The Blessing of Godliness
The Blessing of Godliness
If you have your Bible, you can open up to 1 Peter 3. We’ll be looking at vv8-12 this morning. These verses are the conclusion to the section of the letter that began back in 2.11. Remember from 2.11, Peter called Christians to honorable conduct as they live among unbelievers. He then went on in the following verses to talk about what that honorable conduct looks like in specific areas of life. How should Christians relate to the governing authorities? How should servants relate to masters? And how should wives and husbands relate to one another? All of those specific discussions were the application of Peter’s call to honorable conduct. In our passage, Peter concludes that particular section of the letter. You see it there in v8, where Peter begins the verse with the word “Finally.” He’s wrapping up his previous discussion. And this concluding section is much more general than the previous sections. Note that Peter says “Finally, all of you.” He’s not focused just on servants or wives or husband, but on all Christians.
The passage really breaks down into two parts. In vv8-9, we see Peter call all Christians to a life of godliness. And then in vv10-12, Peter offers Christians some encouragement from the past by quoting from Psalm 34. There are two parts to the passage, and our message this morning will focus on the truths from those two sections of the text – the call to godliness in vv8-9, and encouragement from the past in vv10-12.
The Call to Godliness
We begin this morning with the call to godliness from vv8-9. As God’s new people, all Christians are called to display godly character in the world. Our status as God’s people doesn’t mean we withdraw from the world. Rather, it means we are called to display godliness in the world. In vv8-9, Peter reminds us of this calling. Whether you are a servant or a master, married or unmarried, young or old – regardless of your situation in life, if you belong to Christ, God calls you to this life of godliness.
What does this life of godliness look like? Peter tells us in these two verses. In v8, he focuses on our relationships within the church, while in v9, he focuses on our relationships with those outside the church. What we need to do is look more closely at each verse in order to better understand what this life of godliness looks like. Let’s begin with v8 and godliness within the church body. Peter lists five characteristics or five evidences of godliness that must be displayed in our relationships within the body of Christ. These are things that must be present if we are to cultivate godliness within our congregation.
First, Peter says we should have unity of mind. The idea is harmony or agreement with one another. Within the body of Christ, there is no room for divisions or rivalries. Rather, there should be agreement in the Lord. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to think the same way. There is room for differences in opinions and differences in tastes. But unity of mind means that there is agreement around what is most important – the essentials of the faith, the priority of the gospel, and our mission to spread that gospel among all peoples.
Next, Peter says our relationships should be marked by sympathy. The idea is more than just saying to someone, “I know what you’re going through.” It is that, but on a deeper level. Peter has in mind situations where we enter into the experience of our brothers and sisters. If someone is rejoicing, you rejoice with them. If they are weeping, you weep with them. If someone is suffering, you connect with them to such a degree that you suffer as well. It’s sympathy that unites the body together in the shared experience of the Christian life.
Third, Peter calls us to brotherly love. This characteristic is at the heart of the list, so to speak. If you think of these five characteristics as a connected group, then brotherly love is at the center. It’s the heart of the group. Brotherly love flows from the gospel itself. All believers have the same spiritual origin or birth. We were all born again by God’s Spirit through the living Word of God. That common origin unites us together. Through the gospel, we all have one Father in heaven. We are all united under one Savior, Jesus Christ. And we all share one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God himself. We have the same spiritual lineage, the same spiritual heritage, even if we come from different cultures, different places, different eras. In Christ, then, we are one family. And that is what enables us to show brotherly love, because we have been brought together by God in Jesus Christ.
Next, Peter calls us to have a tender heart. This is very similar to sympathy, so much so that it is really hard to distinguish the two! The idea is that God calls us to be compassionate and forgiving toward those within the body. We shouldn’t treat others harshly, or hold things against one another. There’s no place for grudges or settling scores within the church. Rather, we should be tender-hearted and forgiving toward those in the body.
Finally, Peter says we should be of humble mind. Almost every time the NT teaches on Christian character or godliness, humility shows up in the list. This makes sense, because a lack of humility will derail all those other virtues. Pride is the enemy of godliness within the church. If I am prideful, I will work against unity of the mind. I will struggle to be sympathetic toward others, because I’ll consistently think that my issues are more important than everyone else’s. Pride is the enemy of all godliness, especially within the body of Christ. We should intentionally cultivate the attitude of others before self. Put the interests of others ahead of my interests. Practically, this means putting aside my agenda in favor of what is good for the body. I may want to see something happen in a particular way or in a certain time frame, but that might not be best for the body. Humility calls me to lay aside my desires, my agenda for the good of others.
Now, notice something at this point. Notice how easy it is for this kind of godliness to be absent in a church. Often, when we think about a lack of godliness, we think about the big sins, the really wicked things, like lust or adultery or outright lying or violence. Those things are wicked, but notice that the opposite of these five characteristics is often very subtle. You see that? The opposite of v8 is not necessarily gross, public sin, but often subtle, private sin. It might show up as jealousy toward a fellow church member. You wish you had her gifts or his opportunities to serve. It might show up in an unwillingness to pray for someone in need. Maybe they weren’t there for you, and so you think, “I’m not going to pray for them.” It might be as sneaky as a cynical attitude toward someone’s difficulty. You hear from a person about a difficulty he is experiencing and you think to yourself, “Oh, come on! It’s not that bad! Buck up.” All those things are the opposite of godliness. But they are subtle. They sneak into a church slowly over time, until one day there is no v8 godliness among a body of believers. Sure, there might not be the big, public sins, but there are these subtle sins that erode and eat away at the church’s life together.
I make this point because we need to realize that often times, churches are derailed not by horrible wickedness, but by subtle sin that goes against the grain of godliness. Let me be clear. We should be wary of false doctrine and immorality. I’m not suggesting those things are ok. But we should also beware of those sins of heart that often go unchecked, unnoticed. Those sins derail godliness with just as disastrous effects. A hard heart toward your brother or sister in Christ is just as dangerous as immorality. This means that godliness in a church starts with vigilance in our own hearts. As members one of another, we have to be vigilant against these subtle, sneaky sins. We can’t excuse hard-heartedness or a lack of sympathy just because it doesn’t show up in gross, public ways. We have to be watchful and mindful of what is happening in our own hearts, because godliness within our church is at stake.
Now, as you step back from v8, you’ll notice it’s an impressive list, maybe even somewhat overwhelming. These are hard things, if you think about them honestly. I mean, it is difficult to put the interests of others ahead of myself. I like my way, I think it is right and good, and I think other people should think that too! These are hard things! Where does this godliness come from, then? Put simply, it’s an overflow, an effect of the gospel.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Wow, Jeff, don’t you say that every week – that the gospel is what produces or enables all this stuff from the Bible.” And I would say, “Yes, I do say that every week, because the gospel is the heart of Christianity! The gospel is the engine that drives this thing called the church!” You won’t get the godliness of v8 without the gospel truths that have come before. That is why Peter began the letter not with the call to godliness first, but with praise for the gospel first. Remember 1.3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope!” Remember that? That’s the key to this godliness, God’s merciful, gracious work to give us new hearts through the new birth. Because we have been born again, we have a new nature as God’s people. We have been transformed by God’s grace in the gospel. And because of that transformation, we can love one another. We can have unity of mind. We can be sympathetic with others. We can show compassion. We do these things not because we are by nature nice and good people, but because we are by nature changed people, transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember God’s grace in the gospel, and let that grace spur you on in godliness.
This call to godliness doesn’t stop in the church; it also extends to relationships outside the church as well. In v9, it seems most likely that Peter’s focus shifts to those outside the church, specifically those who might seek to harm Christians. What does honorable conduct look like toward those who mistreat us? It returns blessing for evil. Peter says Christians should not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary we should bless those who hurt us. You’ll recall Peter made the same point, earlier in chapter 2. He now returns to that point here in the conclusion to this section of the letter.
Now, here’s the key question at this point. What exactly does it mean to bless those who hurt you? For starters, we should note that to bless someone is the opposite of cursing them. To curse someone means to call for bad things to happen to them. To bless others is the opposite of that. To bless others is to pray for goodness to happen to them. It’s to pray for God’s grace in their lives. If someone hurts you, you don’t think to yourself, “Man, I hope they get theirs!” That would be returning evil for evil. Peter says don’t do that. Rather, pray for them. Ask for God’s grace to be at work in their lives.
This is what Jesus himself both taught and modeled. In the Gospels, Jesus says pray for your enemies. That is how we bless those who hurt us. And this is what Jesus did in his own life. When he was hanging on the cross, he prayed for the Father to forgive those who mocked and killed him. Think about that. At that moment, Jesus is experiencing the worst of human evil – these are the people who murdered God in the Flesh!! – and he prays for them. That is what it means to bless those who curse you.
Now, this might seem a strange way to live, to bless those who hurt you. But Peter reminds us in v9 of the reason why we should pursue this kind of godliness – because we are called to this as God’s people. Look there in v9, “on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.” This is part of our calling as God’s people – to bless those who hurt us and thus give testimony to the gospel. And we are called to this by the example of Christ. Peter has already mentioned this in chapter 2, but he returns to the point again. When Christ experienced evil, he returned blessing. As his followers, we are called to do the same.
Finally, to close out v9, Peter gives us the purpose for our calling. He says at the end of v9, “that you may obtain a blessing.” We should bless those who hurt us because this is part of how we obtain our blessing from God. By blessing, Peter has in mind salvation, particularly final salvation that will be revealed when Jesus Christ returns on the last day. Part of the way that we inherit final salvation is by pursuing godliness.
Now, it seems to me that Peter’s opening words in chapter 1 are very helpful in understanding his point here in chapter 3. Let’s just remind ourselves briefly of how the letter began. In 1.4-5, Peter said that believers have an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us. In other words, the inheritance is secure and certain. Nothing can steal away or harm a Christian’s inheritance. In turn, Christians themselves are also guarded by God’s power. God protects the inheritance, and he protects the heirs of that inheritance, believers themselves. Now, how does God protect believers? Peter said through faith. As a Christian continues to trust God and live by faith, he is kept secure for final salvation. What does this have to do with our passage in chapter 3? Let’s put the two together. God’s power is at work in our lives through faith, and that faith is demonstrated in godliness. In other words, the godliness of vv8-9 is the evidence of our faith. And that godliness is part of how we experience God’s final salvation. God guards us for our inheritance through faith that is evidenced in a godly life.
At this point, some people might be tempted to see salvation by works in Peter’s logic, but that would miss the point of the passage, and really the point of much of the letter. Peter is not saying that we bless those who hurt us in order to earn salvation. Over and over, Peter has made it clear that our salvation owes entirely to God’s grace. He cannot mean in v9 that we bless in order to earn salvation. Instead, Peter means that when we return blessing for evil, it is evidence that we have been born again by God’s grace. Godliness in our lives now demonstrates that we hope in Christ. It’s the evidence of our having been born again. As we bless others rather than curse them, we show that we have an inheritance of salvation kept in heaven for us, and that by grace through faith, we will inherit that salvation. Peter calls all Christians to a life of godliness.
Encouragement from the Past
That brings us to our second truth – Peter’s encouragement from the past. In v10-12, Peter quotes from Psalm 34, which is one of his favorite OT passages to quote or allude to. At least 7-8 times in the letter, Peter makes some sort of reference to Psalm 34. Clearly this Psalm was important to Peter. The question we should ask is this: “Why does Peter quote so extensively from Psalm 34 at this point?” This is the longest of his numerous references to the Psalm, so why does he put it here? I think there are two answers to that question.
First, Peter quotes from Psalm 34 to show us that his teaching is shaped by God’s word in the OT. Peter’s theology of the Christian life is shaped by how God’s people in the past have always lived. In other words, this life of blessing-for-evil is nothing new. If you notice, vv10-12 make essentially the same point as vv8-9. When we pursue godliness or righteousness, it evidences that our hope is in God, and this evidence is a necessary part of inheriting God’s blessing. Look there in v10. The psalm says, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days.” Love life and good days – that’s the same as blessing in v9. Then the quote goes on “let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” That is the same as not returning evil for evil. Then v11, “let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” Again, there is the call to godliness that is present in vv8-9. Then, the quote ends in v12 with the reminder that the Lord opposes wickedness, but he shows favor to the righteous. Peter wants us to see that his teaching in this letter flows from the truth of God’s word in the OT. This is how God’s people have always lived – trusting God, not returning evil for evil, and remembering that God’s grace is evidenced in a transformed life.
Second, Peter quotes from Psalm 34 in order to encourage these suffering Christians. Remember, the Christians in Peter’s letter were suffering, maybe even greatly. Now, when you go back and look at the context of Psalm 34, the psalm expresses a number of truths that would have been encouraging to suffering Christians. Let’s go back and look at the context of Psalm 34 so that we receive Peter’s encouragement as well.
Psalm 34 is a psalm of David, and according to the superscription, David wrote this psalm when he was living among the Philistines, running from Saul. This was a dangerous time for David, in large part because he was living among a hostile people. The Philistines didn’t worship the Lord, so it was a trying, even dangerous, time for David. But God delivered David in the midst of that danger. He cared for David, he protected him. The psalm is David’s expression of thanks to God for that protection. But the psalm is also a celebration of the fact that God sees and cares for those who trust him. The psalm celebrates the truth that God watches over the godly and the righteous. Listen to some of these lines from the Psalm:
“Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord!”
“Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!”
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
“The Lord redeems the life of his servants.”
You can hear it quite clearly, even in those few lines – the psalm celebrates those who trust in God and continue in paths of righteousness.
Now, apply the Psalm, with all its truths and themes, to the lives of these Christians, and you can see how they would be encouraged, even in the midst of suffering. The Psalm would have reminded them that God sees their suffering, and that he will deliver them. One of the great temptations of suffering is the temptation to believe that God has forgotten you. I’m sure some of these Christians would have struggled with that temptation. This psalm would have reminded them that they are not forgotten. They are not at the mercy of those who hurt them. Rather, God sees their affliction. He is near to the broken-hearted. His eyes are toward the righteous. His ears are open to their prayers. Think of the encouragement this would have given to weary, suffering Christians. You are not alone, Psalm 34 tells them. God sees you. But not only does he do see, he will also deliver those who trust in him. The suffering you face will not overwhelm you. The difficulty will not drown you. The Lord, who redeems the lives of his servants, will deliver you from all evil.
Therefore, Psalm 34 says to these suffering saints, trust him and live a life of godliness. Don’t turn to wickedness. Don’t return evil for evil. Peter is using David’s life to say, “I know that godliness is hard, but this is the path of life, blessing, and deliverance. Trust the Lord and continue on in the pursuit of godliness.” Even in the midst of suffering, godliness is the path of blessing. Don’t lose heart.
One last question as we close. We’ve seen the call to godliness that God gives to all Christians, but that raises a question in my mind. I ask this question as a sometimes weary, often times weak Christian. The question is this – What about all those days when I don’t model the godliness of v8? What do I do then? Have you thought that question at some point in this message? I thought it this week, so I think it’s a normal question. What about those days when I fail at godliness?
I think Peter would answer that question by pointing us to Christ. He would remind us that all our failures were placed on Christ at the cross. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. Christ paid for my lack of godliness. And Peter would also remind us that all Christ’s righteousness is given to us through repentance and faith. We are righteous because Christ is righteous. Peter would remind us of those truths – that we are forgiven because of Christ’s death, and that we are righteous because of Christ’s life.
And then, in light of those gospel truths, I think Peter would say, “Continue on in the pursuit of godliness, knowing that your status with God is not determined by your performance, and knowing that your failures are paid for by Christ.” This is how the Bible motivates God’s people – not with guilt but with grace. God has freely given us his grace in the gospel, and that grace should motivate us and encourage us on in the pursuit of godliness. We have a sure and certain inheritance kept in heaven for us. Let us, then, press on in godliness that we might receive that inheritance.
If you are struggling this morning, if you are discouraged, let God’s grace in Christ motivate and encourage you to keep on. Let the forgiveness and the righteousness that you have through Christ compel you and carry you on in a life of godliness. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. Why? So that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. May God’s grace in the gospel comfort us in our suffering, and may his grace encourage us to continue on in a life of godliness, all to the glory of Christ.