A Study Series in First Peter with Dr Steve Orr

1 Peter 3:9

To This You Were Called

Dr Steve Orr

Last time we looked at 1 Peter 3v8 where we read: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind”. Having previously addressed Christian citizens, Christian slaves or servants, Christian wives and Christian husbands Peter went on to address “all of you”. By that he meant every member of the church. He meant the whole Christian community and he was describing how we are to relate to one another in our life together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he did that by giving five features or traits that should characterise us together as believers in Christ. Those characteristics are: “unity of mind”, “sympathy”, “brotherly love”, “a tender heart” and “a humble mind”. We noted the chiastic structure of that list of characteristics so the central idea is that we should be characterised by “brotherly love”. Such “brotherly love” consists of “unity of mind” which depends on us each having “a humble mind” and “sympathy” which depends on us each having “a tender heart”.

Moving on to verse 9 we find that Peter goes on to say “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”. Having spoken about how believers in Christ are to relate one another within the Christian community, he now seems to be talking about how we are to respond to the hostility that will inevitably come our way from those who are outside the Christian community. This is a key theme in Peter’s letter. You’ll remember that he began by addressing his readers as “sojourners” or “strangers” or “exiles”. Right at the outset he recognised that believers in Christ are outsiders. We don’t fit comfortably in this world. In chapter 2v11 he said “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles”. Again he was emphasising that we live in dangerous territory. We’re surrounded by a hostile environment. So, he then went on in verse 12 to say: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”. He didn’t say “if they speak against you as evildoers”. He said “when they speak against you as evildoers”. He fully expected that to happen. That’s what they would experience in this hostile world. It goes with the territory! In chapter 3v16 he’s going to speak to them of “when you are slandered”. Again, not “if” but “when”. It will happen. In chapter 4v4 he says: “and they malign you”. Not “and they might malign you”. They do it. Peter’s readers experienced it. Peter was very realistic about the hostility that we can expect to receive from the surrounding society.

The question is, how are we to respond to such hostility?

Well, that’s the question Peter addresses in verse 9. When I first looked at this verse I very quickly came up with three neat points, complete with alliteration.

Point 1 was “Requirements”. That’s what we see in the words “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless”.

Point 2 was “Reason”. We see that in the words “for to this you were called”.

Point 3 was “Result”. We see that in the words “that you may obtain a blessing”.

Then, in verses 10 to 12, that is all underpinned by a reference to Psalm 34. So a fourth point was going to be “Reference”. However, although that outline was neat and pleasing, I quickly realised that it was over simplistic and misrepresented what Peter is saying here.

At the very heart of verse 9 we have those keywords: “to this you were called”.

It’s very clear that Peter is saying that believers in Christ have been called. Notice the past tense: “you were called”. Clearly, Peter is saying that, if you are a Christian, then, at some time in the past you were called. You have been called. The question is, in the context of verse 9, to what is Peter saying we have been called? He says “to this you were called” but what does he mean by “this”? What does the word “this” refer to? When you read the commentators on this verse, they invariably point out that, grammatically, “this” could either be looking back to what Peter had just said or it could be looking forward to what he was about to say. If it is looking back then the word “this” would be referring to “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless”. Peter would then be saying that we have been called to not repay evil for evil but rather to bless.

If, on the other hand, the word “this” is looking forward, then it would be referring to “that you may obtain a blessing”. Peter would then be saying that we have been called to “obtain a blessing”. So, is Peter saying that we have been called to be a blessing to others now in this life or is he saying that we have been called to be blessed ourselves in the future? The commentators vary in their preferences but the majority of them seem to plump for one or the other of those two options. However, it seems to me, that the whole point here is that both are true. I think we can see that to be the case if we look at the ways in which Peter uses the word “called” on other occasions.

Back in 1 Peter 1v15 we read: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. That’s telling us that, as believers in Christ, we’ve been called by He who is holy. That’s clearly referring to God so we have been called by God Himself and that verse suggests that we have been called to holy conduct. That refers to the way in which we live our lives here and now.

Then, in 1 Peter 2v9 we read: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. That tells us what God has called us from. We see that He’s called us “out of darkness”. That is, He’s called us out of our old, sinful way of life that was dominated by our fallen sinful nature. It also tells us what He’s called us to. We see that He’s called us “into his marvelous light”. That is, He’s called us to a life of holy conduct. That’s to be lived here and now, in the present.

Then, in 1 Peter 2v18-21 we read: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps”. That’s talking about being called to endure unjust suffering and thereby following Christ’s example. It’s talking about being called to live a Christ-like life. Once again, that’s to be lived here and now, in the present.

So far it looks as though Peter always speaks of having been called to something in the here and now. However, in 1 Peter 5v10 we read: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you”. That’s talking about having been called to something eternal. Something in the future. It’s looking beyond anything in this life.

So, when Peter speaks of us having been called he’s speaking of the fact that we’ve been both called to something in our earthly lives and called to something in the future and the point he’s stressing is that they go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. They are linked. You can’t be called to “his eternal glory in Christ” without also having also been called to live a holy, Christ-like life.

So, firstly, let’s look at:

What we are called to in the present

We see that at the beginning of verse 9 where there is a negative requirement and a positive requirement for us as believers in Christ. The negative requirement is: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” and the positive requirement is: “but on the contrary, bless”. Firstly, let us consider the negative requirement. By “Do not repay evil for evil” he means “don’t retaliate or respond in kind when people wrong you or seek to harm you”. It’s referring to harmful actions directed against you.

By “reviling” Peter is referring to insults. He’s mentioned harmful actions against you and now he’s adding abusive, disparaging speech to that. Again, the requirement is that when we’re subjected to such treatment we’re not to respond in kind.

Why does he mention this evil and reviling? It’s because that’s what believers in Christ were routinely subjected to. Mistreatment and verbal abuse were often meted out to believers in Christ. They were to shame and publically discredited because they were perceived as being different. The normal response to that sort of attack in the surrounding culture would have been verbal retaliation to defend one’s honour and reputation. It would have been to “repay evil for evil and reviling for reviling”. It would have been tit for tat, give as good as you get. But, just as we saw last time that the relationships between fellow believers were to be very counter-cultural, so we now see that the response to hostile unbelievers is also to be very counter-cultural. Peter was saying “don’t be like them, don’t do what they do, don’t follow their example”. He was saying “Do not repay evil for evil as they do” and “Do not repay reviling for reviling as they do”. Paul mentions exactly the same principle in Romans 12v17 when he says: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”.

Where did Peter and Paul get that strange idea from?

Well, Peter has already mentioned Jesus as an example of behaving in that way. In 1 Pet 2v23, speaking of Jesus, he said: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly”. In doing so, Jesus was following the teaching He had given to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5v38-39 we read that He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. In saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’”, Jesus wasn’t just referring to a customary, colloquial saying of the day. He was actually quoting from the Law of Moses. You’ll find it in Exodus 21v24 and Leviticus 24v20 and again in Deuteronomy 19v21. So the idea of retaliating in kind when wronged wasn’t specific to the Greek and Roman society of Peter’s day. It prevailed in Old Testament Jewish society too. It was in keeping to the God-given law of Moses. Yet Jesus, as God made man, had the audacity to contradict it with the words “But I say to you”. This was radical teaching. He authoritatively required a completely different response. That was “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”.

Now, to our 21st century, western ears that sounds as though Jesus was essentially saying “be a doormat, be a shrinking violet, don’t stand up for yourself in any way”. However, when you understand the cultural norms of Jesus’ day you realise that it wasn’t quite like that. You see, in that culture a “superior” would often inflict a backhand slap upon the cheek of an “inferior”. So, a master might slap his slave or a husband his wife or an adult his child or a Roman a Jew. Equals fought each other with their fists or forehands and it showed a certain respect for one another but a backhand slap was a sign of superiority and of disdain or contempt of an inferior. Such a backhand slap would always be given using the right hand because another cultural norm of the day was that the left hand was only to be used for “unclean” tasks.

So, when Jesus said “turn to him the other also” He wasn’t only saying “don’t retaliate in kind”. He was also encouraging an act of nonviolent defiance. You see, if you turn your left cheek towards your so-called “superior” he would have to use his left hand to deliver a backhand slap and convention wouldn’t allow that. So, their only option would be to use their right hand and that would mean striking a forehand blow which would in turn recognise you as an equal. Turning the other cheek was presenting them with a very difficult dilemma! So, you see, although Jesus’ teaching was against a violent retaliation it wasn’t calling for a weak capitulation. “Turning the other cheek” is not merely being passive. It’s non-violent but it’s not non-resistant. It confronts the wrong that is being done but it does so in a non-violent way.

If we are Jesus’ followers, we are to follow His teaching and example so we won’t “repay evil for evil and reviling for reviling”. It’s not easy to not retaliate verbally or physically when you’re being mocked or belittled or insulted but the requirement gets even harder. We see that it’s not enough to just “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” because Peter goes on to give the positive requirement by saying: “but on the contrary, bless”. That goes beyond suffering in silence doesn’t it? That goes beyond enduring suffering without retaliating. To bless is to positively do good for a person.

Paul says much the same in 1 Corinthians 4v12-13 where we read: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things”. You see, believers in Christ are not just to “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling”. No, “When reviled, we bless”. Or, look at Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5v15 where he says: “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone”. You see, even when we are wronged we are to “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” whether we are wronged in terms of reviling, persecution or slander.

Again, this idea of going beyond not merely not retaliating but positively blessing is found in the teaching of Jesus. In Luke 6v29 we again read that Jesus said: “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either”. He preceded that, in verses 27 and 28, by saying: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”. You see, we are to go beyond merely not retaliating when people hate us or curse us or abuse us. We are to love them and do good to them and bless them and pray for them. Nothing less than that is required of us when faced with hostility.

What are we called to as believers in Christ during our lives as sojourners and strangers on earth? We are to be Christ-like. We’re to bless others even when they treat us badly. It’s important to realise that. The New Testament is very clear that we cannot think that because we are called to a future blessing, it doesn’t matter how we live now.

Next, let’s look at:

What we are called to in the future

We see that at the end of verse 9 where we read that Peter said: “you were called, that you may obtain a blessing”. It’s very important to be clear that we’ve been called to a future blessing as well as having been called to a Christ-like life now. If you were to take it that Peter was just speaking of having been called to Christ-like living now, then the logic of the verse, as implied by my original, superficial headings of Requirement, Reason and Result, is that this future blessing is obtained as a result of having lived a Christ-like life. Peter would be saying that when you are holy and Christ-like you will go on to obtain a blessing.

The expression “obtain a blessing” is perhaps not too helpful here. The word “obtain” possibly suggests getting something for yourself or doing what is necessary to get something. That might appear to support the notion that this future blessing is the result of or dependent upon living a Christ-like life here and now but that is quite contrary to gospel teaching. The NIV translates this clause as: “so that you may inherit a blessing”. That’s much better. The word “inherit” correctly translates the Greek and makes it clear that this blessing is not something that we earn or deserve. Rather, it is an inheritance that we have been called to. We don’t “obtain” it for ourselves. Rather, we receive it as “an inheritance”.

So, what is this “blessing” that Peter says we’ve been called to inherit? Well, we need to be clear that the whole tenor and emphasis of Peter’s letter makes it very clear that it isn’t any sort of earthly blessing that he has in mind. He consistently refers to us sojourners and exiles. As such, we don’t look for any earthly blessing. We’re not to expect an earthly blessing. Peter been constantly points us away from this world to something far better. For instance, look at 1 Peter 4v12-13 where he’ll go on to say: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”. What are we to expect in this life? Trials and sufferings! We endure that now knowing that we will “rejoice and be glad”. When is that? Not in this life but “when his glory is revealed”.

To see what this “blessing” that Peter says we’ve been called to inherit is we need to remind ourselves that, back in chapter 1v3-4, he said “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 through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”. What earthly inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”? There is none. That’s why he says it’s “kept in heaven for you”.

When will we receive that promised blessing? Well, he went on in verse 5 to say of those who God has caused to be born again to a new life: “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”. We look forward to the blessing of a salvation that is to be revealed “in the last time”. Peter then continued in verses 6 and 7 by saying: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. The future blessing to which we’ve been called comes with the return of Jesus Christ when He will be revealed in all His glory.

We see something of the wonder of that future blessing when Christ returns if we look at Revelation 21v14: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away””.

As we struggle with all sorts of trials and tribulations in this world, what a great encouragement it should be to us to realise that we have been called to that wonderful future blessing!

So, from 1 Peter 1v9, we’ve seen that as believers in Christ who have been born again we have been called to live holy, Christ-like lives during our sojourn on earth now and we’ve been called to a future, eternal blessing. We’ve been called to both be a blessing to others and to receive a blessing from our heavenly Father. We’ve been born again to a new life now and to an eternal hope in the future.

It’s essential that we see that both are true and both belong together. Failure to do so leads to a distorted view of the gospel. Concentrating solely on having been called to future blessing results in unchanged lives now so that we’re no different from those around us. Concentrating solely on having been called to a holy life now results in the idea that we have to earn or deserve any future blessing. The fact is that your own holiness and Christlikeness is not what makes you right with God and so worthy of future blessing. We are declared right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But those declared right with God are also made alive to be like Christ.

It’s summed up perfectly for us in Ephesians 2v1-10: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”. That’s what we were once like. Paul continues: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. You see, God has mercifully, lovingly, graciously intervened to save us and make us alive with Christ. What’s the result of that?

Paul continues: “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”. That’s the future blessing that we’ve been called to and that is our sure hope. Paul goes on to stress that we don’t earn or deserve that blessing by saying: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”. Then he says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. You see, he speaks of good works that we’re to walk in. That’s the holy Christ-like life that we’ve been called to live. It doesn’t earn our salvation but it cannot be separated or divorced from our having been called to inherit an eternal blessing. This is all by God’s grace and is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
ESV

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.”

NIV

8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
‘Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’[a]

About Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!
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