When Every Curse is a Sneeze (I Peter 3:8-12)
Passage: 1 Peter 3:8–3:12
New Life in the Same Old Place
I. The Most Common Blessing
A sneeze is a sneeze, no matter where you are in the world. But what people say after someone sneezes is not always the same. Have you ever thought about why, In the English speaking world, we say, “God bless you”, or “Bless you”? Well, there’s really no clear evidence for why we say this, but listen to how one reference describes some of the possible explanations:
A legend holds that it was believed that the heart stops when you sneeze, and the phrase "bless you" was meant to ensure the return of life or to encourage your heart to continue beating. Another version says that people used to believe that your soul can be thrown from your body when you sneeze, that sneezing otherwise opened your body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits, or that sneezing was your body's effort to force out an invading evil spirit. Thus, "bless you" or "God bless you" was used as a sort of shield against evil.
And there are several other explanations that have been offered over the years.
But what I’m interested in this morning is not sneezing, but blessing. For most people, the only time they bless someone or ask God to bless some one is after a sneeze. But for God’s people, blessing should be much more common. In fact, it’s the life to which we are called.
Let’s look together at I Peter 3:8-12 this morning.
II. The Passage: "To This You Were Called" (3:8-12)
Listen to what Peter writes here:
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
What I’d like to do is break this passage into three parts and then think about how those parts fit together to communicate God’s message for us this morning, a message about blessing and being blessed. And as we begin to do this, I’d like to take the unusual step of talking about the second part first. I want to do this because I think verse 9 contains the central theme of this section.
So look with me again at verse 9
A. Called to a Life of Blessing (3:9)
Peter says this in verse 9: Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Did you see that phrase, “for to this you were called”? But what is the “this” Peter is referring to? It’s the word “bless”! We have been called to bless!
So when you think about this idea of blessing, what do you think of? If you were to bless someone, how would you do it (assuming they didn’t sneeze)? Would you recite some kind of specific, formalized blessing over them? Would you give them a gift of money? What does it mean to bless? What does this verse teach us?
Well, to understand this verse, we need to remember where we’ve come from in the book. Peter has been helping his readers to understand what it means to live as God’s people, as spiritual aliens, spiritual foreigners in this world, especially as they face opposition from government officials, from difficult masters/employers, maybe even from unbelieving husbands. In some sense, Peter is really talking about opposition from unbelievers in general.
And he’s described this opposition in several ways: He speaks of “various trials” (1:6). He talks about “when they speak against you as evildoers” (2:12); He mentions putting “to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (2:15). He speaks to slaves who are enduring “sorrows while suffering unjustly” (2:19). And he will go on past 3:8-12 to talk even more about suffering in the face of opposition.
What does all of this have to do with blessing? Well, our call to bless, in this verse, is set in clear parallel with and in contrast to the words “evil” and “reviling”. So to bless is to do the opposite of these things. To bless is to do “good” in some way, not “evil”. It is to verbally help, not verbally abuse.
In fact the Greek word that Peter uses here for “bless” is the word eulogeo. It literally means, “to speak a good word”. It’s where we get the English word “eulogy”, which is a good word spoken about someone at their funeral.
So we might say that the life of blessing to which we have been called is a life that seeks to do good a thing or speak a good word to every person…and here’s the challenge…even to those who hurt us.
For Peter’s audience, it might have been the local magistrate, or the jealous neighbor, or the crooked employer who was causing them pain. They were hurt by false accusations, and the mockery of those who did not understand their faith in Christ. Maybe they were hurt by the seizure of their property, or by an actual physical beating. They were threatened. They were intimidated.
Who has hurt you? Was it a parent? Was it a friend? Was it a stranger? Was it a spouse? Was it a child? Was that wound inflicted with a word? To your face, or behind your back? Was that pain the result of a betrayal, or a beating? Was something taken from you? Was something withheld? Were you let down, or held up for ridicule? Who has hurt you? Who is hurting you? And how have you responded?
Again, in the face of such hurt, God says through Peter: Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
But what about giving someone what they deserve? What about putting someone in their place; teaching them a lesson? How could this be his advice for these Christians? Well, we should probably ask instead, “Could he give them any other advice since they are Christians?” Remember what he said at the end of chapter 2:
For to this you have been called [sound familiar?], because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return [sound familiar?]; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
The counter-intuitive call of Jesus Christ is to do good for those who do evil to us. It is to do what is right, when we are wronged. It is to treat every curse as if it were a sneeze, that is, to treat ever curse as an opportunity to respond with a blessing. “Bless you…may God bless you.”
Does this mean we simply say, “God bless you” when someone demeans our character, or laughs at our beliefs, or treats us unfairly, or punches us in the mouth? I think what Peter has in mind here is responding with, not simply a certain kind of phrase, but a certain kind of heart. It is the heart of Christ. It is a heart that wants God’s goodness to pour down on our opponent in such a way that our blessing is used to make them into a blesser.
And that kind of heart might respond in a variety of ways in the face of opposition. Blessing might mean we respond verbally with gentleness and grace. Blessing, doing good, might mean we say nothing. Blessing might mean we overlook a transgression. Blessing might mean we go out of our way to serve our opponent.
Remember, this is not about what we what we want to do.
This may not be the first thought that comes into our mind when we are wronged. But this is what we are called to do. Why? Because Jesus blessed us. How? By dying for us, we who were his enemies.
B. Called to a Community of Blessing (3:8)
So, if this is the central idea of this passage, of 3:8-12, how does the opening verse, verse 8, tie into this emphasis on blessing in the face of opposition?
Now we need to remember that beginning back in 1:22, Peter has been instructing his readers as a community in light of their new identity in Jesus Christ. He has called them to love one another, he has reminded them that they have been chosen to be God’s people, to be His priests, and he has encouraged them to remain distinct in the midst of a world that will always be tempting them to conform.
After specifically addressing different groups in these churches (i.e. servants, wives, husbands), here in 3:8 he brings it back to everyone in the church. Look again at what he writes:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Now it’s tempting to think that Peter, at this point, is going to switch gears. It appears that he is finished talking about relationships with those outside the church, and now wants them to focus on how they are treating one another.
But we already know the topic of suffering from outside opposition continues to be a main idea all the way into chapter 4. So why does Peter feel it is necessary here in 3:8, to talk to them about things like unity as a church? Why does he call them to have sympathy, and brotherly love, with a soft heart and a humble mind? Were these things, in some way, important for these churches as they struggled with outside opposition?
They absolutely were! What Peter is reminding them of here, what God is reminding us of here, is that none of is called to live this life of blessing…alone.
It is our strength as a local church family that God wants to use in our lives individually in the face of difficult times. When a man is struggling with an employer who is hostile towards his faith, that man does not stand alone. When a teenager struggles with living for Christ when his friends laugh at him, that teen does not stand alone. When a woman is dealing with a difficult and demanding husband, that woman does not stand alone.
When individuals like this have to make hard decisions, when they choose to bless instead of curse, when they choose to entrust themselves and their situation to God, they will not be standing alone.
God’s design is that the church would be standing in unity, unity grounded in the example and calling of Jesus Christ. God’s design is that we, as a family, would sympathize with one another, especially those who are suffering.
God’s design for us as a church is that we would love one another as brothers and sisters, siblings who look out for each other. God’s design is that our hearts would be tender toward one another; that our thinking about one another would be marked by humility.
It is from this position of corporate strength that God calls us in verse 9 to bless, not to repay evil for evil.
Any brother and sister here who is suffering opposition should be able to come to their church family and be given Christ-centered counsel and find Christ-like support. They should know that we are praying for them. In some cases, correction might be necessary if we see them responding with cursing instead of blessing. We would do that because we love one another enough to point that person back to the word of God and the example of Jesus.
Listen to how Paul, in Romans 12, offers very similar instructions about our life together, and our life together in the midst of opposition, when any one of our brothers or sisters might be suffering in this way:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We are called to a life of blessing, even with those who hurt us. And we are called to that life together.
C. Called to Inherit a Blessing (3:10-12)
But what about the final three verses of this passage, verses 10-12? How do they connect to this theme of blessing those who curse us? Well, remember the end of verse 9. Peter wrote:
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Do you see what Peter is saying? We have been called to bless, and that calling results in our being blessed; “to obtain a blessing”. Literally here the word is “inherit”…that you may inherit a blessing.”
What is this blessing that we will inherit? Look back at verse 7 of this chapter:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Husbands and wives, men and women who have trusted Jesus Christ are together heirs of “the grace of life”. That is our inheritance: eternal life with God! Eternal grace from God! We are called to be like Christ, and to live for Christ, carried by the hope that we will be with Christ forever. We give blessings in light of the fact that we will receive the greatest blessing.
To support this idea, Peter quotes from Psalm 34, the psalm we’ve been thinking about already this morning. We know Peter has been thinking about Psalm 34, because he already alluded to it back in 2:3. Peter writes:
10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Do you see how Peter has applied these verses to his readers’ situation and to his own instructions? “Life” and “good days” in this context mean more now than just life in this world. Keeping one’s “tongue from evil”, “turn[ing] away from evil”, even “seek[ing] peace” in this context, are more than just general encouragements. They are now directly related to this setting of suffering outside opposition and how we choose to respond.
In using this Psalm, Peter simply wants to remind his readers that God’s word has always, for hundreds of years before their time, called the righteous to this kind of life; to a life of blessing. And those who are living to be a blessing with all people can be encouraged by the fact that God is watching out for them. Do you see that in verse 12? They can be encouraged by the fact that God hears their cries.
For a people tempted to fear in the face of opposition, Peter reminds them that God is in control, and that as they bless to those who curse them, God has blessed, is blessing, and will bless them. Listen again to how Psalm 34 speaks to this:
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:17-19)
Peter tells his readers, “This is what God’s word has called us to. This is what God’s word has promised us.”
III. Blessing Because of His Blessing
Are you living a life of blessing? Are you blessing others, more than simply when they sneeze? The harder question, of course, is “Are you blessing even those who curse you?” Again, don’t imagine this only in terms of verbal abuse, as if this simply applied to people who were being yelled at by some rabid atheist or vicious jihadist. No, this is our calling, whenever we have been hurt by another.
Are we as a church encouraging one another in these things? Are we standing with one another in this way? Are we demonstrating this heart with one another, or are we responding with anger and bitterness when a brother or sister hurts us?
Remember, through a life of blessing, we are to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9) Through a life of blessing, our hope is that our opponent might “see [our] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (2:12)
And the only way we can give this kind of blessing, is to first receive this kind of blessing from God. I keep coming back to the closing verses of chapter 2 because they are so critical to every thing we’re talking about. They remind us that only the power of the gospel can make us people of blessing, like this. Remember Peter’s words:
When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Listen to the following description of some who lived and are living this life of blessing because of Christ:
"Until January 8, 1956, few people had heard of the Auca Indians of Ecuador. They were just another backwater primitive tribe scratching out a mean existence in jungle clearings. But on that day on a sandbar in a river near two Auca villages, two alien cultures — one dedicated to spreading the gospel of Christ, the other to war and murder—clashed. And the Aucas' murder of five American missionaries [one of those being Jim Elliot] catapulted the tribe into world-wide news. Time magazine called the Aucas “the worst people on earth”.
[When] the Aucas attacked…they skewered the Christians with spears and hacked them down with stolen machetes…then they crept back into the jungle to await the massive retaliation which their culture taught them to expect. It never came. Instead of bombs, [missionary] pilots continued to drop trade items on the Auca villages, just as though the attack had never happened. The widows of the five missionaries asked the outraged Ecuadorian government not to send the army against the Indians. These women continued to study the language of the Aucas and to pray for access to the tribe. Within three years Elisabeth Elliot, her daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister of the [slain] pilot, were living in an Auca village teaching the Indians about a forgiving Christ. Soon a Christian church was established among the Aucas. [The pilot] Nathaniel Saint's son was baptized on the sandbar in that river by an Auca pastor who had once been in the raiding party which martyred his father."
When we treat every curse as if it were a sneeze, that is, when we treat ever curse as an opportunity to respond with a blessing, God uses that to bring the very blessing of Jesus Christ to those who have hurt us.
May God do this work in all of us today, and this week, for His glory.