When I started in pastoral ministry 16 years ago, I was a full-fledged People Pleaser. I didn’t want to make anyone unhappy. I tried my best to keep the folks in my congregation pleased with everything I was doing and leading them to do.
Fortunately, I was blessed with someone in the congregation who told me to quit apologizing. I was told to speak the truth and call people to action … period. No apologies.
Eighteen years later, I realize how impossible of a task that was to try to keep everyone happy. And the word “impossible” isn’t exaggeration. It’s not hyperbole. It is exactly what trying to please everyone is – impossible!
You don’t have to be in ministry to understand this fact. If you have a job, a family, a church family, or you interact with people in any way, you will eventually make someone unhappy – and some of them will never forgive or forget.
If we aren’t careful, we will play the same game. Someone will mistreat us, marginalize us, disrespect us, or hurt us in any number of ways and we won’t forgive or forget as Jesus-followers are supposed to do.
In my time in God’s Word this morning, I came across some verses that speak to the genuine follower-of-Jesus. We are told to live in unity and love with others, even those who mistreat us.
But, if you read these words carefully, you will see that the Lord is calling us to strive for peace, love, and unity … so that we can be blessed and happy.
So let’s spend a few minutes looking at what God has to say to us…
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)
This is the ideal. We are called to live in “unity” with others. Not uniformity – we are all different – but unity in which we are essentially a team.
We are also called to “sympathy, brotherly love.” We aren’t simply a team. We genuinely care about each other as a family member would and should.
We’re called to have “a tender heart.” This means that we hurt with others are hurting and we celebrate when others are happy. We also are quickly convicted as we move to apologize and make things right if we do something that hurt someone else.
Finally, we are called to have “a humble mind.” Pride is a terminal cancer in a relationship. But, if we can humbly relate to others as equals (or as more important than us – Philippians 2:3), then relationship is possible and can thrive.
Now, the Apostle Peter takes us from verse 8 (the ideal for relationships) to the real (the acknowledgement that relationship is incredibly difficult).
“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.” (1 Peter 3:9)
It is acknowledged in this verse that evil takes place in relationships. Cutting words might be directed as us. Sometimes, folks will undermine our efforts. Maybe our very presence may be marginalized as we are ignored or mistreated.
First Peter 3:9 acknowledges that we may be tempted to repay “evil for evil.” We will want to treat people the way they are treating us. Because they hurt us, we want to hurt them back. Maybe we found out that they are slandering us – so, instead of slandering them back, we will simply ignore them. We will give them the silent treatment. “Evil for evil.”
But, a Jesus-follower is called to live by different rules. We don’t return “evil for evil.” Instead, we are called to bless the one who hurt (or is hurting) us. That means that we wish them well. We pray (positively) for them. We respond with kindness and compassion even when it isn’t reciprocated.
The result is that we “may obtain a blessing.” Most certainly, God is watching and will reward us one day. But, presently, we won’t have all of the emotional and physical problems that are associated with stress and unforgiveness. Instead, our minds and bodies can be protected from the trauma because we aren’t letting it get to us.
Friend, this is a great place to remind us all: A Christian is no more capable of living the Christian life after they get saved than before they were saved if it were not for the Holy Spirit within us. Returning good for evil is unnatural – it requires complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit to do this work in us. We cannot consistently act this way without Him.
Let’s get back to our text. The writer now quotes Psalm 34:12-16, a psalm that King David wrote about 1,000 years earlier.
As you read the following quote from Psalms (read it slowly and reflectively), listen to the basis for which the Bible says we are to repay good for evil. In the following passage, repaying evil with good isn’t given as a command – it is given as a way to experience some specific blessings.
“For ‘Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
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.'”
(1 Peter 3:10-12)
Aren’t those verses incredible?! We are told to return good for evil.
But, why are we to do this?
It enables us to have an enjoyable life! “Whoever desires to love life and see good days.” I’ve seen people who can’t forgive. Anger ends up fermenting and they turn into bitter people. This attitude ends up infecting many of their other relationships. So, if we would have a happy life, we MUST return good for evil.
We also realize that when we return good for evil, the Lord is watching us, caring for us, and listening to our prayers. He hears us when we call out to Him. Why? Because when we return good for evil, we’re doing what He does! He graciously overlooks our sins and is incredibly patient with us. He was even so gracious as to send His Son to pay the sin debt of everyone who would trust in Him. So, God loves it when we behave as He behaves.
Friend, almost certainly there are hurts that you are holding onto. I have some that I struggle with. The painful thing is that those hurts are often attached to people that we find it difficult to forgive in our hearts.
But, if you are a Jesus-follower, you’ve got to let it go. In fact, you’ve got to return good for evil. It’s not simply a command that God expects us to comply with – it’s a way to experience some wonderful blessings.
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