How to Inherit a Blessing
1 Peter 3:8-12
February 20, 2005
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but 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 his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he 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’” (I Peter 3:8-12).
Our problem with this passage can be stated quite simply: When we need it, we can’t find it. And when we don’t need it, we don’t pay any attention to it. As long as life is going well and all our relationships are in order, we tend to ignore passages like this. After all, if you are living in harmony with others, why do you do need to be told to do what you are already doing? It’s easy to pass over these verses when things are going well, and it’s hard to find a passage like this when the storm clouds begin to break over your head. In a similar vein, C. S. Lewis once remarked that “everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
My goal in this message is to help us think about Peter’s words so that whether or not we need them right now (and most of us do, even if we don’t realize it), we’ll know where to find them when trouble comes our way.
I. Live in Harmony
Peter begins with a five-part call for Christian unity and compassion. First, we are to live in harmony with each other. The Greek word means literally to be “like-minded.” For most of us, being like-minded is what happens when you agree with me. But that’s not what Peter has in mind. He is not calling us to agree on everything. That’s not possible nor is it desirable. Inside the church, we disagree on many things. We could start a huge argument if we decided to fight over politics, how Christians should vote, the “best” Bible translation, where to send our children to school, what shows to watch on television, which clothing styles are acceptable, how to spend our money, birth control, acceptable amusements, our preferred worship style, the music we listen to, the books we read, the best way to discipline children, and so on. The list of things we disagree on would be very long indeed. Peter is calling for unity, not uniformity. We don’t agree on everything and that’s okay. In the early church, they disagreed over eating meat offered to idols, keeping the Sabbath, vegetarianism vs. eating meat, over which days to observe, and whether or not wine-drinking was acceptable. Disagreements in the church are nothing new. We don’t all have to think alike or act alike. But we do have to be “like-minded.” That can only happen if we all have the same focus—the Lord Jesus Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). The church is the body of Christ, and in Christ and with his power, we rise above the things that divide us. In Christ we have a unity that transcends secondary issues. We can disagree on many things and still live in harmony with one another, if we keep our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, we are to be sympathetic to each other. The Greek word means to “suffer with” someone. Sympathy is “your hurt in my heart.” It means to share in the joys and sorrows of those around you. We must not be insensitive, callous, indifferent or cynical about the suffering we see on every hand. Not long ago, Marlene and I ate dinner with some dear friends who lost a daughter in a tragic car accident several years ago. The husband remarked that other people have a hard time knowing what to do or what to say. “It’s almost as if we have some sort of disease,” he said. Even old friends seem afraid to get too close to them. I suppose that’s a normal reaction for most of us. We truly don’t know what to say. I have learned over the years that your words don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you cared enough to be there. Sympathy isn’t about your words; it’s the revelation of your heart to others.
Third, we are to love each other as brothers. I’m sure Peter felt this keenly since his brother Andrew brought him to Jesus. The word “brother” in Greek means “one born from the same womb.” We are to love our Christian brothers and sisters because we are all “born from the same womb.” I am the second of four Pritchard boys. Growing up, we often bickered with each other. Sometimes the arguments could get pretty intense. But we always knew that if anyone attacked one of the four Pritchard boys, he would have to deal with all four of us. Sometimes you fight with your brothers, sometimes you fight for them. As I have already said, Christians don’t have to agree on everything—and we don’t. You don’t have to like every Christian you meet. Some people are hard to love and even harder to like. Loving your brothers means caring enough to stick up for them when they need your help.
Fourth, we are to show compassion toward those in need. The Greek word is actually a compound made up of two other words—”good” plus “bowels.” Literally, it is “have good bowels.” The Greeks believed that the deepest emotions—love, joy, hate, anger, mercy, etc—came not from the heart or the mind, but from the intestines and the bowels. We mean something similar when we talk about a “belly laugh.” There is a kind of laugh that comes from the chest. It usually happens when we laugh at a joke that isn’t really funny. A belly laugh is something else entirely because it comes from much lower. That sort of laugh is both rare and good for the body and the soul. It’s a laugh that releases endorphins into the systems, loosens up tightened muscles, and makes you feel good all over. Peter calls Christians to have deep emotions for those in need. The word later came to mean courage. Here’s the connection. It takes courage to have the “intestinal fortitude” to care enough to get involved in the needs of others. In thinking about this, it occurred to me that it’s easy to become numb to the suffering of others. Think about the tsunami that killed over 250,000 people. That seems like a long time ago. Yesterday 55 more people died in Iraq because of a terrorist bombing. We see the headlines and we become numb to the numbers. We must fight against the tendency to pass by on the other side when we see our neighbor in need. It’s always easy to make excuses, and it’s even easier not to see the hurting people at all. God give us eyes to see, hearts to care, and hands ready to reach out to those wounded in body and spirit.
Fifth, we are to practice humility. This may be hardest of all. The Greek word means to have a mindset of “not rising far from the ground.” That may seem odd until you remember that the Bible speaks of pride as being “lifted up.” Humility is not thinking less of yourself than you ought. True humility involves not thinking of yourself at all. What are we anyway? God formed Adam from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). We are nothing but “children of the dust.” Psalm 103:14 says that God remembers our frame, he knows that we are but dust. That’s all we are. Little clumps of dust. We’re here for a while, then we disappear. If God were to blow on us, our little clumps of dust would scatter with the wind. Perhaps you’ve heard the old Shaker hymn that includes this line:
’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,
’Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.
Humility isn’t about making yourself look bad while others look good. It’s not about “making” yourself look any particular way at all. Humility means enjoying the freedom in God to “come down where we ought to be.”
II. Bless and Be Blessed
Verse 9 gives us a very specific application of the five commands in verse 8. Peter applies his teaching to situations where we have been mistreated by others. This verse contains a negative and a positive command. First, we are not to retaliate when we are attacked. The temptation to respond “in kind” must have been overwhelming for the persecuted believers who were the first readers of this epistle. As a hated minority, they were sometimes called “Christian dogs.” It would have been easy to reply, “I may be a dog, but you’re a pagan pig.” Peter says, “Don’t do it. Don’t respond in kind. Don’t return insult for insult, cheap shot for cheap shot, curse word for curse word, or threat for threat.” Such advice is certainly countercultural. The world says, “Don’t get mad—get even!” It’s hard for us not to retaliate, especially when we watch someone hurt those we love. It’s easier to “forgive and forget” an offense against you personally, much harder when the offense is against someone you love. Nevertheless, we are not to retaliate no matter how angry we may feel.
Second, we are to bless those who mistreat us. This is much harder to do. After all, it’s possible in your own power not to return insult for insult. By the exercise of your self-control, you can mumble to yourself under your breath, “I’m not going to take a swing. I’m not to swear. I’m not going to throw anything. I won’t let them get to me.” But that’s not enough. In your own power, you will never bless those who hurt you deeply. Only God can do that. That’s why Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28 HCSB). Love is more than what you don’t do. Love moves from the negative (do not retaliate) to the positive (bless and pray). I find it very difficult to pray for my enemies when I feel greatly provoked. There are times when I would much rather pray, “Lord, smite the bad guys. Smite them good and hard. Smite them hip and thigh, joint and marrow. Smite ’em all, Lord. They deserve it!” It takes God’s grace to pray, “Lord, you know these people and what they have done and said. You know how angry I am at them and how I don’t care to be around them. I ask you to ignore my feelings and bless them in spite of how I feel.” I find great freedom in being honest with God (he knows how I feel already) and in praying for God’s blessing in spite of my personal feelings. And as I begin to pray this way, my feelings slowly begin to change. It all depends on your relationship with the Lord. If you struggle with bitterness, go deeper with Christ! He alone is the answer. Get to know him better. Learn what he is like.
When insulted, how do you respond? When you receive a letter or an email that makes you angry, are you too quick to write an angry reply? When someone makes a false accusation against you, do you find a way to get even? Do you live in anger and bitterness toward others for days on end? If so, you need to hear what God is saying to you through this passage.
As I prepared this message, I came across two quotes that seemed very appropriate. The first comes from C. S. Lewis: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” The second comes from Augustine: “If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men.”
III. Pursue Peace and Trust God
The final section of our passage consists of a quotation from Psalm 34. These verses describe the life God will bless. Would you like to live a long and happy life? Do you wish for the “good life”? If so, pay attention to what Peter says. If we want the good life God blesses …
A) We will keep our tongue from evil.
B) We will keep our lips from deceitful speech.
C) We will turn from evil and do good.
D) We will seek peace and we will pursue it.
When we live like this, we receive the promises of verse 12:
1) The eyes of the Lord will be upon us.
2) The Lord will hear our prayer.
3) The face of the Lord will be against those who do evil.
Think about that for a moment. When we are the right kind of people, the eyes of God are upon us to bless us, and his ears are attentive to our prayers. When we give up trying to get even with people, the Lord is free to take vengeance on our enemies any way he sees fit.
As I thought this passage, it occurred to me that in order for us to live this way, we need a certain view of ourselves, a certain view of God, and a certain view of our enemies. Let me explain. The proper view of ourselves and of God comes from Romans 5:10, where Paul says, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Think about the phrase, “God’s enemies.” Is there anything sadder than that? To be an enemy of the God of the universe. To stand opposed to the Lord Almighty. To mock his name. To reject his counsel. To resist his Spirit. To blaspheme his Son. To refuse his grace. Yet that is what we did and that is what we were before we came to Christ. We were all God’s enemies. Not some of us. All of us. By nature we are born rebels. We come into this world as the enemies of the Lord. Though we did not see ourselves that way that is what we were. And God in his grace loved us …
While we were ungodly.
While we were sinners.
While we were powerless.
While we were his enemies.
He sent his Son to die for us.
He gave us his Word.
He sent the Holy Spirit to convict us.
And one day while we were running away from him, he found us, brought to us our knees, opened our eyes, gave us new life, caused us to see Jesus, gave us a desire to reach out, pointed us to the cross, and gave us a heart to believe his gospel. And in one shining, amazing, supernatural moment,
We were enemies no longer.
We were ungodly no longer.
We were strangers no longer.
Suddenly by grace we became the children of God. He reconciled us to himself in the death of his Son. His enemies became his friends. This is the miracle of the gospel.
If we had a million years and a million lives, we could never pay God back for what he did for us. We could never give enough or sing enough or pray enough or work enough to pay God back. Our indebtedness and our gratitude will last for eternity.
But there is one thing we can do and we must do. We can do for others what God has done for us. We can love our enemies the way God loved us when we were his enemies. Do you have any enemies? Are you surrounded by people who take you for granted and seem to take pleasure in hurting you? Don’t give in to anger, don’t give way to despair. Instead, give thanks for your enemies. Yes! Give thanks for them. God sent them to you for a reason. They didn’t come into your life by accident. God means to use your enemies to help you grow and to teach you to trust him. And he means to use you to bless your enemies in Jesus’ name. Sometimes people come to me and say, “Pastor Ray, I’ve been wronged.” The stories they tell are unbelievable. Tales of betrayal, threats, abuse, unkindness, broken promises, mistreatment, lies, rumors, gossip, false accusations. The list goes on and on. When you are wronged, there are many things you can do, some things you should do, and one thing you must do. When you are mistreated, fall on your knees and give thanks for your enemies. Name them one by one. Give thanks for them one by one. Ask God to bless them one by one. Your enemies are God’s gift to you. I know this is a “gift” we would rather give back, but most of the time we don’t have any choice about our enemies. They are there whether we like it or not. But we can choose how we respond. The greatest thing we can do is to love our enemies as God loved us when we were his enemies.
Robert Schuller’s Prayer
While surfing the Internet a few days ago, I happened upon an interview with Dr. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California, and well-known author and speaker on the “Hour of Power” television broadcast. It was the first interview with Dr. Schuller that I had seen in many years, so I stopped to read it. The whole thing was very interesting, but I found myself coming back to a prayer Dr. Schuller mentions at the end of the interview. When asked how he keeps such a positive attitude despite the various challenges he has faced in life, he said that years ago he learned to a pray a simple prayer every morning: “Dear Lord, lead me to the person you want to speak to through my life today. Amen.” Praying that prayer changed his life because it got his focus off himself and caused him to start looking at people differently. Instead of seeing people as problems, he saw them as potential avenues for God’s blessing. He would see someone and say, “Is that the one I’m supposed to speak to today?” I love that prayer, and I’d like to suggest a one-word change: “Dear Lord, lead me to the person you want to bless through my life today. Amen.” That simple change makes the prayer perfectly consistent with this passage. If you pray that prayer, you’ll never lack for opportunities to bless others around you. And in light of what Peter says, if you pray like that, you’ll find enemies popping up all around you, just waiting for you to bless them. (One dear lady told me on Sunday, “I don’t need to pray like that. I’ve got enough enemies already.”)
So this is my challenge and my application. Pray this simple prayer every day this week: “Dear Lord, lead me to the person you want to bless through my life today. Amen.” Then stand back and see what God will do.
Let me end where I began. Our problem with this passage can be stated quite simply: When we need it, we can’t find it. And when we don’t need it, we don’t pay any attention to it. Most of us need it right now. And the rest of us will need it sooner than we think. Take these words to heart. Learn them. Think about what Peter has said. Make these words part of your life. You will be a channel of blessing to others, and you will inherit a blessing from God. Amen.