The word of the day is “blessing.” The laws of the United States stipulate that offenders must compensate those injured by such wrongs as crimes, auto accidents, and slander. This demand for redress of grievance seems only fair and just. However, in our reading of 1 Peter 2:21-3:4, the apostle writes that the faithful should not return “evil for evil but, on the contrary, return it with blessing…” (vs. 9).
Should We Bless Only Within the Church?
Such advice seems ideal but unrealistic in our society. An answer to this objection might be that the apostle is speaking only of the faithful’s conduct within the Body of Christ. For instance, Paul was upset when he learned that the Corinthians were taking each other to court. The apostle expected that his flock would be able to settle their own disputes in the spirit of charity. Paul said that in the age to come, the faithful would be judges of the world and even angels. Therefore, Christians should not resort to the civil courts (1 Cor. 6:2-3). When they take their quarrels before pagan judges, they deny that have the wisdom of God to settle their own affairs. To Paul, it would be far better if they simply accepted the wrongs done to them and let themselves be cheated (1 Cor. 6:7).
While limiting Peter’s words to affairs in the Body of Christ would make them more practical, most commentators assert that there is a break between verses 8 and 9. Peter’s instruction to be one in mind, tenderhearted, courteous, and compassionate in verse 8 is appropriate for members of the Body of Christ. However, the call to bless instead of returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling in verse 9 has a wider application than the circles of congregations..
The Teaching and Example of the Lord
Both the teachings and the example of the Lord support this viewpoint. The Lord instructs patient endurance without retaliation in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you , love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). The Lord proclaims that this way of dealing with our enemies imitates the mercy of God who sends rain and sunshine on both the just and unjust. If we are to be called “the children of God,” then we should treat others with the grace by which He treats us (Matthew 4:45).
The apostle also refers to the example of Jesus, who, though innocent, did not “revile when reviled.” And when he suffered, He did not “threaten” (vs.23). Rather, He endured suffering “for us,” bearing our sins on the cross, dying to sin that we might “live for righteousness” (vs. 23). The Lord’s innocent suffering and death without the slightest demand for retaliation is the example that His disciples should follow. And they have the commendation of God when they suffer wrongfully yet accept it patiently (vs. 20).
Yet there is another motive for our gracious response to wrongs done to us. James writes that we should bless and not revile to receive a blessing (vs. 9). Yet, in the first part of our study (vs. 18-25), we observed that we already have received the greatest benefit imaginable. Christ has suffered and died for our sins. By His stripes, we were healed, and by His sacrifice, as a Lamb led to the slaughter, we have been reconciled to the “to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls” (vs. 25). Therefore, as Christ blessed us by bearing our sins on the cross, so we ought to bless those who are also wrongdoers.
The Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to judge others. We might ask, “Not even if they have wrong us?” But Jesus goes on, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2). If we have never wronged others, then perhaps we can judge those who act against us and demand retribution from them. If we have never said a bad word against others, then maybe we have a right to return their slander with insults in return.
But the directive of the Lord concerning forgiveness might also apply to the teaching on responding to wrongs committed against us. If we are not willing to forgive the trespasses of others, how can we expect God to forgive ours? But the master’s words to the unforgiving servant apply to us if I forgave you a huge debt, should you not have had sympathy for your fellow servant as I had compassion on you (Matthew 18:33)? In the same vein, God has already blessed us with an immeasurable blessing. Should we not bless those who wrong us, even as God blesses us?