Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened our series by looking at 1 Peter 1:1-2.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:3-9.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:10-12.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:13-21.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 1:22-2:3.
- Zach wrote on 1 Peter 2:4-10.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 2:11-17.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 2:18-25.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 3:1-7.
- Today Dave writes on 1 Peter 3:8-12.
1 Peter 3:8-12, “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.”
1 Peter 3:8-12 begins with a phrase that sounds as though the author were wrapping something up, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). Indeed, Peter is concluding something—not his entire epistle, but this survey of the principal duties of Christians, which he began in 1 Peter 1:13. Peter has moved from general duties to specific obligations and back to general duties. Because God is holy, we are to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). Because Jesus ransomed us from a vain life and because we tasted His goodness, we put away specific sins, such as malice and deceit (1 Peter 1:18-2:3). Because of God’s redemptive work, we are His chosen people, a holy nation that abstains from the passions of the flesh and maintain good conduct (1 Peter 2:4-10). Holiness also manifests itself in life’s several social structures. Every believer submits to governing authorities, whether local or global (1 Peter 2:13-17). Servants submit to masters, whether they merit respect or not for Jesus submitted in the same way (1 Peter 2:18-25). Finally, husbands and wives live together in grace and mutual honor (1 Peter 3:1-7).
Attractive Christian Traits
If we act in these ways, Peter says that we can ordinarily expect to live well and enjoy God’s favor. He asks, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (1 Peter 3:13). The next section admits that it is possible to suffer harm for doing good (1 Peter 3:14-17). If we live by God’s standards, we will never quite fit into any human culture. This was true in the Empire where the Christian’s allegiance to Jesus as Lord and refusal to worship the emperor could be taken as a sign of dissent. Today, there is always a moral cause, often involving sexual ethics, in which evangelical Christians take the minority view. To the secularist, the Christian position might sound judgmental, intolerant, or bigoted, so we court disfavor.
Nonetheless, 1 Peter 3:8-13 states the norm. A good life allows peace. Whatever we may say about life in an alien culture, under hostile authorities, the greater part of the Christian life concerns the character and disciplines that shape daily actions and our universal responsibilities. So Peter describes the virtues that bless everyone: harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility. Later he mentions forgiveness hospitality, and generosity (1 Peter 4:8-10). Earlier Peter said that holy women used to adorn themselves with the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4-5). Now he mentions the traits that make everyone attractive.
We pay great attention to appearances when we first meet someone. With a glance, we assess gender, age, height, weight, and facial characteristics. We judge whether the person is confident or reticent, friendly or hostile, open or closed. We asses social status and strength by glancing at clothing, hair, and posture. Visuals cues are vital. Yet as we discover the person’s skills and character, appearances matter less and less. Much more, the Lord looks at the heart and assess our character. 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
At first glance, Peter seems to list five random virtues. On closer inspection, a pattern emerges. The first and last are mental or intellectual, the second and fourth are emotional, and brotherly love stands at the center. Further, all these traits have a social dimension. Together, they keep relationships healthy.
Strong relationships begin with “unity of mind” (homophrones). To have one mind is not to have identical opinions about politics, philosophy, ethics, business, food, music, and leisure. Rather, unity means that are agreeable and sensitive to each others concerns. Unity comes not from a law laid upon us, nor from a pretense that we agree when we actually disagree, but from relationships, respectful dialogue, and common causes.
1 Peter 3:8 mentions three forms of love—sympathy, brother love, compassion. Sympathy and compassion are emotional virtues. Sympathy is the ability to feel what another feels, whether in joy or in sorrow. We must “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” Romans 12:15). If one suffers, all suffer. If one is honored, all rejoice (1 Cor. 12:26). To sympathize is to enter the experience of others and, if possible to act on what we feel. Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness. He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Among humans, sympathy largely rests on shared pains, but Jesus is both strong and empathetic! He doesn’t merely sympathize with us in our battle against evil; he defeats Satan and the powers of evil. He feels with us and acts for us.
The term translated “brotherly love” (philadelphos) could be rendered “brotherly affection.” The command to love one another is foundational (John 13:34-35; 1 Thess. 4:9). Jesus sets a high mark when he said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). In His kindness, His insight into our souls, and His sacrifice for our sins, Jesus embodies love. Jesus identifies, “Love your neighbor as yourself” as the second great command (Matt. 22:39). Paul agrees, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).
A slight misconception of love has grown up in some Christian circles. Many aware aware that the Greek has four principal terms for love and that three of them appear in the New Testament (these four are agape, philia, storge, and eros). Among these, we ordinarily give pride of place to agape, which we call divine love. We commonly say that agape is the greatest or purest form of love, since god has this love even for His enemies. But the contrast between the various words for love isn’t sharp; the terms overlap and can be used interchangeably. Indeed, the verb phileo, from the same family as philia (typically, affectional love), often appears in John’s Gospel, where it describes the Father’s love for the Son (John 5:20, the Father’s love for us (John 16:27), and Jesus’ love for His disciples (John 11:36; 20:2).
Since agape goes to enemies, it is based neither on feelings for the love one nor on beauty or virtue that we see in that person. Indeed we can make the case that agape is greater than human or brotherly affection (philia) since agape is indiscriminate and inclusive, going to every neighbor or stranger who crosses our path. Further, God himself is the source and model of agape. By contrast, the love of human affection (which philia often, but not always, signifies) is exclusive and discriminating. It goes to friends, to the attractive, the skillful, the few. It would seem that such love arises from natural admiration, so that there is no need to require it. Nonetheless, Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; and 1 Peter 3:8 all bless and command brotherly, affectionate love. The apostles blessed tender affection between friends and family members.
When Christians say that agape is the highest form of love because it is godlike and dispassionate, they probably mean that love for enemies is noble and amazing, which it is. And agape is often the term for God’s love for unattractive sinners. But God wants, even expects, us to feel affection for each other. And we can show affection in a warm embrace and in acts of kindness. In short, love is not essentially dispassionate. It can be dispassionate—and it must be if we are to love someone who is misbehaving. But God created us with emotions, so we love emotionally.
The final aspect of love in 1 Peter 3:8 is compassion. Compassion is the emotion or feeling of love, tenderness, generosity, and warmth. Compassion and sympathy come naturally to some. Other shave to work to open themselves to it. Some of us are drawn to babies, lonely old people, and sad emotional stories. Others want to run away from all three. Few of us gladly listen to sorrowful friends. Whether by nature or nurture, many of us lack sympathy and compassion. In that case, we should question our inclinations, for God is compassionate (Exodus 34:6). Jesus is kind and tender, and He expects us to grow toward conformity to Him (Eph. 4:32; Romans 8:29).
The final blessed trait of 1 Peter 3:8 is humility. It is easy to see that humility, listed last, corresponds to unity, listed first. To be humble is to suppress the desire to be important and to put our interests first. Since some quarrels come from a desire to have our way, we see that humility fosters unity. Jesus is the supreme model of humility. Phil. 2:5-7, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
In book 7 of his Republic, Plato commented that the best governors are reluctant to hold power, not eager for it, so that the man who hungers to rule the republic is ipso facto unfit to rule it. George Washington exemplified this in 1788. He hoped to retire from public life and tend his farms, but when America needed a leader, all eyes turned to him and he agreed to serve again. The person who hungers for rule is unfit for rule.
Humility must not be confused with a poor self-concept. It’s a willingness to take the lower place, to perform the less exalted service and to put the interest of others ahead of our own. As John Calvin said, self-denial is a good summary of the Christian life.[i] This has nothing to do with personal style. One can be humble and assertive. The problem is not assertion; it is self-assertion.
1 Peter 3:9 urges, “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.” 1 Peter 3:8-9 present contrasting commands. The opposite of love (1 Peter 3:8) is mean-spirited justice, the cycle of insult and counter insult, blows and counter-blows, retaliations and retaliation for prior retaliation (1 Peter 3:9). That describes life between many hostile groups that border on each other—Serbs and Bosnians, Israelis and Palestinians, Shiites and Sunnis, and many more.
Instead of cursing, we should bless. There is a time for silence, as Jesus showed during His trial (Matt. 26:63). But ordinarily we should be ready to bless those who curse or persecute us (Romans 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12). In Scripture this blessing could be a general word of kindness or the word of blessing, the gospel. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for them, and so to bless them (Matt. 5:44). He practiced what He preached, speaking words of blessing from the cross. We can do the same in politics and work, in families and friendships.
As Peter knows, it is human nature to do the opposite, repaying injury for injury. Some people even seem to delight in taking offense, feeling wounded, and claiming victim status, even if there is no real harm.
Peter declares, “Do not repay evil with evil that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). In the Old Testament, the blessing was the Promised Land. In 1 Peter 1:4-7, Peter says that the blessing is now eternal life, which begins when Jesus returns. The principle of returning good for evil follows Jesus’ word in Luke 6:37-38, “37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
More than that, the prime example of nonretalliation is our conversion, for God called us when we were still His enemies. May we therefore seek ways to bless friend and foe even if they fail us.
Living in Peace
1 Peter 3:10-21 is essentially a long quotation from Psalm 34. David wrote it as a praise, “I will extol the Lord… Glorify the Lord with me” (Psalm 34:1-3). Yet the Psalm moves from the blessing of God to the fear of God, and the fear of the Lord plays itself out in daily life. David’s God-fearing counsel for life nicely fits Peter’s interest in discipleship in difficult times. Peter knows that persecution causes troubles, but there are ways to minimize trouble; Peter quotes some from Psalm 34
Psalm 34:12-14, “What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.”
“Life” in 1 Peter 3:10 refers to life on earth. The prospect of “good days” shows that Peter momentarily put aside the specter of persecution. He considers how disciples might live when life is fair, when skies are blue, when justice, and peace prevail. How might we keep the peace in ordinary times? Peter answers with a short Peter answers with a short blast if wisdom literature. If you love life and want good days, do things that facilitate peace.
What Peter calls “good days” is roughly what we call happiness. Social scientists have studied happiness for years and have reached consistent conclusions. The poor are generally less happy, but once someone escapes poverty, his or her wealth, career success, and individual liberty add little to happiness. Arduous and constructive challenges are important, but “the daily activities most associated with happiness are all social” things such as a strong marriage and time spent with friends.[ii]
First, then, to enjoy “good days” – and good relationships—we must control our tongues. Previously, 1 Peter mentioned verbal sins such as accusing, denouncing, blaspheming, and ridiculing. Here Peter mentions deceit and “evil” speech, which, judging by all Scripture, would include gossip, slander, boasting, bragging, lying, making false promises or vows, rudeness, and abuse of God’s name. The opposite is to speak the truth in love, to praise god, and to bless humanity.
Second, we must “turn from evil and do good” (1 Peter 3:11). Peter talks about the right behavior of a disciple in two days. 1 Peter 1 says that we must be holy because God is holy. Holiness signifies consecration to God and separation from sin (1 Peter 1:15-1; 2:5-9; 3:5). The statement, “be holy in all your conduct,” or way of life (1 Peter 1:15), provides a bridge to the other aspect of right behavior, which is doing good to others. The language of “doing good” appears just twelve time sin the New Testament and six of them are in 1 Peter.[iii]
Doing good is the active, outward-facing aspect of Christian conduct. Holiness signifies separation even withdrawal, from the evils of this world. By contrast, when we do good we engage the world, seek to reverse evil. We put up buildings, create constructive institutions, perform music, and generally do whatever our skill and experience allows. To do good is to ring good to all. By doing good, Peter says, believers silence the accusations of foolish men (1 Peter 2:14-15). Three times Peter urges readers to continue doing good in the face of suffering (1 Peter 2:20; 3:17; 4:19). He also tells wives to follow Sarah and do good, whether their husbands share their faith or not (1 Peter 3:6). By doing good, we can frustrate the hostility of some and win others (1 Peter 2:15; 3:1).
The good we enjoy follows the good we do. If we want a good life, we should “turn from evil and do good.” This is not a call to naiveté. When Jesus sent His disciples into a hostile society, He told them to be as wise as serpents. We should not needlessly expose ourselves to harm. But always, always, we strive to “do good to all people,” even if our special focus is “the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). So, then, in normal times, if we do good we will live well. If we greet people warmly, they will be glad to see us. If we laugh away minor problems, we will have more friends.
Third, life will be good if we “seek peace and pursue it.” This theme rums throughout the New Testament epistles. Like Peter, Hebrews 12:14 links holiness and the pursuit of peace, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy.” Likewise, Paul tells us, “If it is possible, as far as It depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). We notice the provisos. First, it might not be possible to attain peace. Second, peacemaking requires at least two parties. We can do only our part. Sadly, it is impossible to make peace with some people. So there is a time to give up the past. And as Proverbs 26:17 warns, “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.”
To summarize, then, we find the good life when we follow Peter’s five imperatives: stop evil speech, turn from evil deeds, do good, seek peace, and pursue it. The core command is to do good to others.
Then, Peter concludes, we will experience God’s favor. 1 Peter 3:12, “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.” This sounds much like the classic benediction of Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Yet we notice that there is more here than blessing. The Lord is “against those who do evil.” This is vindication, not vindictiveness. For the faithful to enjoy peace, their accusers must be silenced, and their enemies stopped, even judged. In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche derides Christianity as one of the religions or ethics with the slave morality that praises charity, piety, restraint, smallness, and submission. It has none of the life-affirming boldness of great men, but rather a pitiful hope that God will later avenge suffering believers.
But Nietzsche misconstrues the Christian ethic. We do good wherever we are, and we are realistic about the power structures of the world. We gain our freedom if we can (1 Cor. 7:21), we make peace if we can, and we entrust the results of all our actions to God, who is—this is realism—the Judge of all (1 Peter 2:23).
So Peter has explained how we might find a good and peaceful life. If we avoid evil words and deeds, do good to all, and submit to proper authorities, it will ordinarily lead to a good life in the present. That does not always happen, as Peter soon points out. We might still do good and suffer for it. If so, at least we know that the Lord’s eyes sees the righteous, that His ears hear our prayers, and the same face that favor us opposes evil.
These graces are ours by the faith in Jesus that unites us to Him. That faith lets us live well, speak blessings, repay evil with good, and live in harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility. When troubles come, we then have the assurance that we have done what we could to avoid them. And when they come, we know that the Lord hears our cry. That should be enough to move us to live faithfully in His kingdom.
[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.7.1-10
[ii] David Brooks, The Social animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011), 195-197
[iii] The family of terms is agathopoieo, agathopoiia, agathopoios. They appear in 1 Peter 2:15, 20; 3:1, 6, 17; 4:19