First Peter 3:8-9
Do Not Return Evil With Evil

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Called In Order To Inherit Blessings

1.

"Do not return evil with evil, or insults with insults. Instead, pray for blessing. You were called in order to inherit blessing," (First Peter 3:9).

2. Peter repeatedly gives the message to Christians in their trials that "You were called." God is the one who called them. So, suffering should not be expected to be everlasting. Even though one has been in suffering now, that is not the final point in and of itself. So for what reason are [Christians] called? Peter says that "You were called in order to inherit blessing."

3. There is a character that always comes to mind regarding this matter of being "called in order to inherit the blessing." It is the father of our faith, Abraham. In calling Abraham, God told him, "You will leave your native town and the house of your father and go to the land that I will show you so that [I will] make you into a great nation, [I will] bless you, [I will] elevate your name, and turn you into a fountain of blessing," (Genesis 12:1-2). God said he would "bless" Abraham. But that wasn't all. While in this world Abraham himself would become the very blessing itself. A free translation of "fountain of blessing" expresses this point.

4. "You were called in order to inherit blessing." -- This doesn't just mean to "receive blessing." It includes our becoming the very blessing itself. We have been called in order to be a source of blessing. It already started from the time now that you were in a trial. For that reason, the Bible says, "Do not return evil with evil, or insults with insults. Instead, pray for blessing."

5. Paul has also written about this matter of "Do not return evil with evil" in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples. "Do not pay back evil for evil to anyone, but be careful to practice goodness before everyone," (Romans 12:17). The Bible also says, "Do not be defeated by evil, but overcome evil with good," (Romans 12:21). We see how that statements like these were already widely shared in the churches.

6. Of course, the wellspring of those words go back to the words of Christ himself. Jesus said, "You have heard it commanded, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' But, I say to you, do not lift your hand against an evil doer. If somebody strikes you on the right cheek, turn your left cheek," (Matthew 5:38-39). In addition, Jesus also spoke as follows: "You have heard it commanded, 'Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you,' (Matthew 5:43-44).

7. These are very well known statements. But, when we go back to Jesus' words, they are not easily accepted as they are quite extreme statements. On this statement of "Do not return evil with evil" some may think, "Yes, that's exactly right. I agree," but when it says, "Do not lift your hand against an evil doer. If somebody strikes you on the right cheek, turn your left cheek," I would think they would feel some objection to that. I've heard [people say] words like, "Talk like that and nothing will ever get done in this world!" But, one thing for sure is at least we can't help avoid thinking about what it means to overcome "evil" and not the "evil doer." And that's the important [thing].

8. The thing that goes against God's blessings is the evil of humankind. For God's blessings to be brought, humanity's evil has to be removed. So, will humanity's evil be removed by the destruction or the removal of the evil doer? No, it won't. Evil is removed at human repentance. The evil of a human being is removed when a person repents and turns to God. So, how does repentance take place? The clear thing is that repentance does not take place when one returns evil with evil. It does not take place with violence. Repentance never takes place when one returns insults with insults. Repentance takes place when humans are touched by love.

9. If destroying the sinner removed sin, and if that won the victory over evil, God wouldn't have sent his own son into the world. There would have been no need to crucify [God's] son; because God could have destroyed this sin filled world in an instant. But, God readily sent his son into the world. Then, through his son he did do a kind of "turning of his left cheek after they struck his right cheek." That's what it means in his handing over his son to humankind and his allowing him to be put on the cross. Through Christ the love of God was revealed. This very love leads people to repentance and leads them to God. In consequence of that, Peter has written the following: "Even Christ suffered once for sin. The righteous one suffered for the unrighteous. [He did it] to guide you unto God," (First Peter 3:18).

10. We too have been lead unto repentance in this same manner and have been guided unto God. Thus, the call of God unto us has been fulfilled. Thus, we are called and have become persons who inherit the blessings of God. Since that is true, we must follow God's law while being a blessing and becoming the fountain of blessing. To return evil with evil will not win the victory over evil or remove it. Paul said, "Overcome evil with good." And Paul also said, "Do not return evil with evil, or insults with insults. Instead, pray for blessing."

The Family Inheriting The Blessings

11. However, I would like for us to remember one other thing today. Before all that, the Bible said this: "In conclusion, all of you be of one heart, be sympathetic towards each other, love your brothers, be deep in compassion, and humble yourselves," (verse eight).

12. While giving his "conclusion," the details of it still keep going all the way to chapter five. Does one hypothesize that this [long conclusion] was at first a letter [by itself] that continued to chapter five or was it originally from the beginning one epistle? It was quite a difficult question [for scholars]. At the least, though, when he was writing this text, in the sense that he was summarizing the details so far given, Peter was most likely trying to write the best way he could the important things that he wanted to communicate. If we ask with what kind of words did his exhortation as a conclusion to churches under persecution and to churches in trials first get written down as, it would be "All of you be of one heart, be sympathetic towards each other, love your brothers, be deep in compassion, and be humble."

13. At times when people show up with definite [acts of] evil [against you] or take themselves up in insulting [you], don't you think how you respond to them is of the utmost importance? Yet, before that Peter wrote on how we should be with one another. Put in a broader way of saying it, before he speaks on how we ought to involve ourselves with the world, he first speaks on how Christians ought to be with one another. That is, the churches must be well formed within. First, it is how the church ought to be, then it is how to be towards the world; this order of things is important. When our head is full of hardships and suffering in this world, relationships with one another in the church become second place, but it shouldn't. Instead, especially when in a trial, the fellowship in the church is important. As a matter of fact, when relationships among brothers and sisters believing in Christ are not right, how can they be in a right relationship with the world? Can they?

14. In this text, [the Bible] speaks on the relationships we should have with each other with five statements. It is hard to understand it in the Japanese language, but the beginning and the end are in contrastive form and the third exhortation to "Love your brothers" seems to come into the main focus.

15. Peter says, "All of you be of one heart." This exhortation is a set with the exhortation to "Humble yourselves." The reason people can't be in harmony is not because the variety of people assembling together are of different backgrounds. It is because they can't be humble with each other. Haughty pride breaks down a community. A humble heart builds up a community. Paul also said the following in The Epistle To The Philippian Disciples: "Wherefore, if as many as there are of you has the encouragement that comes from Christ, the comfort of love, the fellowship that comes from 'the Spirit,' and besides that hearts of lovingkindness and compassion, be like-minded, hold to the same love, join your hearts, be one in thought, and satisfy my joy. Do not do anything at all out of self interest and vanity, but humble yourselves, and each of you consider others better than yourselves, do not pay attention to just your own selves alone, but to others," (Philippians 2:1-4).

16. And within all that the exhortation of "Be deep in compassion and mercy" is placed so that it corresponds with the exhortation of "Be compassionate with one another." This corresponds exactly with what Paul says in "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep," (Romans 12:5). What is being stated in this text is about situations related mainly to human emotions. We are to show sympathy, and included in that is we are even to suffer together.

17. In a period when persecution was becoming more and more severe, it must have been extremely important that the churches be formed as strong, unshakeable, storm-resistant communities. Although it is set up a tight, orderly and systematic society, the community that Peter is describing there is not a totalitarian kind of one, and it is not totally unlikeable in so far as human emotions come into play. In saying be of one mind it doesn't mean everyone has the same smiling face stamped on them. People exist as they share their feelings in sympathy, people with feelings that are alive. Therefore, that which binds them together in this manner is expressed as "brotherly love." "Have brotherly love," (verse eight, The Vernacular Version Of The Bible). The imagery being given there is that of a family. It is a family that calls the same God, "Abba, our father."

18. This is how we build relationships as a family that inherits blessings, and by placing ourselves securely in that, we can begin to live as a fountain of blessing in this world. The statements, that are written after the saying of "Do not return evil with evil, or insults with insults. Instead, pray for blessing," are not general moral values or words of worldly wisdom. It is precisely because there are people who live in the fellowship of a family which inherits the blessings that they are words of exhortation which we can truly begin to accept.

 
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