter’s letter…” (Jobes 2009:220) “It is an important scriptural foundation for his thinking of Christian ethics, much as Isaiah 53 forms the basis for his Christology . . .” (Jobes 2009:220)

The Christians in Asia Minor may have been at breaking point and were thinking of retaliating against their unjust treatment. But Peter tells them, through the words of Psalm 34:12-16 to restrain their tongue and to seek peace and pursue it. He assures them that God sees them and their situation and he hears their prayers. God is on their side. God is concerned for their welfare. Conversely, God is against those who are doing harm.

The context of Psalm 34 was David’s exile from Judah and that, in the midst of his pain and suffering, God was with him and watching over him. Peter uses this context for the Christians who were exiles in Asia Minor, to reassure them that God was with them.

Fear and Sharing our Faith – 1 Peter 3:13-16

In 1 Peter 3:13 Peter asks the rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” In a just society, if we are well behaved we will not get into trouble. However, Peter knows that good behaviour doesn’t always protect Christians from persecution. Echoing one of Jesus’ statements on the Sermon on the Mount, Peter says that Christians are blessed if they suffer because of righteousness (cf. Matt. 5:10).

The Asian Christians were being threatened, and they were afraid. Peter urges them, however, not to be afraid or troubled.  Instead of fearing their opponents, the Christians should be revering Jesus Christ as their Lord. (Or, an alternate translation: revering “the Lord, namely Christ”.) The Christians needed to show outward respect and honour for their pagan neighbours and adversaries, but in their heart, Jesus was Lord.

The Christians may have been tempted to hide their Christian faith because of fear. But Peter wanted their faith and hope to be evident and he wanted the Christians to be ready to give an explanation (apologia) their hope to anyone who asks. (Or did Peter advise his readers to revere, or set apart, Christ as Lord in their hearts as opposed to an open profession? It would have appeared seditious to openly revere Jesus as Lord and not the Roman emperor.)

Apologia is sometimes translated as “defence.” Sometimes Christians are too defensive and reactive in how they speak about their beliefs. Peter asks his readers to respond to questions with gentleness and respect.

It is possible that Peter was suggesting that the Asian Christians should be ready to give a defence for their faith when interrogated by officials in a legal court. The context, however, seems to indicate that Peter was thinking about ordinary spontaneous conversations, rather than official interrogations.

We also should be ready and willing to share our faith when people ask us about it, and not be shy or ashamed. Like the exiles in Asia Minor, God is with us too. And his Holy Spirit will help us to give an answer.

Jesus promises help from the Holy Spirit when we are testifying about faith. I expect that this help applies whether we are speaking in a court of law or simply sharing with our neighbour.

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.  Mark 13:11 (cf. Matt. 10:19-20; Luke 12:12.)

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Week 11: Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8
Week 13: The Righteous for the Unrighteous – 1 Peter 3:17-22

2 thoughts on “Pursue Peace – 1 Peter 3:8-16

  1. Marg, I love your blog and have spent hours on here in my studies on these issues. I am wondering if 1 Peter 3:8-9 (and maybe some of the following verses) can been seen as the biblical definition of submission? It’s a compilation of inward qualities that have nothing to do with decision making but everything to do with unity? It seems possible that the Greek (to de telos) could mean “to sum up” as the NASB translates it rather than simply introducing new ideas that apply to everyone. To sum up all these submissive relationships (which would include the husbands even though “submission” wasn’t used there other than with the ideas conveyed by “in the same manner”) with a biblical definition in 1 Peter 3:8-9 seems to support the ideas that submission is a heart attitude, is mutual, and is not about hierarchy or final decision making power or lack thereof. I don’t hear ANYONE from the complementarian side or the egalitarian side using these verses as the biblical definition of submission, so I’m possibly wrong, but I wanted to know your thoughts on this? Would these verses be able to be inserted anywhere the word submission is used in these biblical household codes? These inner attitudes are something we should all do regardless of the government we find ourselves in, the employment/slave situation we find ourselves in, and the husband/wife situation we find ourselves in, right?

    I appreciate your scholarship and would very much love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Melanie, I believe the Christian virtue of submission is much like the virtues of humility and meekness in that it is all about a person’s ongoing disposition and demeanour. Submission is not something that is demonstrated on the seldom occasions when a husband has a final say. (The idea that wifely submission is about a husband having the power to make the final decision is utterly contrived.)

      There are a few places where hypotassō (“submit”) is used in the New Testament, and also in other Greek literature, where it has nothing to do with one person, or a group of people, submitting to the authority of another person, or group of people. See here: https://margmowczko.com/mutual-submission-early-christianity/

      Telos can have the sense of end point, ultimate aim, or goal, as it does in 1 Timothy 1:5.

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