First Peter Chapter Three
There is another aspect of the sufferings of Christ and of Christians in this third chapter of Peter’s first letter, suffering for righteousness sake.
The Christians of Peter’s time were enduring great reproach for the Name of Christ, and, perhaps, when they compared how few their numbers were in contrast to those of their persecutors they became discouraged, and even got into doubts. Peter sought to strengthen their faith by reminding them that it was not the first time that Christ had suffered in His people. Believers have always suffered at the hands of a godless, persecuting world, and have always been, at the most, Christ’s “little flock.”
As an illustration of what he means, Peter points to the days before the flood when the Spirit of Christ preached in Noah repentance and remission of sins. That long period is the example of the waiting and the longsuffering of God. That the preaching of righteousness and of coming judgment failed then to turn men from their sins is, alas, true. Although Noah pled with them to repent and to turn to God, they perished in their disobedience. These self-same individuals now are spirits in prison, reserved unto the judgment of God.
How patient then should the Christian be in the midst of persecution! He is only a vessel of the Spirit of Christ through whom God offers the gospel of repentance and remission to the world today.
For the encouragement of the saints, verse 20 shows that the very deluge which destroyed that wicked generation and banished the filth of the flesh from the earth was the same water that bore the inhabitants of the ark to safety. Baptism is a figure of a like judgment that descended on Christ at the Cross. There in Christ His people were borne through the judgment to the safety of resurrection ground (Gal. 2:20).
The judgment which Christ exhausted on behalf of His people at Calvary did not banish the filth of the flesh from the earth, that is reserved for a later date, but it did result in salvation and triumph for all who believe. It now produces in them a good conscience before the Lord. It is not the act of baptism that produces the good conscience, but that of which the ordinance speaks. The divine judgment that descended upon Christ and which procured salvation for all who believe, will one day descend in wrath upon all who reject Him. It will banish the filth of man from the earth in preparation for the glorious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The practical righteousness for which saints suffer leaves a threefold mark for God: in the home (Vv. 1-7), in the Church (Vv. 8-12), and in the world (Vv. 13-18).
Righteousness in the Home
The conduct of love is pure in all things, and is characterized by a godly fear lest it should be defiled by speech, by walk, or by dress. God often uses the commendable life of a sister in the salvation of the unsaved husband, even apart from the speaking to him the Word of God (V. 1).
God does not condemn the moderate use of adornment in verses three and four. He is a God of beauty, and His Universe is full of adornment. It is only proper, therefore, that Christian women dress so as to draw the respect and esteem of others. That the outward adornment is not to be the principle thing is the lesson taught here. The important thing in Christian living is the adornment of the inner man with that moral beauty that marked our Saviour while He was here on earth (Matt. 11:29-30).
This passage states that Sarah maintained strength of character in all circumstances where piety was exposed to danger and threats. The Christian woman, similarly, should continue to do well. She is not to be afraid, that is, not to be deterred by trial or threat. As the children of Abraham are those who partake of Abraham’s faith, even so, the daughters of Sarah are those who partake of her spirit of subjection and hope.
Of physical adornment another has said, “Plaiting, wearing, putting on, suggest elaborate processes by which much time is wasted.”
Husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge; that is, with an intelligence as to what God teaches about such a relationship, and with a due respect for the claims of the weaker vessel. Love is to abound with all knowledge and to throw its softening light on all the relationships of life.
Both husband and wife are heirs together of the grace of life. They have been redeemed by blood to a life of holiness and fellowship with God. When the obligations of wife to husband and husband to wife are assumed, their fellowship with God will be undisturbed and their united prayers will not be hindered or cut off. God expects the family altar to be maintained in every Christian home. Individual holiness leads to domestic holiness, and domestic holiness leads to holiness and dedication in Christian congregations.
Righteousness in the Church
There is a cluster of five virtues in verse eight the source of which is traced to Christ. Dr. Leighton says, “That which is in the middle as the stalk or root of the rest is love; and the others growing out of it, two on each side — unanimity and sympathy on the one, and pity and courtesy (or humility) on the other.” Love here is defined as brotherly love. We may love some because of certain virtues of character which appeal to us, others because of kindnesses received, still others because we may have common pursuits in life, but brotherly love is filial affection which embraces all who belong to the same heavenly Father.
Note the four virtues which grow out of “the love of brethren”: oneness of mind, compassion, pity, and courtesy. Oneness of mind is unity of thought; compassion, unity of feeling; pity, unity of action; courtesy (or humble-mindedness), unity of attitude. The first of these affects the thoughts; the second, the affections; the third, the emotions; and the fourth, the activities of life, the social life of the child of God. This is the responsibility of the Church to itself. Only as it meets its obligation to them that are within will it be able to meet its obligations to them that are without. Another has said, “By brotherly love we come nearest to the spirit of the Father, the example of Christ, and the fulfilment of our mission as a Church.” — C. New.
The word “contrariwise” in verse nine means that the believer is of a different spirit to that of the world. His attitude is seen in “not rendering evil for evil, nor reviling for reviling.” This word “reviling” describes an unbecoming attitude in actions and in words. Instead of this un-Christlike resentment the Christian is to be the blesser. He who would receive heaven’s blessing must himself scatter blessing all around. “The true grace of God softens the roughest natures, and produces a sweet and spritual refinement more beautiful and attractive than the superficial polish which comes through education and habit. The best Christian is ever the truest gentleman.”
“He that will love life” (Vv. 10-13) must comply with the condition; that is, he who would so live as not to be weary of living, must learn to restrain himself. Sin brings a sourness into life; it dulls our spiritual senses, warps our minds, dwarfs our growth in the likeness of Christ, and creates a disposition that is at variance with our own conscience as well as with God and our fellow-saints. The “good days” mentioned here, are days of abundant spiritual life, days of fellowship with God, days of usefulness in His service. They may be days of adversity and trial, but what matters if we walk with God in the shadow as well as in the light.
To enjoy this abundant life, we must be righteous in speech (V. 10), in conduct (V. 11), and in our relationships with others (V. 11). In the sphere of the sunshine of His love the saints enjoy the things expressed in verse 12: the eye of the Lord, the ear of the Lord, and the face of the Lord. The first suggests His protection, the second His care, and the third His fellowship.
Note how full Peter’s epistles are of quotations from the Old Testament. In chapter one he quotes from the Law, in chapter two from the Prophets, and in chapter three from the Psalms. Such quotations form the acknowledgement of the New Testament to the inspiration of the Old.
Peter delights to indulge in reminiscences of our Lord’s words in His sermon on the Mount, and to apply their holy precepts to the lives of God’s people.
Righteousness in the World
Three things are to characterize the people of God in the world: a good conscience toward God (V. 16), a good conversation toward men (V. 16), and a good witness to the hope that is within them (V. 15). These are possible only when they sanctify Christ in their hearts. Such seems to be the meaning of verse 13, a probable quotation from Isaiah 8; 13. Would Peter not be afraid to substitute “the Christ” for “the Lord of Hosts” had he not believed in the Deity of Christ?
To encourage these suffering saints, Peter puts beside them a suffering Saviour. The bitter waters of any Marah are sweetened by the casting into them of the tree, the sorrows of Calvary. The Lord Jesus came into the world specifically to suffer. He suffered as the Innocent One. His whole mission of suffering was for others, and ended in absolute victory. Though put to death in the flesh by man, He was quickened by the Spirit of God in resurrection. In His death He became the Surety for our sins, and in His resurrection He lives to minister to His own the benefits of His atonement. The same Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead, and who witnessed in the Old Testament prophets, indwells each believer in Christ. He is the power in the witness of the Church militant and the assurance of her final triumph, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Paul likewise asserts, “He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). The suffering Church of today, when her pilgrimage is ended, will be the Church victorious then.