Formations 08.20.2017: Return Blessing for Evil

1 Peter 3:8-17

Papyrus Bodmer VIII—the earliest manuscript of Peter’s letters from an Egyptian codex.

I have my parents’ bibles from when they were children, and they are more or less what you would expect—King James, leather bound, once gilded, and marked with standard features of childhood bibles.

A blue sticker in the front flap of my mother’s bible shows Jesus’ name written in green block letters and arranged as a fish. While on my dad’s bible, also on the front flap next to his signature, a lapel ribbon marks it as a visitor to the Cottage Hill Baptist Church.

And with these stickers are marks made in the interior. Among these, the thirteenth verse of 1 Peter 3 has been accidentally underlined with a blue marker. It is accidental because the work of the spirit, the typesetter, and thin pages has allowed his underling of 1 Peter 2:2 to bleed through and highlight this central question from today’s passage.

And who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? (1 Pet 3:13, KJV)

Peter sees the many possible answers to his question. He affirms that those who bless others will inherit a blessing, but he also knows that those who seek righteousness may suffer as a result (vv. 9, 14). The tension that made this question meaningful for Peter’s audience makes it meaningful for us.

Peter points the believers to respond to these questions, not with answers, but with work. He gives us directions. Offer blessing in the face of wrongdoing. Be compassionate, sympathetic, and modest. Do good. Seek peace. And defend hope.

We inherit a tradition that has at times been powerless, but at other times, it has held considerable power. Our traditions are filled with examples of those who extended suffering and injustice in the name of Christ, even using passages directly preceding this week’s to justify slavery and abuse against women.

And yet, other words come to us, and for the past few weeks we’ve had the chance to listen to them. We’ve had and will have the chance to hear Hyacinth of Ceasarea, Paul Miki, Martin Luther King Jr., Clarence Jordan, Theophilus of Antioch, Roland from Danville, and Peter himself show us what we might gain by extending grace even when we are powerless.

Discussion

• Who in your own life or from history has offered blessing in the face of evil, sought peace despite conflict, or defended hope against oppression? What lessons can we learn from their examples?
• What is your hope? What peace do you seek? How do these relate to your experiences of suffering and flourishing?
• Where can we find strength, hope, and encouragement to offer blessings in the face of wrongdoing? How might you offer a blessing or extend grace in your daily life?

Reference Shelf

Who will mistreat you?

“And who will mistreat you if you become zealots for good? But even if you might suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. ‘Do not be afraid or terrified of them,’ but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always [being] ready to give a reply to anyone who asks you a word concerning the hope in you, but with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, so that whenever they slander you, those who revile your good manner of life in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if God should wish it so, to suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil.”

Having just quoted the lines from LXX Psalm 33 urging readers to do the right thing, 1 Peter turns to how this might work out in readers’ lives. “Who will mistreat you” cannot be a straightforward statement, given what the author has already written about slaves who are beaten because their masters are cruel (2:18-20), and given what he will say in this section about slander. To be plain: 1 Peter cannot mean that if his readers were especially good they could avoid mistreatment. So perhaps v. 13 is meant hopefully: “be conspicuously good, and most of the time outsiders will leave you alone.” Or, “be conspicuously good, and you will win over those who may have been inclined to mistreat you.” Or perhaps 1 Peter means to stress that God’s protection is ultimate, and that even if your adversaries do terrible things to you, you cannot be irrevocably harmed because you belong to God. Or perhaps it is ironic: “Who will mistreat you? Well, we could start a list of those who already have.” It is hard to judge between these alternatives. First Peter hoped Christian wives could win their husbands to the faith by their conduct (3:1-2), and expressed the hope that good conduct would silence slander (2:15), so the first two options are plausible. First Peter clearly believes that no ultimate harm can come to the believer, so the third reading is possible, but I do not think that is what the first part of v. 13 (tis ho kakōsōn hymas, “Who is the one mistreating you”) is about. The author only uses this verb (kakoō) here, but uses the kakopoieō in v. 17 to mean “do bad stuff,” not “do ultimate harm” (so also at 2:14); likewise the noun form kakopoios, “evildoer,” in 2:12 and 4:15 means an ordinary bad person. Given 1 Peter’s use of the word, ordinary harm or mistreatment is most likely. So either he means it in some modified sense—they (possibly, quite likely) will not harm you if you are vigorously good—or he does not—they will not harm you. Don’t you wish! In favor of the first, more hopeful reading is the proximity of v. 13 to the psalm quote. In favor of the second, ironic reading are (a) the quick shift to “but if you do suffer” and (b) the suffering that the readers know that Peter observed and experienced on behalf of the gospel.
163–65

Richard B. Vinson, 1&2 Peter, Jude, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 163–65.

Blessings from Suffering

By means of the theme of suffering, chosen in lieu of death, the author addresses the community’s unhappy situation. First, it should be noted that the author is neither encouraging nor preparing for martyrdom. Instead the term “suffering” is chosen because the author has in mind the pain, abuse, and ostracism that Christians as a minority group suffer in a pagan society. Indeed the reference at the beginning and end (1:6; 5:10) to suffering “for a little while” suggests that the strained relations between Christians and non-Christians have reached what is expected to be a temporary setback in the form of slander (and perhaps prosecution). Nonetheless, the harsh Gentile treatment (2:1) seems to have been provoked by mischief making (4:15) or less-than-honorable conduct (2:11) and harsh response (3:15). Instead the author appeals to the innocent Christ “who when abused did not return abuse, when suffering did not threaten” (2:23). Believers are advised to repay evil and abuse with a blessing (3:9), to make a defense with gentleness and reverence (3:15-16), to behave with honor, and to suffer only “on account of the name of Christ” (4:14). Ultimately the goal of such behavior is threefold: good days and peace (3:10-12), a heavenly inheritance (1:4; 3:9), and the acknowledgement of God’s lordship by nonbelievers (2:12, 15, 23; 3:1-2, 15-16). In these extreme circumstances the Christian, like Christ, must trust “the faithful creator,” “the one who judges justly” (4:19; 2:23). Thus the author relates the acute suffering of the addressees to a christological model because imitation of Christ means obedience to God’s plan (1:2, 14, 11), the testing of one’s faith (fire terminology), love of friend and foe (1:22; 3:8 and 2:12; 3:6), responsible living within a society that must be subjected to God on the day of visitation (2:12), and gentle, rational, and evangelistic confrontation with non-Christian neighbors (2:9; 3:15, 19, 22).
[…]
The document goes beyond the critical, immediate problem of suffering by focusing on the interim period in ethical and eschatological terms. In ethical terms the author shows great concern for the community’s relations with all humans (2:13, 17): fellow members as well as outsiders. Good behavior and patient suffering are frequently encouraged. The last two sections of the letter are devoted almost entirely to moral and social exhortation, particularly the duty code of 2:11–3:12, which offers moral guidance to encourage conduct figured to nullify pagan slanders and acts as a charter for confronting inquisitive outsiders and even for encouraging an outward missionizing thrust; and the parallel community exhortations (3:8f; 4:7f ) and code (5:1-5), which address community life, behavior, and relations. Thus the author hopes that husbands will be converted (3:1), that foolish neighbors might be silenced (2:15), that unbelieving compatriots might glorify God in the end (2:12), and that God’s varied gifts might be shared ungrudgingly with other believers (4:7-10) who must be the object of love and respect (3:8; 4:8; 5:5). The audience is told to live in the world as Christians, not as Gentiles (4:1-6), that by their good deeds and responsible living these same Gentiles might render glory and make society itself subject to God now and on the day of visitation (2:12; 3:10-12, 15-16).

Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 20–21.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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