Trading an insult for an insult is tempting, at times fiendishly satisfying, and doing so will surely deepen division. It may be for this reason Peter warns the Church against this manner of engagement and urges another way. In today’s episode, Tim and Rick look at 1 Peter 3 and reflect on Peter’s counsel to the early Christians when they experienced insult and draw relevance and application for us today.
Rick Langer: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name's Rick Langer, and I'm one of your co-hosts. I'm a professor in the biblical studies and theology department here at Biola University, and I work with my good friend Tim Muehlhoff on the Winsome Conviction Project.
Tim Muehlhoff: Thanks, Rick. It's always great to be with you. We thought we'd kick around something that we've heard when we've been on the road. We've been doing this Winsome Conviction project now for almost two and a half years.
Rick Langer: Three years.
Tim Muehlhoff: Three years. Oh my goodness. So we've been going to churches all across the country. We've gone to Capitol Hill, we've spoken at Christian organizations, and we kind of get this underlying current of, "Hey, things are so bad today that maybe we need to do things differently. And civility isn't an option. Gentleness isn't an option because things are really bad today." So maybe what the Bible is advocating was for a different time, but things have gotten worse.
Rick Langer: So this is one of those things about this isn't the way it was back then. We are dealing with different kinds of problems now.
Tim Muehlhoff: And maybe even a little bit of an attitude of we're not in the good old days. Because now social media's made it all more caustic.
Rick Langer: Which is true, there are a bunch of things that literally are very different. You're dealing with entire globe worth of differences. You have social media, it enters into your house, all those kind of things. Got it.
Tim Muehlhoff: So one of the arguments that we have been making with the Winsome Conviction Project is that, but do we get to opt out of biblical commands because the cultural sand has shifted? So one passage that I have found horribly convicting, thus, I want to give it to all of you as listeners so that you can be made miserable.
Rick Langer: Spread the contagion, Tim, just go ahead.
Tim Muehlhoff: Is First Peter. It's a traveling letter. It's not to one particular church, but the dating of First Peter is very interesting and many New Testament scholars would date it before Nero's persecution. Now, Peter may not be aware of the exact persecution that's heading towards the church, but he knows by the prompting of the spirit that things are going to get bad. With that in mind, it's really interesting to read First Peter chapter three. So let me just highlight parts of it, Rick. And we can talk about how might this get applied to our present context.
He starts off with what I call a wonderful checklist of attributes that should be true of the church. This is First Peter 3:8. He says, to sum up, "Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit." What an interesting checklist. As I'm heading into what could be a potentially volatile conversation, I need to ask myself, "Hey, am I seeking harmony or am I trying to set the person straight? Am I sympathetic towards the other person, or is there no sympathy or empathy?"
Again, brotherliness is again, this idea of I want to protect the bond even as we have this disagreement kindhearted. And then that humbling spirit is really interesting. Do I see this as a monologue where I'm just simply going to provide you information and you need to adjust? Or am I humble in spirit enough that this may be a moment where I learned from you and have to adjust my thinking when we come to a particular issue?
Rick Langer: That passage really does pack a lot. One verse.
Tim Muehlhoff: One verse.
Rick Langer: I just pulled it up as you were talking about that because I thought, "Wow." This is from the ESV, "Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind." And you want to ask yourself two questions, am I like that? And then number two, is my church like that? Is this who I am? Is this who we are? And if not, what do we need to do to work on it? So wow, what a passage.
Tim Muehlhoff: But here's the brilliant point of Peter, he's about to say in the very next verse, I'm just going to assume this doesn't happen. Like a person doesn't take that checklist. They don't fulfill any of those things towards you. They're not harmonious, they're not sympathetic, and they're not kind nor humble, and they're coming after you. How then should you respond? And by the way, let's just keep as context Nero' persecution.
So now we ask the question in modern church life, what happens when a person insults me and doesn't fulfill any of these attributes Peter has listed? This is when it gets really interesting, Rick. Listen to what he says in First Peter, 3:9, "Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult. I do not want you to do that." What is one way we could describe today's arguing culture?
Rick Langer: Always return insult for insult-
Tim Muehlhoff: Insult for insult. It is the 50/50 performance relationship. I will be kind to you if you're kind to me. I won't insult you. I won't demean you. I won't attack your family if you don't attack mine. But if you do, I will not get walked on and I'll come right back at you, right?
Rick Langer: Yeah. This is one of these things you were talking about before about the social media, our "differences," and one of the areas that I realize our differences, it isn't so much that the world is different, is that we have vehicles that amplify when we do things wrong and hopefully right, but it amplifies. And this is when I think of a good insult that is great for retweeting, for-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, goodness.
Rick Langer: Like it, whatever. Anyhow, go ahead.
Tim Muehlhoff: Remember Alan Jacobs book, How to Think, he said, "What the internet has done," in his estimation, "is we're perpetually irritated at each other, and that irritation bleeds and morphs and gains momentum, and it turns into an insult." So Peter says, "Listen. Don't do this. Do not give insult for an insult."
Now, here's the next part that when I share this at conferences, I love the expression on people's faces. They're like, "Wait a minute, I'm sorry. I must have just misunderstood you. What am I supposed to do?" And what we're supposed to do is give a blessing instead. See, at that point, people are like, "No-"
Rick Langer: Don't repay insult for insult or evil for evil, but give a blessing instead.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Do you know his book Civilization and his discontents-
Rick Langer: Freud.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... Freud actually goes after the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek, and he said, "That is utterly ridiculous, and you will certainly be walked on emotionally, if not physically, by adopting that kind of an attitude." Imagine what Freud would say if he knew about First Peter 3:9, "But giving a blessing instead for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing."
Rick Langer: Wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: Now, let's be very clear. What does he mean by a blessing? I do not think he means by a blessing that we never defend ourselves, that we never speak the truth, that we never give a reason for the hope that is in us. That's another classic Peter passage. But he's saying, no, the blessing may be that I treat you with civility, kindness as I speak to truth.
So a blessing doesn't mean I just put my hand over my mouth, and now I can't respond to this inappropriate comment. It doesn't even mean that I can't call you out on the insult, but how I do it is what Peter's really trying to get at. Now, he says right after he does this, he quotes Psalm 34, and he says, "Let him who means to love life and see good days do these things."
Now, commentators have been a little bit split on what does he mean see good days? Is that quantitative or qualitative? Many believe it's not quantitative because Nero's persecution is about to happen, and you're about to see less days. It is qualitative that you'll actually experience the spirit in a very fresh way.
Rick Langer: That your days would be good. The days you have would be good because of the experience you'd have of the spirit in your life.
Tim Muehlhoff: And now he gets down to brass tacks. He goes, let me mention four things, each one of these, Rick, is brutally difficult. Number one, again, "Refrain your tongue from speaking evil for us to be able to control our tongue." Many of us have a knee-jerk reaction, and I think that's partly social media is I don't control my tongue. You come at me, I'm coming right back at you.
Second, "Turn away from evil." What you're about to do, I don't want you to do. Now, if it was just those two, Rick, I think we could white-knuckle it. I think we could say, "Okay, I just need to be more disciplined. I need to bite my tongue."
Rick Langer: Yeah, bite my tongue.
Tim Muehlhoff: Bite my tongue. Zip it. It's the third one-
Rick Langer: Don't do evil. Bite your tongue.
Tim Muehlhoff: It's the third one that we go, "Nope." And that is, "I want you to do good. I want you to do good towards that person." And we're like, "Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You just insulted me, and I am not supposed to give an insult in a return, I'm supposed to control myself, even though you didn't control yourself, and now you want me to do good?"
Rick Langer: Yeah. Well, and it's also not just the insulting, these are the same guys who are doing evil to you. They're saying evil for evil, insult for insult. I mean, wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's brutal. Well, again, this is Pauline in this sense that Paul will say, when your enemy's hungry, not denying that they're not your enemy, but I want you to give him food and then let him seek peace and pursue it. Now, Peter immediately knows, I'm going to have to give a healthy dose of motivation, because Nero's persecution is going to be knocking on your door.
So here's his motivation, number one, "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous," but now this is where we have to start asking questions. But isn't the eyes of the Lord always upon the righteous? Isn't God omnipresent? Well, again, I think this is what Peter's trying to get as you're going to feel the affirmation of a Holy Spirit in fresh ways. So when my kids played Pop Warner football, I'll never forget this, a single mom would come and she couldn't make all the games, but the games that she would make, anytime her son got into the game, he wasn't a starter. She would scream, "I see you." And the kid would literally look up in the stands and they'd make eye contact.
I often thought, "What would it be like to be that child that your mom says, 'Hey, I want you to know, I see you in this moment'"? And I think that's what Peter's trying to get at is, "Hey, I know it's not easy to do this, and you're being mistreated, and I see you when you're trying to offer a blessing for an insult."
Rick Langer: That language is, Hagar has that same phrase when she coins the term, we often quote the God who sees-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh.
Rick Langer: ... she has been cast out. She's kind of I'm just going to sit down and die and all this. Here I am with Ishmael, it's gone so bad. And God meets her, promises that Ishmael will have a great inheritance. He will become it own nation, and she gives God the name, the God who sees, who am I that you see me? David does the same thing in Psalm 19. That sense of, oh God, who is it that God even looks at us? And the great, the blessing, the benediction that we often get from numbers, I think we call it the ironic blessing or whatever, but it's the Lord turn his face towards you, turn his countenance upon you and give you peace. And all of these have that same image of God attending, God's seeing, and it's associated with a blessing.
Tim Muehlhoff: Which is always happening in the background. I think what Peter's trying to get at is, but there will be moments when you'll feel it.
Rick Langer: Just like you mentioned with that kid in the-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, I see you.
Rick Langer: I got it. Got it.
Tim Muehlhoff: And then he throws out another one that is perplexing in a sense. His ears attend to their prayers. Well, doesn't God always attend to our prayers? Well, I would argue, yes. He always hears your prayers. He doesn't always answer them. Again, I think this is the Holy Spirit saying, "You will feel God listening to your prayer." And I've had those moments, I wish I had more, but there are moments where I feel the affirmation of the spirit. I feel the spirit is present. And I think that's what Peter's trying to say.
And then he adds another one. And this is the one we forget, that the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Listen, God's watching what's happening. He sees the insult. He sees the evil. Please know you're heavenly Father who attends to your prayers is at work. Trust the fact that you don't mess with God's kids and he doesn't jump in.
Let me tell you another Pop Warner story. So Pop Warner is young kids playing football. So Jeremy, my youngest, was on this unbelievable team wreck that two years in a row, almost went to the Super Bowl in Florida, and all of us prayed this prayer, "God let him lose in triple over time," because we didn't want to raise $50,000 to go to Florida.
Rick Langer: To fly to Florida. Got it.
Tim Muehlhoff: But twice this team almost made it, they were undefeated. So now it's Jeremy's last year at Pop Warner, they're doing a scrimmage and they're playing a team that is not very good. The coaches are on the field, they're able to coach. You're not supposed to keep score, but I was grading papers and the woman leaned over, a mom said, "I honestly think it's 55 to nothing. They've not even gotten a first down."
I mean, this was men against the boys. Jeremy was a starter who's only in there for one series, and now he's playing everybody. Parents, you want to jump in? I mean, anybody can come in and play. So I'm grading papers, not paying attention. This coach on the other team, a big guy grabs one of these kids. Now, Pop Warner, we're talking what? 9, 10, 11, grabs them and screams in this kid's face. Now imagine it's 55 to nothing. "What is the blankety-blank wrong with you?" I look up, Rick, and I shout to this dude, and he was pretty big. I said, "Knock it off." And he turns and looks at me, and I go back to grading my papers, and the mom leans over and says, "He's still looking at you."
Now, Rick, here, here's the point I mentioned this. That wasn't my child. That wasn't even my child. Imagine if that was my child, I'd be up out of that seat in a heartbeat and be like, "Hey, don't ever put your hands on my child." God is watching this blessing for an insult that you're trying to do, and he is at work in maybe some really radical ways of working in the heart of that person who's treating you inappropriately.
Rick Langer: And a lot of times, I think what's hard in those moments, if you don't get instant change, you feel like you don't get any change. If you don't get a clear response that's visible to you, do you feel like you haven't gotten any response or any answer? And a lot of times, I think, God talks about people storing up wrath, in fact, and it's partly because he gives grace and he even gives grace to the bad guys. He's merciful in that sense broadly. And so it becomes hard to say, what do you do with the cranky coach or whoever it is, do you give them instant judgment? Well, do you want that to apply to you on your days when you're cranky? And so you end up with this weird sense and Peter's giving, I think a great assurances God actually really is here.
Tim Muehlhoff: And what was hard about that moment, Rick, it wasn't like the coach said, "You know what, stranger man sitting in the chair grading papers, you're right. I'm really sorry and I'm remorseful and I'm going to apologize to this child." No, he was defiant. That dude honestly wanted to get into a fight. If I would've gotten up, he would've been walking towards me.
So I don't see the intervention of God using my intervention. But let me tell you about a case where I did see it. So I'm in grad school, and there's a woman who quite frankly did not, the fact that I was a conservative Christian, she's speaking badly about me all the time. I literally would walk in a room, Rick, and a conversation would stop on a dime. A friend of mine grabbed me and said, "Man, what did you," we'll call her Sharon, "What did you do to Sharon, man? She's badmouthing you to faculty and to students and to grad students." And that just ticked me off. I'm like, "What? What's wrong with you? I thought we were all supposed to be one department."
Well, as a grad student, you teach and you get evaluated, and this evaluation is five professors watching you teach. You have to prepare these notes. So Sharon was at the copier machine, and she's trying to get her collated notes ready, but now she's running out of time. She has to teach a class. And then she's getting evaluated right afterwards, and she's literally kicking the copier, swearing. And I got to tell you, I'm sitting there, Rick, going, "Karma."
Rick Langer: God's working through the copier. God's spirit has controlled the copier.
Tim Muehlhoff: You know what's so funny, Rick, as clear as a bell, the Holy Spirit says to me, "Go help her." I was like, "No, no." I went up to her and I said, "Hey, what's going on?" She goes, "It's this stupid copier," and she's kicking it. I said, "What do you need?" She goes, "Well, I'm getting evaluated. I have to collate all these things, and now I'm late to teach my class." And I said, "Sharon, hey, listen, I'll do it. What do you need? I'll do it."
Now, Rick, there was a moment we locked eyes, and she knew all the stuff she was doing to me, and she knew that I can mess her up. She said, "Well, I need this all collated. And Tim, I got to have it at three o'clock." I said, "Sharon, I'll do it." So listen, I took my credit card, went to Kinko's, plopped that baby down. I said, "Do it." I don't have faith for this copier machine.
So I show up, I'll never forget this, Rick, at 2:50, I showed up and handed it to her, collated, and I said, "Listen," and this was all true. "I've heard great things about your teaching.' She later would win grad student teacher of the year, "and I don't know if you're a religious person, but I'm going to pray for you." And I walked away and she killed it. The next day, for the first time ever, she said hello to me. And this wasn't a magic bullet. We didn't become best friends, but the tone changed. And that to me was the power of the blessing for the insult.
Rick Langer: And I think that is one of the things that that's a great story about, is part of it. Sometimes what we want is like to achieve this total transformation. They have the Damascus Road experience falling off the horse that is you in worshiping God on the road, but simply to have a bit of a change in attitude that you change the temperature of the relationship is a major victory. Even if it doesn't change everything, it matters.
Tim Muehlhoff: And we don't see the incrementalness of the spirit working. So I'd be remiss not to close this podcast with something Peter says that gives me great comfort is that, "Jesus is not asking us to do something he didn't himself do." So of course, the classic passage is in the chapter before chapter three. He's already laid out the groundwork in chapter two, verse 23. And we all know this. I bet our listeners can recite this by memory, "While being reviled, he, Jesus did not revile in return. While suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously." I love the fact that Jesus said, "I'm not asking my children to do something I wasn't willing to do." And quite frankly, what he was doing is so above my being slighted by Sharon. This is the son of God being crucified.
Rick Langer: On the way to a cross.
Tim Muehlhoff: And not uttering any threats. So that gives me great hope that maybe in today's argument culture, we can be distinguished by the fact that we stick up for truth, but we do it in a way that can come across as a blessing in today's caustic argument culture.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Tim, I think that's a great insight. And this whole issue of when you were reading through all those sections of First Peter three, I wasn't in particular thinking of First Peter two. I am familiar with that passage, but I wasn't thinking about it just as you were reading through it. But I do think it emphasized something that we have talked about before between the two of us a lot. I'm not sure if we've ever done a podcast on it, but the idea that the things we were talking about for civility, for being gentleness or kindness or whatever we were talking about in our communication with others is actually a matter of discipleship. Not a matter of just being pragmatically good or being polite or being courteous, but rather saying, "We want to live like Jesus lived. We want to abide him. We want to walk with him. We want his spirit to be filling us."
So what does his spirit make us do? And First Peter is really unpacking that by saying first, "Here's what Jesus did." And then Peter just turns on and said, "And this is what I want you to do." And it, in that sense, is a great kind of a model of our Winsome Convictionness. The way we speak with others is exactly an issue of saying, this is a matter of what does it look like to be a well-formed Christian formed in the image of Christ?
Tim Muehlhoff: And that takes time. I love what Dallas Willard says in Spirit of the Disciplines. He says, "Nobody bench presses 300 pounds right away. You start and work your way up to that." Nobody's just going to offer a blessing for an insult. This is spiritual formation. This is us taking time to discipline ourself for the sake of godliness, is what Paul would say. So we're all in process. We're all learning. But we do have to aspire to what Peter says, knowing Peter picked a much worse situation than what we're facing today.
Rick Langer: Well, Tim, that's great. Good stuff to think about. We thank you for joining us on the Winsome Conviction Podcast, and we encourage you to become a regular subscriber on Apple Podcast or Spotify, wherever you get your podcast. And check us out at thewinsomeconviction.com website where we have a lot more resources and articles and other talks and things that we have given. Thanks for joining us, and we will see you next time.