All week long, we’ve been looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches a very difficult thing to do: when people insult you, ask God to bless them.
Is Peter saying you can never defend yourself? I would submit that Peter would answer, “No. You can defend yourself. But there is a right way and a right wrong to defend yourself.”
First of all, if you are abused, report it and get safe. We live in a country where there is legal recourse to deal with abuse. That is a very good thing. Not all countries throughout history have been like this. There are certainly Christians living in places around the world even today where they are physically abused, maybe sexually and emotionally too, and they have no recourse. Imagine how difficult it must be for them to hear Peter’s words. They might not be able to get safe. They too, however, can bless those who persecute them.
Thankfully, ours is a country where abuse and persecution are not tolerated. But I think here in his letter Peter is primarily thinking about how interpersonal relations in a church family can get ugly. Meanness. Unkindness. Gossip. In those cases he is not saying, “Do not stick up for yourself.”
He is saying that there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness. We do not need to attack back. It will only make things worse if you attack back.
I once heard Ravi Zacharias say: “When you throw mud at others, you not only get your hands dirty, but you lose a lot ground in the process.” When people are evil to us, or insult us, we are not to get revenge. Instead, as I said yesterday, if they insult you, eulogize ’em!
Peter supports his argument with a quote from the Old Testament. Psalm 34:12-16 to be exact. Psalm 34 is a fascinating psalm written by the great poet, warrior, king of Israel David. And it has a wonderful backstory. The subtitle of Psalm 34 tells us that David wrote this psalm as he was reflecting on a really difficult situation in his life. At the time he was a fugitive, on the run from his father-in-law King Saul who wanted to kill David. In 1 Samuel 21 we read that David made the surprising decision, after retrieving Goliath’s sword (the same Philistine Goliath from Gath whom David had killed years earlier), to go to enemy Philistine territory, and of all places the city of Gath. Can you tell that David was under a lot of pressure and maybe not thinking straight? He arrives at Gath, and the Philistine leaders there are very suspicious. In their eyes David was the most well-known Philistine killer. Not only had he killed their hometown hero Goliath, but in the years following, he had commanded Israelite armies that had killed thousands of other Philistines. Now he is in their town, hoping for asylum? David sees their reactions, their doubt, their fear, and he starts thinking “Uh-oh…did I just make a horrible decision coming here?” This would be the Philistines perfect opportunity to get their revenge on David. So what does he do? He acts insane, to the point of allowing drool to dribble down his beard! I encourage you to read the account for yourself. It’s quite a vivid episode in David’s life. Find out how the Philistines reacted to his insanity ploy!
That is what David was thinking about when he wrote Psalm 34. The whole psalm is amazing and deserves lots of attention and further study, but Peter only quotes verses 12-16, so that will be my focus here.
I’ll start in Psalm 34 verse 11, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” I see David in Psalm 34 as older man, wanting to pass on wisdom to his grandkids. Telling them the story of the time he pretended to be crazy, and then saying these words. And what does he say?
He starts with: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days…”
You probably don’t have to look hard to find people who love life and desire to see good days. So for those who want that, what do you have to do? David has some specific instructions.
He says, “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Four things that line right up with Peter’s teaching, and can be summed with: control your mouth! That means not speaking any evil or lies, no matter what has been done to you. Then do good. Turn from evil. Finally, seek peace. Actually pursue it.
David is not just saying, “be a peaceful person;” he is saying the we should be actively pursuing peace. Seek it out, make it happen. When you pursue something, you strive for it, and it often takes intense effort.
David, therefore, is not just reactive; he is teaching a proactive seeking of peace. When our seminary president, Tony Blair, spoke at Faith Church a few years ago, he made a comment I’ll never forget, “mature Christians deflate drama.” Peace-seekers reduce drama. And that can be hard work, but it is necessary work in the life of a church, family, workplace, or neighborhood.
This does not mean you agree with people all the time. It means that you handle things in such a way that drama is reduced. This goes back to verse 9 and choosing not to react back, or fight back against someone who has been evil to you or insulted you.
Finally look at verse 12, where David personifies the Lord. God is spirit. He doesn’t have a body. It’s hard to know how to depict God. When I illustrated this part of the sermon, I chose a lion for the slide because there are times in the Bible when God is described as lion. He’s not a lion. But look at how David uses human body parts to teach us about the Lord.
Eyes – on the righteous
Ears – attentive to their prayer
Face – against those who do evil
What a comfort! No matter what is going on in our lives, our God knows, our God hears, and our God defends. That means we can take hope in the Lord and do good, loving those in the church family, even when people are unkind to us. He knows, he is on the side of the righteous!
If they insult you, eulogize them! Guess what I learned this week? I should love eulogies! I should be eulogizing all the time!