The Reward of Righteousness
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 3:9-12
As odd as it might sound, the 2020 Summer Olympics are going to be held this year in Tokyo. As a kid, I remember that the Olympics were presented to me as a dramatic expression of global cooperation and as the epitome of sportsmanship. But as I got older, I realized how tainted they were by controversies and scandals. Someone once said that one of the most prominent traditions of the Olympics is cheating. The list of documented cheaters is very long, so I’ll just give you a couple.
Back in 1988, the most anticipated event was the men’s 100-meter dash. Looking back on that race, some have called it “the dirtiest race in history.” Canadian Ben Johnson won the race, but two days later was disqualified after testing positive for steroids. One of his reported statements in response to what happened was, “It’s not cheating if everyone else is doing it.” The original bronze medalist of that race also tested positive for a banned substance and blamed it on a tea he had drunk. The silver medalist, Carl Lewis, had tested positive earlier that season in the United States trials.
At least six of the men who raced in the finals that day went on to test positive during their careers or admit to using them.
Maybe less well-known, but more intriguing to me is something that happened in the 1984 Olympics here in Los Angeles. Madeline de Jesus represented Puerto Rico in multiple track and field events. During one of her long jump attempts, she injured her hamstring, and she knew she would be unable to compete in the 4x400m relay. No one else knew the injury would keep her out, so what did she do?
There was a spectator in the crowd who was a sprinter, but who had not qualified for the Puerto Rico Olympic Team. Her name was Margaret de Jesus, and she was Madeline’s twin sister.
So, six days after Madeline’s injury, the Puerto Rican team ran in the 4x400 meter race, and they ended up qualifying for the finals, with Margaret running instead of Madeline.
They might have gotten away with it, except the whole thing came to light because of a reporter who knew the women and could tell them apart. The Puerto Rican coach ended up withdrawing his team from the finals.
It’s tragic to see someone at such a high level of their sport gets disqualified from a competition. A disqualification, I think, is something every coach dreads for his athletes. They don’t want them to make a foolish decision that disqualifies them from the competition.
That kind of scandal was something the Apostle Peter wanted to avoid in his own life. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he says: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
That fear of disqualification is a powerful motivator, but it’s not the only motivator. The goal in a race is not just to not get disqualified. The goal is to win, right? So, you’ve got two desires keeping you on track. Don’t get disqualified, and win the race.
Listen to what else Paul says: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
On the one hand, an athlete wants to avoid the shame of disqualification, but at the same time, he’s after the thrill of victory. He’s chasing a prize.
That’s the kind of heart God calls us to in our life. We are called to a life of righteousness in pursuit of a reward. Our God rewards righteousness.
That doesn’t mean we earn our salvation. Salvation is always by grace through faith. But in God’s grace, there are earthly rewards for righteousness, and the Bible indicates there are degrees of rewards in heaven, which are greater capacities to serve the Lord.
We’re not going to talk about the degrees of rewards in heaven, but we are going to talk today about the reward of righteousness. That’s the motivation behind Peter’s words in our passage today. We’re looking at First Peter 3, verses 9-12. You’re going to see some instructions that call us to righteousness, but you should also notice the motivation behind them, which is the reward. Peter wants us to seek a reward. Let me read what it says. I’m going to back up one verse, so I’ll be reading 1 Peter 3:8-12.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12For 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.”
Throughout his letter, Peter has been trying to help us have a spiritual or eternal perspective, instead of an earthly one. Part of that spiritual perspective means remembering that we have a reward waiting for us because we serve a God who is a rewarder.
Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
That reward should compel us to righteousness, to live for the glory of God. As we go through our passage for today, we’re basically going to be going back and forth between righteousness and reward, righteousness and reward.
The righteousness component started back in verse 8 with some positive characteristics, and we could call that righteous unity. Now, it continues in verse 9 with what I’m going to call righteous responses. Righteous responses. We need to turn away from our former lifestyle, away from the fleshly response. Verse 9 says, Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.
Apart from Christ, our normal response is retaliation instead of righteousness. We see little kids do it in little-kid ways, and we see adults do it in adult ways. It’s part of our sinful nature.
Someone pushes you, so you push them back. Someone insults you, so you insult them back. You might do it in a very sophisticated or subtle way, but at the level of our heart, it’s the same response. We’re pushing back.
If your boss, or your spouse, or your kid, or your neighbor yells at you, you want to yell back. If they’re sarcastic with you, you want to be sarcastic in return. It feels right, doesn’t it? Why? Because they’ve actually done something wrong.
The did something evil or wicked. They insulted you. That’s what it means to revile. It’s verbal abuse.
But Peter says, “Don’t do it back to them. Don’t pay them back.”
“On the contrary,” verse 9 says, “bless.” Don’t retaliate, have a righteous response. If someone does something wrong to you, if someone insults you, Peter says, respond with a blessing. What does that mean?
It means you seek their good. They want to hurt you, but you should seek to help them. You should respond, like verse 8 says, with compassion and sympathy. You respond with gentleness and respect, even though they don’t deserve it. Blessing those who attack you is shown in your attitude and in your words and in your actions.
It includes praying for them. It includes a desire for them to hear and respond to the gospel. It includes ministering to their needs. This isn’t some fringe Christian doctrine. This is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.
Here’s how Paul puts it in Romans 12—14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Here’ what Jesus told His listeners in Matthew 5: I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles… 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
This is a principle we are supposed to apply both in the church, and out there in the world with unbelievers. Whether you’re talking to someone in person, or online, or via email, Jesus calls you to have righteous response.
Think about the last argument or disagreement you had. Did you have a righteous response?
Peter knows from experience how difficult this is. He’s the guy who sliced off another man’s ear. But at this point of his life, he recognizes that what he did that night was sinful. It was a reaction strictly focused on what is worldly and temporal. It didn’t honor Christ. It didn’t represent Him. It was focused on self, rather than on God.
Back in chapter 2, Peter describes what Christ’s heart was through His arrest and trial and crucifixion. Look at it with me. First Peter 2, starting in verse 18. The specific application here is on slaves responding to a wicked master, but the principles applies to all of us. First Peter 2:18.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
When Jesus was being spit on, what was he doing? He entrusted Himself to His heavenly Father. That’s what it means to have a spiritual focus. That’s a righteous response. Go back to chapter 3, verse 9. After showing us what righteousness looks like, Peter tells us about the reward. Remember, God rewards righteousness. He called us out of the world so that we would minister to the world, and He will reward us.
Verse 9 ends by saying, “for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
The reward is that God blesses us. And hopefully you see the connection between the righteousness and the reward. Since we have a blessing waiting for us, we can respond to the sins of others with a blessing. The reward God has promised us motivates us to live for His glory. In other words, like we said last week, our future hope drives us to present holiness. We have an eternal reward waiting for us, and the reward will be all the sweeter when we follow in Christ’s footsteps in this life.
That’s what it really means to put your faith in action. Those are the good deeds that God uses in this world. Those are the good deeds that please our heavenly Father.
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps is a radical thing. It’s not natural. It’s not earthly. And we can show it in big ways and in little ways. In fact, don’t deceive yourself by just thinking, “Oh okay, when my boss starts screaming at me, I’ll hold my tongue.” That’s a good decision, but let me give you two considerations.
Number 1, this response needs to be applied to our conduct, but also to our attitudes. It’s not enough to just stay quiet and be boiling on the inside. God wants you and me to practice trusting in Him and reflecting His patience with sinners.
So, before you think about responding to some high level of hostility, practice it in the small ways—with your wife, with your husband, with your kids, with your in-laws. Practice trusting in God rather than jumping to defend yourself every time. It’s difficult; I know it is. And we fail so many times. But when we do, we experience God’s blessings.
We experience the joy of knowing He as been pleased. We experience the joy of knowing we’re walking in Jesus’ footsteps. And we may even experience the joy of an open door for the gospel. And then, of course, there is the final blessing of the next life. That future hope should motivate us to a present holiness.
Now, in order to make this point even stronger, Peter cites Psalm 34. We looked at this Psalm a month ago at the end of April, so let you can go back and listen to that sermon if you want more details. The main summary of that Psalm though was that we are to fear and praise the Lord because He hears and provides for us. Does that sound familiar? We fear and praise the Lord because He hears and provides for us.
In light of God’s goodness, we serve him with gratitude. It’s not payback, okay? Be careful with that. We’re not paying God back. If we had to pay God back, then it wouldn’t be grace that He showed us. It’s not a debt we owe Him. It a love flowing out of the relationship we have with Him. Because He loves us, and because we love Him and want to experience Him more, we walk in holiness.
The portion of the psalm that Peter cites continues discussing the reward. It continues with the blessing of God. Look at verse 10. “For whoever desires to love life and see good days.” That’s the motivation of the blessing. Do you want to love life? Do you want to see good days? If so, how do you do that?
Now the passage goes back to our righteousness again. You experience God’s blessing through righteous speech, righteous conduct, and righteous relationships. Do some of you remember that from Psalm 34? Righteous speech, righteous conduct, and righteous relationships. That’s what it says.
Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. That’s righteous speech. Guard your tongue. Guard what you say and guard how you say it. James says the tongue is full of poison. It cannot be tamed. But by the Spirit of Christ, we can have power over our tongue. And God will bless that.
The passage continues: Let him turn away from evil and do good. That’s righteous conduct. Flee from sin and temptation and run to righteousness. Put off the old life and put on the new man.
Lastly, it says, let him seek peace and pursue it. That’s righteous relationships. Seek peace with others. In Romans 12, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Whether you’re dealing with Christians or unbelievers, do what you can to promote peace. That’s what righteousness looks like. Righteous responses. Righteous speech, righteous conduct, and righteous relationships. And again, why should we be pursuing this? Because God rewards righteousness. God rewards righteousness.
God blesses you for your righteousness, and secondly, God hears you because of your righteousness. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean that God has some kind of righteousness thermometer, and if you register high enough, he listens to your prayers. That’s not how God works. If we are trusting in Christ, He receives our imperfect righteousness.
But I think what these verses indicate is that our righteousness, done with the right heart, draw us closer to God. They align our heart with his. And when our hearts are more aligned with God, He answers our prayers. Again, not because we’ve behaved well, but because we are pursuing His kingdom and His righteousness.
Let’s read our closing verse for today. Verse 12, taken from Psalm 34—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.”
This is what we saw with husbands and wives at the beginning of the chapter. A wife who wants to honor God can be used by God to win her husband over to the truth. A husband who cherishes and honors his wife will have his prayers heard.
When we are walking in accordance with the heart and plan of God, He delights to give us what we ask for, and He is conforming our hearts to what He wants.
I think that’s why Psalm 37 says, Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
God hears those who walk in righteousness.
Do you believe God is a rewarder? Do you want a reward from Him? Do you want to walk more closely with the Lord? Do you want to see God work in and through your life?
Then walk in righteousness. Puruse righteous responses, righteous speech, righteous conduct, and righteous relationships.
The Bible warns us about the possibility of being deceived about our salvation, and God calls us to examine ourselves. Part of that examination is seeing if there is a growing pattern of righteousness in our hearts. And even if we are convinced we belong to Jesus—even if we are certain we will not be disqualified from the Christian race—let’s run with all the more effort. Let’s run with endurance, and let’s help one another in this race.
Hebrews 12:1-2—Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 ooking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
We are never told that righteousness will be easy, but we do know that it will be rewarding.