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1 Peter 3:8-22: Seeing Blessing Right Side Up Print E-mail
1 Peter
Sunday, 22 April 2007

We struggle as men living in a fallen world to see things right side up.  In a bold confession, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Derek Webb (who I have mentioned before), entitled one of his albums “I See Things Upside Down,” commenting on the fact that we have a propensity to view things like the world instead of agreeing with the text.  For example, we define success in our Churches numerically instead of defining it as the Bible does, namely conformity to Christ (see Ephesians 4).  As believers we struggle in seeing things right side up.

We struggle as men living in a fallen world to see things right side up.  In a bold confession, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Derek Webb (who I have mentioned before), entitled one of his albums “I See Things Upside Down,” commenting on the fact that we have a propensity to view things like the world instead of agreeing with the text.  For example, we define success in our Churches numerically instead of defining it as the Bible does, namely conformity to Christ (see Ephesians 4).  As believers we struggle in seeing things right side up.

When considering this struggle, I often think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 (which we read to open our service).  Do we really believe that the poor in spirit are blessed?  Are those who mourn and those who are meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness really the blessed ones?  Sounds crazy, does it not?  Or what about when he says at the end: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (v. 10-11).  How often do we view persecution as a blessing?  No, we see persecution as only a curse and something to be avoided at all costs.  Thus, according to the text, we see blessing upside down.

So, how do we view blessing right side up?  Well, Peter, following Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, instructs us to this end in our passage this morning.  He gives us two lessons for viewing blessing right side up.

First, We will be blessed by blessing others (v. 8-12). 

Notice how upside down this seems to us.  Yet, this is what Peter is teaching.  Look at verse 8.  Once again Peter instructs us on relating to other believers.  We are ultimately to love each other (see 1:22, 4:8), which involves treating others as better than ourselves (see Philippians 2:3).  We are to have unity of mind and a humble mind.  Likewise we are to show sympathy which flows from a tender heart.  All of these center around brotherly love.  Thus, our love for each other should be defined and characterized by our viewing each other as better than ourselves.  Only then can we love like Peter is instructing us to here.

Yet, Peter does not stop with just our treatment of fellow believers.  He moves to our treatment of the hostile world around us in verse 9.  Look at the first part of that verse with me.  Peter instructs us to not return evil with evil.  How can that be right?  Surely when a person treats us wrong, then we are justified in treating them wrong in return, right?  Not according to Peter and Jesus.  To them, such action, although common in the world, is upside down.  Rather than seek vengeance, as believers we are to forgive, even as Christ forgave (see 2:23).  Thus, we are to love fellow believers, treating them as better than ourselves, and we are to forgive others when they revile us.

But why would we do all this?  Because this is how followers of God behave as they set their eyes on the future blessing to be received when Christ returns.  Look at 9b-12.  We are to bless others to obtain a blessing.  Is this works salvation?  No, our salvation is by grace through faith.  Yet, our salvation will evidence itself through good works.  In other words, as believers in Christ we know that there is a blessing to be received when Christ comes back.  Likewise, we know that only those who persevere in the faith will receive that blessing.  The evidence of perseverance is good works.  Thus, our future blessing motivates us to be a blessing to others now.  We cannot earn the blessing, but we can evidence our hope and belief that Christ has attained it on our behalf by being a blessing to others in obedience to Him.  Peter quotes from Psalm 34 to show how God blesses the righteous, those who turn away from doing evil to others.  This supports Peter’s teaching that the Lord will bless those who are a blessing to others.  Although it seems upside down, it is actually right side up.

Second, We will be blessed by suffering for righteousness’ sake (v. 13-22).

Peter echoes the teaching of Jesus here.  Look at what he says in verses 13-17.  The real theme of these verses is that we must be willing to suffer for doing what is right.  Such suffering will inevitably lead to questions from the watching world.  They will wonder, ‘Why would you keep doing good if it only leads to persecution?’  It is at this point that Peter tells us to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.  Our suffering for righteousness’ sake will give us opportunities to speak the gospel to others.  Yet, as Peter warned the wives earlier, we must do this with gentleness and respect (again referring to our fear of God), having a good conscience.  We are not to beat people over the head with the gospel.  Rather, in complete trust of God and His care for us, we are to boldly proclaim our hope in Christ, not fearing what evil men can do to us.  Many will not be convinced and will continue to revile us, but even they will eventually be put to shame.

I think that such treatment by the lost often discourages us from continuing to share with them.  We could compare it to the old adage: ‘Do not bite the hand that feeds you.’  We often reason, ‘If they are going to slander, then I will simply give up on telling them the good news, after all, even Jesus said don’t cast your pearls before swine.’  Although Jesus did instruct us to use discretion, I do not think that we are to stop spreading the good news simply because we are slandered in the process.  Rather, we should maintain the eternal perspective.  Our brief suffering on this earth cannot even be compared to the eternal blessing that awaits us.  Thus, let the world slander us and bite the hand that feeds, we will not be deterred from speaking of the hope we have in Christ.

Our example for this upside down living is none other than Christ Himself.  Look at verse 18.  Christ, the righteous, was willing to suffer for us, the unrighteous.  Talk about upside down to us.  Christ, the only one to ever live in complete obedience to God’s commands, suffered and died on the cross for our complete disobedience to God’s commands.  This is what theologians refer to as ‘the great exchange.’  We get all of Christ’s righteousness credited to our account and He gets all of our sin credited to His that he might bring us to God.  What a glorious exchange indeed, and a great example for us to be willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake, in fact, the great example.

Yet, what about verses 19 and 20?  Look at those with me.  Luther apparently called these the most difficult to understand in all of the New Testament.  So, let me just say up front, I am not certain as to exactly what Peter means.  I can say, even though it is popular, that this is not a reference to Jesus going to Hell between His death and resurrection.  This interpretation does not really fit what is said or the overall context of the passage.  As for what it does mean, I am torn between two options.  First, Peter is speaking of Jesus going in spirit during the time of Noah to preach through Noah to disobedient men while the ark was being built.  This view makes sense and seems to fit the context, although some argue that it does not take into account the normal meaning of certain words.   Second, Peter is referring to Jesus proclaiming  His victory to the evil angels of Genesis 6, who have been imprisoned until the coming judgment (see 2 Peter 2:4-5, Jude 6).  This view is seemingly more difficult, but it does take into account some other passages (see above).   At the end of the day, both views have strengths and weaknesses and so it is hard to decide.  Yet, both, although in different ways, serve the purpose of encouraging the reader to follow Christ’s example in suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Of course, some struggle even more with verse 21.  Look at that verse with me.  Some have used this verse to argue for baptismal regeneration, or that the very act of going in the water is the basis for a person’s salvation.  Yet, Peter rejects that idea by what he actually says.  It is not the physical act of baptism that saves, but the inward appeal of faith to God that baptism symbolizes.  It is believing that just as we are raised out of the waters to new life, so Jesus was raised and now sits enthroned at the right hand of God, having power over all angels, authorities, and powers.  Since we now live in His victory, we can willingly face any suffering for the sake of the gospel.  He reigns over all and we have good reason to trust Him and follow after Him, even when it leads to suffering for righteousness’ sake.

There is no mistake about it, Peter describes blessing in a way that seems upside down.  Yet, this is the Word of God.  Thus, in spite of our experiences, in spite of what the world says, in spite of what ‘feels’ right, we must view blessing in the way that Peter teaches us here.  As those redeemed by Christ, we must see as He sees.  We will continually be tempted to abandon such thoughts.  Unbelievers (and even professing believers at times) will question us.  They will refuse to believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  They will laugh at the notion of counting others as more valuable than ourselves.  They will call it foolish to return evil with blessing.  And they will mock our willingness to suffer for righteousness’ sake.  How do I know that they will act like this?  Simple, it has been this way for years.  This is how the prophets were treated, even by their own countrymen.  This is how Christians before us have been treated throughout the ages of Church History.  Ultimately, this is how they treated Christ, the very one that by grace we are trying to emulate.  He came and lived perfectly righteous.  He was obedient to His Father in every way.  Yet, He was crucified by the very ones He came to save.  Indeed, the righteous for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God, that He might open our eyes to show us that we have been seeing things upside down.  Blessing actually comes from blessing others.  Blessing actually comes from suffering for righteousness’ sake.  Blessing comes on the road to Calvary that first leads to a cross and, only then, to a crown.  May we find ourselves on that road by God’s grace, seeing things right side up.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 April 2007 )

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