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Who we are more than what we do: 1 Peter 3

In Summary:

This chapter of 1 Peter opens with a controversial idea, follows it up with a controversial idea, and then finishes with some controversy about Noah and baptism. It’s almost like the author did not have a major problem pushing controversy into the situation! Of course, based on what we know of Peter, I doubt that anyone is surprised by this.

1 Peter 3 works its way through several of the practical concepts of obedience for the Christian life. He starts with instructions about living at home, because life begins where you live. Which sounds cliche, and is, but it’s also true. If you are not demonstrating your beliefs at home, then you are most likely not doing them any justice in the wider world.

From there, Peter goes on to express how our expression of faith should look in life generally lived. He addresses the issue of doing good, even in a pagan world. This occupies vv. 13-14, that no one should cause difficulties for those who are doing right, but even if they do, then so what? Do what is right anyway.

Peter then connects the idea of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus with the once-for-all salvation through the ark during the flood, including a parallel with baptism that causes some consternation. At first look, he may be promoting the idea that baptism saves, but some suggest he refers to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which results automatically in salvation, rather than baptism in water done to signify salvation.

In Focus:

Take a long, hard look at 1 Peter 3:8-9. Read it again, and again. Why? For these reasons:

First, to add context to the household passages that precede it. We usually go strip-mine the Scripture for soundbites to address one specific issue. The problem is that we miss the wider context of the passage. For example, the opening of this chapter speaks to wives about submission, then husbands about serving wives. But you have to put it together with this: instructions about how all of us should live in light of grace. There is no fear in submitting to one who is kindhearted and humble in spirit; there is no difficulty in living together with one who is harmonious. If we would proactively do our side of the Scriptural commands, the other side can work itself out.

Second, to see character traits we need to cultivate. Note that these are not actions to fulfill so much as ideals to live out. Over and over again, we see this concept in Scripture: the character of the disciple is formed by the Spirit, driven by the Word, and is the same in all people who claim the name of Christ. This passage is one of those places. How it works out may change, slightly, through time and culture but the characteristics remain the same. Our character, though, works in to out and is not an imposed issue from the outside. That’s the difference between Christian living and legalistic living. The outer may look the same, but Christian living forms from the inside rather than forces its way in from the outside.

In Practice:

Practically speaking, it is like the difference in rubbing lotion on your skin for moisturizing and drinking enough water to stay hydrated. Occasionally, the outer is helpful but it cannot fix the inner deficit. You cannot rub enough lotion to make up for your water intake. You have to change inside working out.

Therefore, we study the Scripture and let the character of Christ form in us. We also acknowledge that problems may come our way just because the world is not on our side. If someone cannot allow us to live out the character of Christ, what is it to us? We are His emissaries, strangers in a foreign world. He will attend to the issue.

In Nerdiness: 

So much worth nerding off on in this chapter. There’s the assumption of the reality of Noah and his global flood experience—one more place where we either must accept the Old Testament at face value or explain off a New Testament author’s ignorance. There’s the question of “preaching to spirits in bondage” in 3:19. There are the issues of male/female relationships in the opening section.

Leaving the first two for further study, consider these truths on the male/female issues. 1. “Your own husbands” could be as much about ignoring the whims of the outside male-dominated world and listening to your God-honoring husband instead; 2. “Adorn yourselves with…” is a reflection not merely on modesty but glorifying God and not flouting wealth; 3. There’s plenty of responsibility on the husbands’ part, and there is nothing here about enforcing or coercing behavior.

Study it, keep it with other Scripture, and honor the Lord above all else.


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