Responding to Malicious Attacks – 1 Peter 3:8-12

Since Peter’s audience is about to face persecution, he tells them how they are to respond to attacks on their faith. Most scholars think that the kind of persecution that Christians faced in Asia Minor in the middle first century was the sort of insult and malicious character attacks that typically occurred in the Roman world (Jobes, 1 Peter 216; Elliott, 1 Peter, 607).

In order to build one’s own honor, it was sometimes necessary to attack an opponent in order to reduce their honor (i.e., to shame them). This is not unlike modern politics, where an opponent is often attacked publicly in order to “hurt them politically,” but it went far beyond that. In modern political cartoons some characteristic of the politician is over-emphasized (think of cartoons featuring political figures).

HIllary TrumpThe typical response to an attack on one’s character in the Roman world would be an equally spiteful attack in revenge. This sort of verbal “eye for an eye” was common and accepted as a part of society. One did not suffer insults quietly!

Peter’s command to not reply to insults with insults is therefore socially disruptive. The Christian community does not retaliate with the sort of verbal assaults common in the society.  Just as Jesus was silent, Peter said in 2:23, so too ought the Christian is not to pay back evil for evil.

Rather than reviling opponents, Peter tells his readers they are to bless those who attack them. Followers of Jesus are to be like Jesus and do good toward those who attack them, rather than follow the culture and seek revenge.  This non-retaliation is exactly what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:27-26, Matt 5:43-47, “love your enemies,” Matt 5:38-42, “turn the other cheek,” etc.). Paul teaches virtually the same thing in Romans 12:14, 17-21.

The real challenge is actually doing what Jesus, Peter and Paul all say that we ought not do. Not retaliating when we are attacked is difficult, but to actually do something that blesses our accusers is culturally shocking.

Christians sometimes reduce this “blessing” to prayer.  When we face persecution we pray for our enemy so that we can “heap burning coals on their head.” If you are praying to harm your enemy, you are not at all catching the spirit of this command, and are engaging in some sort of curse-prayer that seems inappropriate to Christians.

War On Christmas“Blessings” are tangible in this context, not simply prayers for the salvation of the bad people who are hurting you. If you are suffering abuse from someone. Peter says that it is not only inappropriate for the Christian to attack, but they ought to do some real, tangible action that brings some blessing on the attacker.  Imagine a politician who did not respond to some slander, but rather offered his attacker an opportunity to make his claim on national TV, tells people to buy the guy’s book, etc. That would be a shocking response!

But Peter is not talking to political candidates, but the church. How should Christians respond to someone who is attacking their faith? In America, the some Christians immediately go on the offensive against their alleged persecutors, claiming a a “war of Christmas” or using the Martin Luther Insult Generator to vilify them. Setting aside the question of whether this is real persecution or not, is this a proper response?

How can we “bless those who persecute” in a tangible way?

17 thoughts on “Responding to Malicious Attacks – 1 Peter 3:8-12

  1. A proper response has a tendency to shock the other person. It has brought me great delight when I chose the high road over the easy road. That choice does not come naturally in the flesh, but it can become an automatic response if we so choose. Thanks for sharing this biblical principle in this context!

  2. It never feels good to be attacked either verbally or physically by someone else, especially if it is because of your religious beliefs. We have many examples in the bible though of how to react to these attacks. From Jesus, Peter, and Paul, each of these guys says to not retaliate against the attacks, but rather do something nice for the person! This is the least likely thing to be running through our heads when this is going on, but we have to remember that we are called to do such a thing when it comes down to it in the situation. Even saying something nice after such an event will throw people off because of how different it is to the common retaliation that would be seen in the given situation. Blow people away by being completely different in a good way.

  3. I think it is one of the most difficult things to do to bless someone rather retaliate to an attack from someone else. I also think praying might be the “easy way out,’ mainly because praying can be something that is private and it doesn’t take as much courage to do. Tangibly doing something to help or affirm someone is far more difficult because it becomes more personal whereas prayer can sometimes be something you are just told to do. I think it requires more heart to do something physically than it does to pray. I think one way would be how you address the person. Being polite can shock someone into realizing what they were actually doing. I also think an attack usually comes from some insecurity so there could be the possibility of helping them realize what that is and then affirming them in that. Humbling yourself enough to help someone out can sometimes teach humility to them. Humility, a polite attitude, and a caring nature are three things that could be a response to an attack.

  4. As a Christian in a not so Christian society it can often be difficult to avoid being attacked in some sort of way. Whether that is through what people say or how Christians often get a bad name based on certain actions of other Christians. However it is even more difficult to allow someone to attack your beliefs and not retaliate. If someone was to threaten and attack my faith it is better to allow them to say their piece than to retaliate and make it all worse. In human nature we often find ourselves becoming defensive in situations such as these. As Christians though we should listen to Jesus and turn the other cheek. To me there is a difference between defending our faith and attacking someone based on the fact that they “started it.” We need to always stay have conscious minds as Christians. Jesus did not attack the people who did not believe Him when He said He was Messiah or those who questioned Him at every turn. Jesus instead chose to teach those people and love them just the same and we need to do the same to those who attack our faith no matter how difficult that may be.

  5. One of the biggest frustrations of living in a society that is so “pro-Christian” is that we become quite comfortable in our faith to a fault. The posture of the Bible seems to be that retaliation is more about being “in the world and not of it” (John 17:16) rather than fortifying one’s beliefs like an Essene or attack another like a Zealot. America can’t seem to strike a good balance between the two for whatever reason. I find quite often that in conversation others are quick to defend a position rather than understand or learn from another. When I think of blessing one another rather than retaliating in our context, the first thing that comes to mind is a listening ear. No one wants to be attacked to death for thinking differently. We should be “slow to speak and quick to listen.” (James 1:19)

  6. When being persecuted one must remember why they are being persecuted. Normally it’s because you are standing up for something you believe in. I thought of Matthew 5:39 where we are told to turn the other cheek. You were hit and it hurt, but responding with anger and aggression makes you look like a bad guy as well. Turning the other cheek shows forgiveness to the person. This will do two things it will give them a blessing by not looking like such an attacker (for a moment), but it will also give you a good rep being a kind forgiving person not susceptible to petty arguing or fighting. Truly this is the only way I know to bless them. It lets them be seen in their own negative light without you helping.

  7. I believe that in our society and culture we are always told to get the last word, or that a person deserves what comes from their mistakes.But, I will also point out that we are all equally fallen people, that we all are only capable of sinning without Christ, and that we cannot hold non-Christians to the same standards as Christians. I feel that there are also several ways to “bless our enemy”. For one as Brandon mentioned above, when it comes to disputes it is better to “turn the other cheek” and not retaliate. I believe Christ address this for the sake of separating Christians from the main culture, after all they are called to be set apart (Romans 12:2), if the main culture of the time was following a eye for an eye protocol, it would make sense that Christ would want His followers to do the opposite. I also believe that we can start by actually loving our neighbor, and while that is much easier said than done, I believe that their are small steps that we can take to lessen our disdain for others. For one, we can forgive those that have hurt us because Christ has forgiven our transgressions. We also can pray earnestly for those that have hurt us and recognize that they are just broken people like we are. Often people will project their own problems on us in hopes of lessening their feelings about their own problems by focusing on our’s; for which I would said that we need to remember that everyone has a story and we are not always aware of what people have faced that make them think it is acceptable to act in a certain way.

  8. There is a tangible way to bless them, money! But seriously, I do not believe tangible is something that has to be touchable. What is more touching than emotions? If we were to bless them and say we forgive them, that could very well be the best way to handle the situation. Another way would be to serve them in some way, help them out, wash their feet, ect. I guess the best gift to bless them with is a Bible, give them all Bibles.

    That being said, if you can bless someone who is persecuting you, that’s a huge step in the right direction. I know that prayers for the salvation may not be “tangible” but it is one of the best things we can do for them, maybe in addition to some tangible blessing. Prayers can also lead to life changing events, which is also tangible to the one experiencing the change.

  9. Looking at the insult generator made my day much better, so I had to write a response to this post. All silliness aside, this post brings up some points that need to be discussed, thought about and, most importantly, applied to life. Much like the Roman world, we live in a culture where it is ok to hurl insults back at those who offend us. However, our culture tends to hide behind Facebook, Twitter and the term “roast”. This practice is completely opposite of what Peter teaches in 1 Peter. Peter calls Christians to live a life of imitatio Christi, or the imitation of Christ (Jobes 344). Jesus suffered probably the harshest insults of human history in his last hours on earth. However, Jesus did not insult his persecutors, rather he remained silent. As Christians, we are called to live the same way. However, this issue also goes beyond actions and relates to matters of the heart. Even though we may be insulted, we should not wish ill of those who have insulted us. For even this and feelings of hatred are as evil as murder in the eyes of the Lord (Matthew 5, 1 John 3). This is a big struggle for many people, as it was for me at one point, too. However, coming to God with these issues and asking him to give us the right words to say or know when silence is needed is the right answer.

  10. When i was reading this all i could think about was the political debates this past year. It almost made me laugh in a sense because all they would do is attack each other over and over again. I could only wish to see the reaction of one candidate if someone did not attack them after being attacked. Rather, they simply responded respectfully. Nevertheless, that is not the world we live in and unfortunately people attack one another all the time. I think as Christians we should not overact when someone attacks our faith. I think there is a lot of maturity in someone who can handle their emotions. Proverbs 16:32 states, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city”. I think being slow to anger is the key to how Christians should react to someone who is attacking their faith. Moreover, i think the best way to handle an attack on faith would be to handle it the way Jesus would. Jesus makes it very clear that we must love our enemies. So i would look at someone who is attacking my faith as sort of an enemy. So i would first be slow to anger, maybe avoid carrying the conversation on. Then i would pray for the individual. Although it may be hard i would want to be as Christlike as possible during those attacks.

  11. I think that when we’re called to bless or pray for those who persecute us, it’s… pretty clearly outlined in just that command in Matthew 5:44. We aren’t encouraged to lash out at people whatever our beliefs may be. The Bible actually gives a lot of different ways to deal with persecution or verbal attacks, but when it comes to a question of faith, it would make sense that as a basis Christians would pray that others come to see the light of God just as we do. Some people might also be well-equipped in their Apologetics, presenting a reasonable answer or argument for why they believe what they believe. Truly, to just have faith and patience in responding to others no matter the situation would be the Christ-like way to go about it. Moreover, we shouldn’t take such things to heart.
    Personally, I tend to default to a Martin Luther approach (obviously because I am a True Lutheran), but I usually reserve those comments in my mind. Because an eye for an eye makes about as much fruit in an argument as two wrongs making a right.

  12. I think that in America we do get very very caught up in (to be honest) ridiculous debates and persecutions and we sometimes create reasons to be offended and to defend ourselves. For example, we get lost in arguments over whether Christians should label themselves as democrat or republican. Sometimes the strife can be interdenominational, I’ve experienced this a lot growing up in the Southern Baptist church. Many people that are a part of that denomination think that is the only denomination that people should be attending and I have received some flack for going to a more Charismatic church. But it comes down to how can we bless the people that are persecuting us or causing heartache in our lives. I think the answer to that is learning to be a peacekeeper and surrendering the will and desire to always be right. You can’t love people fully if we’re caught up in being right all the time. It is important to be Christlike and loving toward people who want to unnecessarily stir the pot.

  13. I feel that all too often Christians are easy to jump at the throats of those that talk bad about our faith and religion, as you have mentioned. It is easy to do as our faith and religion is something that we take very seriously and are extremely emotionally connected to. It is something that we would hopefully die for; however, it is important to realize that acting in a way that does not reflect God, no matter the circumstance, goes against Christ’s example that He set for us and does not show other God. As I have mentioned in another response, we are to live in a way that reflects God to those around us (1 Peter 2:12). This is not in only a select few circumstances, this is all the time in all the activities of our lives. Our lives always need to be examples for others and tools to help others know God better. Also, as mentioned above Christ did not retaliate or act out when He was subject to the worst persecution and suffering 1 Peter 1:23-24). He still chose to love others and treat them in a way that they did not deserve. The whole act of Him coming down to earth also shows this as He decided to save a people that He knew would continually let Him down and treat Him lesser than He deserves. Therefore, when it comes to reacting to attacks, we ought to slow down and think about the most loving and appropriate way in which to handle the situation. It is not wise to stir up more conflict and hate.

  14. When I read of how the early Christians would have been ostracized, looked at with suspicion, and persecuted, it makes me realize just how “good” we have it today. I realize persecution is still a reality in many parts of the world, but in our American culture I feel that we can be liable to inflate any opposition to our faith as persecution. Yes, today we can suffer from shunning or even degradation because of our choice to live our testimony out loud, yet it cannot compare to what those early Christians were dealing with (or even in other cultures today). Sometimes I get frustrated when I hear people complain about how hard life is as a Christian in America today. And I fully acknowledge that it seems to be getting harder and harder to be that witness in a culture that seems to be getting worse. But the reality is we have it pretty good here.

    What strikes me is not so much the thought that Christians should stand out as different, but the drastic measures some seem to be taking to reverse the persecution they seem to feel. Jobes (2011) speaks to Peter’s model of how a Christian relates to culture and society is not one that permits a black and white mentality (p. 347). Rather, we are called to live honorably, being in the world but not of the world. Admittedly, this can be a fine line to walk. But, when there are continual news stories of angry people calling for boycotts of things which may not speak to a Christian worldview, is this really the image we want non-believers to have of us? Yes, we need to live a life that is not of the world, but if our methods cause further divisiveness or animosity towards Christianity and God, are we truly living a life that points others to Christ? Admittedly, I might be looking at this differently because in my line of work we are especially seeing this trend lately in the realm of book banning. I do not know what the right answer is, but I do feel that we need to be aware of the testimony our actions and words have in reflecting the hope and joy found in Christ.

    Jobes, K.H. (2011). Letters to the Church. Zondervan Publishing.

  15. It is hard to imagine how to tangibly face persecution the way that Peter details, especially when we live in a society and culture where defending your honor and opinions is meant to look like a battlefield. However we clearly see that blessing people and living out a Christian moral is vital to not just living a Christian life for yourself, but also to express to others that our faith matters more than the conflict that is being presented. Jesus never slandered or persecuted the people who persecuted him, rather he was silent, which as Peter points out, we are to be as well (1 Peter 2:23). Not only is having a clear conscience, gentleness, and respect when being persecuted important, but it showcases the faith and biblical standards in which we are living (1 Peter 3:16). This shows those who are persecuting us that we believe in something so valuable that we are willing to surrender ourselves to it. Actions speak louder than words, and when someone stays silent when being persecuted for their faith, they are showcasing that they care more about God and his sovereignty than the pain they are being afflicted with. It proves something. I mean, look at Jesus, he willing sacrificed himself and was persecuted for the message he was displaying. His actions speak so much louder than words. It shows us how we can express our devotion to Christ in a similar way. As Professor long comments, it is hard to not retaliate when we are being slandered, it is such a natural response. However, at the same time, doing what is right according to Scripture and putting that into practice is going to make a much bigger difference and noise than fighting the same wrongful way as the person persecuting you. It makes your silence louder than the words or actions being aimed at you, which is ultimately speaking for the truth that is within your faith.

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