Sermon Notes

March 17th 2024

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson March 17th

Defending our Faith / 1 Peter 3:8-17 (MSG)

3 8-12 Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
Whoever wants to embrace life
and see the day fill up with good,
Here’s what you do:
Say nothing evil or hurtful;
Snub evil and cultivate good;
run after peace for all you’re worth.
God looks on all this with approval,
listening and responding well to what he’s asked;
But he turns his back
on those who do evil things.
13-17 If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. (The Message)

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND OF THE LESSON

First Peter derives its name from the epistolary address in Peter 1:1-2, where the writer identifies himself as, “Peter, an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds” (MSG). The exiles to whom Peter writes are scattered to churches in seven different communities of Asia Minor during the latter part of the first century CE. By referring to the churches as “exiles” or those who have been “scattered,” Peter theologically connects the early Christians of Asia Minor to the people of ancient Israel and Judah who were exiled to Assyria and Babylon in the eight and sixth centuries BCE.
While it is unlikely that these Christians were Jewish by birth, Peter likens them to ancient Israelites/Judahites because the Asia Minor churches are experiencing widespread oppression from the Greco-Roman Empire in the same manner that ancient Israel & Judah were oppressed by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. For Peter, the promises that were given to ancient Israelites & Judahites in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament have been transferred to the early Christians of the 1st century CE. A key distinction of 1 Peter is its extensive use of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament characters and imagery to position 1st Century Christians as spiritual heirs to ancient Israel. Essentially, the writer of 1 Peter recasts the 1st Century Church as “Israel.”
First Peter begins with an emphatic assurance issued by the writer to the early churches of the blessings which will be theirs at the second coming of Christ. The writer seeks to remind them that their present conduct as believers should be based upon that future hope. As indicated in 1 Peter chapter one, Christians were to be characterized by obedience (1 Peter 1:14, 22), holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16), godly fear (1 Peter 1:17-21), and love for each other (1 Peter 1:22–2:3).
In 1 Peter chapter two, the author says Christians must understand their purpose as being centered on Jesus of Nazareth, who is the cornerstone of their Christian faith. Because the Asia Minor Christians are called to be servants of God as a, “chosen people,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” and “God’s own people,” then they must embrace Jesus’ example of sacrifice and suffering. Jesus willingly submitted himself to doing God’s will—even though his commitment culminated in his death on Calvary even though “he committed no sin.”
In 1 Peter 3:1-7, the writer continues the discussion of Jesus’ submission by putting forth a profound practical and theological truth: healthy marriages and relationships thrive within a context of mutual submission. This instruction—known as one of the “Haustafeln”, or “household codes,”—is often misinterpreted as male supremacy (hierarchy) over women because readers misunderstand the context of mutual submission that envelopes Peter’s letter to the Asia Minor churches. This is where the lesson text picks up.

INTO THE LESSON

8-9 Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
After concluding his discussion of appropriate Christian social behavior, Peter contextualizes how Christians must relate to the wider society where they often suffer because of their faith. The Spring 2024 lesson unit, Faithful verse Faithless is displayed in full view as Peter offers instruction to “the faithful” that are called to embrace suffering in the same manner of Jesus.
In verse eight, Peter says the Asia Minor Christians must be sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble—like Jesus. These are not suggestions; they are imperatives for how the entire Christian community must live out its individual and collective life. "All" Christians, whether they are husbands and wives, or slaves and slave owners—must live according to the Christian virtues that Peter outlines. Christians, by their appropriate behavior with each other, exhibit unity, harmony, and God’s shalom (peace) to the wider world.
In verse 9, the theme of faithful Christian behavior shifts from Christians' behavior toward each other to Christian actions toward the world, which is often hostile towards Christianity. This, too, represents a further application of the station tables, since by implication both slaves and wives are enjoined there to repay the opposition of their masters/husbands with obedience and kindness (2:18; 3:1-2). The exhortation to non-retaliation is congruent with demands we find in other early Christian literature (see Matt 5:38-42; Luke 6:29-31; Rom 12:19-21).
The correlation between blessing one's enemies and receiving a blessing also fits a major theme within the eschatological understanding of the early church: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt 6:14-15 NRSV; see Luke 6:35). First Peter has noted this theme in its description of Christ's own suffering (2:23).132 As so often in 1 Peter, the ethical injunction is set within the providential context of a call. Christians have been called both to bless and to receive a blessing. That call includes a present obligation and an eschatological promise (see 1:15; 2:9, 21; 5:10).
10-12 Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, Here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked; But he turns his back on those who do evil things.
In verses 10-12, the writer invokes Psalm 34:12-16 to make a point about Christians not retaliating against others. In many ways, the quote offers a poetic expansion of the “household codes” for a faithful Christian community. Christians who suffer unjustly should, like the psalmist, offer God thanksgiving for delivering those who suffer innocently at the hands of people who do evil. Thanksgiving, not retaliation, is the mindset of the faithful Christian. The Jewish prayer, the Elohai Netzor also draws inspiration from Psalm 34 to promote the idea of non-retaliation for injury:
May they find favor, the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart, before You, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
My God, Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from [speaking] deceit. And those that curse me, let my soul be silent. And let my soul be like the dust to all.
Open my heart to Your Torah, and after Your mitzvot let my soul pursue
And all that rise against me for bad, quickly nullify their counsel and ruin their plans
Do it for the sake of Your Name, do it for the sake of Your right [hand], do for the sake of Your Torah, do it for the sake of Your Holiness
For the sake of refraining Your beloved [Israel], Your right [hand] deliver us and answer us
May they find favor, the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart, before You, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
The themes of “life” and “days filled up with good” that 1 Peter 3 and Psalm 34 reference are the blessings that Christians receive if they bless others. When Christians avoid speaking hurtful or evil words, we emulate Jesus. In verse 11, the imperative to "run after peace" summarizes the themes in the preceding household codes. The reminder that God both listens and responds to the prayers of those who do good, further explains the warning to Christian husbands in 3:7 that God may not respond to their prayers if they do not behave appropriately towards their wives.
Peter’s use of Psalm 34 is an effective tool to teach the importance of embracing a life of doing good. By comparing and contrasting the way that God responds to the righteous (those who do good), and the evil (those who do not do good), Peter warns the Asia Minor Christians of the dangers of failing to practice good for Christians and non-Christians alike.
13-17 If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad.
The closing verses of the lesson text remind us of the socio-political context of the Christian community within Asia minor. These Christians were exiles—living in the diaspora, far away from their spiritual home in Palestine. They were presently suffering discrimination, oppression, and persecution at the hand of a world that did not affirm Jesus as the Christ. Their primary concern was: how do we continue to believe in God’s blessings as we contend with a society/world that is actively hostile to what we believe? On a daily basis, they wrestled with how they should behave towards that hostile society which consistently sought their destruction.
The hardest thing for a person to do is to refrain from retaliation when someone strikes out against you. However, as Christians, that is what we are called to do. The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to not retaliate. Instead, we are called to respond with the compassion and love of Jesus. Verses 13-17 teach Christians that they do not have to fear those who do evil because God will bless those who embrace doing good. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11-12), we are blessed, “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."
In The Message, Peter’s imperative in verse 13 is translated, “Don’t give the opposition a second thought. " However, the NRSVue translation, “Do not fear what they fear" provides a clearer picture of why Christians do not have to fear the consequences of doing good. This quote is from Isaiah 8:12-13, where God tells the prophet to rest on his faith as opposed to wordily sentiment. God alone is deserving of our “fear” or godly reverence. This is why, when Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9, he says, “Your name be hallowed or sanctified.”
We must sanctify God in our actions—like Jesus did—so that the mud that people throw will not stick. When Christians are called to respond in the face of those who persecute us, we must do so in ways that sanctify God and hallow God’s name. If we suffer for doing good, God gets the glory and we are blessed in the end.
1 Peter reminds Christians—in the 1st century or the 21st century—that we often suffer under unjust systems, unjust people, and unjust governments. However, we should not suffer silently. Like Jesus, the disciples, and the Asia Minor Christians, we are called to resist injustice through being, “ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” While we do not seek retaliation against those who do evil, we are not passive! As the “faithful,” we must actively speak truth to power, seek good, do good, and manifest God’s power in the midst of our suffering.

FOOT NOTE

i) This introduction and background of the lesson relies heavily on Rev. Demetria Jones-Smith’s, Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson for February 26, 2023.

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