Peter continues his focus on resurrection life, the life gifted to the baptized. The victory won on Good Friday triggers the beginning of a new creation and with it a new humanity indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. This new or renewed humanity, Peter has been saying, lives by faith in the Spirit in accord with the ethic of the Kingdom. Consequently, despite hardship, despite persecutions, Christians need never fear to tell the truth, for the truth is of Christ, who is Himself, “…the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
This pericope has law and gospel, as well as principles of Christian ethic. The effective preacher rightly distinguishes them but also confidently preaches them.
The truth has no harm in it, no malice, and no danger. The truth cannot contradict itself. You might fear lies as lies have harm and danger lurking in them. Lies contradict the truth and they can contradict themselves. Fear lies, but not the Truth. There is reason to fear those who pursue what is evil, but who, asks Peter, “…is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (3:13). As for those who are after doing you harm, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (3:14). They cannot harm you if you are eager only for what is good. As Jesus Himself said, “Only God is truly good” (Mark 10:18).
Peter has reason to emphasize this. His church is dealing with persecution and hardship. When times are tough, we can lose sight of what is good and true. Peter brings us back to the words of our Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Paul repeated it to the Romans, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). Now, Peter joins the same refrain, “When you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (3:16). This ethic, this disposition, is of Christ; it is concomitant with resurrection life in the Spirit. It is hard to imagine three people in history with greater experience of persecution than Jesus and His apostles Peter and Paul. They knew it to be true: You do not have to worry about doing what is good or saying what is true.
The Law is that standard. The sting is how we fail at every point. The Gospel is Christ has brought to us the forgiveness of sins and the endowment of the Spirit. Now the ethic of His Kingdom, for His kingdom people, is to walk in the Spirit; truth and goodness.
What is more, the good and the true can be the antidote to the bad and the false. If we render evil for evil, we can only send the situation spiraling into decline, for the evil you return will only in its turn be avenged. No, “See that none of you repays evil for evil,” writes Paul, “but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). When the slander is greatest, when the hurt is most vicious, when someone would deny the very thing you are, a child of Christ, this is the time to say what is the truest and tell of what is the most good. First, tell it to yourself. Remember it, or as Peter says it here, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy” (3:15). Then be ready to say it in response to the one who denies it: “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Goodness followed by truth, all as a result of the victory of Christ and resurrection life which follows from it.
What is more, the good and the true can be the antidote to the bad and the false.
Sometimes preachers have taken those words of Peter to urge us to have a little testimony prepared, ready to make the defense if anyone should demand an explanation of our hope. Of course, you can do that, and who knows, it may come in useful, especially if anyone happened to notice there is a special hope within you. But I do not think that is quite what Peter meant. I think he rather meant we should be prepared to make a defense in the sense of being willing to do it. The eloquence of the words is not the important thing. One word is enough. Why is there a hope within you? There is only one thing in the answer that really matters, the name and life of Jesus. He is our hope. He is the Truth. He is the goodness of God. The explanation of it is not a theory or a theology, it is a person, the Son of God. That is why we have hope, which others do not know.
Only, says Peter, when you make a defense for the hope that is in you, do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience. An argument is no good. It is like repaying evil for evil, escalating hostility. In fact, the sort of defense that bulldozes its opponent, or even sees an opponent at all, is a denial of the very basis of our hope. It is a betrayal of the character of Jesus who was oppressed, afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. No, offer the defense with gentleness and respect. It may mean listening for many hours to earn the right to speak for a few minutes. But there is time and it is worth it. It is ok to suffer for doing good, if God so chooses. The point is: Good is worth the suffering. It may be costly, an indignity, and most of all unfair, but measured on the eternal scales, the good outweighs the suffering.
Good is worth the suffering. It may be costly, an indignity, and most of all unfair, but measured on the eternal scales, the good outweighs the suffering.
Then Peter gives us the example. Preach the example: “For Christ also suffered once for sins,” he says, “the righteous for the unrighteous” (3:18). Jesus did nothing but good. His life was sinless, but not only did He resist doing wrong, His life was one of actively loving the undeserving. Yet, what was the outcome of that life? To say Jesus suffered refers not only to the agonies of His last hours, which, of course, were doubly awful when they were so unwarranted, nor does it mean only those indignities He suffered throughout the ministry of His perfect life, when He was insulted and maligned at every opportunity. To say He suffered means He suffered death. When we confess the Nicene Creed, we do not mention the death of Jesus explicitly as we do in the Apostles’ Creed, where we declare Him to have been crucified, dead and buried. Rather, we say in the Nicene Creed only that He suffered and was buried. What I mean is that to say Jesus suffered means He suffered death.
But why should that be, when we know the wages of sin is death and Jesus was sinless? How can Peter say Christ suffered once for sins? Of course, this is the point. He suffered for our sins. He died for us. This is the supreme example of the principle our text has been unfolding. It is all about meeting wrong with right, rendering good for evil, and answering malice with love. This is what God did for us in Christ. To herald it is called preaching. It is the only way evil can be overcome. Evil will not cancel evil. But love, as this letter goes on to say, covers a multitude of sins. So, the love of God shown to us in Christ, removed the sins of all. There is no hope for the sinner outside of Jesus, but only by trusting in His loving death for us.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in I Peter 3:13-22.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Peter 3:13-22.