How to Inherit a Blessing
1 Peter 3:9–12
1 Peter Lesson #080
January 19, 2017
“Our Father, we’re so grateful that we can come together tonight to reflect upon Your Word. We’re grateful that You forgive us our sins, all because Christ died on the Cross, paid the penalty, so that by faith alone in Christ alone, trusting Him, we have eternal salvation. Then when we confess sin, it is simply a reminder of what He has done and that we have been the beneficiaries of His work on the Cross. Because we have eternal forgiveness, we have temporal forgiveness for our sins.
Father, we’re thankful that we can come together to study Your Word. May we be reminded that this is Your Word, not our word, not my word, not our opinions; but this is what You have revealed to us. As Peter is talking about, our focus tonight is how we can really have a happy life and understanding what that is, as opposed to the ephemeral emotional highs or happiness, or different feelings that come our way that we associate with happiness. This is something much greater than that and how we can have a really truly stable life, and we can only do that as we submit to Your Word.
We pray that You would help us to understand the Word and that we would be objective in listening to the teaching of Your Word, responding to God the Holy Spirit as He teaches us, that we may change, transform, and renew our minds. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
All right, we’re in 1 Peter, and I’ve titled this lesson, “How to Inherit a Blessing,” because at the end of 1 Peter 3:9, Peter says, “that you may inherit a blessing.” That’s the purpose clause for the entire sentence of verse eight and verse nine where we read, “Finally, all of you be of one mind.” We talked about these words last time and what they meant—being unified, thinking in the terms of the mind of Christ—that all of us are submit to the Word of God. That is where we have unity.
It’s not unity for the sake of unity. That’s one of the problems with theological liberalism—the expectation that everybody’s just supposed to agree with each other and not have any differences. Now, we don’t have differences because we all submit to the one truth, the revealed Word of God.
We are to have a compassion for one another, a genuine compassion—not a pseudo-compassion that just makes people feel good, but a true genuine care for one another. That’s expanded even further as “brotherly love,” PHILADELPHIA, so that is related to family love, a familial love. Just as we have love for one another in our family, so we have love for one another as believers.
And we are to be tenderhearted. I pointed out last time that that is not the main idea there, that the main idea has to do with genuine humility.
All this flows out of four commands that Peter gives in 1 Peter 2:17 to “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood [the same verbiage that we have here]. Fear God [or respecting God]. Honor the king.” We see, after that, a series of participles that are translated as imperatives in the English, but the participles are designed as a way of showing how we implement those four imperatives into our lives. Servants are to do it by being submissive to masters, wives by being submissive to husbands, and husbands by dwelling with their wives with understanding.
So we’ve gone through those sections. Then Peter ends with this statement—sort of summing it up before he transitions. He says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind.” This is fulfilling these imperatives of verse 17.
I pointed out last time that this is just another application of something that Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 4, but specifically here in Luke 6, where He says to his disciples, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” This is just the opposite of what is the natural inclination of the sin nature. We don’t want to do good to those who hate us; we want to retaliate. We want to somehow get back at them. We want to avoid them. We want to do any number of negative things to them, but we are to do good. It is a positive term, in terms of providing something of benefit to those who hate us.
Some people have gotten the idea that loving your enemies is something passive—the absence of mental attitude sins. But what we see here is, “No, it’s not.” The Bible never looks at it as just something passive, as the absence of mental attitude sins; it is something positive—doing something beneficial, doing something constructive. We are to be a blessing to those even though they revile us or hate us, or have caused different things to us. Contextually, verse 28, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” This isn’t talking about praying a curse on them, or some sort of judgment upon them, but praying that they would be blessed, that God would provide for them, and that they would come to an understanding of the grace of God.
Then, in verse 29, “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also.” This is an idiom. Jesus doesn’t say this because you had a problem with people walking around in Judea slapping each other on the face. It’s clearly a figure of speech, and it refers to being insulted or taking offense over something that appears to be an insult.
To the one who appears to insult you, the one who denigrates you, the one who says something that you could take offense over and make a case about, “offer the other also.” In other words, “Don’t make an issue out of things that can be a distraction to the gospel, a distraction to the spiritual life, and a distraction to the ministry in the body of Christ.
“To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.” The tunic was the lengthy undergarment that was worn under a robe or under a coat. So this is always going a step further. The best illustration, if you’re going to teach the principle of unconditional love or impersonal love—we call it that sometimes, emphasizing that you don’t necessarily have a personal relationship with the other person—is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Samaritans, to Jews, were some of the worst people in the world. They had a profound bias and racial prejudice against Samaritans. I think that the average Jew’s view of a Samaritan was on the order of the average Ku Klux Klansmen toward someone of African descent. They hated and despised them.
So Jesus tells this story where the Samaritan’s the hero. That must’ve just blown their minds. The Samaritan is the one who comes along, and there is this victim of highway robbery—literally—on the road down towards Jericho. He is attacked and ambushed by robbers, and they steal everything. So this Samaritan comes along—who is by virtue of their thinking the worst of the worst—and he picks up the victim. He cleans him up; he bandages his wounds; he gives him his own clothes.
See, he’s not just saying, “Oh, that poor Samaritan,” and praying for him. He’s not just having an attitude of passivity—no mental attitude sins; he is doing something; he’s engaging this person who despises him. He’s engaging him and doing everything he can to help him, and then he takes him to an inn. He pays for his night at the inn, provides for him, and takes care of his food and everything so that he can survive and go forward.
Apart from the Cross, that is the best illustration of love—impersonal love—because he doesn’t know him. There is not a personal relationship there. This isn’t some friend. This isn’t some acquaintance. This isn’t some servant of somebody he knew. He has no knowledge of who this person is, so that is the illustration in Scripture for unconditional and impersonal love.
This is to be the mentality of the believer. It’s radical and it’s revolutionary. What we have to understand is that for any of us as human beings with a sin nature, nothing is probably more difficult for us than being kind to someone who despises us, or who we think despises us, or someone who has done something that in some way hurts us or harms us.
This is a situation where Peter is talking about the fact that we need to respond in kindness and generosity in the midst of a wicked and hostile opposition, where we experience attacks and maybe just pure spitefulness or meanness.
This can happen in any kind of situation. It can happen in families. There are certainly circumstances where someone becomes a believer in a family and family members turn against them. I’m reading a biography right now called Chosen Fruit, which is about the life of Arnold Fruchtenbaum. He came to an understanding of the gospel just before he was bar mitzvahed, about the time he turned 13, and his father was a secular Jew. His father was an atheist; he had turned his back on religion because of the Holocaust. Even before the Holocaust, he turned his back on religion. For generations, this was their family business; they were some of the most significant leaders in their sect of Judaism in Poland and highly respected. They produced scribes and scholars and not just rabbis—but the leaders of a movement, which was called a rebbe. He was more than just a rabbi of a synagogue, the leader and teacher of the synagogue, he would be the leader of a movement.
So this was passed down from father to firstborn son for many generations, and then Arnold’s grandfather just completely rejected it—totally. Then his son died young. His son was reared by the great-grandfather, and he too rejected it. Nevertheless, when Arnold became a Christian, over a period of two or three years his father’s hostility and antagonism to him increased more and more until Arnold came back from a Bible memory camp. By that point the family had moved to Los Angeles. Arnold came back for his senior year, and it was really sort of a blessing in disguise; his father decided not to talk to him at all—just ignored him—acted like he did not exist at all.
So the next year went by; of course that was a blessing in disguise because he wasn’t verbally abusing Arnold anymore. He wasn’t attacking his religion. He wasn’t telling him he couldn’t do anything, or go to church, or associate with messianic Jewish groups, and so Arnold was able to develop some fellowship and some Christian friends and go to church. This is the kind of thing that was clearly experienced by these Jewish-background believers to whom Peter was writing.
There’s hostility from outside the church, within families, and in workplaces. That can be seen today more and more from governments to neighbors. There can be all sorts of environments. The Bible makes it very clear that the standard protocol, the policy for members of God’s royal family, is to live and respond and react in ways that are described as love and kindness and generosity, that believers are always to take the high road. Never take the low road. Always take the high road, no matter what. Because we become, at that point, a visible evidence, a visible witness, of the kind of love that’s demonstrated at the Cross.
So Peter is returning to this theme—dealing with living in a hostile environment—and he’s going to quote for us, in verses 10, 11, and 12, Psalm 34:12–16. We studied Psalm 34 in the context of Samuel just a few weeks ago, but we’re going to go back and look at it tonight in another light. It is clear. I’ve read through several commentaries who have done granular analysis of all the different ways that Peter says certain things, uses certain words in 1 Peter, that indicate that Peter has been thinking about, meditating on, reflecting on, Psalm 34 as a backdrop to what he is saying to these Church Age Jewish-background believers who were living in a hostile environment.
He is making that application across time, from David in the midst of the Philistines in Gath—something we’re still studying. Tuesday night we’re talking about Psalm 56, when David is captured by the Philistines in Gath, and we’re still looking at that same scenario. It’s not an uncommon scenario for Christians down through the ages.
Peter is really focusing on this, and as he addresses this in 1 Peter 3:8, he emphasizes these five qualities: to be in harmony with one another; sympathy, meaning understanding the suffering of the other person, putting yourself in the place of the other person and how they are responding to the circumstances around them; brotherly love; being kindhearted to one another; and being courteous, which is a terrible translation of the Greek word TAPEINOPHRON.
TAPEINOPHRON means to have genuine humility, that we are to submit to authority. He doesn’t state what that authority is; but that authority, ultimately, would be the Word of God in terms of how we deal with other people.
As he gets into these verses, we read in 1 Peter 3:9, “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing.” So what we return is blessing; that’s the same thing we saw in Luke 6. “On the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
That’s an important phrase; we have to understand what that means. What is the “this”? We “were called to this”. To return blessing for evil? Or we were called to inherit a blessing? Which is it? Now we can answer that only through syntactical analysis and looking at other ways in which this kind of structure is used, especially by Peter.
1 Peter 3:9. That language has already been established, because at the end of 1 Peter 2:23, talking about Jesus, he said, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return.” That’s the pattern—the Lord Jesus Christ is always our pattern. He is the One into whose image we are being conformed. We look at how He reacted to those who insulted Him, those who belittled Him, those who mocked Him, those who beat Him, those who ridiculed everything He stood for and everything that happened going to the Cross. He did not react. “And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.”
“Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” So He understands that it has to be turned over to the Lord. You just move forward and move on. But we have to focus on the Judge who judges righteously and let Him handle injustice. It’s not up to us; it’s up to God.
1 Peter 3:9. When we look at how this verse is set up, basically what we see in the structure of what’s coming up is this shifting term to how we handle injustice. That’s been a major part of the epistle up to this point. But this whole topic of handling injustice, hostility that’s not deserved, becomes part of the topic down through 1 Peter 4:19. So we have to go from where we are now in 1 Peter 3:9 down through verse 22 of this chapter and then down to the end of 1 Peter chapter 4.
The illustration he goes to is going to be listed there in 1 Peter 3:10–12, coming from Psalm 34:12–16; that fits the circumstance perfectly. Then he’s going to talk about suffering for righteousness sake, quoting from Isaiah 8:12–17. The theme there is, “For it is better, if it is the will of God [that is, if God directs you into these circumstances], to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” That’s always tough, because our sin nature, our arrogance, our self-righteousness immediately gets inflamed and we say, “This isn’t right.” So we insist on our own righteousness, and that’s where we get out of fellowship.
He says that it’s better, if it’s the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. Then look at verse 18. “For.” Look at that first word; you ought to circle it. Whenever we see a “for” we have to say, “What’s that there for?” Okay? See, that’s a little twist on “When we see a therefore, we see what it’s there for.” This is a “for”, so we have to see what it’s there for. It is to explain something, and it always explains something previous.
The illustration for suffering for doing good is Christ. He not only did good, He was perfect! “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.” Once again we’re back to the Cross, and that just skewers all of us. Whatever rationale we come up with to justify whatever behavior we’ve had, it always falls apart when it comes up to the Cross. Because Jesus handles everything the way we are to handle it.
So that’s the next section that takes us from 1 Peter 3:18–22. We get into some interesting Christology there, as well as understanding some things about the days of Noah and also what appears to be a rabbit trail—we talk about baptism. That’s in verse 21.
Then we get down into 1 Peter 4, and Peter is going to return to general principles of the Christian way of life, ending once again with God’s gracious outreach of the gospel to undeserving people. Unbelievers who are what? Hostile to God. So it’s always dealing with people who aren’t responding favorably to us, people who are hostile to us, and how we are to go the extra mile in being kind and generous to them.
In the last section, then, he returns to the theme of being reproached for the name of Christ and not suffering for wrongdoing, but doing that which is right and righteous. 1 Peter 4:19 states, “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” We are to respond by doing that which is good.
First of all, I have five points here in summary of the overall context.
It wasn’t uncommon in that day because Christianity is this new religion. It wasn’t accepted as legal, as such, in the Greco–Roman culture. This is such an early stage that it was still viewed as being part of Judaism, but they were getting reaction from their fellow Jews.
The typical response in that culture to someone who insults you, someone who defames you, someone who ridicules you, was to strike back, to retaliate, to return evil for evil. What does that do? That just escalates things—it just goes from bad to worse. It doesn’t resolve anything, it just deepens the antagonism. One writer said, “Given the tendency of human nature to retaliate, coupled with the social expectations to do so [because that’s what is socially acceptable in the Greco–Roman culture], the Christian who refrains from verbal retaliation and instead offers blessing would give unbelievers pause.”
Think about that. It’s part of our testimony. Now—that testimony—why would we do that? Contextually, what is the motivation for doing this? Where do you find that? In the last clause, where it says, “that you may inherit a blessing.” So takes us back to inheritance.
We’ve talked about the spiritual skills, the problem-solving devices. What is the problem-solving device? What’s the spiritual skill that’s related to inheritance? Do you remember? Do I have to go back and reteach the problem-solving devices? The first four are related to what? Faith. Then you have the hinge one, which is your personal sense of your eternal destiny. What’s our eternal destiny? It has to do with inheritance and ruling and reigning with Christ. The word there is hope, our confident expectation; that’s the first part of 1 Peter.
So we have this hope. We are being obedient because of the hope that we have directed towards the future and our inheritance. Hang on to that word “hope.”
Now, you’re doing this as part of your visible testimony, this expression of your hope. Skip down to verse 15. We will get there in two or three weeks. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” See, you need to draw a circle around the word “hope” in that verse and connect it back to 1 Peter 3:9, “that you may inherit a blessing.” That, in turn, is going to be related to the fact that for husbands you need to live with your wife in an understanding manner; because she is a fellow heir—so you have inheritance there—“that your prayers may not be hindered.” So all that ties together.
When we do not behave as the culture, and as our sin nature, thinks is normal, then it’s because we are living on the basis of this hope of our future expectation. When people see that we don’t live that way, they are going to say, “Why?” That’s what 1 Peter 3:15 is talking about—they will ask “a reason for the hope that is in you.” Okay, so that shows how all of these little threads here fit and connect together.
When we look at 1 Peter 3:9, we are “not returning.” The word for “returning” is the word APODIDOMI, which means to pay back, or to pay recompense. It would be like paying a salary to somebody, or paying wages due somebody. “You do this, I’m going to pay you a certain amount.” So somebody does something wrong to you, then you pay them back, you repay them in the same negative manner.
“Reviling” is the word LOIDORIA, which means insult for insult, reproach for reproach, verbal abuse for verbal abuse, or cursing or reviling. That’s all the idea there. By not doing that, it’s a visible testimony of the grace of God.
This is like an a fortiori argument. If we as believers are to respond like this to those who are outside the family of God, to those who are unbelievers, then how much more should we apply this to other believers who are within the family of God, because strife and difficulties always break out with other family members. It happens in our natural family; it also happens in the body of Christ.
We have such a problem in our culture with love. We think of love as having an emotional attachment to somebody that is more or less an intensified form of liking someone. “I like you. I like you a lot. I like you very much.” What’s the next stage? “I love you.” If “like” becomes intense enough, then it’s “love,” and it’s this emotional attachment. That’s not the biblical concept at all.
The biblical concept has to be grounded in John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. That’s where we get our picture. How do we visualize love? “God loved the world in such a way that He gave His unique Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
How do we see love there? God is doing the right thing for His creatures. God is doing the best thing for His creatures. God knows exactly what they need, and He is doing the highest and best for them. That is the core idea in love—it’s acting correctly, rightly, in the best interest of someone else.
As soon as we use that term, “best interests,” somebody’s going to say, “Well, wait a minute. If it’s ‘best interest,’ who are you to determine what my best interests are? Where are you getting that value?” For the average person, the best interests that I have for you are just my own selfish desires. But that’s not what this is talking about.
It’s talking about having an external standard which is the character of God, so that only when we understand the integrity, the righteousness, the justice, and the love of God, can we come to any understand of what is best for other human beings. That gives us an objectivity. What is best for you isn’t what is best for me; what is best for you is what is determined to be best and right for you according to the standard of God and what God expects from each of us in our behavior. That means that we are all being held to this higher standard that is the character of God.
When we get involved in any kind of situation where we are being insulted, or attacked, or somebody’s ridiculing our faith, our natural response from the sin nature, I think, is self-justification. Whatever we’re going to do, it’s going to be okay, because look at what that sorry son of a gun did to me? That justifies it. Because they hate the Cross, that justifies that kind of behavior. But what we are doing is we are letting our emotions override our thinking, what we know to be true in the Scriptures.
Whatever emotions are generated in us and circumstances, the issue in loving one another or loving your enemy is to subordinate our feelings and our emotions to the right thing that Scripture says we are to do; that becomes our marching orders. That’s the code of conduct for the believer. That is our protocol; that’s our policy. So we are to love them as we saw in the illustration I used earlier of the Good Samaritan, which is in Luke 10:25–37. If you haven’t read that in a while, I encourage you to do that. I’m not going to take the time to go through that tonight.
It’s not something that if we just grow enough, mature enough, we can do this. If we just go through enough self-help classes, that somehow we can do that. That if we read enough self-improvement books, take enough psychology classes, motivational classes, that somehow we can rise up to this level. Because the Bible says it’s a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love”. That’s the first fruit of the Spirit. It’s mentioned there because about six verses earlier Paul quotes from Leviticus 18:13, that we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then he goes into what appears to be a rabbit trail, where he says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Walking by means of the Spirit had to be introduced there, because the only way to fulfill the command to love one another is to do what? It’s to have it produced by the Spirit. It’s the fruit of the Spirit that produces love. We can’t gin this up.
It’s not something we can manufacture. The spiritual life is not difficult—it’s impossible! It’s only when we’re walking by the Spirit that God the Holy Spirit is able to transform us into the image of Christ. When it’s talking about dealing with other people in terms of having one mind, having compassion, or caring for one another, loving them as a brother, being tenderhearted, being humble, we can’t do that on our own.
This all exemplifies love, and it’s more than just saying you don’t retaliate. It’s more than saying you don’t do something or say something verbal or react physically or otherwise, but that we return good—something positive, for evil; we are to bless. This is what is going on here.
We are not to retaliate in kind. “But on the contrary,” in other words, just the opposite—we are to bless. That means we are to do something positive coming from grace, to provide something beneficial for someone. A blessing means to invoke God’s goodness and His kindness on someone, to be the physical representative of God’s goodness and kindness in someone else’s life.
The next-to-last clause is, “because you know that you were called to this.” We translate that participle as “knowing this,” but it’s actually a causal participle. The reason you’re able to do this is because you know some doctrine. You’ve been taught something, you know something in your soul, and you know that “you were called to this.”
We have to understand what the “this” is. Is the “this” giving a blessing to someone? Were you called to give a blessing to those who revile you? Or, were you called to inherit a blessing? See, it could go either way.
We have to look at this and analyze it. First of all, “calling” in Scripture always relates to a purpose God has for our life. We are “called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28–29. We are called to a purpose, and that, according to that context, is to be conformed to the image of Christ. We’re to see His character in our life—that’s the fruit of the Spirit.
We have a number of passages in Scripture the talk about “this is the will of God for you.” “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Isn’t that easy? Have you ever noticed that the statements that say, “This is the will of God for you,” are not easy? They are difficult—they can only be produced by God the Holy Spirit.
This is another one of those that is saying, “You’re to return blessing for reviling because this is what God called you to do.” God gave you this mission to do this. Your personal marching orders from God is to react with blessing to those who revile you. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for that. But that’s what God said, so we have to submit to that authority. That’s the issue. The humility here is to submit to His authority and make that a part of our life—we were “called to this.”
We have this phrase “to this,” and in the Greek it is a combination of two words, EIS and TOUTA. TOUTA means “this” and EIS indicates a purpose or end result. Grammatically, it could refer to something before or something after. But Peter uses this phrase two other times. He uses it in 1 Peter 2:21, “for to this you were called,” and there it clearly refers to servants being submissive to masters as described in 1 Peter 2:18–20. There it clearly refers to what has already been said.
In 1 Peter 4:6, he says, “for this reason the gospel.” “For this reason” is the same phrase, and that refers back to what was said in 1 Peter4:5. In other instances where Peter uses this phrase, it points backward—not to what he is about to say.
So that would read this way, “Don’t return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary return blessing, because you were called to return blessing for evil.” That’s your purpose, and the reason that you are called to return blessing for evil is so that you could inherit a blessing.
Now remember. We’ve talked about this many, many times. There are two categories of inheritance for the Church Age believer. There’s that category of inheritance that refers to what we all have—heirs of God—that’s true for every single believer. Those are possessions that are ours. By virtue of our position in Christ, we are given eternal life, we are united with Christ, we are going to be raised at the Rapture from the dead or we are going to be transformed at the Rapture and go to be with the Lord in the air. We are going to be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ. For those who have been obedient and grown spiritually …
God is going to be very generous and gracious with us at the Judgment Seat of Christ from how He has judged and evaluated others that are mentioned in Scripture. Go to Hebrews 11 and look at all the times that Abraham failed, all the times David failed, all the times Jephthah failed, Gideon failed, and Sampson failed. Sampson was a horrible failure. From what we are told in Judges, Sampson didn’t do anything right; but obviously he must have, because God lists him as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11.
What that tells us is that the way God is going to mete out judgment to us is going to be very, very gracious at the Judgment Seat of Christ, because He knows what we’re made of. It is Christ, who is our Brother, who is going to judge us and evaluate us. If we have walked with Him, if we have been obedient and served Him, however we’ve done that—remember, that’s all done by the power the Holy Spirit, walking by the Spirit—then the result is a second category of inheritance which in Romans 8 is defined as those who have suffered with Him.
Well, that’s those who are not returning evil for evil, those who are not returning reviling for reviling. That’s a form of suffering. Those who have been insulted for Christ and have not retaliated means you get an overcomer blessing. We have studied overcomers in Revelation before.
That’s the picture here, and Peter is making this very clear that this is talking about rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is not talking about what every believer has in common. I want to remind you of a passage in Colossians 3:23 that says, “And whatever you do [whatever you think, whatever you say, whatever you do, whatever you are involved in], do it heartily [do it fully], as to the Lord and not to men.” We are doing this to serve the Lord and to respond to our Lord, who paid for us, who bought us, and who gave us this great salvation. “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the [the what?] reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” We ought to wake up every morning thinking, “Today I’m serving the Lord. I may be going off to work for this company or that company. I may be working for myself. I may be a father. I may be a mother. I may be a child. I may be a student. I may be a teacher. But I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing to serve the Lord.”
If I serve the Lord, then at the Judgment Seat of Christ I will receive the reward of the inheritance. That’s not a gift; a reward is not a gift. Salvation is a gift, but rewards are earned through obedience. So this command to return blessing and good for that which is evil is related to serving the Lord in this life and being a visible testimony of His grace and His goodness and the reality of the hope that is within us.
At this point Peter introduces us to a quote that is from David. This is David thinking through the implications of what he has gone through in Gath. He has not only been praising God in the first part of Psalm 34, but in the second part he structures it as an instruction to those who listen to his Psalm and read his Psalm.
He says, “For ‘He who would love life and see good days.’ ” If I were in a certain kind of church I might say, “Everybody here who wants to love life and see good days raise your hand.” They do that; I’ve been in Bible studies like that. Of course, everybody, no matter what they want, is going to raise their hand, because nobody wants to be singled out as not wanting that. But if you want to have good days and love life and have a quality of life, it’s not dependent on those external circumstances, it’s not about having a certain kind of car, or a certain kind of clothes, living in the right neighborhood; it’s about having a capacity for life in your soul. That if you would do that, then we’re going to get some instruction: “Let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.”
The first is to avoid sins of the tongue. Second, “Let him turn away from evil and do good.” Notice, again we have this idea of it’s not just resisting evil, it is actively engaging in doing righteousness, pursuing righteousness, and doing that which is good.
Then it says, “Let him seek peace and pursue it.” It’s one thing to say, “Let them seek peace,” but pursuing it involves an act of aggressiveness—to pursue peace and harmony.
“Let him seek peace and pursue it.” Why? “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.” In a simplified form, “God is watching you.” God is taking account. That’s what we are going to see in Psalm 56. I talked about it last time, that God watches us; it’s pictured metaphorically in Psalm 56 as “He keeps an account in his book,” and “He keeps our tears in His bottle.” He is keeping track of the heartaches, the difficulties that we go through. He is not immune to our suffering and our difficulties.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers.” But notice that there’s a contrast here. On the one hand, those who are turning away from evil, doing good, seeking peace, pursuing it, refraining from the sins of the tongue, God is open to their prayers. But on the other hand, those who refuse to do that and take the path of carnality and the sin nature, “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
In context, because this is talking about prayer as part of this, this is one of those passages saying, “If you’re not obeying the Lord, then God is not going to listen to you.” He’s not going to listen to your prayers.
You know, there are a lot of people who’ve reacted to that over the years. I remember back in the 80s there was a president of the Southern Baptist Convention who said God doesn’t hear the prayers of the Jews. Y’all remember that? There was such an uproar over that in the national press. Liberals want God to listen to everybody’s prayers—“We’re so sincere!” “God honors our sincerity.” Well not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not Jesus, since people are sincerely wrong and God is going to judge them and punish them.
God is not impressed with our sincerity, and so there are some people He doesn’t listen to. This fits the context. Notice, this is summarizing things. It fits the context, because we were just told back in 1 Peter 3:7 that if husbands don’t treat their wives right, God is not going to listen to their prayers either! So God clearly chooses when He’s going to listen to prayers.
The psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” This isn’t just a Christian New Testament teaching; it’s talking about the fact that if a person is not rightly related to God, rightly adjusted to the righteousness of God—either at salvation or in his spiritual life, then God’s not going listen to him.
As we look at this quote, I want to remind you of a couple things from Psalm 34. First of all, David wrote while he was surrounded by hostile enemies. He’s in the Philistine city of Gath. He’s been captured by the Philistines. He prayed and cried out to God for His blessing in Psalm 56, and then because God listened to him and delivered him in Psalm 34, he praises God. Now Peter is writing to Jewish believers who are scattered amidst a hostile culture—hostile to Christianity, and he’s encouraging them to live above the circumstances and on the basis of Christian love and on the basis of hope.
In Psalm 34:
You think about being in an environment where a Roman soldier is threatening you because you are a Christian. The last thing you want to do is do something that would bring any attention at all to yourself and might put you in a position of being more vulnerable. You’d be scared to death. You’d rather go hide behind a tree somewhere or become a flower on the wall or whatever. But here David is saying that you are to trust God for protection and do the right thing. You know, give them a glass of water, encourage them, witness to them.
There are many examples of that kind of thing that happened. We can think of recent history and the Third Reich. People who gave the gospel to Germans—some were killed for it, some were not. But that is what love does; it is obedient to the Lord.
That’s the focal point. They need to learn to fear the Lord. Then there are these couplets that we saw that come after that which focus on teaching, giving instruction to other believers in reference to wisdom.
In Psalm 34:11–12 David said, “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” That’s what he’s getting ready to do in that context, teaching us to respect the Lord and to submit to Him.
“Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?” That’s how David starts. He’s going to hook us by offering those rhetorical questions; everybody wants a good life; everybody wants happiness and stability in their life. If this is what you want, then this is how you get it.
He gives us then, in the next couple of verses, some things to think about. He’s talking to them as children; literally, “sons.”
Ultimately, as we saw in our study of Psalm 34 in the 1 Samuel series just three or four weeks ago, it’s about relying upon the goodness of God to do the right thing.
What are we to do? Psalm 34:13, “Keep,” which means to guard. It’s the Hebrew word NATZAR, which means “to watch over, to keep.” “Keep your tongue from evil.” It’s one of the hardest things in life to do. Every one of us falls into the trap of sins of the tongue day in and day out. It is warned against, as we will see, again and again in Scripture.
“Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” That’s a synonymous parallelism—guarding your tongue, guarding your lips, because it’s your tongue and your lips that form the words that lead to verbal sins and sins of the tongue.
Evil and speaking deceit are synonymous there and reflecting. So he says, first of all, you have to control your mouth. You have to be careful what you say and what you don’t say. And that is very hard for a lot of people. They can get themselves into a lot [of trouble]. James says that the tongue is a world of fire. It sets the world aflame, because once you say things they can’t be taken back.
David goes on to say not only control your mouth, “Depart from evil and do good.” So you have to change. There is a transformation that only God can produce; that’s Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“Depart from evil and do good.” It’s a positive thing. It’s intentional, it’s thoughtful, it involves planning. You want to do something good and gracious and kind to the person who’s done evil to you.
Then he says, in the second stanza, “Seek peace.” Peace is more than just an absence of friction. Seeking peace is more than an absence of conflict. It’s the Hebrew word SHALOM The Hebrew word SHALOM indicates wellness, or wholeness, or healthfulness. It’s a healthful, positive, beneficial environment. So seeking peace or wholeness and then to pursue it, to be aggressive, to make sure that peace takes place.
This is stated in many places in Scripture. Proverbs 4:24, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you.” “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” We need to be careful with what we say.
1 Peter 3:10 just quotes from this. “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.” Then he says in verse 11, “Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.” All of that we’ve already seen in the original context of Psalm 34:12–14.
Then, verse 12, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.” God’s our father; the eyes of the Lord refer to His knowledge, His omniscience. He’s aware of all of our thoughts, the intents of our thoughts. The Word of God exposes and divides between the thoughts and intents of our heart.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers.” In the original context of Psalm 34:15, it says, “His ears are open to their cry.” It’s the crying out for deliverance.
“His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord” [that’s talking, usually, about His favor, but it can also be His judgment]. “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” It is not distinguishing between unbeliever and believer; it’s distinguishing between those who do righteousness and those who don’t.
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.”
Notice all these phrases: the “eyes of the Lord”, “His ears”, “the face of the Lord”, all relate to His personal involvement in our lives and making various decisions there.
Remember, an anthropomorphism is attributing to God human physical characteristics which He does not actually possess, in order to communicate to human beings the plans and policies of God. The idea there is that He’s looking at us. He knows about us. He hears us; He pays attention; and He’s watching us. So He is going to be the One, ultimately, to bring justice.
The next thing that we need to cover, and we don’t have time for tonight, is a review of the doctrine of the sins of the tongue, and that is very much a part of what is going on here and what we need to be reminded of, so that when we are in situations where we are facing these hostile attacks, especially in terms of government. We hear so many things that go on today. And I don’t know about you, but I get angry, I get resentful. All these things pile up in my soul, and that’s just the opposite of what should be there when we are walking by the Holy Spirit. We are to respond with grace, and our words should be characterized by grace and kindness and not by anger, resentment, and bitterness. We have to understand why the sins of the tongue are self-destructive, and we will do that next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things tonight and to realize that this is Your Word. It is given to wake us up to our own self-destructive behavior, that our own sin natures can lead to not only self-destruction, but manifold ways of self-induced misery. When we take the path of obedience, to submit to You, to return kindness for evil, then we will always be provided for by You.
When we returned blessing for evil, then again, this is what will bring health to our own souls and health to the souls of others. We pray that we might keep that in mind and focus on that, that only God the Holy Spirit can produce it. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”