The reason for the hope that you have
Peter’s letter is written for Christians around the world. He describes his readers as the chosen people of God, not because of race or geography but because they have come to put their trust in the living God. They have received new life into a living hope through Jesus Christ. We are a royal priesthood and holy nation called to live differently to those who are of the world.
Peter describes us a being built into a living house with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Our lives must be moulded and shaped by Christ. We are to put off all the sin and desires of our old lives and embrace the freedom of living in Christ. But this freedom is not anarchy. As servants of Jesus, we are to submit to all kinds of authority. Now, Peter turns to all of us who have been saved by Jesus to respond to evil in this world as Jesus did.
- 8-12 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
- 13-17 It is better to suffer for doing good
- 18-22 For Christ who suffered now reigns over all
8-12 – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
“Finally, all of you…” This is not the mark of the end of his book but the final element of his current discussion. Peter has been talking about how to live as strangers in this world – as foreign citizens – 2:11-12. He has addressed slaves directly, wives directly and husbands directly. Now he addresses all Christians no matter what their life looks like.
“…be like-minded…” Peter desires all believers to be of one accord. The problem with this command is deciding what that single mind looks like but then Peter has already anchored our minds on Christ and will again in verse 18. Our minds are to be sober or clear as we set our hope on the grace brought by Jesus (1:13). We are not to list all the things that we agree upon and base our unity on the bare minimum of consent. Christians have done that time and time again and are left with no real meat to their shared faith. Rather, we are to set our minds on Christ and learn together from him. Our humility, compassion, sacrificial love and sympathy will all be shaped, taught and moulded by our love of Christ and our sober understanding of him. NB, our battle is with the flesh, the world and the devil – we need less quarrelling in the church and more understanding of one another so long as we are pointing one another to the truth in Christ.
“…be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” The grace of God gives us sober minds to view one another as sinners redeemed and being sanctified. As you forgive yourself for mistakes that you make in life, by sympathetic of others. The church is not filled with giants of the faith but of recovering sinners all going through rehab. Understanding grace makes a massive difference to how we view others in this world. There is nothing we have done to deserve salvation, nor earn it. Therefore, all of us share in the love of God and all of us can demonstrate that same love to one another.
“…repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” This phrase, and the quote which follows, illustrate the dynamic between faith and good deeds. It is not good deeds which save us but they are what God sees in the life of a genuine believer. This is why we were redeemed. We are not called from darkness to remain in darkness. Our inheritance is not based on our good lives but our good lives will demonstrate that God has called us. Really, only a born again Christian will see the logic in repaying evil with blessing – because that is what God has done toward them (Romans 5:8). The final judgment of all humans is with God and so we can allow evil deeds done toward us go without personal revenge. People who behave selfishly, and hatefully are only doing what their sinful nature demands – but for the grace of God we would be the same.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous…but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The bible instructs us on what a good life looks like and expects that those who follow Jesus will pursue righteousness. Those whom God has called will pursue Him. Those he has not called will remain in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14). We know that we are his when we have heard the good news, believed and embraced life with Christ. We then love his word and seek to obey his commands to love Him and love others, wholly and sacrificially. The favour of God is on those who seek righteousness. A Christian will read these words of Peter in verses 8-12 and will want to please God because they love him and reverently fear him – because they have been called by him and no longer live in ignorance!
13-17 – It is better to suffer for doing good
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” This rhetorical question expects the answer ‘nobody’! It is right to expect, all things being equal, that people will repay good with good! Repaying evil with evil will perpetuate evil! To repay evil with good ought to short-circuit the evil. And good behaviour ought to generate an atmosphere of good! This is all quite true except that it does not always work and there can be times when a good thing is perceived as evil – like sharing your faith!
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Peter knows that doing good is not a surefire way of receiving good in return. He is conscious of the evil in this world. Nevertheless, receiving good is not the reason for doing it! Living in reverent fear and love of God is our motivation. Being holy because he is holy. We are blessed – on the side of righteousness – when we do the right thing. As one many once said, whenever people asked him what they should do, he would answer, “the right thing!”
“Do not fear their threats…but…revere Christ as Lord.” This is our motivation. Colossians 3:23 gives us the motivation of working for the Lord in all things rather than working for men. We are not trying to be people pleasers but we are people who serve the living God. Are you motivated by needing to please people? Then meditate on this passage and pray that God will change your heart to fear him more than mankind.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I call this the ‘Boy Scout method of evangelism. At its simplest, we need to know and understand our faith so naturally that we are ready to talk about it at any moment that the topic comes up. The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared”. Don’t get caught with nothing to say! But we need to understand this verse in it’s context too. Peter expects that others will be able to identify a faith in us. This verse does not give us licence to be private and secretive Christians. Many Christians will quote this verse and say “I’m happy to talk to people about my faith if they ever ask me about it!” But the verse presumes that you are already waving your faith around so that others will take notice. You are repaying evil with good. You are even brave enough to do what is right and speak about Jesus to people – this is doing good (3:13-14). You are living such good lives – so distinctly different – among unbelievers that they will see your good deeds! Peter is not giving us licence to fly under the radar in this world until someone asks us about our belief. Peter is giving us warning to be prepared to speak when people see our holy lives. Especially when they are hostile when they ask the question!
“But do this with gentleness and respect…” These words accompany the word ‘humility’. We are no better than anyone except that Christ has saved us. At one time, you too lived in ignorance and someone had the love and respect to talk to you about Jesus. Perhaps you rejected and hated the gospel at first! Nobody ever argued a sinner into the Kingdom of God! It is always words spoken in love and respect which, through the eternal Spirit, God can use to bring about a new life. God can use blunt instruments like arguments and quarrels but his desire is for his people to represent him on earth. 2 Corinthians 5:20 illustrates this as us being Christ’s ambassadors appealing to the people of this world to be reconciled to Christ.
“…keeping a clear conscience…” What you say to others about your faith ought to match what your faith is actually about. Do you walk the walk? And when you speak to others about your faith, is it done respectfully and gently?
“…so that those who speak maliciously…may be ashamed…” Ever since the beginning of the Christian faith (and the Jewish faith as 1 Peter 3:20 alludes to), people have spoken maliciously against the faith and attacked believers for their faith. People will even report that the Christian faith was made up by powerful people in order to oppress others with their power – but 1 Peter 3 speaks directly against this supposition. Those who speak maliciously are those who try to slander, defame or speak evil of believers. Peter expects there to be slander against Christians when they live holy lives and speak the truth. That was the expectation of Peter in the 1st century and it is our experience in the 21st century. Do not let the unpopularity of Christianity allow your faith to fail because this should not be a surprise to us. But do not allow our accusers any reason to be right when they slander us! It would be better to admit failure than to attempt to cover up our faults. It would be better to pursue righteous living than to be all talk with no evidence of our faith.
“For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” That is clear enough isn’t it? Let’s not overlook one important point though – suffering for doing what is right is considered part of God’s plan. Romans 8:28 is one of our Christian bumper sticker sayings! Peter will now proceed to talk about Jesus and his shining example in this area of bearing witness in a world of wickedness.
18-22 – For Christ who suffered now reigns over all
“For Christ also suffered…” Jesus leads the way in our faith in so many different ways! He was never married and yet there is such a stupid emphasis (I think influenced by the world more than the church) on marriage. Jesus never owned a home. Jesus died before he hit mid-life. Jesus was often alone although surrounded by people. Jesus put first the Kingdom of God always. Jesus was slow to speak. Jesus is the model Christian. I know that is obvious but do we follow his lead or do we rather model our Christianity after other fallen people? I admit that we can never match Jesus and are never expected to but the bible points us to Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith AND as our teacher! Christ also suffered. We follow the lamb who was slain. Our chief is the Servant King. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27).
“…once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Put this in your memory verse folder! This is the fourth verse quoted in the Two Ways Two Live tract to express how Jesus’ death was to make us right with God. Do you remember the fourth box? God did not leave us in our sin and rebellious state but sent Jesus to die in our place! How many bible verses can you think of that describe the same thing? How about this short list: Romans 5:8; Mark 10:45; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 9:12; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:6.
“He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” This is a curious phrase that may need some unpacking. Taken on it’s own it opens up questions but let’s first see what the sentence does in its context! Peter is telling us to be ready for persecution and not run from it. Christ suffered and we shall suffer too. But remember, says Peter, that though Christ was killed in the flesh, this was not the end. Peter moves forward in the rest of this chapter to describe Christ’s reign. So, the purpose of Peter’s statement is to impress on us that dying in the flesh is not the end. But, we need to ask, what does it mean that he was made alive ‘in the Spirit’? And when or how did he preach to the spirits in prison?
The phrase, ‘death in the body but made alive in the Spirit’, does not describe two states of Christ – a human state and a spiritual state – but a process of stage one, dying and stage two, living. Although Christ died a physical and real death, he was made alive by the resurrection. The phrase, ‘in the Spirit’ might mean ‘by the Spirit’ but might be contrasting his earthly body with his glorified resurrection body. The significant words in this sentence are dead and alive rather than body and Spirit. In the flesh, Christ died but by the Spirit, he is made alive.
“…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison…” Firstly, let’s keep the big idea of Peter at the forefront to avoid being taken off track. Peter gives a sequence of events: we are brought to God (v18), by his death, his resurrection and his ascension (v22). These three movements, death, resurrection and ascension and the central flow of Peter’s discussion describes us being brought to God. Along the way, Peter uses some interesting and curious phrases which cause us to stop and ask questions. It is in Christ’s resurrected state that he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. With only 1 Peter and the Christian bible to go from, this phrase is just curious and can be left that Jesus declared something to some spirits who are not free. We do not need to presume that he converted them or know what the outcome of the proclamation was other than that they received a message from Christ.
Without any other information, we are simply left to see that the resurrected Christ has something to proclaim to the spirit world. But there is some extra-biblical info that may help. As briefly as I can…1 Enoch is part of the apocrypha which the reformed church appreciate as books worth reading but not part of God’s inspired word (AKA the bible). In 1 Enoch 12-16 there is an expanded account of the events around Genesis 6. Fallen spirits were, the legend goes, making babies with human women and their offspring were causing havoc on the world which produced the rebellion on the earth which brought on the judgment of God through flood. The fallen angels beg Enoch to talk to God about what they have done and they are given the answer that they will remain inside the earth as prisoners for eternity (see also 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6). While this background helps to understand what Peter is referring to, it does not follow that Peter regards 1 Enoch as scripture nor that his readers knew the writing well. But the legend is referred to and Jesus, in his resurrection body has something to proclaim even to those legendary spirits.
This section, accompanied with 2 Peter 2:4, may give weight to the creed which declares Jesus descended to hell on the Easter weekend.
The least we ought to say about these verses is that Jesus proclaimed a victory over evil in this world. Perhaps the greatest example of evil are the evil spirits working during the days before the great flood. And Jesus’ victory over this world and the evil deeds committed is proclaimed to us. We are not to fear the malicious attacks of this world because our God has conquered death and evil. Peter alludes to this Noah example knowing that his readers were familiar with it, even though we are not. Legend has it that Noah’s ark came to rest in the very region that Peter is writing to and there were a number of flood stories which were commonly known in Peter’s day.
“…saved through water…” Ask anyone what the water was doing in the Noah story and they would say that it was flooding the world and drowning everything not saved by the ark. The ark is what saved Noah and his family! While we might equate the ark with the body of Christ or the blood of Christ, Peter uses the analogy of the water to talk about baptism. The importance of his lesson is that baptism doesn’t cleanse us like the washing of dirt, but it destroys evil – the pledge of a clear conscience. Victory is portrayed by Peter by Christ’s living Spirit, the floating boat and the resurrection. Through Christ we have victory.
While the word, ‘baptism’ takes most of us straight to a water ritual – and this passage clearly takes our minds to water – we must discipline our minds to ask what aspect of baptism is this passage pointing to. Peter tells us that baptism cleanses our conscience before God. No matter what form baptism takes (full wash, sprinkle or dry-clean) the symbol refers to a movement apart from God to with God. Baptism saves us because it aligns the believer with Christ and his resurrection assures us of salvation from this earth. Like the flood waters destroyed the things of this earthly world and carried the saved ones in the ark, so too believers are redeemed from the death of this world and raised with Christ.
Now, let’s step back out from the specific difficulties of this passage and see what Peter is saying. Our lives are to be influenced by God and not by the influence of sinful men and we are not to fear the reactions of people to our faith and testimony because God is victorious over death and every spiritual authority.
We can live in fear of mankind and what everybody thinks and says or we can acknowledge that in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, we are on the side of the eternal winner. So, live in this evil age as those who serve Christ and not the things of this fallen world. Turn from evil and do good.
- Topic A – To this you were called. Verses 8 to 12 describe the virtues and character of the righteous. Which do you find the hardest and how can you train yourself to respond or grow in righteousness?
- Topic B – Be prepared to give a reason. Why do you hope in Christ? Why do you love him? What difference does Jesus make to your life?
- Topic C – What is your ultimate motivation in life? Peter instructed us to be motivated to please God and not be drawn to please people. But how much are you changed by this? Does the victory of Jesus over death and all kinds of evil impress you?
Prayer of the Week
Almighty God, thank you for the salvation that comes only through Jesus death – the righteous for the unrighteous – so that we are brought to you. As Noah and his family were carried safely across the waters, please carry us by the risen Lord to eternal deliverance. Help us to speak about our faith without fear. Give us the words to speak and proclaim Jesus as the risen Lord. Amen.