The apostle here passes from special to more general exhortations.
I. He teaches us how Christians and friends should treat one another. He advises Christians to be all of one mind, to be unanimous in the belief of the same faith, and the practice of the same duties of religion; and, whereas the Christians at that time were many of them in a suffering condition, he charges them to have compassion one of another, to love as brethren, to pity those who were in distress, and to be courteous to all. Hence learn, 1. Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word. 2. Though Christians cannot be exactly of the same mind, yet they should have compassion one for another, and love as brethren; they ought not to persecute or hate one another, but love one another with more than common affection; they should love as brethren. 3. Christianity requires pity to the distressed, and civility to all. He must be a flagrant sinner, or a vile apostate, who is not a proper object of civil courtesy, 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 John 1:10, 11.
II. He instructs us how to behave towards enemies. The apostle knew that Christians would be hated and evil-entreated of all men for Christ’s sake; therefore,
1. He warns them not to return evil for evil, nor railing for railing; but, on the contrary, “when they rail at you, do you bless them; when they give you evil words, do you give them good ones; for Christ has both by his word and example called you to bless those that curse you, and has settled a blessing on you as your everlasting inheritance, though you were unworthy.” To bear evils patiently, and to bless your enemies, is the way to obtain this blessing of God. Learn, (1.) To render evil for evil, or railing for railing, is a sinful unchristian practice; the magistrate may punish evil-doers, and private men may seek a legal remedy when they are wronged; but private revenge by duelling, scolding, or secret mischief, is forbidden Prov. 20:22; Luke 6:27; Rom. 12:17; 1 Thess. 5:15. To rail is to revile another in bitter, fierce, and reproachful terms; but for ministers to rebuke sharply, and to preach earnestly against the sins of the times, is not railing; all the prophets and apostles practised it, Isa. 56:10; Zeph. 3:3; Acts 20:29. (2.) The laws of Christ oblige us to return blessing for railing. Matt. 5:44; “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those that persecute you. You must not justify them in their sin, but you must do for your enemies all that justice requires or charity commands.” We must pity, pray for, and love those who rail at us. (3.) A Christian’s calling, as it invests him with glorious privileges, so it obliges him to difficult duties. (4.) All the true servants of God shall infallibly inherit a blessing; they have it already in a great degree, but the full possession of it is reserved to another state and world.
2. He gives an excellent prescription for a comfortable happy life in this quarrelsome ill-natured world (1 Pet. 3:10): it is quoted from Ps. 34:12-14. “If you earnestly desire that your life should be long, and your days peaceable and prosperous, keep your tongue from reviling, evil-speaking, and slandering, and your lips from lying, deceit, and dissimulation. Avoid doing any real damage or hurt to your neighbour, but be ever ready to do good, and to overcome evil with good; seek peace with all men, and pursue it, though it retire from you. This will be the best way to dispose people to speak well of you, and live peaceably with you.” Learn, (1.) Good people under the Old and new Testament were obliged to the same moral duties; to refrain the tongue from evil, and the lips from guile, was a duty in David’s time as well as now. (2.) It is lawful to consider temporal advantages as motives and encouragements to religion. (3.) The practice of religion, particularly the right government of the tongue, is the best way to make this life comfortable and prosperous; a sincere, inoffensive, discreet tongue, is a singular means to pass us peaceably and comfortably through the world. (4.) The avoiding of evil, and doing of good, is the way to contentment and happiness both here and hereafter. (5.) It is the duty of Christians not only to embrace peace when it is offered, but to seek and pursue it when it is denied: peace with societies, as well as peace with particular persons, in opposition to division and contention, is what is here intended.
3. He shows that Christians need not fear that such patient inoffensive behaviour as is prescribed will invite and encourage the cruelty of their enemies, for God will thereby be engaged on their side: For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous (1 Pet. 3:12); he takes special notice of them, exercises a providential constant government over them, and bears a special respect and affection to them. His ears are open to their prayers; so that if any injuries be offered to them they have this remedy, they may complain of it to their heavenly Father, whose ears are always attentive to the prayers of his servants in their distresses, and who will certainly aid them against their unrighteous enemies. But the face of the Lord is against those that do evil; his anger, and displeasure, and revenge, will pursue them; for he is more an enemy to wicked persecutors than men are. Observe, (1.) We must not in all cases adhere to the express words of scripture, but study the sense and meaning of them, otherwise we shall be led into blasphemous errors and absurdities: we must not imagine that God hath eyes, and ears, and face, though these are the express words of the scripture. (2.) God hath a special care and paternal affection towards all his righteous people. (3.) God doth always hear the prayers of the faithful, John 4:31; 1 John 5:14; Heb. 4:16. (4.) Though God is infinitely good, yet he abhors impenitent sinners, and will pour out his wrath upon those that do evil. He will do himself right, and do all the world justice; and his goodness is no obstruction to his doing so.
4. This patient humble behaviour of Christians is further recommended and urged from two considerations:—(1.) This will be the best and surest way to prevent suffering; for who is he that will harm you? 1 Pet. 3:13. This, I suppose, is spoken of Christians in an ordinary condition, not in the heat of persecution. “Ordinarily, there will be but few so diabolical and impious as to harm those who live so innocently and usefully as you do.” (2.) This is the way to improve sufferings. “If you be followers of that which is good, and yet suffer, this is suffering for righteousness; sake (1 Pet. 3:14), and will be your glory and your happiness, as it entitles you to the blessing promised by Christ” (Matt. 5:10); therefore, [1.] “You need not be afraid of any thing they can do to strike you with terror, neither be much troubled nor concerned about the rage or force of your enemies.” Learn, First, to follow always that which is good is the best course we can take to keep out of harm’s way. Secondly, To suffer for righteousness sake is the honour and happiness of a Christian; to suffer for the cause of truth, a good conscience, or any part of a Christian’s duty, is a great honour; the delight of it is greater than the torment, the honour more than the disgrace, and the gain much greater than the loss. Thirdly, Christians have no reason to be afraid of the threats or rage of any of their enemies. “Your enemies are God’s enemies, his face is against them, his power is above them, they are the objects of his curse, and can do nothing to you but by his permission; therefore trouble not yourselves about them.” [2.] Instead of terrifying yourselves with the fear of men, be sure to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts (1 Pet. 3:15); let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, Isa. 8:12, 13. Fear not those that can only kill the body, but fear him that can destroy body and soul, Luke 12:4, 5. We sanctify the Lord God in our hearts when we with sincerity and fervency adore him, when our thoughts of him are awful and reverend, when we rely upon his power, trust to his faithfulness, submit to his wisdom, imitate his holiness, and give him the glory due to his most illustrious perfections. We sanctify God before others when our deportment is such as invites and encourages others to glorify and honour him; both are required, Lev. 10:3. “When this principle is laid deeply into your hearts, the next thing, as to men, is to be always ready, that is, able and willing, to give an answer, or make an apology or defence, of the faith you profess, and that to every man that asketh a reason of your hope, what sort of hope you have, or which you suffer such hardships in the world.” Learn, First, An awful sense of the divine perfections is the best antidote against the fear of sufferings; did we fear God more, we should certainly fear men less. Secondly, The hope and faith of a Christian are defensible against all the world. There may be a good reason given for religion; it is not a fancy but a rational scheme revealed from heaven, suited to all the necessities of miserable sinners, and centering entirely in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Thirdly, Every Christian is bound to answer and apologize for the hope that is in him. Christians should have a reason ready for their Christianity, that it may appear they are not actuated either by folly or fancy. This defence may be necessary more than once or twice, so that Christians should be always prepared to make it, either to the magistrate, if he demand it, or to any inquisitive Christian, who desires to know it for his information or improvement. Fourthly, These confessions of our faith ought to be made with meekness and fear; apologies for our religion ought to be made with modesty and meekness, in the fear of God, with jealousy over ourselves, and reverence to our superiors.