Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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. For
‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them 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.’
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 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, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 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, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 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 people, were saved through water. 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Many of us will have had the experience of getting into the driving seat of a particular car for the first time, and looking for the switches, adjusting the mirrors, and wiping the windscreen when we wanted the headlights. It can be hard to change little habits. The same is true in relationships. When circumstances change, it can take time to work at doing things differently. We know this, but the matter is brought home to us as Christians learning to navigate in whatever new world we ﬁnd ourselves in. This was so in the ﬁrst century, and it’s increasingly so in the twenty-ﬁrst. How can Christians respond when they are surrounded by a world that doesn’t understand, and is potentially hostile?
Peter challenges his readers not to lose their distinctiveness. If Christians ‘give as good as they get’, we’re colluding with the powers in the world. Peter insists on what life means for Christians: being sympathetic, loving, tender-hearted, and humble. These days, we may think of some people as naturally tender-hearted, and others as naturally a bit rough and cross-grained, but the early Christians assumed that they were all called to become tender-hearted, however difﬁcult that might be.
The way we drive, and the things we think and say about other drivers, are major challenges for many of us. How can they be dawdling along when we’re late? How dare they get in my way? And as we ﬁnally overtake, are we tempted to look round at the person, sum up their character in a glance, and think ourselves vastly superior? We get away with it in the privacy of a car, but the corrosive effect on our character, our habits of mind and heart, is disastrous. Trying to be a Christian in a puzzled and suspicious world is hard work, and takes time to have its effect.
Dear Master, in whose life I see All that I would, but fail to be, Let your clear light forever shine, To shame and guide this life of mine.
Though what I dream and what I do In my weak days are always two, Help me, oppressed by things undone, O Thou whose deeds and dreams were one!
John Hunter 1848-1917
The Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches around Farnham in Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly