1 Peter 3:9-17
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that you are thereunto called…
Peter's Epistles were written on the very eve of the persecution by Nero, who, anxious to divert the suspicions of the people who accused him of setting fire to Rome, charged the Christians with the crime, and caused them to be seized and tortured and slain. Some were crucified; some were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, that they might be torn by the dogs; some, having been rubbed over with pitch, were made to serve as torches to light up the imperial gardens, - this gratified at once sovereign and people. It is true that this severity was confined to the neighborhood of Rome, but Rome was the center of life to her provinces; the pulsations of the heart thrilled to the most distant parts of the empire. The words of our text have a new meaning as they rise before us on this dark background. Some may ask - What is the bearing of this on us? The answer is, that when Paul said, "They that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," he uttered what would be a fact to the end of the age. The fire, the rack, the headsman's axe, are gone; but in their place there are words that burn, looks that go like poisoned shafts to the soul, and treatment that stings like a scourge. As long as the truth which the Church is called to maintain and to live before a world that hates it is what it is, as long as our spiritual life needs trial for its cleansing and development, so long will Christ's people find how true it is that, because they are not of the world, but Christ hath chosen them out of the world, therefore the world hateth them. We can only glance at the bare outline of such a long passage as this. It contains three requirements, each of which has a benediction attached to it.
I. CALL TO BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US. From the ninth verse to the twelfth: you can hardly read these words without feeling you are listening to one who heard the sermon on the mount, and is inspired with its spirit; and we cannot help noting the change they imply in Peter himself. But perhaps it was what he saw in his Lord, more than what he heard from him, to which the change was due; Christ's character carrying his words home with transfiguring force. We do not wonder that it was Peter who wrote, "Not rendering evil for evil," etc., and it is the word and example of the same gracious Lord that lays the same burden on us. And mark the blessing to ourselves that grows out of that. Never give place to evil in word, or act, or thought, let the provocation be what it may. Yea, not only so, return evil with good, recompense wrong with right, and your fidelity to Christ will make an open way through the skies, through which you shall see his smile and hear his "Well done!" and find for your prayers and spirit a clear path to his throne.
II. CALL TO BE FEARLESS ABOUT WHAT OUR PERSECUTORS CAN DO TO US. "And who is he that will harm you," etc.? Persecution need not harm us, brethren; it is only one of God's refining fires, that, when thus he has tried us, we may come forth as gold. And what is the remedy for this fear? Peter is thinking of a passage in Isaiah where Judah is called, instead of fearing idolatrous Syria and trusting in Sennacherib, to fear and trust in the Lord. "Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear." Now, with that Old Testament passage before us, the change which the Revisers have made here is very striking. Instead of" Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts," it is, "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord." Peter, the Jew, who knew that perhaps the very highest title which could be ascribed to Jehovah was "the Lord of hosts," did not hesitate to give that title to Christ. Peter had known him in the humiliation of his human life; he had even washed Peter's feet, yet Peter uses his name and that of "the Lord of hosts" as convertible terms - speaks of these two as one. Peter, at least, had no doubt of the Deity of Jesus. And this attitude also has a blessing attached to it, "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye."
III. CALL TO MAINTAIN A GOOD CONSCIENCE IN THOSE THINGS ABOUT WHICH OUR PERSECUTORS REPROACH US. "And be ready always to give an answer," etc. A good conscience, a good conduct, a good answer - I think that is the order here. A good conscience. Be sure that you are suffering for goodness and not for badness; be sure that you have an unclouded sky between you and God; be sure that, when your heart does not condemn you, you hear him saying, "Neither do I condemn thee." And out of that will come what Peter calls "your good conversation," i.e. conduct. For as the sunshine develops and perfects the hidden beauties of nature and the fruits of the earth, so does the light of God's favor resting upon the conscious soul draw forth into character the graces of the spiritual life. The clear conscience that catches Heaven's smile is always followed by a brave and beautiful piety, which is its own justification against those who speak evil of it. And see the blessing attached to that! There is a broad sense, no doubt, in which we might apply these words to the Christian hope generally, and the duty of being able to give an intelligent and saris-factory reason for its possession; but their meaning here seems to be more defined. The good conduct that issues from the good conscience and puts to shame the evil speakers, leads them to question us about the hope which they see hidden within us and sustaining us, and they come to envy it, and secretly to want to know what it is. Now, says Peter, "be ready to tell them; let them know that it is the grace of Christ which renews and sanctifies." One of the benedictions of persecution endured and triumphed over is that it may bring the very persecutors themselves to the feet of Jesus. Then, brethren, can we not endorse the truth in the verse which closes this long passage, "It is good, if the will of the Lord be so, that ye suffer for well-doing." It is good in its purifying efficacy on ourselves; it is good in its tendency to glorify God; it is good as a saving power on our fellow-men. - C.N.
Parallel VersesKJV: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.