1 Peter 3:13-17
Last time we looked at 1 Peter 3v10-12 where Peter was quoting from Psalm 34. From that quotation we noted an Aspiration, an Obligation and a Motivation.
The aspiration was “to love life and see good days”. That might sound like a desire for “the good life” but we saw that it actually refers to a desire to be redeemed and delivered from condemnation and to receive the eternal inheritance that Peter has emphasised in his letter. It’s a desire to be made right with God and so have a sure hope for eternity.
The obligation was really three-fold: to control your tongue and use it in keeping with your new life in Christ, to ensure that your actions are in keeping with your new life in Christ and to pursue peace so that your relationships are in keeping with your new life in Christ.
The motivation for fulfilling those obligations stems, not from a sense of legal duty or a desire to earn favour but from our relationship with the Lord. We saw that for those who believe in Christ and have new life in Him the face of the Lord is no longer against them. Rather, His eyes are upon them and His ears are open to their prayer. If you like, He’s on their side.
It’s against that background that Peter writes the verses we’re going to start to look at today. In the ESV 1 Peter 3v13-17 reads as follows: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil”.
You’ll notice that at the very heart of that passage we find the expression “the hope that is in you”. The fact that believers in Christ have a sure hope within is really central to what Peter is saying here.
- From verses 13 to 14a we see that the hope that is within you points to The Privileged Position of Believers.
- From verses v14b-16 we see that the hope that is within you provides The Proper Perspective for Believers.
- From verse 17 we see that the hope that is within you recognises The Prevailing Purpose of God.
So, firstly, let us look at verses 13 to 14a to consider:
The Privileged Position of Believers
We read in those verses: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed”.
If you’re using the NIV you’ll see that verse 13 begins with the following question: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”. That sounds like a rhetorical question and the answer you would probably instinctively give is “no-one”. Superficially, that might seem to be saying that we can expect all the people around us to treat us well so long as we do good and live righteous lives. They’ll scratch our backs so long as we scratch theirs. However, that is much too simplistic. To think such a thing is naïve to say the least! Remember that throughout the letter Peter has repeatedly stressed that believers in Christ who are eager to do good can, nonetheless, expect to suffer in this life. They will face opposition. People will be out to harm them! In verse 17 of this chapter Peter is going to say: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil”. So, being eager to do good is certainly no guarantee that no-one will harm you.
How then are we to understand this rhetorical question? To work that out there are a couple of things that we need to recognise. Firstly, we need to be aware that the NIV has missed a word out from the original Greek text. The ESV has: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”. You see, it includes the word “Now” at the beginning. Something like “then” or “and so” would actually convey the true sense even better. So, this question stems from and is linked to what Peter had just quoted from Psalm 34. The flow of the text is therefore something like: “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 and so who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”.
You see, the point is that “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” but, if you’re one of the righteous who are eager to good, the Lord is for you so He won’t harm you. Peter isn’t saying that people won’t be out to harm you. The point is that the One who really matters is on your side so He won’t harm you.
The other thing that we need to note is that this is a question about the future rather than the here and now. The ESV says: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”. That sounds as though the question is “who will harm you in this life if you are eager to good?” The NIV is a bit better in saying: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”. That has a bit more of a future feel to it than the ESV but the text is really best translated as: “Who will harm you if you are eager to do good?”.
So, bearing those points in mind, Peter certainly isn’t suggesting that we’ll avoid being rejected or harmed by other people in this life so long as we’re eager or zealous to do good. Rather, he is saying that no-one can ultimately harm us or do us eternal harm because, if we’re in Christ, we will be vindicated by God on the last day.
The thought here is very similar to that of Romans 8v31 where Paul said: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”. Of course, Paul knew full well that many are against us. In verse 35 he asks the question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”. He’d suffered all of those things for the sake of the gospel and, in verse 37, his answer to the question was: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. Yes, many were against Paul but none could ultimately prevail against him because he was safe in the love of Christ. So he went on in verse 38 to say: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
So, can people harm us in this life? Yes, they can. Can they do us lasting harm? No they can’t because we enjoy a privileged position in the Lord Jesus Christ so that we are eternally secure.
That understanding is confirmed as Peter continues by saying: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed”. The word translated as “but” there is not providing a contrast with what has gone before. Rather, it is giving a clarification of verse 13 and would better be translated as “indeed”. So, the overall sense is: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? Indeed even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed”. It’s saying that as a believer in Christ you might well have to “suffer for righteousness’ sake” but, even if you do, you won’t suffer any lasting harm because, ultimately, “you will be blessed”. You have that assurance. No doubt Peter had in mind the words of Jesus from Matthew 5v10-12 where we read: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”. Jesus said that we can expect persecution, reviling and false accusations to be levelled against us. Even so, we are blessed because we look forward to a great reward in heaven. We enjoy that privileged position as believers in Christ. So “the hope that is in you” points to your privileged position in Christ.
Stemming from that hope, next let us consider:
The Proper Perspective for Believers
That is, in view of “the hope that is in you”, what outlook do you have and so how should you behave when others seek to harm you and you find yourself suffering for righteousness sake? Well, we see that Peter continues in verses14b to 16 by saying: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame”.
Peter has already quoted from Isaiah 8 back in 1 Peter chapter 2 when he was speaking of Jesus as being the chosen and precious cornerstone. Here he’s loosely quoting from Isaiah 8v11-13 where we read: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread”.
Firstly, we see that, negatively, when others seek to harm us, we are exhorted to “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”. That’s reminiscent of the words of Jesus in John 14v1 where He said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me”. In the context of Isaiah 8 the northern kingdoms of Israel and Aram were threatening to overthrow Ahaz as king of Judah and replace him with a guy called Tabeel. That prospect filled Ahaz and Judah as a whole with terror. However, Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, promised that the Lord would preserve Judah. The plan against them would come to nothing because Israel and Aram were going to be defeated by Syria. Isaiah’s message was that they were to trust God’s promise rather than fearing their enemies. He was saying: in view of God’s promise, do not “be in dread” of what men might do. Peter’s point in quoting these verses was that just as Judah had enemies in the days of Ahaz and were prone to fear so his readers had enemies and could also be prone to fear what their persecutors might do to them. Their perspective could easily be one of fear. But, just as Isaiah exhorted Judah, so believers in Christ are to trust in the Lord rather than fear what unbelievers might do them. You see, in view of “the hope that is in you”, the proper perspective for believers is to “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”.
Positively, we see that Peter goes on to say that, in view of “the hope that is in you”, we are to honour or revere Christ. We’re not only to not fear what men might do. Our perspective is to be one of positively setting Christ above all human authority.
Peter is saying that on the basis of continuing to follow the passage in Isaiah 8. Isaiah 8v13 says: “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread”. However, Peter didn’t quote it word for word. He made a couple of significant changes. According to the ESV he said: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”. The NIV puts it as: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord”. We’ll look into the differences between those two translations in a moment but let us first notice how Peter’s words differ from what Isaiah wrote.
The first difference lies in the object of the sentence. In Isaiah 8v13 the object is: “the Lord of hosts”. That is Jaweh, Jehovah, the almighty, living God. When you look at 1 Peter 3v15 you find that the object has become “Christ the Lord” or simply “Christ” depending on whether you opt for the ESV or NIV. Peter has taken a passage that clearly speaks of God and directly referred it to Jesus Christ. To Peter, Jesus Christ is none other than the living God. To Muslims, Jesus is a great prophet. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus is “a god” with a small “g”. The reality is that the man Christ Jesus is fully and truly God Almighty.
The second difference lies in the fact that Peter has added the words: “in your hearts”. Now, often, when people speak of things being in the heart, they’re speaking of things that are very personal and private within them. You sometimes hear it said of someone that they “wear their heart on their sleeve”. That’s referring to a person who allows their innermost thoughts and feelings be seen. We have that expression because that’s not the norm. Most people don’t wear their hearts on their sleeve. In our culture, what’s “in our hearts” refers to that which is personal and private within ourselves. However, when the Bible speaks of the heart, although it certainly speaks of a person’s innermost being, we mustn’t think in terms of a private, almost secret life within. The Bible uses the heart to represent the very core of a person which gives rise to what they do. It’s the seat of their understanding and volition that manifests itself in outward actions. So, when Peter mentions something “in your hearts” he’s not just talking about mere intellectual assent to something or simply to something that is deeply personal and private or something to which you have a strong emotional attachment. It’s all of that but more besides. It’s what makes you tick. It’s what motivates you and gives rise to how you live and conduct yourself.
What is it that Peter says is to be “in your hearts”? Well, to work that out we now need to untangle the two translations and try to work out the proper sense of the original text. In the ESV we have: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” and in the NIV we have: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord”.
The Greek verb in the sentence really means “sanctify” or “consecrate”. The NIV has translated it as “revere”. That’s a bit weak and falls far short of conveying the full sense. The ESV has translated it as “honor …. as holy”. That’s better but it still fails to convey the sense. The Greek word is actually the word that used in the Lord’s prayer when Jesus said: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”. To “hallow” is to set apart and honour and glorify by submitting to and obeying.
The other main difference between the two translations is that the ESV speaks of honouring “Christ the Lord” whereas the NIV speaks of revering “Christ as Lord”. There’s a difference in emphasis between those two translations. The ESV is really emphasising the objective fact that Christ is Lord. That’s a truth we’ve already recognised in noting how Peter applied Isaiah 8v13 to Jesus. The NIV, on the other hand, is not so much emphasising the fact that Christ is Lord. That’s taken as a given. The emphasis is rather on treating Him as Lord, relating to Him as Lord and submitting to Him as Lord.
Which is the right emphasis here? Well, there is no definite article in the Greek text. It doesn’t say “Christ the Lord”. So the emphasis conveyed by the NIV is to be preferred. Piecing it all together, the best translation is something like “in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”. That’s to be our perspective. Our outlook and actions are to be shaped, not merely by knowing theoretically that Christ is the Lord God almighty, but by His being our Lord in our very beings so that He affects our daily lives. Given the fact that He is the Lord of the universe we are to view Him and submit to Him as our Lord. As believers in Christ He is to be the Lord of our lives.
That’s easily said but we each need to ask the question “is that true of me?” Are you really looking to Jesus to reign as Lord of your life or is there someone or something else in your heart that commands your trust? Who is reigning in your heart as Lord? Who do you look to for meaning and purpose, for hope, happiness and blessing? Is it your wife or husband? Is it your children or your friends? Perhaps it’s yourself or your job or the money you earn or have saved? The fact is that they will all ultimately fail you. Christ must be Lord in your heart. It’s when we have that perspective of personal trust in Christ alone as our Lord that we can have that perspective of “no fear” when faced with opposition from men. It’s when Christ is sanctified in your heart as Lord that you can “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”.
What else does it mean in practice if you have the perspective of having Christ sanctified in your heart as Lord? Well, Peter goes on to give an example as he continues by saying: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame”.
There’s a lot in that to consider so I’ve decided to look at it in more detail next time. For now, just note that, as believers in Christ, we have a hope within us and if we’re to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts that will mean that we are always ready to speak of Him and give a reason for the hope that is in us. If He’s Lord in our hearts, we’ll take every opportunity to speak of His goodness and greatness and why our trust is in Him.
In closing today let’s just note that Peter continues in verse17 by saying: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil”. From that I just want to highlight:
The Prevailing Purpose of God
Peter has already spoken of the possibility of suffering. Here he is comparing suffering for doing good with suffering for doing evil. Obviously, no suffering is pleasant but he says that one is better than the other. At first sight you might get the impression that he’s saying that suffering for doing good is better in that it is more commendable than suffering for doing evil. He spoke in those terms when addressing Christian slaves in chapter 2 verses 19 to 20 where he said: “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”.
However, back in verse 14 of our passage he’s just said: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed”. That suggests that “suffering for righteousness’ sake” or “suffering for doing good” now is “better” in that it leads to future blessing. Better than what? Better than suffering for evil in terms of future punishment.
Whichever way we take it, suffering for doing good in this life is also part of sanctifying Christ as Lord in your hearts because it’s suffering for Him. I particularly want to point out that Peter slips in that little phrase: “if that should be God’s will”. It sounds like an aside. It’s almost seems like a throwaway comment but it’s very telling and, for the believer in Christ, very comforting. You see, if we have this hope within us, we recognise that God has a plan. He has a purpose. He’s in control. Of course, He has His plan of salvation which began before the foundation of the Earth and is being worked out throughout time and into eternity. That is mind blowing big stuff. But, Peter’s comment here in this verse makes it clear that God’s will is also being done in little, everyday stuff. If, believers suffer, it is because it is God’s will. That isn’t intended to make us fatalistic. It doesn’t mean that whatever comes our way we’re to just shrug our shoulders and say “God wills it” but we are to be comforted by the thought that God is in control and working for our good.
Paul says in Romans 8v28-30: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”.
That speaks of God’s purpose and there’s plenty of the big stuff in there. It begins in the past with Him foreknowing and predestining His people. To what? Ultimately to being “conformed to the image of his Son”. How does that happen? How is that wonderful purpose worked out? By calling and justifying them in time so that they are glorified in eternity. But, notice that in the midst of all these weighty and wonderful truths Paul says that “all things work together for good” for those who are included in them. It’s not just the big things or the main things or the crucial things. It’s “all things”. Everything that happens to us is under God’s control and is working for our ultimate good. So, if we suffer for doing good, although it’s not pleasant, we don’t fear it because we have the assurance that it’s part of God’s purpose that is ultimately taking us to glory.
So, the hope that is in us is such that we are sure of future blessing, we face this present life from the perspective of not fearing men because Christ is Lord in our hearts and confident that God is in control and working His purpose out in our lives for our good.
We’ve thought about “the hope that is in you”. Next time we’ll think about giving “a reason for the hope that is in you”.