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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Peter 3

 

 

Verses 1-7

Chapter 9

CHRISTIAN WIVES AND HUSBANDS

1 Peter 3:1-7

THE Apostle gave at first [1 Peter 2:13] the rule of Christian submission generally; then proceeded to apply it to the cases of citizens and of servants. In the same way he now gives injunctions concerning the behavior of wives and husbands. The precept with which he began holds good for them also. "In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." The life and teaching of Jesus had wrought a great change in the position of women, a change, which can be observed from the earliest days of Christianity. We can gather in what estimation women were generally held among the Jews at that time from the expression used in the account of our Lord’s interview with the woman of Samaria. There it is [John 4:27] that the disciples marveled that Jesus was talking with a woman. Such a feeling must afterwards have been entirely dispelled, for all through the earthly life of Christ we find Him attended by women who ministered unto Him; we read of His close friendship with Mary and Martha, and are told, at the time of His death, [Matthew 27:55] that many women beheld the Crucifixion afar off, having followed Him from Galilee. Women were the earliest visitors to the tomb on the great Easter morning, and to them, among the first, [Luke 24:22] was the Lord’s resurrection made known.

We are not surprised therefore, in the history of the infant Church, to read [Acts 1:14] that women were present among the disciples who waited at Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, nor to learn how the daughters of Philip the evangelist [Acts 21:9] took a share in the labors of their father for the cause of Christ, or that Priscilla, [Acts 18:26] equally with her husband, was active in Christian good offices. Other examples occur in the Acts of the Apostles: Dorcas, Lydia, and the mother of Timothy; and the constant mention of women which we find in the salutations with which St. Paul concludes his letters make it clear how large a part they played in the early propagation of the faith. "Fellowworkers," "servants of the Church," "laborers in the Lord," are among the terms which the Apostle applies to them; and we know from the Pastoral Epistles what help the primitive Church derived from the labors of its deaconesses and widows.

To be occupied in such duties was sure to give to women an influence which they had never possessed before; and the women converts, in countries such as these Asiatic provinces, were exposed to the same sort of danger which beset the slave population at their acceptance of the Christian faith. They might begin to think meanly of others, even of their own husbands, if they were still content to abide in heathenism. Such women might incline at times to take counsel for their life’s guidance with Christian men among the various congregations to which they belonged and to set a value on their advice above any which they could obtain from their own husbands. They might come to entertain doubts also whether they ought to maintain the relations of married life with their heathen partners. With the knowledge that such cases might occur, St. Peter gives this lesson, and as in the case of slaves, so here, he gives no countenance to the idea that to become a Christian breaks off previous relations. Wives, though they have accepted the faith, have wifely duties still. Like Christian citizens living in a heathen commonwealth, they are not by religion released from their previously contracted obligations; they are to abide in their estate, and use it, if it may be done, for the furtherance of the cause of Christ. Be in subjection to your own husbands; they have still their claim on your duty.

There is much gentleness in the Apostle’s next words. He knows that there may arise cases where believing wives have husbands who are heathen. But he speaks hopefully, as thinking they would not be of frequent occurrence: "even if any obey not the word." Wives, especially if they be of such a character as the Apostle would have them be, could not have been won to the faith of Christ without much converse with their husbands on so deep a subject; and the word which was working effectually in the one would often have its influence with the other. It might not always be so. But husbands, though not obeying the word as yet, are not to be despaired of.

And here we may turn aside to dwell on the tone of hope in which St. Peter speaks of these husbands who obey not. For the word ( απειθουντες) by which they are described, is the same that is used in 1 Peter 2:18 of those who stumble at the word, being disobedient. The lessons here given to Christian wives, not to despair of winning their husbands for Christ, gives warrant for what was said on the former passage: that the disobedience which causes men to stumble need not last for ever, nor imply final obduracy and rejection from God’s grace. But this by the way. The Apostle adds the strongest motive to confirm wives in holding to their married state: "That the husbands may without the word be gained by the behavior of their wives: beholding your chaste behavior coupled with fear." "Without the word" here means that there is to be no discussion. They are so to live as to make their lives a sermon without words, to work conviction without debate; then, when the victory is won, there will remain no trace of combat: all will tell of gain, and nothing of loss.

And once again St. Peter uses his special word ( εποπτευειν) as he describes how the husbands shall be affected by the behavior of their wives. They shall gaze on it as a mystery, the key to which they do not possess. The wives in heathen homes must have been obliged to hear and see many things, which were grievous and distasteful. The husbands could hardly fail to know that it was so. If, then, they still found wifely regard and respect, wifely submission, with no assertion of a law of their own, no comparison of the lives of Christian men with those of their own husbands, if a silent, consistent walk were all the protest which the Christian wives offered against their heathen environments, such a life could hardly fail of its effect. There must be a powerful motive, a mighty, strengthening power that enabled women to abide uncomplainingly in their estate. For this the husbands would surely search, and in their search would learn secrets to which they were strangers, would learn how their tongue was restrained where remonstrance might seem more natural, how pure life was maintained in spite of temptations to laxity, and the marriage bond exalted with religious observance even when reverence for the husband was meeting with no equal return. Such lives would be more powerful than oratory, have a charm beyond resistance, would win the husbands first to wonder, then to praise, and in the end to imitation. And from describing the grace of such a life the Apostle turns to contrast it with other adornments of which the world thinks highly. "Whose adorning," he says, "let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, and of putting on apparel."

We can see from the catalogue in Isaiah [Isaiah 3:18-23] that the daughters of Zion in old days had gone to great lengths in this outside bravery, and provoked the Lord to smite them. These had forgotten the simplicity of Sarah. But that in the house of Abraham there were found no such ornaments is hardly to be believed. The patriarch, who sent [Genesis 24:53] to Rebekah jewels of silver and jewels of gold, did not leave his own wife unadorned. Nor does the language of St. Peter condemn Rebekah’s bracelets, if they be worn with Rebekah’s modesty. The New Testament does not teach us to neglect or despise the body. A misrendering in the Authorized Version, "Who Shall change our vile body," [Philippians 3:21] has long seemed to lend countenance to such a notion. It. is one of the gains of the Revised Version that we now read in that place, "Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation." Sin has robbed the body of its primal dignity, but it is to be restored and made like unto the body of Christ’s glory. And He did not despise the body when He deigned to wear it that He might draw nearer unto us. If these things be present to our thoughts we shall seek to bestow on the body whatever may make it comely. The mischief arises when the adornment of the outer brings neglect of the inner man, when fine apparel has for its companions the haughtiness, the stretched-forth necks, and wanton eyes which Isaiah rebukes. Then it is that it rightly comes under condemnation. When the jewel is (as Rebekah’s was) the gift of some dear one-a parent, a husband, a near kinsman-it rouses grateful reminiscences, and may fitly be prized, and holily worn, and ranked near to the rings of betrothal and of marriage.

Let these be the feelings which regulate womanly adornment, and it may be made a part of the culture of the heart, the inner man, which St. Peter urges the Christian wives to be careful to adorn: "Let your adorning be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." All Scripture regards man as of twofold nature, the outward and the inward, of which the latter is the more precious. He is a Jew who is one inwardly; [Romans 2:29] the inward man delighteth in the law of God; [Romans 7:22] while the outward man perishes the inward man may be renewed day by day, [2 Corinthians 4:16] being strengthened with power through God’s Spirit. This hidden man is the center from which all the strength of Christian life comes. Let this be rightly adorned, and the outward life will need no strict rules; there will be no fear of excess, least of all when the inner life is cared for because it is precious before God. Its pure array passeth gold and gems, be they ever so beautiful. This is a grace which never fades, but will flourish through eternity.

The Apostle proceeds to commend it by a noble example. The Old Testament Scriptures do not dwell largely on the lives of women, but a study of what is said will oftentimes reveal deeper meaning in the record and put force into a solitary word. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews couples Sarah with Abraham in the list of heroes and heroines of faith, and St. Peter from a single word finds a text to extol the submission which she showed to her husband. He probably refers to Genesis 18:12, where she gives the title of "lord" to Abraham, as Rachel in another place [Genesis 31:35] does to her father Laban: "For after this manner aforetime the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands: as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord." A Scripture example which has more in common with the experience of the Asian women is the life of Hannah. Her lot, for a time at least, was as full of grief and disappointment as theirs could be, but her trust in God was unshaken. Her patience under provocation was exemplary, while the picture of her home life is one full of touching affection on the part of both husband and wife; and the mother’s gratitude, when her prayer was granted, is set forth in her noble hymn of thanksgiving and in the devotion of her child to the service of the God who had bestowed him. Ruth is another of those holy women who must have been in St. Peter’s thoughts, who, though not of the house of Israel, manifested virtues in her life which made her fit to be the ancestress of King David. The Apostle, however, seems to have had a purpose in his special mention of Sarah. As the sons of Israel looked back to Abraham and to the covenant sealed with him, yea, not seldom prided themselves on being his children, so the daughters of Israel counted themselves as Sarah’s daughters after the flesh. St. Peter now gives them another ground for that claim. God’s promises to Abraham have been fulfilled in Christ, and so Christian Jewesses are more truly than ever daughters of Sarah. "Whose children ye now are." But to the heathen converts the same door was opened. They by their faith were now made partakers of the ancient covenant. They too were become Sarah’s daughters. Let them, one and all, continue in the well-doing which has been commended; let it be seen in the daily round ( αναστροφη) of their lives, led in quietness and humility. The excessive love of adornment against which they are warned marks a condition of boldness and unrest. But unrest may enter into the other actions of their life. Their behavior is to be coupled with fear and reverence, but it should eschew everything which partakes of flighty irregularity. It should be steady and consistent, running into no extremes, either of humiliation or the contrary. "Do well, and be not put in fear by any terror."

The Apostle now addresses Christian husbands. In his counsel to subjects and slaves he has not dwelt on the duties of rulers and masters. Perhaps he judged it unlikely that his letter would come to the hands of many such, or it may be he thought the lessons which he had to give were more needed by the subject people, if Christ’s cause were to be furthered. But with husbands and wives life has of necessity a great deal in common, and the one partner can hardly receive counsel which is not of interest to the other. To the wives the Apostle spake as though examples of unbelieving husbands might be rare. Christian husbands with unbelieving wives he hardly seems to contemplate. We know from St. Paul [1 Corinthians 7:16] that there were such. But doubtless heathen wives hearkened to Christian husbands more readily than heathen husbands to their Christian wives. The husbands are to use their position as heads of their wives with judgment and discretion: "Dwell with your wives according to knowledge." The knowledge of which St. Peter speaks is not religious, godly, Christian knowledge, but that foresight and thoughtfulness which the responsibility of the husband calls for. He will understand what things for his wife’s sake he should do or leave undone. This knowledge, which results in considerate conduct towards her, will manifest itself in Christian chivalry. The woman is physically the feebler of the two. No burden beyond her powers will be laid upon her; and by reason of her weaker nature regard and honor will be felt to be her due. For the woman is the glory of the man. [1 Corinthians 11:7] Such observance will not degenerate into undue adulation nor foolish fondness, apt to foster pride and conceit, but will be inspired by the sense that in God’s creation neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man.

But beyond and above these daily graces of domestic and social intercourse, the Apostle would have husband and wife knit together by a higher bond. They are "joint heirs" of the grace of life. Both are meant to be partakers of the heavenly inheritance, and such participation makes their chief duty here to be preparation for the life to come. Those who are bound together not by wedlock only, but by the hope of a common salvation, will find a motive in that thought to help each other in life’s pilgrimage, each to shun all that might cause the other to stumble: "That your prayers be not hindered." They are fellow-travelers with the same needs. Together they can bring their requests before God, and where the two join in heart and soul Christ has promised to be present as the Third. And in praying they will know one another’s necessities. This is the grandest knowledge the husband can attain to for the honoring of his wife; and using it, he will speed their united supplications to the throne of grace, and the union of hearts will not fail of its blessing.


Verses 8-16

Chapter 10

THEY WHO BLESS ARE BLESSED

1 Peter 3:8-16

THE Apostle now ceases from his special admonitions, and enforces generally such qualities and conduct as must mark all who fear the Lord. "Finally," he says-and the word may indicate the close of his counsels; but the virtues which he inculcates are of so important a character that he may very well intend them as the apex and crown of all his previous advice - "be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humble-minded." St. Peter has here grouped together a number of epithets of which all but one are only used in the New Testament by himself, and they are of that graphic character which is so conspicuous in all the Apostle’s language. "Like-minded." If the word be not there, the spirit is largely exemplified in the early history of the Church. How often we hear the phrase, "with one accord," in the opening chapters of the Acts. Thus the disciples continued in prayer; [Acts 1:14] thus they went daily to the temple; [Acts 2:46] thus they lifted up their voices to God, [Acts 4:24] for all they that believed were of one heart and one soul. [Acts 4:32] Such lives exhibit harmony of thought, the same aim and purpose. The men may not, will not, always use the same means or follow the same methods, but they will all be seeking one result. Such unity is worth more than uniformity. "Compassionate." This feeling St. Paul describes [Romans 12:15] as rejoicing with them that do rejoice and weeping with them that weep. For the paqh•ata of this life are not always sorrowful, though the best of them are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. [Romans 8:18] "Loving as brethren." The sense of the brotherhood of Christians is strongly marked in all the New Testament Scriptures. It is the name by which our Lord claims fellowship with men, being not ashamed to call them brethren. It is the designation of the Christian body from the first, [Matthew 23:8] is constantly found in the Acts and the Epistles, [Acts 6:3-9, Acts 11:29] and has been used of the Church in every age, marking how as one family we dwell in Him. Next comes the word which is not St. Peter’s alone: "Tenderhearted." St. Paul has it, [Ephesians 4:32] but it is no Greek notion. It was a Jewish idea that deep feeling was closely connected with some of the organs of the body; and in the Old Testament, as in the story of Joseph [Genesis 43:30] and elsewhere, [1 Kings 3:26] we come upon such phrases as "His bowels did yearn upon his brother." This Hebrew notion the LXX has conveyed into Greek by the word which St. Peter here uses, and which those translators had used and consecrated long before. For them so exalted was the thought contained in it that they employ it in the prayer of Manasses (1 Peter 3:7) to express the tenderness of God towards the penitent, the yearning love of the Father, who sees the prodigal afar off, and has compassion. "Humble-minded." This word and those akin to it are almost a New Testament creation. The heathen had no admiration for the temper it expresses, and where they do use the word it is in a bad sense as signifying "cowardly" and "mean-spirited." Before Christ none had taught, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant." [Matthew 23:11]

It is manifest that if such harmony, kind feeling, attachment, affection, and humility flourished among believers, these virtues would put discord to the rout, and leave no occasion for rending the oneness of the Christian body. They would also be proof against evil from without, both in deed and speech, neither tempted to "render evil for evil" in their actions nor "reviling for reviling" in their words. They have a duty to the world, and cannot thus belie their Christian profession. They are called to adorn the doctrine of their Savior, and the Master’s Sermon has among its prominent precepts "Bless them that curse you." This is the spirit of St. Peter’s exhortation, "But contrariwise blessing"; that is, Be ye of those who bless. For there is a law of recompense with God in good things as in evil; the blessers shall be blessed: "For hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing." It is as though he urged them thus: Ye were aforetime enemies of God; but ye have been made partakers of His heavenly calling, [Hebrews 3:1] that ye may come to blessing. This should move you to bless your enemies. And more than this, the servant of God may receive no blessing from the world, may get curses for his blessing; but yet he knows where to flee for consolation. He can pray with the Psalmist, "Let them curse, but bless Thou," [Psalms 109:28] conscious that the Lord will stand at the right hand of the needy. The psalmists knew much of such trials, and it is from the words of one of Psalms 34:12-16 that St. Peter enforces his own lesson. It is a psalm full of the knowledge of the trials of God’s servants: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous"; but it is rich also in plenitude of comfort: "The Lord delivereth him out of them all." The father of long ago teaches thus to his children the fear of the Lord: "He that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: and let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil." A glance at the Psalm will show that the Apostle has not quoted precisely; and though he has much in common with the Greek of the LXX, he does not adhere closely to that. But he gives to the full the spirit both of the Hebrew and the Greek. The life of which the Psalmist speaks is life in this world. The original explains this by making the latter clause of the verse, "and loveth many days, that he may see good." And the love is to be a noble feeling, a desire to make life worth living. Such a life must exhibit watchfulness over words and actions. The precepts begin at the beginning, with control of the tongue. Control that, and you are master of the rest. "It is a little member, but boasteth great things." "The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body". [James 3:5-6] It needs to be kept as with a bridle, and not only when the ungodly are in sight, but constantly. But the words of the Psalm contemplate a further danger. Men may give good words with the lips while the heart is full of bitterness. Then the lips are lying, and this is an evil as great as the former, and more perilous to him who commits it, because the sin does not come to the light that it may be reproved, but contrives to wear the mask of virtue.

And the actions need watchfulness also. They must not only possess the negative quality of abstinence from evil, but the positive stamp of good deeds done. "By their fruits ye shall know them." And the work will be no light one. Peace is to be sought, and the Apostle uses a word which implies that a chase is needful to obtain it. St. Paul has a passage very much in the spirit of St. Peter’s teaching here, and the words of which picture distinctly the difficulties which the Christian will have to labor against: "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." [Ephesians 4:3] This tells us why our Apostle urges the pursuit of peace. It is the clasp which binds the Christian communion together. From all sorts of causes men are prone to fall apart, to break the oneness; and peace is able to hold them fast. Hence the diligence in seeking it, the earnestness of the pursuit that it may not elude us.

But when all is done, when men have not been sitting with folded hands waiting and dreaming that peace would come without pursuit, but have labored for it, they do not always attain to it. "I am for peace," says the Psalmist, "but when I speak, they are for war". [Psalms 120:7] And so the disappointed struggler is directed to the sure source of consolation amid discomfiture. The Lord marks his efforts, knows their earnest purpose in spite of their ill-success. He beholds also those who have withstood them, but with far other regard. St. Peter has not quoted what the Psalmist says of their fate: "God will root out the remembrance of them from the earth." God’s righteous pilgrim is not forgotten. His prayer is heard, and will be answered for good. No shadow has come between him and God, though his lot seem very dark. Neither can the wrongdoer raise a shadow to screen himself from the all-seeing eyes. All things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Thus far St. Peter has used the language of the Psalmist, and among the converts the Jews would be sure to supply from the context those other words, "O fear the Lord, all ye His saints; for they that fear Him lack nothing." The Apostle clothes that same thought in his own words: "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? "He has repeatedly dwelt on the power of goodness to win unbelievers to its [1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:1] and the same idea shapes his words now. In those days the Zealots were well known, and their unbounded enthusiasm for their evil cause. Josephus lays the destruction of Jerusalem at their door. The Apostle would have Christ’s disciples "zealots" for Him. Let there be nothing halfhearted in their service, anal its power will be irresistible. It will avail either to silence and confound the adversaries, or to strengthen the faithful so that the smell of the furnace of persecution shall not pass upon them. They shall be enabled to break the chains with which their foes would bind them as easily as Samson his green withes. "But and if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye." If ye endure chastening, God is dealing with you as with sons. He has called Himself your Father; Christ has claimed you for brethren. He, the righteous, suffered; shall we not reckon it for a blessing to be worthy to bear the cross? Only let us be of good courage. He that endureth to the end shall find salvation. "And fear not their fear, neither be troubled." Again St. Peter applies the promises of the ancient Scriptures. In the days of Isaiah all Judah was in terror, king and people alike, before the gathering armies of Syria and Israel. In their dread comes the prophetic message, and says to the confederates, "Gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces," and to the tiny power of Judah, "Let the Lord of hosts be your fear, and let Him be your dread, and He shall.be for a sanctuary". [Isaiah 8:12-13] The condition of these Asian converts was one of heaviness through manifold temptations. While the believer lives here he always has his assailants, and in those early days the rulers of the earth were not seldom among the adversaries of the Christians. Hence the Apostle’s exhortation is most apposite: Fear not their fear-the things which they would dread, and with which they will threaten you. For what are they? They may take away your property. Be not troubled; you would soon have had to leave it. The loss a few years sooner is no terrible affliction. They may drive you from one land to another. To strangers and sojourners what can that signify? If they cast you into prison, the Lord who shut the lions’ mouths for Daniel is your Lord also; and I, Peter, know how angel-hands have removed chains and opened prison doors. And should they scourge and torture you, do you shrink from thus being made like unto your Master? "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord."

Isaiah’s message to disheartened Judah was, "The Lord of hosts, Him shall ye sanctify." On His word shall ye rely, assured that He, the holy God, will fail neither in wisdom nor power. To think otherwise is not to sanctify Him. The Lord knoweth how to deliver out of temptation. St. Peter, who knew Christ as the Son of the living God, applies to the Son the words first spoken of the Father. The Son is one with the Father. Hence he bids the afflicted converts, suffering for righteousness’ sake, not to be afraid of the world’s terror, but to sanctify Christ in their hearts as Lord. He is the Emmanuel, whom Isaiah was sent to promise. God has dwelt among men, and will be the God and the Deliverer of all His faithful ones. This sense of "God with us" they know, and with the knowledge comes a power not their own, and they fear no more the fear of their adversaries.

It is against foes of another sort that the Christian has now to hold fast his faith, and sanctify Christ as his Lord. There are those who deny Him all that is supernatural, and all that speaks of the Divine in His history; who treat the resurrection and ascension of the Lord as groundless legends, due to the ignorance of His followers; and who leave to the Jesus of the Gospels only the qualities of a better fellow-man. These are the enemies of the cross of Christ.

And of such dangerous teaching it would seem as if St. Peter had been thinking in the words that follow: "Being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you." The believer rests on Christ in faith. But though in his belief there must be much which he cannot fathom, yet it is a belief for men. His service is a reasonable service. He can point to abundance of evidence as ground for his faith; he believes because he has experienced the power of the Spirit, and fears not to trust the Christ whom he has sanctified in his heart as Lord; he knows in whom he has believed. But beside this, he can study the Old Testament; and there he learns how the coming incarnation dominates every portion of the volume, how from the first redemption through the seed of the woman was made known; and he follows the revelation step by step till in the evangel of Isaiah he has predictions almost as vivid and plain as the narrative of the Gospels. Those four narratives are another warrant for his faith, their wondrous agreement amid multitudinous divergences, divergences so marked that none could have ventured to put them forth as history except while the knowledge of those who had seen the Lord and been witnesses of His actions was available to vouch for and stamp as true these varicolored pictures of the life of Jesus. He has further vouchers in the lives and letters of those who knew and followed the Lord, followed Him, most of them, on the road that led through persecution unto death. And beside all this, there stands and grows the Church built upon this history, strong with the power of this faith and in her holy worship sanctifying Christ as her Lord. These are things to which the Christian appeals. They are not the only reasons for belief, but they are those of which he can make other men cognizant, and to which the world cannot continue always blind; and they have a force against which the gates of hell have not yet been, nor ever will be, able to prevail.

These reasons he gives "with meekness and fear"-with meekness, because in that spirit all the victories of the Lord are to be won; with fear, lest by feeble advocacy the cause of Christ may suffer. And he does not bring words alone with him to the struggle, but the power of a godly life; he is prepared for the conflict by the possession of a good conscience before God and men; he bears in mind the prophetic exhortation, "Be ye clean, ye that bear the vessels of the Lord". [Isaiah 52:11] That injunction was given to those who were in their day strangers and pilgrims. But with the good conscience, pureness of heart in the service of the Lord, there need be no haste, no flight. The Lord will go before them; the God of Israel will be their rearward. And the good conscience has lost none of its efficacy: "Wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ." Of the Christian’s faith and hope, his revilers know nothing, but his good life and his reasons for it men can see and hear. And these shall gain the victory. But they must go hand in hand. The deeds must bear out the words. When he testifies that his hope is placed where neither persecutions nor revilings avail against it, his life must show him fearless of what the world can do. His position toward it must be that which St. Peter himself took: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye". [Acts 4:19] Men may marvel at what they see in him, but they will take knowledge that he has been with Jesus. He is created, new-created, in Christ Jesus unto good works. [Ephesians 2:10] His revilers use him despitefully; but, according to Christ’s lesson, he prays for them, and their shafts glance pointless off. Well does St. Paul close his catalogue of the Christian armor "with all prayer and supplication, praying at all seasons in the Spirit". [Ephesians 6:18] Thus does the believer wield his weapons effectually. His revilers have no reason for their words; he is careful that they shall have none. As with Peter and John the council could say nothing against their good deed and let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, so shall it be with others of the faithful; and, for very shame at the futility of their accusations and assaults, the revilers shall be put to silence.


Verses 17-22

Chapter 11

THE REWARDS OF SUFFERING FOR WELL-DOING

1 Peter 3:17-22

THE Apostle comes back to his solemn subject. Why are the righteous called to suffering? The question was perplexing these Asian Christians when St. Peter wrote. Previous ages had pondered over it, Job and his friends among the number; and men ponder over it still. St. Peter has suggested several answers: The faith of Christ’s servants after trial will be found praiseworthy at the appearance of their Lord; to bear wrong with patience is acceptable with God; it is a happy lot, Christ has said, to suffer in the cause of righteousness. His next response to the question is more solemn than these: Suffering is sent to the righteous by the will of God. It never comes otherwise, and is meant to serve two several purposes: it is intended to benefit the unrighteous, and to be a blessing and glory to the righteous who endure it.

He shows that this is God’s will by two examples. Christ, the sinless, suffered at the hands of sinful men, and for their sakes, as well as for all sinners; and though we only can approach the subject with deep reverence and use the language of Scripture rather than our own about the effect of suffering on Christ Himself, we are taught therein that He was made perfect as the Leader of salvation by the things which He suffered: and the Apostle here describes the sequel of those sufferings by the session on the right hand of God in heaven, where angels and authorities and powers are made subject unto Him.

But God’s ordinance in respect of the suffering of the godly has been the same from of old. In the ancient world Noah had found grace in God’s sight in the midst of a graceless world. He was made a witness and a preacher of righteousness; and the faithful building of the ark at God’s command was a constant testimony to the wrongdoers, whose sole response was mockery and a continuance in the corruption of their way. But God had not left them without witness; and when the Deluge came at length, some hearts may have gone forth to God in penitence, though too late to be saved from the destruction. To Noah and those with him safety was assured; and when the door of the ark was opened, and the small Land of the rescued came forth, it was to have the welcome of God’s blessing and to be pointed to a token of His everlasting covenant. In this wise St. Peter adds once more to the consolations of those who endure grief and suffering wrongfully, and thus does he set forth the general drift of his argument. But the whole passage is so replete with helpful lessons that it merits the fullest consideration. "For it is better, if the will of God should so will, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evildoing." For evil-doing suffering is certain to come. It cannot be escaped. God has linked the two together by an unalterable law. Such suffering is penal. But when the righteous are afflicted their lot is not of law, but of God’s merciful appointment and selection, and is ordained with a purpose of blessing both to themselves and others. The words of St. Peter are very emphatic concerning God’s ordinance: "If the will of God so will." It is not always clear to men. Therefore St. Paul [Ephesians 1:9] speaks of the mystery of the Divine will, but in the same place [Ephesians 1:5] of the good pleasure thereof. It is exercised with love, and not with anger. It was the feeling with which God looked forth upon the new-created world, and, behold, it was very good. With the same feeling He longs to behold it rescued and restored. Such is the desire, such the aim, with which God permits trial and distress to fall upon the righteous. And that the sufferers may be kept in mind of God’s remedial purpose herein, the Apostle adduces the example of Christ Himself: "Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God." The suffering Christ should give pause to all questionings about the sufferings of His servants. Their lot may be hard to explain. But be their lives ever so pure, their purposes ever so lofty, "in many things we offend all," and need not murmur if we be chastened. But as we think of the sinless Jesus and His unequalled sufferings, we learn the applicability of the prophet’s lamentation, "See if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." [Lamentations 1:12] The burden of the unrighteous world was laid upon the righteous Son of God, and this because of God’s love for sinners.

Herein was the love of God manifested in us. Sinful men were the material chosen for the display of the Divine love, and God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. It was of God’s ordinance and the Son’s obedience that redemption was thus purchased. That we might live, the sinless Christ must die, and ere He died must be put to grief by the opposition of those whom He came to save; must lament and be hindered in His works of mercy by the want of faith among His own kindred, by the persistent sins of those cities in which His mightiest works were wrought; must shed tears of anguish over the city of David, which would know nothing of the things which belonged unto her peace. This was the chastisement of the innocent to gain peace for the guilty, that God might thus commend His love to men, and Christ might bring them back to the Father. And this bringing back is not the mere action of a guide. This He is, but He is far more: He helps those who are coming at every step, and as they draw near they find through Him that the Father’s house and the Father’s welcome are waiting for their return. Shall men complain, nay, shall they not be lost in praise, if God will at all consent to use their trials to extend His kingdom and His glory, and thus make them partakers of the sufferings of Christ? Such a lot had been welcome to St. Peter: "They departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name"; [Acts 5:41] and here in his epistle he publishes the joy of such shame; publishes it that others through all ages may suffer gladly, trusting their God to use the pains He sends to magnify His glory. The lesson is for all men at all times. Christ suffered for sins once; but once here means once for all, and proclaims to each generation of sinners that Jesus bore His cross for them.

"Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit." The suffering of Jesus went thus far, that there might be nothing in the cup of human woe which He had not tasted. His spirit was parted from the flesh, as when we die. The body lay in the grave; the spirit passed to the world of the departed. But the triumph of death was short. After the three days’ burial came the miracle of miracles. The dead Jesus returned to life, and that resurrection is made the earnest of a future life to all believers. Thus began the recompense of the righteous Sufferer, and the power of the resurrection makes suffering endurable to the godly, makes them rejoice to be conformed unto Christ’s death and forgetful of all things save the prize of the high calling which lies before them to be won. Nor was it with Christ’s spirit during those three days as with the souls of other departed ones. He, the sinless One, had no judgment to await; His stay there was that dwelling in paradise which He foreknew and spake of to the penitent thief.

"In which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which aforetime were disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah." At this point we come upon a twofold line of interpretation, occasioned by the difficulty which constantly arises of deciding whether pneuma-"spirit"-is to be understood of the Divine Spirit or of the spiritual part of man’s nature as distinguished from the flesh. Those who have taken the words "quickened in the Spirit" of the previous verse in the former of these senses explain this passage of the preaching of Christ to the antediluvian world through His servant Noah. The Divine fiat had gone forth. The Flood was to come and bring destruction to the bodies of all but Noah and his family. But within those doomed bodies souls were shut up, and these the love of Christ would not willingly give over. They should hear, while still in their prison of the flesh, the offer of His grace; and should they repent, the waves which wrought destruction of the body might release them from the bondage of corruption. This was the purpose of God’s long-suffering, which waited and appealed while the ark was a-preparing. Thus did the Divine Spirit of Christ go forth as a herald of mercy to the impenitent, proclaiming that for their souls the door of forgiveness was not yet closed.

Those, on the contrary, who refer "quickened in the spirit" to the human soul of Christ, take this text as an additional authority for the doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed that our Lord’s human soul after the Crucifixion descended into hell. Thus, they hold, His pure spirit went beyond this world to experience all that human spirits can know before the judgment comes. Thither He came but as a Herald. Death and the grave had no power to detain Him. In mercy to those who had passed away before the Incarnation, He brought the message of the mediatorial work which He had completed in His crucifixion. The sinners before the Flood are singled out for mention by St. Peter as sinners above all men, so sunk in wickedness that but eight were found worthy to be saved from the Deluge. Thus the magnitude of Christ’s mercy is glorified. He who goes to seek these must long to save all men. And to carry this message of glad tidings is part of the recompense for the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary, a portion of what made it a blessing to suffer for well doing.

Up to the sixteenth century the latter exposition and application of the words found most favor, but at the time of the Reformation the chief authorities expounded them of the preaching of Christ’s Spirit through the ministry of the patriarch. For the main argument with which St. Peter is dealing these applications, however interesting in themselves, are not deeply important. He wants to set before the converts a warrant for what he has said about the blessedness of suffering for righteousness. If we accept the application to Noah, the example is a powerful one. His sufferings must have been manifold.

The long time between the threatened judgment and its accomplishment was filled with the opposition of sinners and their mockery and taunts over his patient labor on the ark, to say nothing of the distress of soul when he found his preaching falling ever on deaf ears. But his trial had its reward at last when the little band were shut in by God Himself, and the ark bore them safely on the rising waters. And if he could feel that any, though perishing in body, had by repentance been saved in soul, this would make light the burden even of greater suffering than had fallen to the patriarch, to know the joy which comes from converting a sinner from the error of his way and therein saving a soul from death.

And if we refer the words "quickened in the spirit" to the soul of Christ, parted from the body and present in the spirit-world, they are a link to connect this passage with words of the Apostle’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. There he does speak of the Lord’s descent into hell, and teaches how David of old spake thereof and of the Resurrection "that neither was He left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption". [Acts 2:31] In this sense the quickening in the spirit is the beginning of Christ’s victory and triumph. It is the earnest of eternal life to all believers. And how welcome a message to those who, like Abraham, had rejoiced in faith to see the day of Christ, to hear from His own lips the tidings of the victory won! Of the Herald of such a Gospel message, of Him who by His suffering delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, we may, with all reverence, speak as "being made perfect by becoming the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him". [Hebrews 5:9]

"Wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved." The building of the ark was the test of Noah’s faith, the ark itself the means of his preservation. In the patriarch’s sufferings St. Peter has found an apt parallel to the life of these Asian Christians: the same godless surroundings; the same opposition and mockery; the same need for steadfast faith. But if rightly pondered, the Old Testament lesson is rich in teaching. Noah becomes a preacher of righteousness, not for his own generation only, but for all time. He suffered in his well doing. Nothing stings more keenly than scorn and contempt. These he experienced to the full. He came as God’s herald to men who had put God out of all their thoughts. His message was full of terror: "Behold, I do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is in the earth shall" Genesis 6:17. Few heeded; fewer still believed. But when the work of the messenger was over; when the ark was prepared, and the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened; when he and his were shut in by God, then appeared the blessedness. And if haply there had been any in whom he had beheld signs of repentance, how the thought that some souls were saved, though their bodies were drowned with the rest, would magnify the rejoicing of the rescued; and the overthrow of the ungodly would proclaim how little ultimate bliss there could be in evil-doing. All these things would come home to the hearts of the "strangers of the dispersion."

And were they few in number? Fewer still were those who stood with Noah in the world’s corruption. But God was with him; he walked with God, and found grace in His eyes; and God blessed him when the Flood was gone, and by the sign of the covenant, the faithful witness in heaven, [Psalms 89:37] has placed a memorial of the happiness of his well doing before the eyes of mankind for ever. And it would comfort the believers if they kept in mind the object which St. Peter has so often set before them, and on which he would have them set their desire in their distress. There was hope, nay assurance, that the heathen world around them would be won by their steadfast well doing to the service of the Lord. Christ did not send His followers on a hopeless quest when He said, "Go, baptize all nations." It was no material ark they were set to fashion; they were exalted to be builders of the Church of Christ. And to put one stone upon another in that building was a joy worth earning by a life of sacrifice.

"Saved through water." But God appointed the same waves to be the destruction of the disobedient. With no faith-built ark in which to ride safe, the sinners perished in the mighty waters which to Noah were the pathway of deliverance. A solemn thought this for those who have the offer of the antitype which the Apostle turns next to mention! This double use which God makes of His creatures-how to some they bring punishment, to others preservation-is the theme of several noble chapters in the book of Wisdom (11-16), expanding the lesson taught by the pillar of a cloud, which was light to Israel, while it was thick darkness to the Egyptians. "Which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism." Under the new covenant also water has been chosen by Christ to be the symbol of His grace. His servants are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This is the door appointed for entrance into the family. But the waters of the Flood would have overwhelmed Noah, even as the rest, had he not been within the ark, and the ark would not have been made had he been lacking in faith. So in baptism must no more saving office be ascribed to the water. Even the Divine word, "the word of hearing, did not profit some, because they were not united by faith with them that heard aright". [Hebrews 4:2] Neither does the sign in baptism, though Divinely instituted, profit, being alone. The Christian, having been cleansed by the washing of water with the word, is sanctified by Christ because of his faith. The washing of regeneration must be joined with the renewing of the Holy Ghost. That Spirit does not renew, but convicts of sin those who believe not on Christ. [John 16:8] In his salvation Noah accepted and acted on God’s warning about things not seen as yet, and so his baptism became effectual. In faith, too, Israel marched through the Red Sea, and beheld the overthrow of their heathen pursuers. And baptism mixed with faith is saving now. Those Old Testament deliverances were figures only of the true, and were but for temporal rescue. Christ’s ordinance is that to which they testified before His coming, and is coupled with the promise of His presence even unto the end of the world.

And that there may be no place for doubting, the Apostle subjoins a twofold explanation. First he tells us what baptism is not, then what it is and what it bestows. It is "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh." Were this all, it would avail no more than the cardinal ordinances (with meats and drinks and divers washings), which were imposed of old until a time of reformation. Through them the way into the holy place was not made manifest, nor could be. True baptism is "the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This is a spiritual purification, wrought through the might of Christ’s resurrection. And the Apostle describes it by the effect which it produces in the religious condition and attitude of him who has experienced it. The sinner who loves his sin dare not question his conscience. That witness would pronounce for his condemnation. So he finds it best to lull it to sleep, or perhaps deaden it altogether. But to him who, being risen with Christ in faith, seeks those things that are above, who strives to make himself spiritually purer day by day, there is no such dread. Rather by constant questioning and self-examination he labors that his conscience may be void of offence towards God and man. That man not only dares, but knows it to be a most solemn duty, thus to purge his conscience. So the effect of baptism is daily felt, and the questioned soul thankfully bears witness to the active presence of the Spirit, for the bestowal of which the Sacrament was the primal pledge.

Others have rendered επερωτημα "an appeal," and have joined it very closely with the words "toward God." These have found in the Apostle’s explanation the recognition of that power to draw nigh unto God which the purified conscience both feels, and feels the need of. There are daily stumblings, the constant want of help; and through Christ’s resurrection the way is opened, a new and living way, into the holiest, and the power is granted of appealing unto God, while the sense of baptismal grace already bestowed gives confidence and certainty that our petitions will be granted.

"Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him." Now the Apostle turns back to his main subject. The righteous who suffers for, and in, his righteousness, may not only be a blessing to others, but may himself find blessing. We dare only use the words which the Spirit has supplied when we speak of Christ being perfected by what He endured. But the Apostle to the Hebrews has a clear teaching. He speaks of Christ as being "the effulgence of God’s glory, and the very image of His person". [Hebrews 1:3] Yet he tells that, "though He was a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and became thus the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him". [Hebrews 5:8] And he goes further, and teaches that this submission of Christ to suffering was in harmony with the Divine character and according to God’s own purpose: "It became Him for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through sufferings". [Hebrews 2:10] From all eternity Christ was perfect as the Son of God, but He has suffered that He may be a perfect Mediator. Why this was well pleasing unto the Father it is not ours to know, nor can we by searching find. But, the sufferings ended, He is crowned with glory; He is exalted to the right hand of the Father; He is made Lord of all. This He taught His disciples ere He sent them to baptize: "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth". [Matthew 28:18] Having taken hold of the seed of Abraham and consented to be made lower than the angels, He has now been set "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come," [Ephesians 1:21] Thus does St. Paul teach even as St. Peter; and we may believe, though we fail to grasp the manner thereof, that through His humiliation our blessed Lord has been exalted, not only because He receives for ever the praises of the redeemed, but because He has wrought through His suffering that which was well-pleasing in the sight of the Father.

The whole clause before us is worthy of notice for another reason. It was doubtless written before our Gospels were in circulation, when the life and work of Jesus were only published by the oral teaching of the Apostles and their fellows; yet in a summary form it covers the whole field of the Gospel story. Those to whom this Epistle was written had been taught that Jesus was the Christ, had heard of His righteous life among men, of His sufferings, death, and resurrection, had been taught that afterwards He was taken up into heaven. They knew also that the baptism by which they had been admitted into the Christian communion was His ordinance and the appointed door into the Church which he lived and died to build up among men. Thus, without the Gospels, we have the Gospel in the Epistles, and a witness to the integrity of that history of Christ’s life which has come down to us in the narratives of the Evangelists. And when all the contributions of the Apostolic Epistles are put side by side, we may easily gather from them that the history of Jesus which we have now is that which the Church has possessed from the beginning of the Gospel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-peter-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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