Connecting with God: “Outstanding Christianity” – 1 Peter 3:1-17

smith familyThe Smith families, both the one I grew up in, and the one I raised my children in, have been historically known as loud families. In spite of the fact that you hear me talk often, I am sincere when I say I am by no means the dominant personality when my brothers and sisters get together. I often take a “back seat” to several others, and watch as they weave an endless string of jokes, silly memories and general nonsense into “family time” together. No matter how old we all get, I am still a middle child, and I play that role (out of personal comfort) whenever we all get together. The fact is, if you lived next door to us, I am confident you would have heard us. We loved each other, but we didn’t seem to have a very good “volume switch” much of the time. Some of my children still display this lack on occasion! It is probably because of all that noise I have become so much more sensitive to noise as I have gotten just a bit older. Either that, or I am just becoming a crotchety wretch, which is entirely possible. Now that I have “grown up”, left home and raised my children (who have also left home) – my daily existence (aside from a mouthy cat in the morning) is pretty quiet – at least until my tribe comes to visit.

iphone pics 045If you stand outside a Smith family gathering, I hope you will hear two things: first, lots of laughter (because my wife is hysterical when in her element and my children got their sense of humor from her); and second, lots of encouragement (because I have some really neat children and we have always felt that offering affirmation was a way to continue to build them up in their adult lives). My point is this: a family can best be understood when you stop and really listen to them. If you came from a hurtful family, you may be bullied into silence and want to pout. If you came from a quiet family, people may have to listen more closely to really understand how things work.

As believers, the same holds true. People should be able to recognize what is most important to us when they hear what we have to say. When we gather together, we should be prepared to SOUND LIKE believers. Some words of common vocabulary in the world simply aren’t acceptable in a circle of believers – words that demean or vulgar words that wouldn’t carry a sense of purity. Here is a truth from Scripture I want us to consider…

Key Principle: Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate from Jesus.

Don’t misunderstand how I mean that. I am not suggesting that Scripture endorses “Bible speak” that is unintelligible to the world. We are to be witnesses, and we constantly have to be careful about the use of Christian terminology and how well it is understood by others. In some ways, we can’t help but develop our own language. It is inevitable – like a group of computer geeks or gun aficionados… specialized fields have their own shorthand language. At the same time, our faith was to be easily transportable and simple to relate to others – so we must be careful.

What do we mean by the phrase “unique in sound” then? That is the subject of 1 Peter 2 and 3. Let’s follow the idea into four specific sound qualities:

First, the tone of a Christian isn’t defiance, rebellion and belligerence, but cooperative submission whenever possible (1 Peter 2:13-3:2 and 3:7).

You cannot mistake that tone from Peter’s words. Believers were told to:

1 Peter 2:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”

Lest that not be clear enough, Peter went on to specify “king”, “authority” and in 2:14 “governors” even for those who live as “free Romans” (2:16). Later in 2:18, he told Christian “servants” to be submissive to masters, and he specifically used the term “respect” to go beyond the notion of simple obedience to the letter of the commands.

As if that wasn’t enough, Peter went even further and told servants they were to show respect even to “unreasonable” masters, because Jesus suffered patiently and offered them an example of how to live when treated unfairly. This underlying tone was perhaps best captured in the words of 1 Peter 2:17:

Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

Even in this, however, Peter was not finished. As 1 Peter 3 opened, the same idea of cooperative submission was carried into the sound of the home of a believer. The chapter began:

1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Peter made clear the dear Christian women of their congregations were to be “submissive” to their husbands, even if they are not believers or are not acting out in a way that a follower of Jesus should. The term hupotássō is a combination of two words. One word means “under” and the other means “to arrange”. Some would translate this as “a wife defining herself and under God’s arrangement,” i.e. submitting to the Lord (His plan). Others would suggest it should be “to arrange one’s self under” the husband. What is absolutely clear is this: the command is something the woman must do, and no one can make her or do it for her. Submission is an action of the heart and the will. Peter made note that it was possible for a wayward husband to be drawn to the Lord by the choice of a wife to obey in this difficult area (3:1b-2). The idea was this: Serve God by serving your husband, and God may draw his heart through your work! What a privilege to be used of God to bring someone to Jesus by quiet and loving service!

Skip down a few verses. Do you see the way Peter applied that cooperative sound to the men who lead a family? He wrote:

1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

Peter wanted believing husbands to handle the precious woman God granted to them in a caring and careful way. Roman men possessed great legal authority in the home, and could have easily gotten away with becoming both domineering and cruel – but believers were not to do this. They could physically handle their wives in ways that would make you ill, and little would or could be said by anyone else. Peter makes these points:

• Men need to live in a quiet submission to Jesus and show their love to Him by taking care of their wives.

• Men needed to take into account that God didn’t make their wives with the same physical strength or emotional makeup.

• Men weren’t to “patronize” their wives, but to HONOR them. The term timḗ means to perceive their true value and worth. If you listen to the various “pride” movements and to radical feminists, you will constantly hear them refer to desiring people to recognize their “value” as people. God made the point through Peter that men should be clear on the incredible value of this gift of God in your life.

• Men were to recognize that women were fellow heirs of God’s unmerited favor – specifically that God loved them as much as He did the men in the fellowship.

• Finally, men needed to recognize that if they mistreated their wives, the ear of God would turn away from their prayer life. God won’t allow you and I, men, to treat our wives poorly and then expect great mercy and grace from Him. He put the truth in His Book – he won’t listen!

When the verses at the end of 1 Peter 2 and the beginning of 1 Peter 3 are carefully considered, then, the places our world should be able to hear the tone of the believer are in relation to those who are over us as governing authorities, those over us at work, and those who live with us at home

Let’s be clear about the CONTEXT of Peter’s statements. As in all passages, greater context is often necessary for right thinking to emerge from the text.

We must remember that no part of God’s Word is the whole truth by itself; each part needs to be placed beside the other parts of the Word to offer a complete thought. When we teach or preach, we must always seek to balance the truth under consideration with the rest of Scripture. Failure to do that will cause us to conclude false ideas.

For instance, do you think this passage teach that Marines should act this way when storming a beach in force? Should a Christian police officer surrender his weapon to a criminal and be submissive? Of course not! Yet, it is easy to see how someone can read ONE PART of Scripture and get the wrong impression. Let me say it this way: There are places where cooperative submission should not be heard from a believer, and they do not contradict this statement of the normal behavior. They are covered in other places in Scripture. Proper learning of the Word allows you to know what part should be applied to what situation.

If one wants “principles on how to run a nation” or “how to operate a criminal justice system”, the Law (Torah) given to the nation of Israel provides much more of the underlying notes that help us. “Wait!” someone cries. “We aren’t under the Law!” That is where clarity is lost and mud prevails. Much of Paul’s argumentation for morality is rooted in the Law. As we saw in a recent study of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul’s argument was “as the Law says”. So how does that work? Shouldn’t we ignore the Law? In short, no. When Paul said that “we are not under the Law” he was directly referring to the Atonement that replaced by complete justification accomplished at the Cross of Jesus, not making a case to dismiss the moral precepts God cares about that are revealed in the Law.

Let me be clear: God still wants people to recognize the morality He taught Israel as valid. We don’t have to kill a goat to make God happy because of Jesus, but telling a lie, thinking or acting immorally, or taking what isn’t yours is still wrong, and God didn’t need to repeat it in the New Testament to make it clear that is how He wanted things.

Another HUGE problem is that some apply the teachings of Jesus to His followers as though He was speaking of every situation possible; that simply isn’t true. Let me illustrate that for a moment…

A few weeks ago, people at a Christmas party were gunned down by terrorists in California. Registered gun sales skyrocketed and several Christian leaders weighed in on the subject. Just after that, Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke to young people at Liberty University and said some things that in context were reactive to that situation, including the offer of concealed carry classes for students. One quote, picked up in a magazine article by Jonathan Merritt was this:“we could end those Muslims.” I suspect Jerry would have liked to re-think the wording for the sound bite, but nevertheless he was speaking in the context of some evil people who just perpetrated a terror attack. In response, many wrote for and against guns. The point I wanted to note was what Merritt did in his article, because it illustrates a common mistake. He wrote:

“…He encouraged students to enroll in the university’s gratis certification course and said he was carrying a weapon “in my back pocket right now.” He concluded by saying, “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Falwell’s comments are the latest in a string of proclamations by conservative Christians appealing to religious authority and yet apparently devoid of biblical reflection…. While the school claims to put Jesus at the center of its curriculum, its president never referred to the Prince of Peace’s teachings in his remarks about gun violence. The absence is unsurprising. It’s hard to imagine how Jesus’s teachings could support his case…The New Testament recounts many comments Jesus made about violence, and almost all of them seem like an outright contradiction of Falwell’s remarks. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses peacemakers and commends the merciful. Jesus advised people to love, not kill, their enemies and urged them not to take an eye for an eye, but rather to turn the other cheek. When he hung on a Roman cross, he did not ask his followers to arm themselves. Instead, he prayed: “Father, forgive them.”

What Merritt did was ignore all the defense issues in the Hebrew Scriptures that were a part of the national law of Israel, and skip to the issue of Jews under Roman rule referenced by Jesus. The problem isn’t that he misunderstood Jesus, but that He skipped the national context that framed the whole argument. This is a common mistake in Bible study.

Take a moment and apply it to 1 Peter 2 and 3 on submission. Believers should be submissive to governments, but that doesn’t preclude many other passages on self-defense in God’s Word. Neither Peter nor Jesus would have taken issue with a nation defending itself, nor a husband sitting idly while someone breaks in and attacks his wife and children. There were already laws concerning those issues, and we must not ignore the broader context when reading passages like this one. Let’s say it this way: God normally works through submission, respect and obedience. There are Biblical cases that show that one may be forced to disobey a command of government, but cases like the Prophet Daniel are few and far between. Normally, a quiet submissive respectful voice is what a believer should use.

Second, the sound of the believer is not brash, but supportive and positive (1 Peter 3:3-6).

It is not my intention to over-outline the passage, and I recognize that 1 Peter 3:3-6 is also set in the direct context of the sound of submission, but I want to look at these verses separately and with greater intensity, because I believe they provide a beautiful description of the sound and display of a believer in a delicate way. It is an intimate discussion, and it should be considered alone. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Before we consider Peter’s words about the wardrobe and “bling” of women, it is necessary for us to make this simple note of understanding… Men are drawn and stimulated by visual appearance. In the world of the internet, it doesn’t seem that more needs to be explained. With that in mind, let’s recall what Peter said to the women to whom he was writing. He offered three important thoughts:

• Internal adornment is more important than external. Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than deliberately “putting on godliness” by taking the energy women in the world apply to external beauty and working on the attitudes of the heart (3:3).

• Women have an inner life that is at its best when they are working NOT to be noticed by the rest of the room (3:4).

• The women who observe Scripture carefully, will see those who grew in their faith made tough choices to submit, even when their husbands showed incredible weakness (3:5-6).

Perhaps you wonder, what is “working on the inside” and how would it change me? I found a story that may help…A few years ago, Pastor Bill Hybels wrote: “Recently, I saw a letter written by a relatively new Christian to the person whose life had influenced hers so greatly. She actually lists about a dozen qualities she found contagious in the life of this older Christian. Listen to some of what she wrote:

‘You know when we met; I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth, and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit – no signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you lived by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain. And I had never met anyone like that before. I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn’t judge me. You tried to understand me, you sympathized and you celebrated with me, you demonstrated kindness and generosity – and not just to me, but to other people, as well. And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believed to be true, no matter what people said, and no matter how much it cost you. And for those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you I’m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian life in front of me.

Did you note the letter didn’t really address externals much at all. Whether the one who received the letter lived in a big or small house, drove an awesome car or not, or wore the finest clothing or jewelry is not mentioned. It simply wasn’t the most helpful thing and played no role in whether or not the observer came to Christ. What did matter? Attitudes of the heart were the points of testimony.

Focus your life on externals and you will attract friends who live for externals. Apply yourself to allowing God’s Spirit to work deeply within your life, and you will draw around you others who see God at work in you. Your friends are often an indicator of what is on display in your own value system.

Yesterday someone forwarded me a YouTube of the famous atheist comedian Penn Jillette as he told a story about a believer who walked up to him to give him a pocket New Testament with Psalms. To my delight, Jillette recalled the man as sincere, kind and polite. He didn’t feel assaulted. He felt cared for and accepted. I want to hug that brother some day in glory. I pray there are thousands and thousands more like him – both honestly evangelistic and lovingly sensitive.

Third, the sound of a believer increasingly focuses on harmony whenever and wherever it is possible.

I like to harmonize. In fact, it is the reason they put me in the front row, so that no one else has to hear what I do as I inadvertently massacre sacred songs. I cannot help it! One thing I can testify to concerning songs – some really don’t lend themselves to harmonization well. The same is true of people. Some are so extreme, so loud and so mean I have trouble figuring out how to move the conversation forward in a godly way. The truth is, we are supposed to look for ways to live and work together for God’s glory. Peter said it this way:

1 Peter 3:8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but [e]giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Fourth, the sound of a believer is the sound of carefully chosen notes.

I find the need to confess something to you: song sliders make me crazy! I want to assert strongly that people should CHOOSE the note they are trying to sing instead of sliding from flat to note to sharp, or from one note to another! Sing whatever song you choose, but at the very least, sing the song distinctly!

In the same way, there are distinct and selected sounds of spiritual maturity we should consider fostering in our own heart:

People should hear from us the sound of disciplined speech:

1 Peter 3:10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.

Some people don’t seem to care how they use their mouth! Zig Ziglar once wrote: My brother, the late Judge Ziglar, loved to tell the story of the fellow who went next door to borrow his neighbor’s lawnmower. The neighbor explained that he could not let him use the mower because all the flights had been canceled from New York to Los Angeles. The borrower asked him what canceled flights from New York to Los Angeles had to do with borrowing his lawnmower. It doesn’t have anything to do with it, but if I don’t want to let you use my lawnmower, one excuse is as good as another.” [Excuses: Any Will Do?, Citation: Zig Ziglar, Something Else to Smile About (Thomas Nelson, 1999)]

Our sound should be one that consistently reveals choices of right over wrong: “1 Peter 3:11 “He must turn away from evil and do good…”Strong’s Commentary offered this: “Christ and the believer have the same life. They are not separate persons linked together by some temporary bond of friendship; they are united by a tie as close and indissoluble as if the same blood ran in their veins.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses peace over revenge:

1 Peter 3:11b He must seek peace and pursue it.

Jesus . . . wants us to see that the neighbor next door or the people sitting next to us on a plane or in a classroom are not interruptions to our schedule. They are there by divine appointment. Jesus wants us to see their needs, their loneliness, their longings, and he wants to give us the courage to reach out to them” (REBECCA MANLEY PIPPERT, Draper’s).

Ours is the sound of one who remembers that God is paying attention:

1 Peter 3:12 “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses faith over fear:

1 Peter 3:13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled…

When life caves in, you do not need reasons — you need comfort. You do not need some answers — you need someone. And Jesus does not come to us with an explanation — He comes to us with His presence.” — Bob Benson.

Ours is the sound of one who prepares to speak well for Jesus:

1 Peter 3:15 “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Howard Hendricks said, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”

It is the sound of the voice of integrity:

1 Peter 3:16 “…and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Ours is the sound of trust:

1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

We must allow God to place us in the story where He desires. We must remember: “Nothing under God’s control is ever out of control.” (Charles Swindoll).

Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate.

Consider what people do when they hear us and we sound like Jesus…

Dr. James Dobson, former director of “Focus on the Family” Ministries, shared an experience after his teaching days (he taught at the public school system from 1960-1963). At the final year, he had to say goodbye to 25 to 30 teary-eyed kids. One young lady whom he said goodbye to in 1963 called him in 1975. Julie had grown up. Dr. Dobson remembered her as a seventh grader with a crisis of confidence in herself. Her Latin heritage embarrassed her and she was overweight. She h ad only one friend, and they moved away the following year. She and Dr. Dobson talked on the phone about the good ole days. “Where do you go to church?” He told her, and she asked if she could visit. He told her she could, and the next week she came. In the coming months, she became a vibrant Christian. A few months after her initial visit, Dobson asked her, “Julie, I want to ask you a question. Will you tell me why you went to so much trouble to obtain my unlisted number and call me last Autumn?” “Because when I was a seventh-grade student in junior high school, you were the only person in my life who acted like you respected and believed in me…and I wanted to know your God.”