Strangers And Aliens (15b): Turning The Other Cheek (1 Peter 3:8–12)

1 Peter 3:8–12

8 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” (ESV).
8 Τὸ δὲ τέλος πάντες ὁμόφρονες, συμπαθεῖς, φιλάδελφοι, εὔσπλαγχνοι, ταπεινόφρονες,  9 μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας, τοὐναντίον δὲ εὐλογοῦντες ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο ἐκλήθητε ἵνα εὐλογίαν κληρονομήσητε.
10 ὁ γὰρ θέλων ζωὴν ἀγαπᾶν
καὶ ἰδεῖν ἡμέρας ἀγαθὰς
παυσάτω τὴν γλῶσσαν ἀπὸ κακοῦ
καὶ χείλη τοῦ μὴ λαλῆσαι δόλον,
11 ἐκκλινάτω δὲ ἀπὸ κακοῦ καὶ ποιησάτω ἀγαθόν,
ζητησάτω εἰρήνην καὶ διωξάτω αὐτήν·
12 ὅτι ὀφθαλμοὶ κυρίου ἐπὶ δικαίους
καὶ ὦτα αὐτοῦ εἰς δέησιν αὐτῶν,
πρόσωπον δὲ κυρίου ἐπὶ ποιοῦντας κακά.

v. 9: The First Step Toward Unity: Not Repaying Evil For Evil
This verse must be kept in context with the broader argument in 1 Peter, that Christians are a pilgrim people. Peter calls us “elect sojourners” (1:1) and “strangers and aliens” (2:11). We are to conduct ourselves as such, in light of the great grace shown to us by Christ. The congregations in what we know as Turkey were facing a variety of external pressures. In this passage, however, Peter is concerned with how we ought to relate to one another within the visible church. Just above he has exhorted us to unity, brotherly love, and mutual tenderness.

In vs. 9 he begins to put flesh on those terms. What does it mean to love one another? What characterizes the charity to which we are being exhorted? He begins with a participle (a verbal noun) which modifies, characterizes how we ought to treat each other in the church: “not giving back (ἀποδιδόντες) evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” Peter is applying our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:39; ESV) and “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28; ESV). The Apostle Paul repeated this very same instruction: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:18; ESV).

Our Lord himself is the model for this response to evil. He was repeatedly insulted by the Pharisees, who sought to do far more to him than insult, and even on the cross, while he was coming to the close of his active, suffering obedience for us, the chief priests and the scribes mocked him. Even those who were being crucified with him, who were guilty of crimes, reviled him (Mark 15:31–32). As Peter says in 2:23, when he was reviled, he reviled not in return. “Eye for an eye” (Ex 21:24) belongs to the covenant of works, not the covenant of grace. In the garden the Lord warned to righteous and holy Adam, “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). In the covenant of grace, however, he says, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15; ESV). “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is the standard of civil justice. The civil magistrate is not a minister of grace but of law. The visible church, however, is a minister of grace. In the covenant of grace, unconditional favor is shown to sinners who deserve nothing but judgment and condemnation. As recipients of grace we are called (ἐκλήθητε) to respond graciously, not legally, to those who, in the visible covenant community, offend us. How often have congregations been torn apart by an ungracious response to a careless or hurtful remark and how much grief might have been spared had we chosen, in the grace of Christ, in union with Christ, to imitate Christ in such situations?

Calvin writes,

At the same time he does not speak here of mutual benevolence, but he would have us to endure wrongs, when provoked by ungodly men. And though it is commonly thought that it is an instance of a weak and abject mind, not to avenge injuries, yet it is counted before God as the highest magnanimity. Nor is it indeed enough to abstain from revenge; but Peter requires also that we should pray for those who reproach us; for to bless here means to pray, as it is set in opposition to the second clause. But Peter teaches us in general, that evils are to be overcome by acts of kindness. This is indeed very hard, but we ought to imitate in this case our heavenly Father, who makes his sun to rise on the unworthy. (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 102–03).

I have seen an ostensible Reformed writer (a theonomist) argue that turning the other cheek is only for those times when Christians are marginalized and out of (civil, cultural) power but when we have gained the upper hand, as it were, then we will exact revenge. Few interpretations are as wrongheaded as that. Search an interpretation of our Lord’s teaching entirely misses the point. It is a great example of rationalism and the power of and an a priori conviction controlling and even perverting the clear teaching of Scripture. Ironically, The writer is it adamantly opposed to Dispensationalism but such a reading of Scripture is nothing but Dispensationalism.

Those who have been recipients of the super-abounding grace of God in Christ, whose hearts have been turned from stone to flesh, ought to respond to evil with grace. We who have the unconditional favor of God, in Christ, ought to be equally unconditionally gracious with those in Christ’s visible church. This is a high calling. This is a most difficult calling. When we are hurt, we naturally want to strike back. When we do not lash out at those who have hurt us, it is the grace of Christ enabling us to reflect, even in small and quiet ways, our Savior who did not strike back at those who hurt him.

In place of retaliation (lex talionis), in the covenant of grace, is blessing. Again, by nature, after the fall, in Adam, this is impossible. By nature, after the fall, we are not Jesus but Cain. In Christ, however, in the covenant of grace, the Spirit is at work in us and we are able to reply not with venom but with benediction.

Peter says “in order that you might inherit (κληρονομήσητε) blessing (εὐλογίαν).” He is not teaching a causal link between our turning the other cheek and a future inheritance but there is a connection. It is the case that those who bless in place of cursing receive an inheritance of blessing. Jesus said, ““Blessed are you when others 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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11–12; ESV). Those who are reviled for Christ’s sake do inherit a reward but the reward is not by works but it is out of God’s grace. It is those who have a clear view of the present heavenly reality and its future visible manifestation, who are best prepared to respond appropriately to evil. This is God’s world. It is important but it is not final, it is not ultimate and in that light we turn our cheek to accept another blow even as we turn our faces toward heaven and to our glorious Lord who reigns and who shall return.

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11 comments

  1. Scott, I’ve greatly appreciated your posts on 1 Peter. A Theonomist (upper case!) I know strangely argues that the “sojourners” references only apply to those who living then, i.e, as I understood him those living before AD 70, and that Christians ought not to experience suffering.

    Whenever I read 1 Peter I’m also reminded of Hebrews 10:34, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” None of this seems to us to be very “American”

    BTW, you’ve got a typo in your quotation from Luke 6:28. Never thought to try a preventative measure… 😉

  2. Thank you for this difficult passage; I appreciated too these additional thoughts ( from a gty sermon). Thoughts?

    -throughout the Bible, God exalts law. God made society to be lawful.

    -‘eye-for-eye’ was a just, merciful, beneficent law – punishment should fit the crime; but no less, no more, thus was a restraint on the innate vengeance in evil hearts, and designed to protect the weak from the strong, the peaceful from the violent.

    – the Pharisees took this divine principle for the courts and used it, not the way God intended it, but as a license for personal vengeance and basis for vendetta in personal relationships.

    -deep down in the human heart is a retaliatory, vengeful, spiteful spirit; it’s part of the curse of sin and it’s there in all of us.

    – Jesus always upholds the OT law. He won’t obviate or change it. If God said, “The law is just, merciful, beneficent, and has a reason to be,” Jesus will not change that. Why? Because Jesus said, “Not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law until all be fulfilled. Anyone who breaks the least of these commandments, or teaches anyone else to do so, is the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” He said, “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” So what He’s doing here when He says, “But I say,” is not obviating the law but saying, “Let me clarify what God meant. I speak for God.”

    -The only person who is non-defensive, non-protective, non-vengeful, never bears a grudge, has no spite in his heart, is a person who has died to self. If I die to self, what is to defend? But if I’m going to fight for my rights, then I prove the point that self is on the throne, self is ruling. Selfishness is defensive, protective, vengeful, spiteful, reactionary. So if we are to have the Spirit that Jesus asks for, we have to die to ourselves.

    -Ask yourself a question: are you dead yet? If we are to know the balance between holding up the law of God in an evil society and pouring out a heart filled with forgiveness and love, and empty of any vengeance, any self, it will be when we learn what Jesus meant when He said this, “If any man will be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

    • Ali,

      I don’t disagree with the quote but I do note a major omission: the good news, which declares to us lawbreaking sinners that there is One who has kept the law perfectly, who fulfilled and satisfied the lex talionis as our substitute, whose perfect lawkeeping is imputed to us so that it is as if we ourselves had done it, and who, now, by his Spirit is at work in us conforming us to his perfect moral law.

  3. I have always had trouble with these very verses presented in this post and the emprecatory psalms. With the state teaching children all sorts of sexual perversions i find myself praying more emprecatory prayers, asking that repentance be granted but also for justice and the stripping of power for those who stiffen their necks. Does emprection have any part in the Christians life ?

    • RG,

      1. Please note the comment policy re pseudonyms.

      2. Imprecations do occur in Scripture but not much outside the OT. Mostly they occur in the Psalms. One might find them in the Revelation.

      In the OT context, the psalmists are calling down judgment on God’s enemies against the temporary national people. There are no more national people now. That’s important. If there are no national peoples then there are no enemies of the national people.

      When we read or sing those imprecations we are thinking now of the final judgment. We’re also praying for the salvation of the elect from the midst of the peoples. Now is the time of salvation. The judgment will come. That’s why we don’t see much about imprecations and none about Nero et al who persecuted the church.

  4. RSC: I do note a major omission

    thank you –yes – I believe we both did not explicitly reiterate justification here in this post. We must not neglect it, nor do we neglect that believers must grow and be exhorted against potential dulling, hardening of the heart against the Holy Spirit’s ministry …..For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. Hebrews 5:12 -13
    … which I think was the point of your post here.

  5. Hi Dr. Clark, Your series on 1 Peter has been a great resource as I’ve been preaching through this book. Studying this passage, almost all the commentaries agree with you that this section is dealing with how Christians relate to one another in the visible church. But, I feel like I’m missing where that is clear. This is clearly a command to believers (vs. 8, “all of you…,”), but where is it clear that this is a command to how believers ought to treat one another, as opposed to how they ought to treat everyone? Vs.9 seems to imply relations with a hostile, unbelieving world, and this seems even more to be the case as it moves into vs. 15-17. I’m sure i’m missing something here, so I appreciate your help clarifying this question.

    • Jeph,

      I wrestled with this question. Perhaps I should have shown my work, as they say in math class. It’s perfectly reasonable to take v. 9 to refer to unbelievers but I was influenced by the language of v. 8, which, to my mind, is aimed at the congregation. It’s quite like Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to “have this mind among you…”. The question then is whether v. 9 marks a shift in focus or whether it is a continuation of the thought in v. 8. I take it to be a continuation. The way that we exhibit this unity of mind, sympathy, and brotherly love is by not repaying evil for evil. If we read v. 9 apart from v. 8 then, yes it would make eminent sense re unbelievers. I don’t see any signal where he’s changed his focus or attention. Indeed, there is not a clear shift back to the concern about how to relate to the surrounding pagans until v. 13. Even then, the clue is more thematic than grammatical. The shift in Greek is not as dramatic as it appears in the ESV.

      I am willing to be persuaded but that’s how it seems to me at the moment.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’m glad I’m not absolutely insane to question this. The language of “unity of mind,” and “brotherly love,” does seem to talk about our ethics towards other believers. And, anyone who has been in church for more than 5 minutes, knows that we can be hurt just as much by people inside as outside the church, so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say vs. 9 is also about life among other believers. For grins, let me put my thoughts out there.

      First, while we can certainly be hurt by those in the church, the language of vs. 9 seems more extreme than I recall elsewhere in Scripture. We are called to forgive one another, but whenever we see language like “evil” and “reviling” it seems to be talking about either an unbeliever, or a heretic, not a brother/sister in Christ (please, correct me if I’m wrong).

      If vs. 9 is about our reaction to the hostility of unbelievers, then we can take these verses as a summary statement of everything that has come before it, before he moves on to speak more about enduring suffering. So, vs. 8 is a repetition of 1:22 and its surrounding teaching, which focuses on life together as the church. The call to be a blessing, and responding to suffering with grace, found in vs. 9, is really a repetition of all the teaching from 2:13-3:6 (esp. 2:15-17), which focuses on living amongst hostile pagans. So, we could read 3:8-9, and 10-12 which support and explain 8-9, as a summary statement of everything that has come before.

      Thanks again.

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