Summary of Practical Sojourning – 1 Peter 3:8-12
“To conclude, all of you are to be single minded, sympathetic, brother-loving, tenderhearted, humble. Not repaying evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but contrarily giving a blessing. For to this purpose you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. For, the one desiring life, to love and to see good days, must stop his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, so he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His ears to their entreaty, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
As the words “to conclude” rightly imply, these verses form a summary of Peter’s exhortations regarding “practical sojourning” as found in 2:11-3:12. Peter has marched through the churches of Asia Minor and pointed to various groups within the congregations; citizens, slaves, wives, and husbands. To each group he gave specific instructions regarding how they are to conduct themselves as aliens and sojourners so that their lives might be excellent before pagan protagonists (2:11-12). These final verses not only form a logical conclusion before continuing to a new topic, but they also address the congregation as a collective whole. The plural πάντες (all y’all) addresses the entirety of each congregation (1:1). After delivering specific exhortations to specific groups, Peter rounds off this discussion by addressing the whole mass of believers receiving this letter.
Most of this text summarizes Christian conduct in relation to the hostile world (vv. 9-12), yet Peter begins where every pastor must begin, by addressing Christian conduct in relation to the church. Peter here summarizes “Practical Sojourning” in terms of both the church (v. 8) and the watching world (vv. 9-12).
Love The Brethren (v. 8)
“be single minded, sympathetic, brother-loving, tenderhearted, humble”
Peter strings together a list of five adjectives that must describe each congregation so that they model all that Peter exhorted in 2:11-12 to a watching and hostile world. Yet this is not a random collection of descriptive terms. Peter has arranged these five virtues into something of a chiasm in order to emphasize the zenith of Christian conduct with other Christians. Before we explain these virtues, we should illustrate.
i. Brotherly Love
Unity Through Humility
The adjective ὁμόφρων is where we get our English word “harmony” and indicates a melding of mind, disposition, aim, and purpose. To be harmonious demands that Christians be of the same mind doctrinally as well as being of the same desire practically. In terms of the church, this term determines our orthodoxy as well as our orthopraxy. Christians are to think alike as well as act alike. But what is the rubric or the measuring rod by which all Christians conform? The answer is so obvious that Peter need not say it here, but we are to focus our thinking to conform to the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and pursue unity by becoming as He is (Phil. 2:1-5).
Peter pairs this harmony with humility (ταπεινόφρονες) for nothing upsets congregational unity more than high thinking of self. What better way to conclude this chiasm than a return to the idea of submission which drives the whole of this section. Submission is only possible from a humble heart, one that does not think too highly of self. Nothing disrupts unity like pride.
Sympathy & Empathy
This pairing is one step closer to the center of Peter’s chiasm and combines two terms that are difficult to distinguish from each other. The adjective συμπαθεῖς (sympathetic) addresses the sharing experience regardless of whether that experience is good or bad. This is what it means to take on the grief of others, to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Even Paul follows that exhortation up with a call to be of the same mind (12:16). Unity is necessary if the church is to share in each other’s lives.
The sister term here (εὔσπλαγχνος) is translated kindhearted or tenderhearted but the root focuses not on the cognitive control-center of man (καρδία - heart) but on his feelings and emotions. The Greek term σπλάγχνον literally refers to the inward parts of the body (entrails, intestines, heart, liver, etc.) but became a euphemism for feelings and emotions. If these feelings are good (εὖ) then there is a sense of compassion, fondness, and tender care. Peter calls the church to feel what each other feels and to share what each other are going through. Unity of mind and attitude joins unity of life in all of its many forms.
The center of the chiasm, and thus the most important part, points to brotherly love (φιλάδελφοι). This is the single greatest virtue of any individual Christian and thus of any Christian congregation. It is by our love that the world will know that we belong to Christ (Jn. 13:34-35) and only this familial brotherly love exists among those who truly are brothers and sisters under a single Father. If the outside world sees nothing else, they must see the church’s love for one another.
Honor All People (vv. 9-10)
Peter’s brief summary of brotherly living is sufficient, for his main aim is Christian conduct before a watching world (2:11-12). It is here that he summarizes his previous exhortation (v. 9) before providing a biblical explanation (vv. 10-12).
Righteous Conduct Exhorted (v. 9)
Many themes that Peter has introduced are found here in this summary statement. The concept of inheritance (κληρόω/κληρονομία) is repeated from 1:4. We see another prohibition from reviling (λοίδορος) as we did in 2:23. And the reference to the readers’ conversion or calling (καλέω) is repeated from 2:21. In the first half of this verse Peter provides a prescription for excellent conduct while in the second half reveals the general purpose of such exhortation.
“Not repaying evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but contrarily giving a blessing”
The prohibition is against giving back evil when evil is given. The general use of evil (κακός) describes deeds of a base, useless, harmful, and in all ways bad nature. To retaliate in kind does nothing to mitigate evil or stop it. Rather, to repay evil in kind only multiplies evil. Peter does not leave the issue alone by prohibiting evil deeds but includes evil words. To exchange curses, insults, and slander for more of the same is no better than exchanging blows for blows. The attention given to our words is important because it is not our hands that necessarily betray our hearts, but our words (Matt. 12:34). There is no combination of evil and reviling that can be repaid in kind. The norm is likely to repay evil (hurtful deeds) with reviling (hurtful words), even if that reviling is not directed to the perpetrator’s face. This sort of conduct is strictly prohibited by Peter. At the same time, Christian’s are not passive stoics. There must be an answer to such wicked and worldly behavior. But rather than repaying wickedness in kind, Christians are to repay with a blessing.
What is this blessing that Christians are to repay evil and slander with? In short, this is a command to invoke God’s blessing upon those who harass Christ’s church. We are to beseech the Father to show His grace upon those who attack the kingdom citizens of His Son. In short, we are to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). In times when we receive the wrath of the world, we need to take a step back and see the larger picture. They are not attacking us so much as they are attacking our King. They do not need our retaliation so much as they need our intercession. At the risk of sounding trite, they need Jesus.
“For to this purpose you were called, that you might inherit a blessing”
Here Peter provides the reason (ὅτι) that we are to pray for those who persecute us. Namely, it is the purpose of our calling. As in 2:21, this calling is nothing less than God’s effectual call unto salvation. He predestined us from before the foundation of the world to be His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
The real question regarding this clause is how to understand the ἵνα conjunction (so that/that). Is our future blessing to be inherited (our ultimate salvation when we stand glorified before Christ) the purpose of our calling or the result of our calling? And either way, how does this connect to the command to bless those who do and speak evil against us? A better way of understanding the final phrase (that you might inherit a blessing) is to see it in apposition with what comes immediately before it (For to this purpose you were called). Peter restates this calling in terms of their final inheritance: for you have been called for this purpose, namely, that you might inherit a blessing. Our eternal reward is the basis of motivation for praying for others. It is because our blessing is secure that we are urged to pray for this same blessing for others. This is an evangelistic call to pray for the salvation of those who persecute the church. In just such a way, God saved Saul of Tarsus, the chief of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-15).
Righteous Conduct Explained (vv. 10-12)
As the bolded text in most of our printed Bibles implies, Peter quotes from the Old Testament here. Specifically, Peter points to Ps. 34:12-16a. It is important to understand that Peter, or any biblical author, does not draw Old Testament parallels at random. There is a reason that he selected Ps. 34 and quoted the portion that he did. If we compare the content of Ps. 34, we see that it is written by David at a most troubling time in his life. The superscription reads: “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and we departed.” The psalm was written when David was on the run from Saul and could think of nowhere else to turn than to the enemies of Israel, the Philistine king of Gath. David wrote this psalm as a persecuted son of the promise. If you take the time to read this psalm in its entirety (and I hope that you do) you will notice that this is not a song of lament, but a hymn of praise. David trusted in God to right all of his wrongs and sings forth a blessing.
Prescription Explained (vv. 10-11)
“For, the one desiring life, to love and to see good days, must stop his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, so he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it.”
These verses mirror what Peter has already prescribed. He uses this psalm, not so much as proof to validate his comments (what further proof does he need as an apostle of Jesus Christ), but to clarify what he has said. Peter changes David’s rhetorical question (Who is the man who desires life?) into a statement. The sense of this “life” is more than physical existence. It is further described as a desire to love and to see good days; i.e., to desire the fullness and completeness of life. This goes beyond a desire for a prosperous life in the present to a desire to live life to the fullest as God intended. It includes the present existence in this world as well as eternal life in the presence of God. David’s question was rhetorical. Peter’s statement is pointed. He turns it all around to tell his readers, “The one who desires a God-pleasing life now and for eternity is identifiable. Are you such a man?”
The one desiring such a life is one we would call a Christian. A Christian is identified by what he does and what he says. Notice how the mirrored effect takes these actions in reverse order from v. 9. The psalm first addresses the mouth and then the hands. The idea is that a clean heart is required before clean hands can get to work.
There are five aorist active imperatives in these two verses all demand immediate and unflinching obedience. The tongue and lips must be stopped (παυσάτω) from uttering evil and deceit. This goes beyond the general sorts of base speech (κακός - evil) to words that are said with an ulterior motive in order to mislead and deceive (δόλος). If we are such men who desire such a life, then our mouths must be free of all kinds of evil.
Yet our hands must also be clean as we actively turn away (ἐκκλινάτω) from evil in order to actively engage in doing (ποιησάτω) good. This turning away indicates purposefully engaging in evasive action. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid evil by engaging it deeds that benefit others. Yet the work of the Christian is not finished here. It is not enough to avoid personal evil by engaging in doing objective good. Peace must be sought (ζητησάτω) and pursued (διωξάτω). “Peace” (εἰρήνη/שָׁלוֹם) is more than a cessation of armed conflict. The term describes a scenario where everything is as it should be. Peace is a cessation of disorder and the establishment of order. Peace describes a world that is free of all aspects of the curse. Therefore, this peace is allusive in this life and must be actively sought. When that peace is not easily found it must be pursued. There is no peace outside of the gospel. Christians are not called to right the worlds wrongs, but to be salt and light (Matt. 5:16) and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Peace is unattainable so long as there are rebels and rebels are only transformed through the saving message of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. In other words, David’s message clarifies Peter’s: do not repay evil for evil, but rather pray for the salvation of those who persecute you.
Purpose Explained (v. 12)
“For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His ears to their entreaty, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
If vv. 10-11 explain the prescription found in v. 9ab, then v. 12 explains the purpose found in v. 9c. In short, Peter’s focus is on eternity. On the positive side he returns to the idea of being God-conscious from 2:13 (for the Lord’s sake), 2:19 (for the sake of consciousness of God), and 3:2 (as they observe your holy behavior in fear [of God]). This first part of a Christian’s motivation reminds us that God sees and hears those who are His. He sees our struggles and hears our prayers. Is this not a pleasant and encouraging reminder? If He is for us, who then could be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
The final line is a sobering reality check. Those who do evil, those who are giving the church all the evil and slander that they can muster (v. 9) are in direct opposition to Almighty God. He sets His face against them. What is interesting here, and something we dare not miss, is that Peter fails to complete Ps. 34:16. The final line reads, “to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (NASB). If they remain in their sin and rebellion, God will destroy them and remove even their memory from the earth. Peter does not include this because there is still time for repentance. Therefore, Christians are called to pray for those who persecute them and to give back a blessing to those who dish up evil. Eternity is at stake and Peter does not take this lightly. He does not revel in the destruction of the wicked. Rather, he desires that God’s people conduct themselves excellently before the heathen that they might repent.
We must not mistake the fact that we are aliens and sojourners in this fallen world for an exemption from being disciple makers. Our task and purpose has not changed. We represent and declare the risen King of kings and Lord of lords. Our interaction with each other must provide evidence of the gospel that we preach. Our reaction with the world must betray our desire for the lost to be saved. This demands more of us than quietly enduring mistreatment. It requires that we actively engage in prayer for their behalf while at the same time proclaiming to them the gospel of salvation. Our status as sojourners demands that we live very different lives than the natives of this realm of darkness. But it also demands that we desire natives of darkness to be born again as Sons of the King of Light.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 163-4.  D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 213-4.  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), 143-4.