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Turn It Into A Blessing
November 23, 1997

1 PETER 3:8-22

"When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping," is a modern way of handling conflict, but Peter said, "When the going gets tough, face it, and turn it into a blessing!" Last week we learned that Peter taught Christians survival ethics-- how to survive in a hostile environment by living the Christian lifestyle, by living a holy life, so that others may be influenced for Christ. Live in such a way, Peter wrote, that they may be won over by your conduct. In the passage we are looking at this morning, Peter goes further. Hopefully, 3:13, No one "will harm you if you are eager to do what is good." But, if they do, turn it into a blessing. v. 14, "Do not fear... do not be intimidated." When you suffer, when you are mistreated, when you are maligned, when you are treated badly, when you are misunderstood, do not be intimidated. Do not shrink like a flower at night and pull in your blossom. And, v. 9, "Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing." Turn it into a blessing.

The Old Testament law, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"-- the law of retaliation-- is now changed into, "Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing." Historically, the law of retaliation was an advance for human rights because retaliation was limited to the amount of damage incurred. No longer could two eyes be taken for one eye lost. No longer could one be put to death for cutting off a hand. Exodus 21:23-25, "You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."

But, Jesus went even further, and transcended the law of retaliation, by teaching, Matthew 5:38, "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer." And Peter said, "Repay with a blessing." When his young son was stricken with polio and was badly crippled in both legs, the father couldn't handle it. He turned to alcohol and took out his anger and disappointment by abusing his wife and his crippled son. Life became literally "hell on earth" for them. Then, the wife and son began going to church where both became Christians, experiencing Christ as Savior and Lord. Their hatred and fear of the man's cruelty changed to love and concern. One evening, the father beat the boy badly, but even in his alcoholic stupor realized the boy was expressing love to him, rather than fear and hatred. The father asked the boy why he was responding strangely, and the crippled son said, "It's because I love you, Daddy." Then, he blessed his father, "God loves you and so do I."

During the next few months, the more bitterness the man directed towards his wife and son, the more love they returned to him. Finally, he could stand it no longer. The Holy Spirit was relentless. He blurted out to his son, "I want to love you and your mother and God! How can I do it?" The twelve-year-old son then led his father to Christ. He helped his father turn his life over to Jesus, and receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Peter wrote, "Do not fear.. do not be intimidated. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but... repay with a blessing." This stance is not for cowards or weaklings. Cowards run and hide. Vengeful, spiteful people pay back evil for evil. Courageous, strong Christians repay with a blessing.

How does one find the strength and courage to refuse to be intimidated, but to turn it into a blessing? Peter said we need the church. We can't do it by ourselves, we need one another. In the preceding verse, 3:8, Peter lists the qualities needed in a church to sustain, encourage, and support one another so that we can turn difficult situations into blessings. 3:8, "Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind." These qualities characterize the corporate lifestyle we call Christian fellowship. Let's look at each one.

Unity of spirit. This does not mean a church where everyone congeals into the same mold, or have the same opinions, or the same politics or even theology. As Christians in a church family, we do not lose our identity. We are not robots blindly following or obeying laws and dictates, but unity of spirit means a congregation who has the same orientation, who all aim at the same target. Unity of spirit means that we, springing from the same faith and the same love, share the same purposes and objectives. Acts 4:32, "They were of the same heart and mind."

Sympathy. The word literally means to "feel with." Paul defined sympathy in Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Sometimes we are not sure how to relate to someone going through difficulty. We are not sure what to say. Essentially, you don't have to say much at all. Weep with those who weep. Sympathize. The one suffering finds great comfort in being with people who don't tell them what to do, or what to believe, or give them false assurances like, "It's God's will." The one suffering finds great comfort in being cried with, sat with, embraced, where he/she can be accepted within a safe environment.

Love for one another. The Greek word is philadelphian (as in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love). It literally means love for one's blood brother or sister, but the early church used the word figuratively to include love for one's Christian sisters and brothers. The early church thought of themselves as one family, where we are all kin to one another. NonChristian writers at that time were impressed with the love Christians had for one another. Like natural families, Christians do not choose their brothers and sisters. The church at its best is inclusive. We are a family of God's people, and God excludes no one. Within such an environment, we all belong. We don't have to worry about what we wear, or where we live, or what our color is, or our language, or whether we're good enough or know enough! We all fit. We all belong. We are all family. Relax, slip off your shoes, lean back, you're at home. And because you know where you belong, and have the best support group of all, you can find the strength and support to turn whatever happens into a blessing.

A tender heart. The literal translation is "healthy intestines". Since the ancients thought of the intestines as "the seat of emotions," which in our culture has been moved up and over to the heart, our translation reads, "tender heart." Tender heart differs from sympathy in that sympathy can remain a feeling, but one with a tender heart is moved not only to sympathy but to loving action. Jesus had a tender heart and was constantly moved beyond sympathy to loving action. The Good Samaritan had a tender heart. He could have sympathized with the wounded traveler lying in the ditch, and left him there. But, because he had a tender heart, the Samaritan was moved to action and did something about it. You can find help turning suffering into blessing because you are surrounded in the church by tender hearts who will help you.

Humble mind. Matthew 11:29, Jesus was "gentle and humble in heart." Jesus taught, Matthew 18:4, "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." One with a humble mind becomes a child again before God. Think of the seven new babies in Iowa, completely dependent on people who will assist their parents. One with a humble heart trusts God completely, recognizing one's limitations. True humility is an awareness of one's creaturehood. We didn't make ourselves. We are not the creator. True humility is an awareness of one's sinfulness when compared to God's holiness. True humility recognizes one's emptiness and inadequacy, and trusts completely in God's sufficiency and inexhaustible grace.

You can turn suffering into blessing when surrounded and supported by a church who exhibits "unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind." Last Tuesday, I added another "first" to my ministry. For the first time, I conducted a memorial service for a dog! And, the service was held in the sanctuary! Foxie was Helen Schneider's guide dog for 7 1/2 years. We held the service on Tuesday afternoon during CATCH so the children could be here. Many adults also came and we celebrated Foxie's life and gave thanks to God for her. Helen and Foxie gave demonstrations in classrooms, nursing homes, civic groups, etc. Helen kept track of the attendance. Foxie touched the lives of 11,843 people.

It was a beautiful and moving service. Helen requested that Liz play Bach on the organ. She accommodated with Bach's majestic Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. The children sang "Father Abraham" which was Foxie's favorite song. When the children sang it in the classroom, Foxie would stand by the piano and keep time! How the children loved Foxie! Many of them shared in the service how Foxie was their best friend, how they liked to be licked by Foxie, how she wagged her tail. We will all miss Foxie, watching her lead Helen down the center aisle for Communion or to take Helen to the piano so she could accompany the younger children's choir. We will miss Foxie's gentle snoring during my sermons! No, I'm not asking for volunteers to take her place!

It was a service of farewell and celebration as the children learned that death is part of life, and life goes on. Helen invited and introduced five families here in Merced who are puppy raisers. We enjoyed seeing five puppies here in the chancel, most of whom will someday be guide dogs. In January, Helen returns to the guide dog school for three weeks, after which she will come back to us with a new Golden Retriever guide dog. Foxie will never be replaced, but Helen and we will develop a new relationship with a new friend.

I tell you about Foxie this morning because Foxie was an example of what Peter meant. Foxie taught us about unity of spirit. Foxie shared the same orientation, the same goals with Helen; yet, Foxie had a mind of her own. She was not a robot. When in a new neighborhood, Foxie loved to investigate the new smells, and Helen would have to remind her of their mission. Foxie taught us about kinship, about bonding and ties. Foxie taught us about the tender heart and humility where she put Helen's welfare above her own needs and wants. Even when Foxie was sick, and we know now it was cancer, she did her best. Helen feels badly about making Foxie work, but the doctor told her that Foxie would work and do her best until she dropped. Wouldn't you like a human friend like Foxie? Will you be a friend like Foxie?

"Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but... repay with a blessing... Do not fear... Do not be intimidated." We can live this lifestyle Jesus modeled and taught us, especially when we are blessed by being part of a congregation who exhibits "unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind."

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris