Strangers And Aliens (15c): 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. 10b-12: The Second Step Toward Unity: Speaking And Seeking Peace
To support and explain his approach to gracious living within the congregation the Apostle Peter quotes Psalm 34:12–16a. This is an interesting quotation for a couple of reasons. First, whenever we see New Testament (NT) writers quoting or alluding to the Old Testament (OT) we should pay attention not only to what the text says (of course) but to what the OT text says but also to how the NT writers interpret the OT. In other words, we want to be sure, as much as possible, to interpret the OT the same way the NT writers did. We do not want to do, as so many Dispensationalist-influenced evangelicals have done, namely set up two ways of reading Scripture: the Apostolic way and our way, as if we have license to establish a parallel, distinct way of reading Scripture. The Bible nowhere gives us such autonomy.

The superscription to Psalm 34 attributes it to the episode in which David pretended to be insane before Achish, King of Gath (1 Sam 21:10–22:1). 1 Samuel 21:13 says that David “changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard” (ESV). One difficulty is that the superscription says Abimelech but 1 Samuel says Achish. The resolution lies in the etymology (“father of a king” or “my father is a king”) and use of “Abimelech,” which was a royal title not necessarily a personal name. It is roughly equivalent to the American use of “Mr President” to refer to multiple persons (e.g., Washington, Roosevelt, and Trueman) with different surnames.

In the Psalm David begins with rejoicing in God’s mercy because (following the superscription) the Lord was merciful to him. David (“this poor man”) cried out and Yahweh (the LORD) heard him. The man who takes refuge in Yahweh is blessed. If you’re not familiar with the whole Psalm, you may be familiar with verse 8: “Oh, taste and see that Yahweh is good!” Scripture often refers to the God’s goodness to describe his presence with his people. He continues to rejoice in God’s deliverance and provision. In vs. 10 he says that Lion cubs may want but “those who seek Yahweh lack no good thing.” In vs. 11, just before the section that the Apostle Peter quotes, David says, “Come, children, listen to me;  I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.”

It’s interesting then, that the Apostle Peter draws our attention this section of this Psalm. In order to survive a difficult encounter, David had to humiliate himself. God used that humiliation to deliver David and to preserve the royal line, from which our Lord Jesus was to come. David draws inferences from it that we might not and Peter applies those inferences, in a different context to NT Christians in Asia Minor (Turkey) who are facing external pressure from the surrounding pagan culture and (in Rome  at least) actual violent persecution. Remember, the immediate context in 1 Peter is the matter of maintaining peace and unity in the congregation.

A believer who would live peacefully with his brothers and sisters should first guard his tongue. How much damage is done in the church not by pagan persecution (not to downplay that terrible reality in Nigeria, the Sudan, China, Iraq and other places) but by thoughtless, evil, or ill-timed remarks. Psalm 34:13 specifies a particular sort of evil: deceit, a deliberate misrepresentation or, to use an older word, dissembling (to conceal one’s true intent). This is interesting because David escaped Achish by a ruse, by pretending to be what he is not. The purpose of the narrative of David’s escape, however, as he explains in Psalm 34 and as Peter applies it to us is not to license us to lie to unbelievers—permitted under the Old Covenant war with the Gentiles. We are not Muslims practicing Taqiyah, i.e., tactical lying either to escape persecution or to advance a religious-military agenda—but to encourage us to trust in the Lord, to take refuge in him. Rather than striking back at a brother or sister in the congregation and in that way to try to protect ourselves, to trust the Lord to protect us.

Calvin is helpful here:

The meaning then is, that the prosperity which he has mentioned depends on the protection of God; for were not the Lord to care for his people, they would be like sheep exposed to wolves. And that we for little reason raise a clamour, that we suddenly kindle unto wrath, that we burn with the passion of revenge, all this, doubtless, happens, because we do not consider that God cares for us, and because we do not acquiesce in his aid. Thus in vain we shall be taught patience, except our minds are first imbued with this truth, that God exercises such care over us, that he will in due time succour [help] us.

John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen, (repr. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 104–05.

So, we turn away (repent) from evil and, in its place, do good. As we saw last time, this is what our Lord himself taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. We are not national Israel. You and I are not the anointed king of God’s (temporary) national people at war with the surrounding Gentiles. We are God’s semi-eschatological New Covenant people. We have not been called to war (as God’s people; not to speak of our responsibilities in the civil realm of God’s kingdom) but to peace. We are, as Psalm 34:14b says, to “seek peace.”

Calvin says:

Hence Peter adds, But if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake. The meaning is, that the faithful will do more towards obtaining a quiet life by kindness, than by violence and promptitude in taking revenge; but that when they neglect nothing to secure peace, were they to suffer, they are still blessed, because they suffer for the sake of righteousness. Indeed, this latter clause differs much from the judgment of our flesh; but Christ has not without reason thus declared; nor has Peter without reason repeated the sentence from his mouth; for God will at length come as a deliverer, and then openly will appear what now seems incredible, that is, that the miseries of the godly have been blessed when endured with patience.

To suffer for righteousness, means not only to submit to some loss or disadvantage in defending a good cause, but also to suffer unjustly, when any one is innocently in fear among men on account of the fear of God. (Calvin, ibid., 106).

The Lord is favorable toward the righteous, he hears their cry (Ps 34:15). This language, as well as Ps 34:12, might be taken to put us on a conditional, (covenant of) works footing with God: if we do x, God will do y. Such a conclusion would, however, be lazy because it ignores both the original context and the way Peter applied these verses to Christians in the NT, whom he calls “strangers and aliens.” We are not in a literal Canaan or on a works footing in any way. Peter has made that much clear repeatedly. We are in a covenant of grace. Even David rejoiced in God’s mercy and grace leading up to these verses.

Both David and Peter would have us understand that there are consequent obligations to grace. As recipients of grace we should strive to be what we are in Christ: righteous. Thus. we cannot dismiss this language only as a reference to legal standing before God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed. As a consequence of that declaration the Spirit is at work in us, conforming us actually to Christ. Christ would have us actually become righteous. In this case it means to watch our tongues and to seek peace with others particularly in the congregation. To be sure, it is clear from the broader context that Peter would have us learn these same virtues and practice them with the unbelieving world beyond the congregation.

Finally, it is telling that Peter quotes only the first half of Psalm 34:16, “The face of Yahweh is against those who do evil.” He omits the second part, “to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” The Hebrew word for face (פנה) here refers to his presence. It’s a figurative expression. He no more has a literal “face” than he has literal “eyes” (1 Peter 3:12). The sense is God is not morally with those who do evil, i.e., he does not support or aid them in their evil. He approves morally neither of evil doing nor evil doers.

The omission of the second half of the verse is interesting and important. Under David, under the OT theocratic king, there was a place for literal, earthly, imprecatory judgments. Christ has borne that judgment for all his people. There is a literal judgment to come but now is not that time. We are not the national people. We Christians are a sojourning people. We live in this world, God’s world, but not as those seeking to establish a national state. Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Final judgment is God’s business. Our vocation is to make known Christ, his Law (that unbelievers might see their need for Christ the Savior), his Gospel (that they might hear the good news and turn to him in true faith), and, in light of that gospel to seek, by the grace and presence of the Spirit, to conform our lives to Christ and his law for his glory and the salvation of the nations. There will come a time, when Jesus shall return bodily, in glory and in judgment. Then he will cut off all those who have scorned him in impenitent unbelief and as the Good and Gentle Shepherd he will take all his lambs to himself in love and eternal fellowship.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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