Elect Exiles: Desire to Love Life

Sermon by David Strain on January 5

1 Peter 3:8-12

Well do turn once again in your Bibles, this time to the New Testament and to the letter of Peter, 1 Peter. Before the Advent season interrupted us, we were working our way through 1 Peter together on Sunday mornings and we are resuming that study now. We’ve come to 1 Peter chapter 3, verses 8 through 12, on page 1015 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. This is a section of the letter in which Peter is offering practical counsel on living for Christ in a hostile cultural context. To be a follower of Jesus in his day and in our day, remember, Peter says is to be an “elect exile,” a sojourner. That’s his language – an outsider, marginal, a minority person. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And at the end of chapter 2 and in the first half of chapter 3, Peter has written to Christian citizens, to Christian slaves, and to Christian couples, husbands and wives, about what the exile life should look like as we seek to follow the Lord Jesus. 

And today we pick up in verse 8 of chapter 3 with a short summary exhortation that rounds off everything that he’s been saying. That’s what Peter means, by the way, by the word “finally,” with which verse 8 begins. In much the same way as when the preacher at First Presbyterian Church says “finally,” we should not take Peter to mean that he’s almost done! He means that he is summing up this section of the letter with a few concluding exhortations to the whole church before he moves on. 

And if you look at the passage, verses 8 through 12, you’ll see it focuses on Christian behavior in three directions. First, Peter has counsel for how we are to live toward one another within the local church. There in verse 8, do you see that? “Finally, all of you” – he’s writing to the church – “all of you who hear this letter read or read it together, have unity of mind,” and so on. How the Christian is to relate within the local church. Then verse 9, secondly, how we should relate to those outside the church, to the world, especially those who oppose the Gospel and persecute believers. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” How the church is to live toward one another. How Christians are to live toward the world. How Christians, in the third place, are to live – verses 9 through 12 – toward the Lord. He takes everything he’s said in verses 8 and 9 and brings it into the larger context of living under the gaze of God and in relation to the Lord. How we live toward one another in the church, how we live toward the world, and how we live toward the Lord.

Before we read the text and dive into all of that together, let’s pause again and pray and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray together.

O Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, take of what is Christ’s and make it known to us from this portion of Your own holy Word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

1 Peter chapter 3 at verse 8. This is the Word of God:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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. 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.’”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

How Christians Live Toward One Another in the Church

Now I am not much for making New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I am weak and within like two weeks I have broken them all! But we do all tend, I think, to start a new year seeing it as an opportunity for a fresh start. Wouldn’t you agree? We’re going to eat healthier. We’re going to play more. We’re going to get our work-life balance right. “Let’s find fresh ways to live the good life in 2020.” That’s our aspiration. You could say 1 Peter 3:8-12 is actually designed to show us how to live the good life. Although interestingly, it says the way to live the good life is not by focusing on yourself but by serving others. We are bombarded in these opening weeks of the year with advertisements for stationary bikes and fitness programs and dietary methods. What are they selling you? They’re saying, “This is the you, you always wanted to be. And for $19.99 a month, you can be the you, you always wanted to be!” That’s what they’re saying. “Focus on you. You can do it! You can be the you, you always wanted!” Peter is saying, “No, no. That’s not the path to the good life. The path to the good life is not by focusing on yourself. Actually, it’s by focusing on others.”

Look with me at verse 8 first of all. Peter turns our attention to how the Christian is to relate to the church in the first place. “Finally, all of you have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” That’s a fascinating list worth lingering over for a few moments. First he mentions “unity of mind.” He does not mean uniformity of thought. He does not mean to suggest that all Christians must think the same thoughts in the same way about the same things. But he means, rather, the deep structure of motivation and aspiration, the fundamental core convictions of worldview are to be held in common. There is a profound unity of mind and heart that is established when you become a Christian. We are very different people as a church, and yet if we are in Christ, God has made us one. 

Think about the New Testament church and you can see that illustrated. The church in Philippi is a classic case in point. In Acts chapter 16 when Paul went there to plant the church he gathered a core group for the new church plant at Philippi. And who did he gather? Who were the founding members of the Philippian church? Three people less likely to associate with one another; it is scarcely possible to imagine. You had first of all, Lydia, a middle class Jewish woman, dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to understand Paul’s message. She became a believer. Then you have the slave girl, the Greek slave girl who was demon-possessed. She was being used by her owners as a fortune teller and Paul exorcised the demonic spirits and she became part of the foundation of the church. And then you had the Philippian jailor, probably a former Roman centurion, a Roman citizen, blue collar kind of man. The Philippian jailor – you remember what happened that night when Paul and Silas are in jail and they’re singing hymns and praising God and the cell door opens and the jailor thinks they’ve escaped. But instead of escaping, Paul and Silas remain and they lead the Philippian jailor and his family to faith in Christ. 

That’s the core group of the Philippian church. A middle class, Jewish woman; a Greek slave girl, previously demon-possessed, the epitome of unclean, an outsider, an outcast; a Roman centurion and his family. And yet, because they have come to know Jesus despite their profound socioeconomic differences, they have become deeply and fundamentally one. It’s not that class and culture and social standing are wiped out or obliterated or even ignored as unimportant. Those things do matter and they do make a difference. But it is that a new, deeper, stronger bond has joined them together in a way that none of the normal divisions that typically fracture human society is able to shatter. 

And yet, the fact is, we need to be constantly reminded, don’t we, not to focus on the superficial differences of class and color and education and ethnicity and economics to the exclusion of or to the relativization of our more profound and essential oneness in Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded of that. And so Paul reminds his readers, “Have a unity of mind. You need to press toward one another and work at this living unity. It needs to be preserved and protected and maintained.”

And that also requires more. It requires sympathy. That’s the next thing in the list. Real sympathy is a lot scarcer than you might imagine. I wonder if you’ve found that to be true? Real sympathy isn’t saying a nice word or two when someone tells you they’ve had a bad day. Real sympathy is finding out what will really make a difference and flexing, making an adjustment in your own life to provide it. Too often we get into a routine, don’t we, when we are responding to need. So around here we like to provide food for folks. That’s how we care. We’re in Mississippi; that’s what we do. If you’re sick, we’re going to make you stuff to eat! As my expanding girth can amply illustrate! You’ve loved me well! But we make the same thing and we write the same words on the card and we have our, “This is how we do it,” and we get into a routine. And we sometimes don’t stop to ask, “Is my helping helping or is my helping hurting? Am I doing this to make myself feel better or am I actually trying to serve someone else?” Sympathy tries to put yourself in another person’s shoes and asks, “What can I do that will really help, not just help me feel better because now I feel like I’ve done something?” Sympathy.

And that requires brotherly love. Peter is saying we are family, and not just distantly related family but intimates – brothers and sisters. And we need to care for one another from our hearts. And so he says there must be a tender-heartedness. I like the Greek word. It’s a wonderfully juicy word. It’s the word, “eusplagchnos.” It’s a fantastic word! It actually refers to the bowls – “splagchnos” is your bowels. “Good belly.” That’s what it means. I had a wellness check on Friday and Zeb Henson looked at my expanding girth and mercifully did not comment on my “splagchnos!” Right? But in the ancient world, that’s the center of your emotional life. That’s where it came from. And Paul is saying it’s not enough to say the words and show up at the meetings and be committed. There has to be “eusplagchnos.” There has to be this affection, a tenderness that wells up from deep inside of you for one another that we have to cultivate and work at. 

And then finally he mentions a “humble mind.” Did you know that in Peter’s day, humility was not a virtue. Not commonly. It was considered a vice; a weakness. Humility, out in Greek culture, in Roman culture, was not something one aspired to. But Christians understand that there is no place for boasting. We are “sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy.” Don’t we? That in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. There is nothing in ourselves to boast about. And that if we have been saved, we have been saved by grace, by the work of another, by the sovereign will of God who purposed to make us His children before He hung the stars and who, in time, by His mighty hand, delivered us from the shackles of sin that held us in slavery and set us free and gave us a new heart and granted to us the gift of saving faith and united us to Jesus so that everything is His – His work in us, not our work before Him. So that to grasp the Gospel is to shatter pride. The Gospel puts us in the dust. Christians understand that “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble,” and so Peter calls us to the cultivation of a humble mind. Which is essential, isn’t it, if we are to love one another and have tender-heartedness and show sympathy. If you are standing on your rights and expecting to be served – full of pride and entitlement – you will be unable to do anything else that Peter calls you to here. These things all stand or fall together. Do you see that? How Christians relate to one another in the church.

How Christians Live Toward the World

But then look with me at verse 9. The exhortations continue. He calls us to relate in a godly manner toward the world. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” Now it’s been a major theme of 1 Peter – we’ve seen this a few times, haven’t we – suffering for Jesus’ sake; being faithful to the Gospel and suffering because you are a Christians. So just a few examples. Chapter 2 verse 12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles,” he means non-Christians, “Keep your conduct honorable so that when they speak against you as evildoers” – note that, by the way. Not “if” but “when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” Or chapter 2:15, “Live such godly lives so that by doing good we should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” They are being slandered, you see. Or chapter 2:19 he tells Christian slaves, “When you do good and suffer for it, you endure. This is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” So suffering for the sake of the Lord Jesus because you are walking with Him as a Christian is a theme of this letter. 

And here it is again – how to respond when people do us harm, when they speak evil of us or revile us. We are not to repay them in kind. Are we? On the contrary, he says we are “to bless, for to this you have been called.” Now let that last phrase land with you for a moment – “to this you have been called.” Have you ever asked yourself about your calling? What is my calling in life? Well here’s part of the answer for sure. In 2020, God is calling you to be a blessing. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.” You are called, I am called to bless, to be a blessing. That is God’s agenda for us as this new year unfolds. 

So when harsh words and unfair treatment lands on you this year, as it will at some point no doubt, and your sense of moral outrage and personal injustice begins to boil over, what is Peter’s council? He would say, I think, “Keep your tongue behind your teeth. Take a beat. Cry to Jesus, ‘O Lord, this is sore and it hurts and it’s frustrating and it’s wrong. Help me not to take the bait! Help me, with a gentle answer, to turn away wrath. Help me when I am reviled not to revile in return but to be like the Lord Jesus at the end of chapter 2 here, who, when He’s hated and persecuted and wounded, loves. Help me to bless. Make me a blessing.’”

Well okay, pastor. Easier said than done. Right? “Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” – easy peasy. Well not so much. How do we do this? 

How Christians Live Toward the Lord

How do we get there? Does Peter give us any help? Well look at the third thing he tells us, verses 9 through 12. The Christian in relation to the church. The Christian in relation to the world. Now, the Christian in relation to the Lord. And really it’s here that Peter is going to teach us a basic working principle of the Christian life that will help us to live out some of the exhortations he’s been giving us. You can see it in verse 9. Look at verse 9. “Do not repay evil for evil. On the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” Bless, that you may obtain a blessing. There’s the principle. Or you’ll see it again in verse 10. In the supporting quotation Peter gives us from Psalm 34, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,” the good life, “let him keep his tongue from evil,” and so on. It’s there again in verse 12. “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.” 

What is the principle we are being taught? You could summarize it this way. Peter wants us to pursue blessing by being a blessing. Pursue blessing by being a blessing. Or to put it in the terms we used at the beginning of the sermon, the path to the good life, the blessed life, is marked by serving others for Jesus’ sake. Pursue a blessing by being a blessing. 

Now we need to think about this for a minute or two. There are some wonderful promises in verses 9 through 12. Aren’t there? We can obtain a blessing, verse 9; we can love life and see good days, verse 10. We can have the eye of the Lord on us, verse 12. The eye of the Lord on us not in judgment, in scrutiny, but like a mom, you know, whose babies are crawling around in the living room, never out of the line of her sight. The eye of the Lord on us in tender protection and constant care. And verse 12, the ears of the Lord open to our prayers. He hears us. Maybe there’s no one else who does, but He’s listening. Those are remarkable promises. I want them in 2020. Don’t you? Don’t you want these promises for your life in 2020?

Well how do you get them? They are promised, but look at the text. They are conditional promises. They are conditional promises. We really do have to get this straight. Some of us have latched on to the great principle that salvation is by grace alone. Praise God if you have. There is no room for merit or works-righteousness in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The only works that God accepts are meritorious in His sight are the works of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on our behalf. If He gave us what our works deserve, we would all go to hell forever. All our righteousness is filthy rags. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the work of Jesus Christ alone. But that must not be understood to rule out or to exclude promised rewards for conditions met within the Christian life. The Scriptures are replete with conditional promises. You could open your Bible almost anywhere and find conditional promises. 

Let me just give you a couple to illustrate the point, but you can find them all over the Scriptures. John 14, verse 15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments and I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” So the gift of the Helper in view here is a conditional promise. He comes, the Holy Spirit comes in a new way into our lives as we keep Christ’s commandments. Or John 15:7, Jesus said, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” So answered prayer is a conditional promise. It’s conditioned upon abiding in Christ and Christ’s word abiding in us. Or even just sticking to 1 Peter, 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you.” God exalting you at the proper time is conditioned upon us humbling ourselves. These are conditional promises, do you see.

So what is the message? God has saved us by His grace and now that same grace is at work within us to will and to work for His good pleasure, but that doesn’t mean that now we are children of God we can sit back and coast. Holiness does not come by osmosis. It requires effort. And so God has attached conditional promises to many of His commands to motivate us to press on. And here in our text the conditional promise is that if we will be a blessing, He will bless us. Or turn that around – pursue blessing by being a blessing. That’s what Peter says. “Bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 

Or let me come at this a different way. Look at verse 12. After calling us in verses 10 and 11 to keep our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking deceit, after commanding that we turn away from evil and do good and seek peace and pursue it, verse 12 gives us the promise, “for the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His ears are open to their prayer.” Ever wonder why your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? Well maybe one reason could be that you have been reviling when you have been reviled, you’ve been repaying evil done to you with evil of your own. One reason your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling may be your anger problem. Is there a connection, Peter is asking us, between your inability to respond to the provocations of others with a blessing on the one hand and the ineffectiveness of your prayer life as a Christian on the other hand? Could it be that you have in fact been repaying evil for evil and reviling for reviling in your home, in your marriage, with your children, with your parents, at school, in the workplace with your colleagues? 

So look, you can have a quiet time every day, be faithful in prayer; you can go to the library and get one of the one-year chronological Bibles and be diligent in it and read through the Scriptures in a year. What a good thing to do. You can come to church and serve in the congregation in some capacity and give to missions and do evangelism and be, by all accounts, a plugged in, zealous member of the local congregation, and your temper and those grudges you can’t let go of and your spiteful behavior when someone hurts you will still hinder your prayers all along. You see, God has promised to give us His ear if we will give ourselves to blessing others. That’s what the text says. 

So here’s the path to the good life. Can you see it? To this you have been called in 2020 – pursue blessing. God has blessedness for you, more of Christ in your life, more joy and peace in believing the Gospel, more of the smile of God. Pursue a blessing by being a blessing. You get it by reflecting the love of God for you in Jesus out toward others around you, both inside and outside the church. And very frankly, that means I have some repenting to do. Maybe you do too. Perhaps we’ve allowed our Christian lives to bifurcate. We have our piety and our devotional lives over here, and we have our interpersonal behavior over there. And it hasn’t occurred to us yet that to follow Jesus is as much about how you respond to others inside and outside the church as it is about your prayer life and how much Bible you know. So will you let these conditional promises here do their work in your heart, because they are calling us to repentance and new obedience – to seek a blessing, to seek the good life, to pursue blessedness by being the blessing to which we have been called. 

So may God help us in 2020 to know so much more of His smile, His favor, the blessed life, by resolving in imitation of our Savior to be a blessing, so that when we are reviled, we do not revile in return, but rather bless. Let’s pray together.

Lord, we live in such an entitlement culture that we struggle to understand how free grace and the call to obedience to commands fit together. Help us, please, as we hear Your Word exhorting us, to live in new obedience and promising blessing in response to obedience to long for the blessedness You promise. And by Your grace enabling us, help us to grow in the obedience commanded. We want to be a blessing. As a church, we want to be a blessing in our city. We want to be a blessing in our neighborhood. We want to be a blessing in our families. So help us this new year not to take the bait, not to respond to provocation, not to answer a fool according to his folly but to remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath, to speak with kindness when others are harsh, to speak words of Gospel hope into the darkness and unbelief of those around us. Make us a blessing, O God. Make us like our Savior who came not to be served but to serve. And then as we follow our Redeemer, grant to us the blessedness promised, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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