Please forgive any typos in this manuscript. The text for the sermon is from the Epistle lesson: 1 Peter 3:8-9
Last year during Wednesday night Bible study we spent a great deal of time talking about 1 Peter. 1 Peter has a great deal to say to us as Christians, particularly living in the sort of post-Christian environment that we face in the West. Living as a faithful Christian now will mark us apart in this world in a way that was not necessarily the case in the Western world in the past. What I mean by that is this: it used to be that the default position for someone who was not clearly another religion was Christianity, and this is no longer really the case—Christianity, or even knowledge of it, cannot be assumed in the world. This fact should not lead to despair in the Church—or even anger. It should lead us to renewed resolve to live like a Christian in this world, to live in such a way as to reflect the glory of the Savior who has bought us and called us, remembering that the Church has faced such times before, and even times much worse. St. Peter’s comments in our Epistle lesson for today, from chapter 3 beginning at verse 8, provide us with a godly reminder of what our lives are supposed to look like as followers of Christ in the midst of this world. I’m only going to look at the first two verses of the passage today.
Story and I watched this week one of those period dramas that are on television that have to do with the landed gentry in England seeking to provide an inheritance for their son, by trying to convince him to marry a very wealthy wife, which he doesn’t want to do because he is in love with his childhood friend who is practically penniless. That particular story isn’t important to what I am saying today except to note within it the concept of inheritance. In that culture about 200 years ago, it was understood that the eldest son by virtue simply of being the eldest son had particular responsibilities and also privileges. He would inherit the estate—if the estate was in debt, he inherited the debt. If the estate was exceedingly wealthy, it all would become his. Of course, the knowledge of this had an enormous effect on the life of the young man who was the heir. His life and destiny was tied, even without anything he had done, to the estate of his forebears.
In verse 9 of this passage, St. Peter writes: knowing that you are called to this, that ye should inherit a blessing. The construction of the sentence here is somewhat ambiguous, but it seems what St. Peter is driving at is that knowing that we are ones who are inheritors—ones who will inherit a blessing—has to control how we think about the world around us and how we treat those around us. Christians are those who can know that they will inherit a blessing—not inherit debt, for the debts have been paid by our Savior. Not inherit judgment, for the Savior has satisfied the judgment. Not inherit destruction, for the Savior died to pay the penalty for us. But we will inherit blessing. We have hope of inheriting blessing because we are connected with Jesus Christ, the Savior. St. Paul makes this same point in Romans chapter 8 (vs. 16-17) when he says The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Joint-heirs with Christ. As we are connected to Jesus Christ, and to His body, the Church, we receive the benefits of being heirs with Jesus. The inheritance that He secured by His death and resurrection, then, is freely given to His people who are joined to Him by Grace—for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves—it is the gift of God, not by works, that no man may boast, for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, we He has prepared beforehand that we might walk in them. Being joined to Jesus, united to Christ, then, is central to the idea of salvation. This is why the sacraments are so important—in baptism we receive the sign and seal of God’s adoption of us, that we might be heirs. Of course, we must walk in faith to receive the benefit of this adoption, trusting in the benefit of the salvation that Christ so freely gives. We need to keep this knowledge ever before our hearts and minds—dwelling in it, reveling in it.
For part of being an heir means living in a way that is commensurate with being an heir, that we not bring shame on the One who has called us to such a glorious calling. This is why Scripture will unblinkingly teach us that we are to be holy, because God is holy, while teaching us the wonderful gift that God gives in salvation. So what does this passage teach us?
The first sentence of the passage emphasizes the same sort of ideas, although of course using different words. Be ye all of one mind, having compassion to one another, love as brothers, have a tender heart, have a humble mind. These sorts of postures are commensurate with those who are heirs, with those who have received that inheritance apart from our own actions or even decisions. This passage is referring to those particularly in the Church—we are to be of one mind together, having the mind of Christ. We are to treat each other with compassion—not holding each other to a cruel or unremitting standard, but having compassion for those fellow believers who walk with us in the Church, loving each other as a family. We are to be tender-hearted toward each other, and humble toward each other. Why? Because we are called together to this inheritance, not merely as a group of individuals. We are members incorporate in Christ’s body, not merely individuals seeking to find our way.
This means that with others, and particularly with fellow Christians, we are not to return wrong for wrong, or unkind word for unkind word. We live in a world in which this sort of thinking is very unusual, to say the least. In our current public discourse, that is, in the political environment, hitting back with unkind words or playing a dirty trick in return for a dirty trick, is thought to be wise. Much entertainment is based on the idea of revenge—returning an unkindness or an unkind word to try to establish justice. This sort of thinking can even infiltrate the Church, so that we think that we are called somehow by a sense of justice to strike back at those who have wronged us—or perhaps to ignore them, or perhaps to treat them unkindly. But that is not our calling. It is our calling to not return evil for evil, but to return blessing.
For think of this. We as people are those ourselves who in our flesh were afar off from God. Yet God in His great mercy did not return to us evil for our evil, did not return to us unkind words even when we spoke against Him. No, in return for our evil he forgave us our sins by His Son, and adopted us as His children. In return for our unkind words, He speaks to us words of absolution, of forgiveness, of blessing in the Triune name, of peace. If we are called to this, how can we treat our fellow Christians with unkindness or bad words, knowing that God has not treated us this way, but instead has blessed us with every Spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.
Of course, this sort of attitude and this sort of response to people is not only to be toward those who are in the Church. It does start here, but it does not end here. I remarked at the beginning of the sermon that following Christ should involve us being marked out from the world, and faithfully following Christ is going to make that mark evident. Well, these are some of those marks—to even when we are wronged by someone outside of the Body, in word or in deed, we do not return evil for evil—but rather forgive, and show compassion. For we are called to show and speak blessing.
This showing and speaking blessing involves responding in kindness and in peace when others are filled with unrighteous anger or rage. But it also involves speaking words of blessing in and by prayer. Remember that Jesus calls for us even to pray for our enemies, since He prayed for His. This will mean that words of focused and committed prayer are going to characterize the sort of blessing that God is calling us to.
Brothers and sisters, if we are in Christ, we are called by Him to an inheritance of great blessing. And we if we are called to an inheritance of great blessing, that means that we must be, in the present, people of blessing. This blessing starts with how we treat each other here in the Church, and then must extend out to those in the world.
Today we have already heard words of blessing. We are about to hear many more. Hear and receive the words of blessing in faith, trusting that the Word that God speaks to you today—that in Christ you are forgiven, that Christ will feed you this day by His body and His blood—trusting that these words are true. And if they are true, then pray God that by His Spirit He might equip you to walk in that blessing and in holiness through this week, and through your life—that you might be a blessing to those around you. Amen.