Sins of the Tongue; The Goodness of God
1 Peter 3:10–14
1 Peter Lesson #081
January 26, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful for this opportunity to come together to study Your Word, to think about the implications for our own lives of what You have recorded for us and preserved down through the Church Age.
Father, as we talk about many different things related to our own sin nature, it is very convicting, and we understand and know that God the Holy Spirit is working to change us. But we have to understand what those issues are before we recognize that there needs to be a change.
Father, as we study Your Word, there are so many wonderful things there that we discover as well about You, and we look forward to learning those things tonight. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
I’ve already heard a couple of rumbles about the fact that tonight we’re going be looking at the sins of the tongue, something that’s convicting for every one of us; nobody escapes. We will come back to James 3 as we study this.
James says, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man [mature man, actually], able also to bridle the whole body.” Then in verse five he says, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” So we can light up the world with the sins of the tongue, and we need to be aware that.
Now, we are in 1 Peter, so turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter chapter 3. I just want to kind of review the context a little bit as we go through the context here, setting things up for the new paragraph that we’re going to begin this evening, starting in verse 13 through 17. We won’t get very far, and we’ll probably be in this paragraph for a while because of some of the things that are there.
Back in 2:17, Paul gave four imperatives, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.” Then that’s followed by a series of participles that are translated as imperatives, because they do pick up that idea. But they are really participles that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. “Servants, you do this by being submissive to your masters, wives by being submissive to your husbands, and husbands by dwelling with your wives with understanding.” And all of this relates to that basic command.
Then, starting in verses 8 through 12, he sort of brought that to a conclusion where he says, “Finally, all of you be united.” The importance of the unity in the body of Christ—not at the expense of doctrine, but on the basis of doctrine. “Doctrine” means not only the theology that’s there, but teaching us what to think, how to think, and how to live.
“Finally, all of you be united [of one mind], having compassion for one another; love as brothers [brotherly love], be tenderhearted, be humble.” “Courteous,” as I pointed out, is a poor translation.
Then it gets specific, “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” That introduces the idea of retaliation through verbal sins—striking back verbally when someone has done something or said something to us. We talked about this a little bit in our study of the Psalm the other night in Samuel; this was a situation David was in, because those in Gath who had jailed him were reviling him, rebuking him.
It’s interesting. As we look at Psalm 56, then at Psalm 57, a couple of other Psalms, all are related to this period in David’s life, and they all reference sins of the tongue and how he has to respond to that, because he is being verbally abused so much by his enemies, those who are outside of Israel—the Philistines, as well as those who are inside Israel—Saul, Saul’s army, and Saul’s minions. It even erupts, as will see later on, into a civil war in Israel after Saul dies. So there’s some extremely intense passions that are being stirred up in Israel in those who are on Saul side and those who are on David’s side.
So that’s one reason that Peter quotes here from Psalm 34. “For he who would love life and see good days …” We studied this last time. He gives an admonition, “If you would love life. If you want to have quality of life. If you want to have quality life throughout your days, refrain your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”
This is why I am focusing on this. We didn’t get time to conclude with a review of the doctrine of the sins of the tongue last week.
I am starting with that this time. We’re looking at what the Bible teaches us to remind us of the sins of the tongue. I don’t think I’ve taught through a doctrine of the sins of the tongue like this in quite some time—if ever. We’ve talked about it. Every now and then I hear rumors. I haven’t in a while, but every now and then somebody gets up enough courage to say, “Well, we may have a problem with a couple of people. There is some gossip going on in the congregation—there’s this or that.” And that’s always something that needs to be quashed.
It happens in every group for good reasons and bad reasons. And it happens inadvertently sometimes. But we are all guilty of this, and we have to be aware of it.
Let’s start off by talking about a definition. It’s a sin; so we have to understand what a sin is. A lot of people don’t understand what sins are any more. I think everybody here has a pretty good idea, but there are many people who don’t. They think of a sin only in terms of large mega categories of sin—such as murder, adultery, usually socially unacceptable things. Today they may classify that as anything in terms of feminism, in terms of “green” philosophy and environmentalism, in terms of political positions.
Just like in the 19th century; certain social things were the major sins. They thought, “If we could just get past those social sins, we could bring in utopia.” Of course, the lead sin was slavery.
But it was followed by temperance. There was already a movement by the 1830s to prohibit alcohol. Temperance was just a huge thing in the 19th century. You had women’s suffrage. You had child labor and one or two other things. What was becoming liberal congregations and liberal Christianity at that time—that’s how they would define sin; that’s not how the Bible defines sin.
The Bible defines sin as any thought any word, or any deed or act that violates the character of God. There’s an absolute standard that’s universal that’s outside of human experience that sets that standard, that sets the norm for what is a sin.
It’s always measured against the character of God. He doesn’t have some sort of external character or external quality that He’s adhering to. He is the quality; He is the character; He is the standard, as we will see.
Sin is defined as missing the mark. The Hebrew word CHATA means to miss the mark. Another word that’s used is usually translated, “a transgression,” which means to violate a standard; and that standard is always God’s character—what God defines in terms of right and wrong.
Now one way that’s expressed is the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, but that was designed as really a political document, a constitution for this new nation Israel. So it is an expression of God’s character with reference to how a country should govern itself.
There is a lot in there that talks about certain kinds of sins, but that doesn’t make them sins. In the 10 Commandments you have, “Thou shall not murder.” Murder was wrong long before you had the 10 Commandments; murder was a violation of God standard from the very beginning when Cain murdered Abel. It was a sin. It didn’t become a sin after that; it already was a sin because you have an eternal standard existing in God’s character.
Lewis Sperry Chafer said, “Sin is that which proves unlike the character of God.” In other words, anything that violates the character of God is a sin.
A couple of other statements in Scripture add a different nuance to that. One is Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” And I think in that verse it’s not talking about the subjective aspect of faith—that is, everything that is not from belief is sin. I think that that would certainly fall within that framework, but faith is also used many times in an objective way to talk about what we believe or the body of doctrine that is taught in the Scripture. So whatever is not on the basis of the Bible is sin.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God].” And again the word for faith as it used in Hebrews 11 has that idea of what has been taught and is believed; so it’s talking about that body of beliefs that are encapsulated and revealed in the Scripture.
When we talk about sin, the second thing I want to talk about is the source of sin. We use the diagram for the sin nature, and it’s sometimes referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Understanding the sin nature is really helpful to understand a lot of behavior, especially if you’re a parent. You just really comprehend the sin nature diagram, and you’re going to see a lot of things that are going on with your own kids and watch their little sin natures develop.
If you’re a good parent, and you’re analyzing those kids when they’re growing up in terms the sin nature, then you’re not going to be caught by surprise when they hit adolescence. Because you’re going to see things—just hints—when they’re little that start to explode when they hit adolescence.
At the very core of the sin nature is arrogance. The orientation of everyone’s sin nature is always the self; we’re self-absorbed. “It’s all about me.” That’s the starting point. That’s what is encapsulated in Lucifer five “I wills” in Isaiah 14:12-14. Five times he said, “I will.” “I will ascend to the mount. I will rise above the clouds of heaven,” which is a reference to God. “I will be like the Most High.” I’ve just mention three of them; his five statements there all encapsulate this idea, “I will, I will, I will.” That’s at the core of sin: It’s our will instead of God’s will. It’s a rejection of God’s character. This is arrogance.
Arrogance creates a vacuum in the soul, because arrogance is self-destructive and something has to fill that which has been destroyed. It’s great to picture the sin nature as a black hole; it just sucks in everything and destroys it.
So we have arrogance and it produces a lust pattern, because we want to get things that will make us have meaning and value and significance in life. We lust for the details of life—looking at all kinds of created things as a way to fulfill these lusts and thinking that that will give us happiness. It can be everything from power lust, approbation lust where we want recognition, approval from other people. Power lust, we want to control things, we’re control freaks. If you think you’re a control freak, then you’ve got a problem with power lust.
You’ve got problems with sexual lust, problems with chemical lust. You can take anything! You’ve got problems with food lust. We have problems with just anything. Competition, winning—all of that’s related to power and other things. Money, the things that money can buy. All of that represents those lust patterns.
Lust patterns are at the center. Because of lust, we’re going to either operate at the top—in terms of our area of strength. It is where we do good things. We want people to think highly of us, so we do good things for purely selfish reasons. Until you become a believer, that’s all you can do. You have no other nature other than the sin nature. So all you can do—all the good that anybody does—that’s not a believer is all motivated by something related to arrogance and self.
When that is threatened, we often react in areas of personal sin—that’s the area of weakness. Personal sins, as we see, come in three categories: mental attitude sins, verbal sins, and overt sins. Those are often related to various trends that we all have. We all have tendencies to either move in the direction of some sort of overt morality … We’re very concerned about not doing things wrong, and so that is asceticism and legalism. And this is the Pharisees. So you can be very religious, and you’re not a believer, you’re not applying doctrine; religion, though, gives you structure, gives you a sense of control in your life, you like the patterns of morality, but it’s a moral degeneracy. This is exemplified by the Pharisees.
Then there’s the opposite trend which is towards licentiousness, that there just aren’t any standards. And I think that this can express itself politically. I already knew this, but it just been brought out more; you’ve probably seen the same thing in a lot of the things that are going on politically. I noticed, about several of the executive orders that President Trump has signed in the last four or five days, that he was reversing executive orders from President Obama, but legal precedents were being given for Trump’s executive orders. For example, I saw one today that was related to immigration, and the executive action was completely in line with two different laws that were passed by Congress in the early 90s.
So that executive order isn’t just some sort of reaction to what President Obama did; it was emphasizing a return to what was already in federal law, to enforce federal law. And many of the things that he wants to do with immigration and several other things are simply enforcing the laws that are on the books. That is the opposite of licentiousness and antinomianism.
What we’ve seen, when the president just establishes executive orders that violate laws that have been passed by Congress and signed by former presidents, that’s antinomianism. And that is a violation; somebody just wants to reject the law. So that’s the idea in licentiousness; it’s “I just want to do what I want to do and I’ll figure out some way to justify it.” It’s a violation of any kind of standards, and that leads to what we normally think of as degeneracy in terms of some sort of immoral degeneracy. But the sins of the tongue can be connected to all of these as we connect overt sins and mental attitude sins.
In this chart, what I’m trying to show here is the dynamics of the sin nature. So we have the sin nature down here at the bottom, and what it’s producing in the area of weakness are sins in these three areas. I put mental attitude sins at the bottom. Actually, sins of the tongue you could even say is one form of overt sins; it’s something that is external; it’s not internal. But you have mental attitude sins that produce overt sins and sins of the tongue. These are always manifestations of something that’s going on inside the soul, inside our thinking, and what drives most mental attitude sins is anxiety and fear.
I think that fear is the core emotional sin of the sin nature. When God went to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve, He said, “Where are you?” Adam said, “We’re here. We heard the sound of you in the garden. We were afraid.” That’s sort of the base emotion; everything flows out of that fear. Later on in 1 John, John says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” We think of hate as the opposite of love, but John puts fear as the opposite of love.
That fear is that which motivates hatred, and the whole panorama of mental attitude sins. So we have anxiety, fear, worry, insecurity, uncertainties, jealousy, envy, anger, resentment; all these things can be going on inside of our soul. As a result of the mental attitude sins, then we strike out—either in overt sins or we strike out in verbal sins.
Verbal sins include gossip, where we are talking about situations and people and we’re not part of the problem or part of the solution. We are talking about something that is really none of our business.
Maligning is when we’re running down somebody elsewhere; we’re judging them, and we’re not in a position to be their judge. Judging is not evaluating; that’s an important distinction that most people miss. Scripture says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” And in judging, that’s when we are putting ourselves in the place of God and evaluating a person in terms of, in effect, “Are they in fellowship? Are they doing the right thing? Are they doing the wrong thing?”
But we are told to evaluate people all the time. There standards that are given for a pastor, for a deacon. In order for a church to call a pastor, they have to evaluate that individual to determine if he meets the criteria. That’s not judging; that’s evaluating. There many different ways in Scripture that it’s legitimate to evaluate people, but it’s not legitimate to condemn them and judge them harshly for different things. That’s maligning.
Lashing out in anger, as a result of anger, we just yell at somebody, we scream at somebody, we verbally abuse them—that’s part of verbal sins. Slander also—running them down through verbal sins. We have bitter words, angry words, things like that, that cut people and hurt people and harm people. And this is what James warns against because he uses the analogy of a forest fire. It’s the spark that can create a huge conflagration, because we can’t take those words back once they’re said.
Then, on the other hand, it produces overt sins. But all of these fit together in a kind of matrix that creates its own misery for others as well as self-induced misery.
Psalm 59:12 says, “For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips, let them even be taken in their pride.” Notice how it connects those verbal sins to mental attitude sins of arrogance. “And for the cursing and lying which they speak.” Again, connecting those verbal sins to arrogance.
Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.” So again, this emphasis on the sins of the tongue and lack of control of the mouth. Verbal sins are motivated by this oscillation, I think, between self-righteous arrogance, where we’re more aggressive, and self-pity, where we get caught up in emotional sins and we just feel bad about ourselves and have a little pity party. So that’s all part of that.
What also happens is that you get into a variety of other sins. The first point had to do with definition. Second had to do with understanding the source of all sin, but especially verbal sins, sins from the sin nature. And then the third is just to review some of the warnings that we have in Scripture about the sins of the tongue.
Exodus 22:28, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” Now just think about that a minute. You have two areas there. Not reviling God—shaking your fist, getting angry at God, accusing God of bringing about harsh situations or terrible situations in life. Nor curse a ruler of your people—that’s a president, that’s a member of Congress. Okay? We’ll move on to the next one.
“Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” So that has to do with personal volition. We are in control, and so that’s addressed to our volition.
Psalm 52:2-3, “Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor.” A tongue cuts sharply. We’ll see this coming up very soon in our study of Psalm 52; this is coming next Tuesday. “You love evil more than good, lying rather than speaking righteousness.” So there’s the contrast—lying versus speaking righteousness.
“You love all devouring words.” This is the evil person. “You love all devouring words, you deceitful tongue.” So it just characterizes the evil person as being controlled by his deceitful tongue.
Then we have Psalm 64:3-5, also talking about the destructive nature of the tongue. And it’s compared to a sword that is being sharpened, because they can cut, and they can pierce, and they can hurt, and they can destroy. Psalm 64:3, “Who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows—bitter words, That they may shoot in secret at the blameless; Suddenly they shoot at him and do not fear.” So this is the enemy that he’s characterizing, using his words as a weapon to destroy somebody. This is what happens when we slander somebody; this is what happens when we get involved in all sorts of things, from ridicule to just gossip.
Verse 5, “They encourage themselves in an evil matter; They talk of laying snares.” That’s when we get a group together in sins of the tongue and conspire.
Proverbs 4:24 gives the solution. “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you.”
Out of the seven worst sins that are described in Proverbs 6:16, “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him.” That doesn’t mean that there are six and then there’s one more; it’s a Hebrew way of speaking to emphasize the seven. “Five things are bad; six are worse”; no—all six are worse. Okay? It’s just a way of emphasizing and a poetic way of saying, “These seven things are an abomination to God.”
Notice, you have a lying tongue, a false witness who speaks lies, and someone who sows discord among the brethren. So three of the seven are sins of the tongue.
When I was in my first church, I had a secretary who was a terrible gossip. She didn’t like the pastor very much, and she gossiped a lot. And there were two or three other older women who were her cronies. And this really went back through two or three different pastors. They created more havoc in that church and disrupted it; it eventually led to my leaving and the church splitting—all because of their gossip and the way that they told lies, and the way that they ran down and slandered the pastor.
That was a horrible thing. I was so glad that was my first church and not my last church, because as a young pastor, you need to go through those fiery trials when you’re young; they shape your character, teach you some hard lessons, but that will last you the rest of your life. If you end your ministry like that, then it’s a miserable thing.
Flattery is also a problem. Proverbs 29:5, “A man who flatters his neighbor …” He just tells them good things to build them up, but on the other hand, he is trying to trap him and create some other problem. So it’s pictured that way. “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” He is trying to create a problem there.
1 Timothy 5:13 is a warning. It says, “And besides they learn to be idle.” This is a problem with women in the church at that point. It applies to men, too; he is just addressing it to women. “And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” Other people have a right to privacy and not have you talk about their things, and so that can cause problems.
It happens in the church. It happens in any group. It happens at your office. One of the great problems in many corporations is the office gossip. And that needs to be shut down as quickly as possible. Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man sows strife.” That’s what it does—it creates divisions and strife, and that, of course, is a work of the sin nature and the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. “A whisperer separates the best of friends.”
Proverbs 10:19 is another one. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking.” So there needs to be control on the mouth. Proverbs 12:18, “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” That’s the contrast—the antithetical parallelism in Proverbs. If you’re gossip or slanderer, you seek bitter things that hurt people, but a wise person promotes health, promotes peace between people. Proverbs 12:19, “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”
Then back to where we started in James chapter 3. You might want to turn to James; it’s just one book to the left from Peter; just go back three or four pages and you’re in James 3. Here, in verse five, James describes the tongue. He says, “The tongue is a little member.” It doesn’t seem like much, just a small muscle in the mouth, but, of course, he’s using the word “tongue” metaphorically to stand for what it produces—the words that come out of the mouth. And it can create a huge fire.
Verse 6, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body.” This is why we have to control it—it is self-destructive. Even if we’re articulating gossip or slander about somebody else, it can come back and kill us; it’s self-destructive eventually.
So James says, “The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Self-discipline, apart from the Spirit of God, is no help. Only through the Spirit of God can we resolve that.
Now, he comes back to this issue with the sins of the tongue in chapter 4, verse 11. And there he says, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.” So he’s talking there within the church, within the body of believers.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother…” That is, another Christian. And judging a brother, as I said earlier, is condemning them, evaluating them, putting yourself in the place of God to judge and evaluate their conduct, their actions, as if you were God Himself.
If you speak evil of a brother and judge your brother, you speak evil of the law and you’re judging the law. You’re basically saying, “God’s Word is irrelevant.” You’re also sitting in judgment against the Word of God and its prohibition of gossip and judging.
“But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law…” What that means is you are not applying the law, but you are judging the law. You’re in violation of what James covers in the first part of the book—that is, that we are to be appliers of the Word and not simply hearers only.
James 5:9; he returns back to this. This is a great verse for many of us. “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” So that, too, is a tough warning.
In Philippians we have another great verse that talks about whining. Actually, it’s not translated that way; it is translated “grumbling and complaining.” Philippians 2:14, “Do all things.” Notice—how many things? All things. Not some things; all things.
“Do all things without complaining and disputing,” as it’s translated in the New King James Version. Why? “That you may become blameless and harmless.” What he’s describing there is maturity. “Do all things without complaining and disputing”; those are sins of the tongue.
“That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” So what is that talking about? That’s talking about our overt witness to unbelievers, to the unbelieving culture around us. Part of our witness is that we are not going to fall into the trap. When they’re complaining, griping, moaning, and whining about things, we are going to say, That’s not helpful to my witness. That’s not going to help me shine as a light in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation.” So we are to be reflecting the glory of God through our speech, and that’s what that’s talking about.
Let’s go back to Peter just a minute. Where we’re headed here after he’s talked about these other things, quoting from Psalm 34, he’s going to come into the next paragraph and talk about suffering unjustly—a clear situation when people will gripe and complain, thinking it’s justified because we’re being persecuted, we’re being attacked by unbelievers, maltreated and accused of things that are unjust—and how we handle that without grumbling or complaining is what Paul says. Peter says that how we handle that is going to create an environment where people will say, “Why are you different?” It’s a witness of the life that catches people’s attention. So that in verse 15 we’re told, “Always be ready to give a defense [a reasoned or rational explanation] to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”
So I’m connecting those two passages. If we are complaining and grumbling we’re not shining as lights. If we’re not shining as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, there is no evidence of the hope—the personal sense of our eternal destiny—that we have. If there is no evidence of hope, then nobody is going to ask us, “How come you’re different, and why do you have this hope?”
So, grumbling and complaining is just pulling the pin on a grenade that blows up our witness and our spiritual life—and nobody’s going to see a difference. Everybody complains—that’s the problem; Christians shouldn’t, because we have a different standard and a different framework. With that, we conclude our study on the sins of the tongue.
Let’s move forward into the next paragraph, starting in verse 13. This is a new section and in this new paragraph the focus is on unjust suffering. That continues to be the focus down through the end of chapter 4. We’ve already introduced it to a small degree in the transition coming out of the discussion on honoring people, loving the brotherhood, fearing God, and honoring the king. And now Peter really hones in on this. I want to read the whole paragraph to you, and we will see the emphasis here.
It says, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” “If you’re doing the right thing, who’s going to hurt you?” But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake. That’s the theme in this section, “Suffering for righteousness’ sake.”
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed.” And then he quotes from Isaiah. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you [there’s a sin of the tongue].”
“When they defame you” is a synonym for being reviled. “When they defame you as evildoers.” When they accuse you of being evil, of being the destructive element in society, of being self-righteous. And when it comes to many different contemporary social issues, there are people who are politically correct and they will accuse Christians of all kinds of things.
When they accuse you of these things and call you an evildoer, “Those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” It doesn’t say they will be, but they might be if you are doing the right thing. It reminds me of the proverb that says that if someone is doing you harm, doing you ill, treating you badly, then treat them in grace and it will be like heaping coals of fire on their head.
So verse 16 says that we are to do right so that they might be ashamed. Not that that is our goal or objective—to shame them, but our goal and objective is to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. And then there’s a reiteration of the theme here, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
So we look at this and emphasize a few things. We’ve got two or three different “if clauses.” I missed the one down in verse 17, so some conditional clauses to look at. But the thing I want you to look at is an emphasis on “good” verse 13, “good” verse 16, in contrast to the evildoers; and then, verse 17, “doing good rather than doing evil.”
So there’s this contrast, and right in the middle of the paragraph we have this very well-known, often quoted verse. Verse 15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a [APOLOGIA in the Greek],” meaning an apologetic, which literally means “a reasoned defense.” Give a well thought out answer is what that means.
A well-thought-out answer or explanation “to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” We’ll look at this in quite a bit of detail. At the very least that means to be able to explain to somebody why you believe the gospel, why you think the gospel is true, and to be able to answer any questions and objections they might have, or at least try to point them in the right direction.
So the word there is a very important word in the Scripture, and we’re going to have to take some time to study that. But notice, Peter doesn’t give us a lot of wiggle room. He says to always be ready—not sometimes, not when we’re in a good mood. I don’t know about you, but the opportunities that I’ve had to do this usually don’t come when it’s convenient for me. I know that’s probably never happen to y’all.
The one time I really wanted to get involved in a good witnessing situation was in the late 80s. I was pastoring in Irving, Texas, and they were having a debate that was going to be filmed for the John Ankerberg Show. Tommy Ice was debating Gary DeMar and another Christian Reconstructionist. Tommy Ice and Dave Hunt were debating two Christian Reconstructionists. Harry Leafe was up in Dallas, and they were staying with me. We were all in the house and we were just getting ready to go out the back door, which was where the garage was located, when the doorbell rang and it was two Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dave Hunt had written a book on Jehovah’s Witnesses, we had all this firepower, and there was no opportunity whatsoever. I would’ve loved to have been able to just watch and see the interaction of these guys in that kind of a situation, but it didn’t happen.
All right. Well, let’s get into this paragraph. Verse 13, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” Peter is asking a rhetorical question. This is a question that is designed to get the hearer to think about the answer. It’s not that he’s expecting an answer, but one that is designed to get the reader, or the listener, to think about, “Well, exactly who is it that would get angry with me, that would come after me, if I was doing what is good?”
So what does it mean here? I think we need to work on the translation just a little bit. “And who is he who will harm you?” This is the Greek word KAKOO, the verb, which means literally, “to do evil.” So it has that idea to do evil, or in some cases, to create harm or physical suffering.
It’s usually contrasted with the word that we’ll see next, which is the word AGATHOS, which is the word “good.” If there’s a contrast, these are the words that are contrasted. So here it’s talking about something evil or bad in the sense of misfortune or suffering, because later on in the context he’s going to talk about suffering for doing good, which could involve physical suffering, financial suffering, emotional suffering. So that’s what is understood by “harm.”
Then the “if ” there; I have a three superscript there, indicating it’s a third-class condition, meaning, “maybe you will, maybe you won’t.” First class condition would be, and they definitely were, assuming it to be true. Second-class condition would be assuming it wasn’t true, but a third class condition sort of expresses that it could go either way.
“If you become followers of what is good.” Now what we need to look at here is a little bit more about the word good, but I want to talk about that word “followers” just a minute. There is a textual problem here. And the textual problem is that in the Greek text, the word in the critical addition, the UBS text, which is not the Majority Text, it has the word “followers” but it means “zealous.” And it has that idea of being passionate about something. “If you become passionate for what is good”; following that which is good. The Textus Receptus and the Majority Text have the word MIMĒTAI, which means, “to be imitators of that which is good.” Now those are similar ideas. I think “imitators” is the better reading, because of the way the manuscript evidence is laid out. “Imitators of what is good.”
So we are to imitate the good. Where do we get this idea of “the good”? Well, that comes from God. The word AGATHOS is a word that emphasizes a good of intrinsic value.
In the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, the writer says, in regard to how AGATHOS is used translating the Old Testament word TOV, “In the Old Testament the concept of the good is indissolubly linked with personal faith in God.” Because the concept of the good is integrally related to the character of God.
He says, “An idea of the good, freed from the concept of God as personal …” That is, just an autonomous idea of the good as it was often used in philosophy at the time, talking about the existence of the “higher good” and just some sort of abstract concept.
He is saying, “An idea of the good, freed from the concept of God as personal—comparable with the ideas in Greek and Hellenistic thought—is inconceivable.” In other words, biblically speaking, “good” is grounded in the character of God. “Good” is not an abstract concept that God that God aligns to; “good” is defined by the very character of God.
What I want to do tonight is just begin this by looking at the doctrine of the goodness of God. Now when I put up a typical essence box, we have 10 different characteristics we usually talk about defining God, goodness is not one of them. That is because goodness is really composed of several of these attributes of God—specifically, His righteousness, His justice, and His love.
Psalm 33:5 says, “He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Now think about that verse just a little bit. “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Now, if the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, can you go out and see the goodness of God? Not really. What we see is what the goodness of God, as His character, has provided for us.
Here the goodness of God, the cause is put for the effect, and we see the blessing of God in many things. So it is good that God has given us the flowers in the spring to see, and the beauties of the mountains, and the beauties of the trees, the beauties of His creation. That’s a product of the goodness of God; that’s a product of His character. So we are going to see that phrase used as the cause for the effect several times in Scripture.
Another verse is Psalm 31:19, “Oh, how great is Your goodness.” Now it is using it in a more literal sense related to the actual character of God, “How great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You.” In other words, God’s goodness is going to provide certain things that are laid up—blessings that are laid up—for those who fear God and for those who trust in Him.
“Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up [prepared] for those who fear You [trust in You], which You have prepared for those who trust in You in the presence of the sons of men!”
This takes us to a reminder of the essence of God, that God is sovereign. He is righteousness, He is justice, and He is love; and those three I have underlined, because I think these are like the basic elements. Like you have your basic colors, yellow and red and blue. These are like primary colors, and they mix together and they produce goodness.
So you have that, and eternal life, omniscience. He is omnipotent, veracity, and immutable. We look at this, and these characteristics of God—primarily righteousness, justice, and love—come together and become the goodness of God. And that’s the introduction. Rather than getting into it—I’ve got about 10 points on this—we’ll wait and come back to get into it next time. That just orients us to where were headed.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study, to be reminded, to be warned about the sins of the tongue, but also to have just a hint of the contrast we’re going to see here as Your goodness—Your goodness to us, Your grace towards us, Your benevolence towards us—and how thankful we are that we have that. Because we are aware of how exceedingly sinful we are, and yet we are the beneficiaries of Your grace and Your goodness.
And, Father, we pray that You would keep us mindful of that as we seek to walk with You, walk by the Holy Spirit, abide in Christ, living our life as faithful witnesses, so that we can shine forth in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”