Introduction to Part 5
Peter has been dealing with believers’ attitudes and actions and how they affect interactions with one another, with the government, and the impact on our life “in Christ “as members of His church. Peter sums up his teaching on attitudes and actions by giving a list of virtues that should be present in the life of all mature Christians.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”1 Peter 3:8-12
Virtues Expected in the Lives of All Mature Believers
The first virtue he lists deals with how believers should think (be like-minded and humble – 3:8). What does he mean? In this context I believe unity of mind or like-mindedness refers to how we think about God and people, their proper relationship, and what God requires of His covenant people. Peter of course does not mean unanimity where everyone agrees one hundred per cent on everything, nor does he mean uniformity in which everyone looks and acts the same. He does mean we should in general agree on the gospel and the essential beliefs of Christianity. We should also be willing even in the midst of confusion and adversity to cooperate, to recognize the importance of each living stone in Christ’s church, and to heed Christ’s command to love one another.
What does Peter mean by a humble mind? Again, in the context of Christian maturity, I think he means that believers are to be the opposite of proud or arrogant or haughty. Modest is probably a good word. We are to strive to do and be the best we can in all that we do. But we are to be modest about our achievements. We have nothing that we have not received from God. To God be the glory.
Peter says a mature Christian’s emotional life is to be characterized by a tender heart, a sympathetic attitude and brotherly love – 3:8. Other virtues he lists deal with what we do and say. First, we are not to repay evil for evil but rather have a forgiving nature – 3:9. Believers are to restrain and control their tongue, speaking the truth in love with a complete absence of pride or a “better than you” attitude – 3:10. Believers are to turn away from evil and do good. This means living a life of purity – 3:11. Finally, believers are to seek peace and pursue it, having a peaceful disposition which actively strives for peaceful relationships – 3:11.
These virtues are pleasing to the Lord. His eyes are on the righteous who possess these virtues, His ears open to their prayers. But He turns His face from those who fail to possess these virtues and do evil. Verses 3:8-12 provide a checklist against which we can test our maturity.
More Thoughts on Maturity
Mature Christians may (and will) differ on how things are to be done, but they should agree in general on what is to be done and why. All Christians are to strive to live a godly life of purity, to honor Christ and win the lost. Peter says we are to deliberately desire to love life. I think he particularly means to love life “in Christ.” This implies that we willfully seek to live as Christ would have us live and seek the Christian best in every situation. This “love of life” attitude is the opposite of a pessimistic, everything and everyone is against me attitude. By faith with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, believers are, from a Christian perspective, to make the most from of every situation.
None of these virtues listed by Peter are easy to achieve or maintain, but perhaps the most difficult are those pertaining to restraining the tongue and cultivating a peaceful disposition. Peter clearly believes that, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it is possible to mature into every virtue he mentions. He believes a Christian can grow in spiritual maturity to walk consistently in the light of God’s Word. Their walk will not be perfect. They will from time to time stumble, but with God’s help they will pick themselves up and continue their walk with Christ. The nine virtues Peter says mature Christian’s should exhibit are broad enough to cover all of life but specific enough to grab our attention.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”1 Peter 3:13-17
Spiritually Mature Believers and The World’s Response
From 3:13 to 5:11 Peter begins to focus on the reality that not only verbal abuse and threats happen to Christians, but actual physical abuse does occur. Peter asks an important question: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” If you live by the virtues described in 3:8-12, then most of the time and in most situations, will in general keep a believer out of trouble with the world. That lifestyle is inoffensive to most people. But it is true that any lifestyle, including being zealous for what is good, will provoke both positive and negative responses. In this fallen world, many live lifestyles not seeking to avoid conflict, but seeming to enjoy it. They have no interest in striving for purity, sin is much more interesting. They see Humility as a stupid attitude. Pride makes more sense. They see compassion as a wasteful attitude. People get what they deserve. They routinely repeat gossip and hurtful talk, always believing the worst about people. Such people are offended by believers living godly lives based on the virtues Peter lists. Here is what Peter has to say about the situation. The usual state of affairs is that, if you live with an eagerness to do good, although people probably will be surprised (maybe shocked) and think you are strange, few people are likely to want to harm you. But some of those offended by your belief and lifestyle will see you as a target for abuse. Peter say that if you happen to suffer for doing something you know to be right, you will be blessed. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” So, stick to your righteous game plan and continue to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, even if you must suffer for it.
- Do not fear what unbelievers fear and do not be troubled or shaken in your faith by their threats. Rely on God’s promises and tremble before Him only.
- In your heart “honor Christ the Lord as holy.” He is the One who is truly in control of your destiny not your earthly enemies. See Isaiah 8:12-13.
- Having set apart Christ as Lord in your heart, prepare yourself (in advance of need) to be an active witness, able to take advantage of every opportunity. You may need to defend yourself against untrue allegations of wrong-doing or of misrepresentations of your faith. Always be prepared whatever the circumstances to make a faithful defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.
- Your defense is to be given with gentleness and respect even in the face of malicious accusations and slander. There must be no attempt to overpower the unbeliever with the force of human personality or aggressiveness, but trust the Holy Spirit to quietly
- persuade the listener, praying that the listener will not be “dull of hearing.” Only God can save, only God can regenerate.
- Having a good conscience does not imply sinless perfection. Rather it means that a Christian should genuinely strive to have and to maintain a “good conscience” before God. We should avoid conscious or willful disobedience throughout each day. We should practice immediate repentance and prayer for forgiveness (and thus a cleansing of our conscience) whenever we realize we have sinned.
- Patiently endured wrongful suffering is such a remarkable exception in the world that it becomes a powerful testimony to unbelievers. This view is confirmed by the next verse which reminds us that Christ suffered unjustly that we might live in Him. Obviously the parallel is not complete at every point. Jesus’ suffering not only bore witness, but also actually earned our salvation because He died as our substitute paying the penalty for our sin.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”1 Peter 3:18-22
Verses 3:18-22, is notoriously difficult to interpret. No one seems to know for sure what Peter meant by portions of this passage.
Peter’s concern appears to be something that happened during the time interval between Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. Christ suffered and died for the unrighteous. He bore the penalty for our sins and He did so once in a way that was sufficient for all time. Though His body was put to death by men, Peter says Jesus was “made alive in the Spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”
Peter obviously considered his statement to be about something significant. However, although there has been much speculation, we don’t know what Peter meant by the phrase “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” There have been a great many interpretations, but most are suspect, and all are disputed. As far as I know, there is no mention in Scripture of human spirits being kept in prison or of spirits having the gospel preached to them. There is no mention of a second chance at salvation after death. There is indication that certain fallen angels are confined until the Judgment. One interpretation for 3:19-20a is that Jesus preached to the fallen angels who had sinned by marrying human women before the flood. In this case He would probably have told them of His triumph over sin and death.
If, as appears on the surface to be the case, the spirits in prison are those who disobeyed while Noah was building the ark (people who should have believed but did not), then a possible interpretation is: “When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in spirit’ was in Noah preaching repentance and righteousness through him to unbelievers who were on the earth then but are now ‘spirits in prison’.” In the interval between His death and resurrection Christ’s spirit preached to those spirits in prison. If this interpretation is true, what did Jesus preach – His victory over sin and death – or did He give those spirits a second chance at salvation –or did He release people who had repented just before they died in the flood. None of these seem consistent with the rest of Scripture. The safest thing seems to be to simply say that between His death on the cross and His resurrection Christ did something significant whose details have not been given us. The details are apparently unimportant to our salvation.
Perhaps there is a clue to the true meaning in the last phrase of verse 22 – “with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” The phrase is in the past tense which implies that the subjection took place before Christ’s ascension. I think Peter means that in causing Christ to be crucified, Satan and his wicked spirits tried to eliminate the One who was destined to crush the serpent’s head. They not only failed, but Christ’s death actually brought about victory over death, sin, and Satan’s power.
During the interval between death on the cross and His resurrection, Christ proclaimed that victory to fallen angels and perhaps directly to Satan. So Peter’s reference is to fallen angelic spirits who are being held captive until the judgment. Christ’s preaching is simply the proclamation of His victory and the failure of the wicked plan to eliminate Christ before He could crush the serpent’s head.
Peter made a couple of other points in the passage. He relates Noah’s flood to Baptism. The significance of Peter’s comment on baptism appears to be that as the flood cleansed the earth of sin and Noah’s family was saved by the Ark taking them out of danger, so Baptism is a symbol of the inward spiritual reality of being cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ, changing our inward nature and firmly placing us in Christ in perfect safety from the flood of sin.
Peter’s final point in these verses is that Christ has spiritual authority over all spiritual beings good and evil – angels, authorities, and powers – all have been subjected to Christ.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”1 Peter 4:1-6
Imitate Christ’s Example by Willingly Suffering If Necessary
Peter has confidently asserted there is great value in imitating Christ’s example of willingly suffering if necessary to accomplish God’s will – even when the suffering is unjust. The next verses return to that theme. In verses 3:13-17 Peter spoke of suffering for doing good to encourage believers to maintain a good Christian witness when times are tough. In verses 4:1-6 Peter emphasizes the related theme of willingness to suffer (if necessary) in order to avoid sinning.
- Christ willingly suffered in His human body. Believers should arm themselves with His attitude and way of thinking about obedience and suffering. Believers are to die to their old way of sinful living and live a new life of purity. Enduring suffering for doing right and faithfully continuing to obey God in spite of the suffering is proof of making a clean break with habitual sin.
- Give no more time to sin! Remember our sins caused Christ’s suffering on the cross. How can we take pleasure in sin knowing what it cost Christ? We need no more such experience. Our past experience of sin is more than enough.
- Unbelievers will be surprised when we restrain from sin. They may turn hostile when we don’t join in their sin, thinking we are condemning them. But their condemnation comes from God, not from us. Pointing the finger of accusation at believers or anyone else will not enable unbelievers to escape responsibility for their actions. Each one is held accountable by God for their own actions. Judgment can come at any moment. One does not escape God’s judgment by dying.
- A believer must die physically, but they will escape condemnation at the final judgment. While in the flesh they are judged by human standards, but one day they shall be with the Lord in the spirit and receive the true and final judgment. Many major events of God’s plan of redemption have already occurred. The goal to which the events of redemptive history lead is at hand. Believers are to be clear-minded and self-controlled. Pray based on knowledge and mature evaluation.
- Verse 4:6 is another somewhat confusing verse. There are several different interpretations. The best alternative seems to be to insert “now” in the phrase “who are dead” so that it becomes “who are now dead.” The NIV does this. That makes sense. Those now dead heard the gospel while they lived and believed. As mentioned before, Scripture nowhere teaches that Christ makes salvation available to a sinner after death.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”1 Peter 4:7
Verse 7 is a transition that closes the previous passage and opens the next passage. What does Peter mean when he says that “the end of all things is at hand”? This letter was written about 63 AD, He could possibly be referring to the soon to come events of A.D. 70 when the Temple was destroyed, and Jewish Temple worship was catastrophically ended. Or he could possibly be referring to the nearness of death to those to whom he was writing. But the most likely meaning is the obvious one that Peter is referring to the end of the world. That view is strengthened by reading 2 Peter 3:7-13.
Choosing the Right Attitude
The Apostle Paul is known as the apostle of faith, Peter as the apostle of hope, and John as the apostle of love, yet they each wrote extensively about all three – faith, hope, and love. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 closed out that chapter saying that when a Christian’s life is stripped down to its elemental core – faith, hope, and love remain. These are Christian essentials. We have faith in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have confident hope in the promises of God. Because of God’s love for us demonstrated in His grace to us, we confidently rest in God’s love, trusting that he will see us through to the end.
Faith, hope, and love are each a form of a confident attitude which leads to action. There are many things that can happen to us which are beyond our control. But we can always choose our attitude. James in the first chapter of his letter points out the importance of willfully choosing the proper attitude to meet each situation in a godly manner.
The human author of each of the letters in the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit and enabled to write what God intended yet consistent with their own personality. Each one wrote to meet the needs of people with particular needs at a specific time. Yet, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit each one wrote in such manner that their writings continue to this day to be valuable to each generation. What they wrote remains both example and instruction for our benefit. Though written at different times under different circumstances, there is an amazing consistency in their letters.