Sermon: Living Life as a Persecuted People (1 Peter 3:8-22)
Living Life as a Persecuted People
1 Peter 3:8-22
Truth Taught: Living as God’s people means that though we may face persecution we must turn away from evil, do good, and expect God’s blessings.
- Before we begin, allow me to apologize beforehand for the massive amount of information that is about to come your way. The truth is that this text is not an easy one, and one I’m still struggling with. However, there are two things we need to be reminded of before going into this text.
- I use the term “People of God” or “God’s People” regularly, as do all Christians probably. However, please know that this term is significant as it portrays a certain truth about our identity as Christians that should not be taken lightly. To say that we are the people of God is to say that we are children of the covenant; a people whom God has called out to represent Him in the world.
- “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
- To set the stage, please be reminded of Peter’s exhortation to the people of God: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Point #1: Though persecuted, turn from evil, do good, and receive God’s blessing (vv.8-17).
- You see, if there is one thing that Peter wants us to remember it’s the fact that as God’s people we are sojourners and in a very real sense just passing onward through this life until we possess the promise of our inheritance. And the implication is that we are not of the same family or from the same country as the natives belonging to this world. And so, Peter continues to unpack for us what it means for Christians to be a holy nation devoted to God. In other words, how it is that we are to be holy as God Himself is holy.
- In familiar fashion, Peter commands us, the church, to have unity of mind while expressing qualities of a people belonging to God such as sympathy, brotherly love, and a tender heart. Therefore, the implication of possessing and expressing these qualities is that we bless rather than respond with evil when persecution happens.
- “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” (1 Peter 3:9).
- Remember, Peter was writing during a time when Christians were treated very bitterly and many lost their lives at the altar of persecution, including Peter himself as tradition has it. We even see the type of persecution that Christians endured as the Apostle Paul describes his encounters:
- “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. On frequent journeys, in danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger from false brothers. In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
- “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”- Tertullian
- However, Peter would have us to remember that the proper response in times of persecution is holiness. When you are reviled, do not revile in return. When you are hated, do not hate in return. When animosity is against you, do not retaliate with hostility. When evil is extended to you, do not repay with evil. In fact, Peter says to turn away from it!
- Quoting Psalm 34, Peter reveals why we must turn from evil. Because:
- “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue form evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 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 3:10-12).
- Peter uses Psalm 34 for good reason. The language of the Psalm is covenantal language which reflects the idea that God’s people are to act in accordance with how God desires His people to live in the world. This is very significant for us because we are told that those who are obedient will receive blessings of the covenant, but that those who are disobedient will receive curses of the covenant. This is about covenant faithfulness. Turning from evil is about God’s people remaining faithful to God when experiencing persecution.
- Peter tells us that those who, “Desire to love life and to see good days will keep his tongue form evil and lips from deceit. He will seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11). And those that do this are those on whom God’s favor will rest: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12a).
- For those however, who do not turn away from evil, “The face of the Lord is against them” (1 Peter 3:12b).
- Covenantal faithfulness is a theme that runs throughout the whole of Scripture and is something we ought to take seriously. We must remain faithful to God’s instructions for how we are to live life. The Psalmist himself declares that for anyone who desires to see good days must keep God’s commands.
- Consider the implications:
- “Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I commanded you today, that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:40).
- But, there are consequences for not keeping the commands of God: “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies” (Leviticus 26:14-17a).
- Thus, we must turn from evil because we belong to God. We are His covenant people. By the blood of Christ we were purchased for this.
- In fact, in the Greek, Peter’s uses an imperative when he says to turn away from evil. This is a direct command to turn from evil and continue to do so continually in your life.
- And to turn form evil in this case means that you extend a word of blessing to those who revile you. It means that you pray for those who persecute you. It means that you reflect Jesus’ attitude when we are told that, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is what it means to turn from evil and to do good. Keeping God’s commands is to do good.
- I pray, church, that we are longing to do good in order to see God’s face rest upon us with favor. Do we act in accordance with God’s Word when persecution happens?
- Now, the application is this: do good even if it means that you are persecuted. Even if it means that you will suffer. The reality is that if you suffer for doing good, you suffer for righteousness sake.
- Therefore, Peter urges us to, “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” (1 Peter 3:15).
- Remember, the situation in Peter’s time was that Christians were under sever persecution. There are countless stories where Christians would willingly go to their deaths without reviling their enemies but rather openly proclaiming the hope that they had in Christ. They extended blessing rather than a curse. They prayed for the soul of their enemies knowing that their sin would lead them straight into the judgment of God.
- By declaring this hope and by not returning evil for evil, but rather speaking truth with gentleness and respect, Peter and the early Christians were able to keep a good conscience knowing that they followed God’s commands, even unto death for many of them. They did not revile. They did not hate. The hope expressed by these men and women is the hope of God’s promised blessing—the fact that there is a promised inheritance, eternal and waiting for them on the other end rather than God’s judgment.
- This is the hope we must have because this is what we are called to. We are called not to, “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” (1 Peter 3:9). The blessing we are to receive for doing good is the promise inheritance that is eternal and unfading.
- Is this the perspective that you have about the Christian life?
- However, this is obedience does not come without a perfect example.
Point #2: Jesus is our example (vv.18-22).
- “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” (1 Peter 3:18).
- For Peter, and for us ultimately as well, we must look to Jesus for our motivation and as a perfect example of how turning from evil and doing good works.
- In fact, Peter used familiar language a few sermons ago in the context of Christian suffering: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
- Do see what Jesus did? Why does Peter think Jesus is our perfect example for turning away from evil and doing good in the midst of persecution? Because He continued entrusting Himself to God who judges justly.
- The proof of this, Peter says, is that Jesus, “Bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). And even in our text, Peter also says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a).
- Jesus trusted the just Judge that He would be vindicated for suffering an unjust persecution, ultimately ending in His death. If Jesus trusted the Judge, we, too, must trust the Judge knowing that He will take care of us. If Jesus receives His promised inheritance of the nations, we too will receive our promised inheritance.
- At this time, I would like to take a commercial break from what we’ve been discussing. Peter doesn’t do this in the text necessarily, but given that the language of verses 19-22 is difficult, it is wise to treat this section carefully.
- “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, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 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. 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, 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).
- So, the two questions we need to answer deal with what Peter means when he talks about Jesus proclaiming to the spirits in prison, and what he means when he talks about baptism saving us. Given that there are various opinions on the matter, you’ll obviously hear my conclusions on these matters based on evidence in Scripture.
- As for the issue of Jesus preaching to spirits in prison, let me read this passage again: “Being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” (1 Peter 3:18b-20a).
- I understand Peter’s claim that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison as referring to the spirits of unsaved humans from Noah’s time who are now in prison.To say that Jesus “went” and proclaimed a message to them is not referring to Jesus having “went” after His death, but rather referring to the fact that Jesus, during the time of Noah, went to the unbelievers of Noah’s time to proclaim a message.
- In essence, Peter is saying that Jesus proclaimed a message of warning and repentance to the unbelievers of Noah’s day because of their disobedience which was ultimately done through Noah himself—Noah, as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 2:5, was a, “herald of righteousness.” In fact, the Greek word that Peter uses means “preacher”.
- Also, we have more testimony from Peter himself as he previously stated that the Spirit of Christ spoke through the Old Testament prophets: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10-11).
- This perspective makes sense of the context and of Peter’s letter in general: (1) – Noah and his family were a minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; so are Peter’s readers. (2)- Noah was righteous in the midst of a wicked world. Peter exhorts his readers to be righteous in the midst of wicked unbelievers. (3)- Noah witnessed boldly to those around him. Peter urges his readers to be wood witnesses to unbelievers, even if it means suffering for it. (4)- In the unseen “spiritual” realm Christ preached through Noah to unbelievers around him. By saying this Peter can remind his readers of that reality in them as the Spirit of Christ empowers our witness.
- Finally, Peter then compares the ark of Noah with baptism: “In which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 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. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt form the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:19-21).
- In this case, Peter relates baptism to the flood waters of Noah’s day as the flood was God’s judgment on sin. The fact that Noah and his family emerged from the flood waters unharmed indicates That God’s judgment had passed over them, meaning that they were safe.
- In a similar fashion, the waters of baptism represent the judgment of God with the difference being that we do so through the resurrection of Jesus as Peter says. The mere mechanical act of baptism does not save, as Peter indicates when he says, “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” (1 Peter 3:21b).
- In other words, we are saved because we have been saved from the judgment of God by being in union with Christ. Paul concludes the following: “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:2-5).
- Therefore, we have every reason to rejoice because we have been brought safely through the judgment of God.
- And now, as we begin to close, let me try my best to tie all of this together.
- Because Jesus, as our perfect example, turned from evil to do good though suffering persecution, we must do the same. The fact is that Peter calls us to this life but he also calls us to this life in the hopeful expectation of receiving God’s blessings.
- Peter told us from the beginning that God has, “Caused us to be born again to a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ form the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven by God” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
- Therefore, we are to continue in holiness. We are to not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling. We are to bless. We are to be zealous for what is good and continue to turn from evil. Are we doing these things?
- In light of persecution that we may face, I leave you with this passage from our sermon text: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14b).
- We can embrace persecution without fear because we serve a Savior, “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 3:22).
- We can embrace persecution without fear because we serve a Savior who is conqueror. We serve a Savior who is King. We serve a Savior who has subjected all powers beneath His feet and will issue just judgment accordingly. If we suffer through unjust persecution, we will be vindicated.
- “I could well believe that persecution is God’s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution and even hardship. Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand o a benevolent and severe God.”- C.S. Lewis