The Word in the Wings
The Word in the Wings > From the study: when Christ rules, fear cannot
From the study: when Christ rules, fear cannot
By: KAYA WEAVER
Glorify Dance Theatre’s first performance this fall will be a school program, Be Ready, inspired by 1 Peter 3:15. Before delving into that verse, let’s read a little earlier in this chapter of the letter, which was likely written in the name of Jesus’s apostle Peter to a church in Asia Minor (Senior, p. 2181).
9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing…
The Petrine author instructs the Christians reading his letter to always do good, even when others do evil towards them. By way of explanation, being called as God’s people entails a commitment to do good in the face of evil and an expectation that this will result in blessing.
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated…
A rhetorical question suggests that repaying evil with good could forestall further harmful actions. But the Petrine author allows for the possibility that responding with good won’t put an immediate stop to evil and insists that this still results in blessing. Individual actions can line up with blessing, but there is also a deeper cause for blessing.
The next instruction, “Do not fear what they fear,” suggests that fear is what might lead the readers to respond with evil actions of their own, so the letter-writer offers an alternative.
15a …but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord…
A few other New Testament passages can help clarify what this phrase means. A concrete context to define “sanctify” is found in Matthew 23:19, where Jesus refers to “the altar that makes the gift sacred.” When a worshiper places a gift on the altar, they dedicate their produce or livestock to a holy purpose by surrendering its use to God. Matthew 6:9 applies this idea to the name of God when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed [sanctified] be your name.” The prayer begins by expressing honor for God and continues by expressing desire for the fulfillment of God’s will (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1757).
In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the word “sanctify” to describe his purpose and his disciples’ purpose. In John 10:36-37, Jesus identifies himself as the one whom “the Father has sanctified and sent into the world” and is “doing the works of my Father.” Later, in John 17:17-18, Jesus prays that God will “sanctify” his disciples and compares the way Jesus sends them into the world to the way God has sent Jesus into the world. Being sanctified is associated with the purpose of doing God’s work in the world (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1942).
These other uses of “sanctify” tease out a few different layers of meaning in 1 Peter 3:15. First, to “sanctify Christ as Lord” means to honor Christ, which also entails actively pursuing Christ’s will. Second, it indicates recognizing that Christ is set apart for a particular purpose. Honoring Christ as Lord in one’s heart implies withholding that level of honor from any other power that might seek to claim it. If Christ reigns with ultimate authority in a person’s heart, then fear cannot rule.
Along with the resolve to let Christ rule, the Petrine author offers additional measures for standing firm in goodness when faced with evil.
15b Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,
16 yet do it with gentleness and respect. Maintain a good conscience so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
The letter-writer recommends being prepared to explain the reason for refusing to do evil. If you repay evil for evil, the evildoers are vindicated; but if you repay with good because that is what Christ the Lord requires, the evil they’ve done to you becomes clearly unjustifiable and the fear they attempt to wield against you is proved powerless.
The Petrine author then explains the connection between the lordship of Jesus and suffering for good.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…
First, what the letter-writer asks his readers to do–to suffer for doing good rather than repay evil for evil–is exactly what Christ has already done, dramatically and publicly, by enduring death on the cross, as punishment by the political and religious authorities who felt threatened, for teaching the truth about God’s kingdom.
19 …in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,
20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight lives, were saved through water.
The Petrine author refers to a narrative that begins in Genesis 6: God sees that all life on earth is corrupted, continually giving in to evil inclinations (Genesis 6:5, 11). God instructs Noah to build an ark (Genesis 6:14-16) and says,
17 For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.
18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
Because Noah follows God’s command to build and enter the ark, he and his family survive the flood that wipes out corrupted life from the earth.
The Petrine author claims that the resurrected Jesus made a proclamation to the “spirits in prison” who were disobedient during the days of Noah. To the living beings whose ways on the earth in that time were so corrupted that God decided to wipe them out, Jesus now has something to say.
21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
God’s delivering work with the floodwaters and the ark is paralleled by what happens for the letter’s readers in baptism. As Noah and his family were “saved through water,” “baptism…now saves you…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The water of the flood in Noah’s days represents God’s instrument for removing wickedness from the earth. It also represents a danger to Noah and his family which they were delivered through because of Noah’s faithful obedience in following God’s command to build an ark and bring his family on board. The Petrine author claims that Jesus’s resurrection does the same thing as the waters of the flood: it is God’s instrument for removing evil from the world–God’s declaration that death does not have the final say–and at the same time, the vessel for delivering those who are faithful to God–for giving them life.
Baptism links the images of waters and resurrection. Being submerged in the water physicalizes subjection to God’s judgment to wipe out wickedness; but emerging from the water signifies deliverance through the dangerous waters–through death–mirroring what happened to Jesus when he died, was buried, and rose to life again.
22 …who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Jesus’s proclamation to all other powers is that God, the giver of life, has the final say. This powerfully counteracts fear of any of those other powers, including the people or institutions who may be doing evil to the Christians whom this letter addresses.
The Petrine author shows how Jesus’s suffering for good resulted in blessing for the world and exhorts the church to find their hope in this and point to this to defend their insistence on doing good: Jesus’s power over death and God’s faithfulness to deliver God’s people through death are the grounds for hoping in Jesus and honoring him as Lord through a person’s actions, even when faced with evil.
For the writer of this letter, giving a defense for hope in Jesus involves telling a long, complex story that acknowledges the realities of evil and death, as well as God’s commitment to judge and do away with wickedness. Yet it tells the story in a way that shows how God has been working through the entire story to redeem suffering for the sake of blessing. Retelling the narrative of Noah and the flood involves re-interpreting it in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, the letter-writer appears to have worked through questions and puzzles in order to deepen their understanding of God and solidify their trust in Jesus.
As students who watch Be Ready will learn, being “ready to make a defense” for your hope in Jesus may not mean memorizing an argument. Rather, amid the suffering, uncertainty, and questioning life brings, to “be ready” means to wholeheartedly seek truth through Jesus.
You can see Be Ready as part of our Mixed Repertoire performance! Tickets are available now for November 10-12. Consider inviting a student who you think will be encouraged by this ballet!
Scripture references in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version.
Donald Senior, “Introduction to I Peter,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon Press, 2003).
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