"Blessing Those Closest To You"
November 13, 2005 1Peter 3:1-9
Criticism comes all too easily. The story is told of an old man whose grandson rode a donkey while they were travelling from one town to another. The man heard some people say, "Would you look at that old man suffering on his feet while that strong young boy is totally capable of walking."
So then the old man rode the donkey while the boy walked. And he heard some people say, "Would you look at that, a healthy man making the poor young boy suffer. Can you believe it?"
So the man and the boy both rode the donkey, and they heard some people say, "Would you look at those heavy brutes making that poor donkey suffer."
So they both got off and walked, until they heard some people say, "Would you look at the waste - a perfectly good donkey not being used."
What to do? As we leave our hapless duo, we see the boy walking while the old man carries the donkey...
No matter what we do, criticism is a fact of life; we can expect it. Unfortunately, we sometimes think that being in a close relationship with someone, or being related to them, gives us a special license to be critical. Too often the most hurtful barbs come from those who are closest to us. Our co-workers. Our buddies. Our parents. Our kids. Our in-laws...Perhaps we can think of examples where an argument or uncaring comment by a family members sent an individual into a self-destructive downward spiral.
This is a centuries-old problem. David, in Psalm 55, writes of being hurt by an attack, not from someone he hardly knows, but by his former friend and companion: "My heart is in anguish within me...Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me...If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God." (Ps 55:4f,12ff)
When we are criticized or attacked, especially by those closest to us, the natural response of our fallen nature is to become defensive, perhaps retaliate, say something negative in return. But Peter counsels wives and husbands, and Christians in general, how to rise above retaliation; instead, to bless those near us as Jesus did, even when they've hurt us.
Security and Status by Association
Often those who are sharpest in their criticism and negative words are themselves hurting or feeling rejection, lashing out due to the pain of their own history or damaged self-esteem. The proverbial "chip on their shoulder". Peter lays the groundwork for chapter 3 back in chapters 1 and 2. The calling of chapter 3, to respond with blessing when we're attacked instead of with anger, is made possible by the abundant grace God's poured into our lives as described in the first two chapters. We reviewed last week how chapter 1 summarizes all God has done for us. It talks about His boundless mercy, how we who believe in Jesus have been born again, have a wonderful expectation, a priceless inheritance awaiting us. We're protected by God's mighty power, have wonderful joy ahead, develop precious faith, will receive glory and honour and special blessings. We're benefiting from the salvation of our souls, ransomed or bought back with the precious blood of the spotless Lamb of God. Cleansed from our sins, we're experiencing new life that lasts forever.
Chapter 2 continues to describe the wonderful position of those who trust Christ. We're built as living stones into God's spiritual temple. Now the living cornerstone of God's temple is Jesus: He's precious to God and chosen. There is a dynamic never-ending flow of love within the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit that existed long before the creation of time and space. When we admit our need and believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, then God welcomes us into that eternal love-relationship. So by our association with the Son, our adoption into God's family, we benefit from the security and status conferred by the Father.
Christ's Priestly Pattern
How great are those blessings! How much to be thankful for! Yet Peter goes on to describe that's not just for US - God's nature, God's being is yearning to share these benefits all around; He "wants all [people] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1Tim 2:4). So Peter writes in 2:5, "you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." V9 adds, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." The New Living Translation puts it, "This is so you can show others the goodness of God..." What's the role of a priest? 1Chronicles 23(13) says Aaron and descendants were set apart "to consecrate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices before the Lord, to minister before Him and to pronounce blessings in His name forever." In other words, priests represent God to the people, receiving the offering from the people's hands and pronouncing blessings on His behalf; but they also represent the people to God, offering the sacrifice and prayers and requests on the other worshippers' behalf. So if God's made us as believers "a kingdom of priests", "a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices" - He wants us to be His go-betweens, representing Him to other people. We're to be the Almighty's walking advertisements, inviting others to turn and call on our Heavenly Father. 2:12 says "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God..." The goal is that when they see us, their attention will be re-directed to God BECAUSE of the way they see us responding to situations, even hardship and verbal attacks.
The final verses of chapter 2, which immediately precede today's passage, describe Jesus' high-priestly role, a pattern for us. V21 "To this (suffering for doing good and enduring it) you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." Did you notice that 3-fold injunction: you're called, He's your example, you're to follow in His steps? Now in the next few verses the apostle Peter details for us what priestly behaviour is about: vv23-25, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
Being a priest is not about accepting and retaining value but passing it on, making the sacrifice, re-directing the value to God and the benefit to the one on whose behalf the offering is made. Jesus was insulted and suffered, but did not retaliate, didn't 'get even' though He was innocent, didn't threaten in turn. He didn't get sucked into an evil-for-evil dynamic. What helped Him resist that? "He entrusted Himself to Him [the Father] who judges justly." Jesus was always conscious Father God was looking on and leading. Christ absorbed the pain and injury from others' attacks, bearing away our sins in His body on the cross; that released God's healing into our lives. We were dumb lost sheep, but Jesus' vicarious suffering has made it possible for our guilt to be dealt with so we can return to our souls' Shepherd and Guardian. That's the epitome, the very best example, of someone being "God's holy priest...offering spiritual sacrifices pleasing to Him." Being a priest is not about power or privilege, but taking what's given, and through God's resources, turning it into a miracle of His healing grace, restoring lives.
We've been blessed abundantly by our association with Christ, installed as a part of God's temple. We're called to be priests, conveying God's mercy to others. Now we're ready to talk about how we fit into patterns of human order like government and marriage, always remembering our role as an injector of divine love and goodness into that particular setting, representing Jesus to other people. God's go-betweens.
2:13 says, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men..." then refers to kings and governors. Did you catch that "for the Lord's sake"? Again, God is part of the picture, He's watching, this is what He wants from us. V16f, "Live as servants of God: show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king." Life operates on a vertical as well as horizontal plane: the respect and service I owe others is connected to and fuelled by my fear and reverence for God. He's attentive to my actions, it matters to God how I treat other people. And knowing Him should make a big difference in my ability to respond with love and respect when I'm mistreated.
A Christly Cosmetic
That's a long lead-up to set chapter 3 in context, to prepare us to swallow the tough medicine that's coming. Having set forth the general principle, and applied it to the slave-master relationship at the end of chapter 2, Peter turns to the husband-wife relationship in chapter 3. V1 begins, "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands..." In vv5f Peter holds up "the holy women of the past" who "were submissive to their own husbands" as examples, "like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master" (see Gen 18:12). The New Living Translation expresses it a little differently, "You wives must accept the authority of your husbands." Avoids using the controversial word "submissive" but still implies there's a difference here.
This is not a popular concept today. Society would minimize the differences in man/woman relationships and roles. Sadly, there has been too much domestic abuse in which men mistakenly presumed "submission" meant permission to control their wives or mistreat them physically or emotionally. That's certainly not Christian. Yet the New Testament is consistent in teaching an order and differentiation within marriage: compare Paul in 1Cor 11(3) and Eph 5(23), "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." Adam was the one who had to answer to God, not Eve though she was first to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6,9). What's submission about here if it's not referring to superiority and servitude?
The Greek word means to arrange under, to subordinate, subject, submit, obey. It's "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden." I've heard it described as "marshalling my resources for another's benefit." The Life Application Bible notes, "Submission is - Functional: a distinguishing of our roles and the work we are called to do; Relational: a loving acknowledgment of another's value as a person; Reciprocal: a mutual, humble cooperation with one another; Universal: an acknowledgment by the church of the all-encompassing Lordship of Jesus Christ. Submission is voluntarily cooperating with anyone out of love and respect for God first, and then secondly, out of love and respect for that person." Note there's always that context of God's sovereignty in the background.
For a Christian husband, submission is no excuse to "lord it over" one's wife: Jesus pointed out to the disciples that although Gentile rulers threw their weight around, His followers were never to exercise authority that way, but realize greatness is about serving, not acting as master: "just as the Son of Man did not come to BE served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:25-28) A wife's submission to her husband is always within the framework of the man recalling he as a believer is to submit to another Christian "out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21f). Within that over-arching mutual respect, a husband is to prayerfully bear the responsibility for the home, as one who must give account finally to God. This will help his wife "not give way to fear" as v6 says; she should be able to trust her husband's judgment and feel secure in his loving care. "There is no fear in love...perfect love drives out fear..." (1Jo 4:18)
Vv3-6 are Peter's beauty tips. That should catch our attention today - beauty and appearance are big business. Peter says "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment...instead, it should be that of your inner self..." The word translated 'beauty' in the Greek is kosmos, normally translated "world", but sometimes it means adornment: kosmos is the root for our English word "cosmetic". Peter's going head-to-head with Mary Kay on this one!
In Roman times, women spent much time braiding their hair, and would use expensive gold pins and nets to hold it in place. This could turn into a subtle kind of Sunday bonnet competition. Peter advises not to emphasize our hair, or clothes or jewellery, but that true unfading beauty comes from "a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight". Even Oil of Olay won't keep those lines away forever, but godly character can shine through that weathered face and point onlookers to God. Jesus Himself was gentle, not nagging; He said, "I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [when you come to Me]" (Mt 11:29). God looks in the secret places (Mt 6:4,6) - what's He see mirrored in your soul?
A wife's reaction can make a world of difference when her husband is facing a crisis. In 1849, Nathaniel Hawthorne was dismissed from his government job in the customs house. He went home in despair. His wife listened to his tale of woe. Some women might have gone ballistic - "What, you lost your job! What are we going to do? How could you have made such a blunder! You know how we need that money..." and so on.
But that wasn't Mrs Hawthorne's style. After hearing him out, she simply set pen and ink on the table, lit the fire, put her arms around his shoulders and said, "Now you will be able to write your novel." Nathaniel Hawthorne did - and literature was enriched with The Scarlet Letter.
Peter maintains that even a husband who isn't a believer "may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives..." Randy Travis has been a country music singer since 1986. Of his earlier life, though, he says, "I was always just angry. A lot of that was just having no form of religion, no belief, nothing, as far as God or as far as Jesus was concerned. It just wasn't part of my life." Travis believes if it weren't for his wife, Lib Hatcher, he would have likely ended up in jail. Now a Christian, Travis has recorded 3 country gospel albums in recent years. He says, "When you do begin to hear the Word of God and begin to pray and open yourself to come in, then you experience peace of mind and more happiness." Interesting that his wife played a role in helping him make that discovery; through her witness, he was 'won over'.
Having spent 6 verses addressing wives, Peter spends 1 on husbands, so we'd better listen closely. "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (3:7) "In the same way" takes us back to 2:17, "show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood...fear God..." We owe respect to our wives (and others who are close to us) as much as anyone else; even more, for they have to put up with us day after day! Spouses have made a lifelong commitment to love us unconditionally; nobody else is as deserving of our respect and gratitude.
Husbands are to "be considerate as you live with your wives" - literally, 'according to knowledge'; do you understand her? Do you really know her needs? Can you see your relationship in light of the big picture - you're built differently as male and female; and though you may be her 'head' technically, Christ is YOUR head, you're accountable to Him for how you treat her? If you're younger and not married, are you treating your mother with the full respect and appreciation she deserves? That's practice for a potential mate for you down the road.
The apostle writes, "Treat them [your wives] with respect as the weaker partner..." This is no justification for putting women down or thinking less of them. It's simply referring to brute physical strength as genders differ overall, not anything to do with intelligence or character or any aspect of the "inner self" God is so keenly interested in. You'd handle a china teacup differently than a stainless steel pot when you're putting it back in the cupboard; the fine china may actually be more valuable. A jeweller's screwdriver is more necessary than a regular one for adjusting my glasses when the frame comes loose; I wouldn't use a hammer on a fine screwdriver as I've sometimes done with a regular screwdriver. We were taught in wood shop to always set a plane down on its side, so as not to damage the fine sharp edge of the blade. Treat her with care, as you handle extra carefully a valuable finer utensil.
Peter says our wives are "heirs with you of the gracious gift of life." Literally co-heirs, on equal footing at the base of the cross; in Christ as far as pure gender goes, "there is neither...male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28) Eternal life is a gracious gift, not something we've earned or that I can boast of any more because I'm a man. There's no inferiority due to gender; commentator Robinson, whom I respect greatly, notes: "In the eyes of God, the wife may be superior to the husband, not merely equal." Submission has to do more with the orderly functional aspect of marriage, not one's worth to God.
Peter closes this one-verse sermon to hubbies saying, "treat [your wives] with respect...SO THAT nothing will hinder your prayers." The image is of your prayers getting 'cut off' in traffic, something darting in in front to block them. If we want our prayers to be heard, we'd better be extra considerate of our wives, guys. Go back to that overall order: God's placed us here as priests, mediating His grace to others, including our mates. If there's a problem in the horizontal dimension, the vertical is hindered, too; Jesus said if we're offering a gift at the altar and someone has something against us, we're to go and make things right with that person, THEN come and offer our gift. If you treat your wife poorly, that's about the same degree of attention God will give you!
Retaliate with Blessing
Peter closes this section with instruction to believers in general that is of the same tenor as the loving respect we've been talking about. V8, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble." "In harmony" means one-minded. Sympathy and compassion are feeling-with the other person; rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). Be affected by what they're feeling. Recalling our status in Christ as His 'priests' on the planet will help us stay humble, serving Him, eager to be used by the Master.
Last, v9: "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." Too often marriages and other close relationships fall casualty to a dynamic of evil-for-evil: the people can't seem to stop lashing out at each other, retaliating with ever more hurtful comments, attacking the other person at their weak spots we know all too well. How did Christ handle insults? 2:23, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." By God's power Jesus put into practice what He taught: "Bless those who curse you..." (Luke 6:28) This doesn't come from our fallen nature, but by God's transformation. Don't put up a shield or become a hardened rock, but take that hurtful comment to the cross, feel its pain with Jesus by your side, ask for His love to heal the wound and empower you to love the attacker in turn. Be priestly with the pain: re-direct it to God, so you may bring benefit to the other person instead of injury.
Glimpsing God through a Family Member
Phil Callaway is a western Canadian author and humorist. Recently he wrote about his father who'd just died. Listen to how his dad mediated God's grace in a priestly way to his family, and with his wife modeled a meaningful marriage.
"When I was a lad, I loved to sneak up on you and watch what you were doing when you didn't know I was there. That's when you became my hero, I suppose....When you thought no one was watching I learned how to treat a woman. I learned to honour her and open doors for her and when to tip my hat. I learned that we're toast without the ladies, so put them first in line at potlucks. I learned to let them stroll on the inside of the sidewalk so when we're hit by an oncoming truck they'll still be around to care for the kids...
Going through your dresser last night, I found your glasses, heart pills and a reading lamp. I suspect you're doing fine without them. In a file marked 'Will' you'd misplaced a note Mom gave you listing your attributes. She made you sound like Father Teresa. 'On time for work. A gentleman. Filled with integrity. Wholesome in speech. Loves family. Loves God.' I guess it was filed correctly. It's the best inheritance a child could hope for...
When you thought no one was watching I learned how to die. With relationships intact, with nothing left unsaid. Four of your five children were there. When we went to tell Mom of your passing, Tim asked, "Do you know why we're here?" "Money?" said your wife of 62 years. You'd have been proud of her.
She held your hand then, clinging to the last of your warmth. For the longest time she didn't say anything, just stared out the window. I asked what she was thinking and she smiled. 'I'd like to take one more stroll in the grass with him.'
Wouldn't we all? When they came to take you away, she simply said, 'Thanks for all the years, Sweetheart.' I'd like to thank you too. Thanks for hunting trips and fishing lessons. Thanks for majoring on the majors. And for a thousand timeless memories. Most of all, thanks for giving me a glimpse of what God looks like." Let's pray.