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17 May 2009 AM (LS) Silent Witness

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Silent Witness

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

                                                                                1 Peter 3:1-4

Some of you may be familiar with a popular BBC programme that centred on the work of forensic pathologists.[1]   By their skilful techniques the bodies of victims gave up their secrets and enabled the finding of their murderers.    In later episodes it became increasingly morbid – but the principle is fascinating.   

Of course the passage we are studying this morning has nothing whatever to do with forensic pathology – but it states an important principle of the Christian life – that unbelievers may be won for Christ by the “silent” witness of believers.

Peter was writing to Christians in Asia Minor who faced all the difficulties of a pagan world – and his advice here deals with the relationships of society – workers, citizens, wives, husbands.

I suppose it is a brave man who takes on in our generation of women’s rights the exposition of a passage that promotes submission.  

PLUTARCH a scholar of the beginning of the first century AD had a lot of advice for husbands and wives – this piece aptly illustrates the prevailing views of the day:

“It is becoming for a wife to worship and to know only the gods that her husband believes in, and to shut the front door tight upon all strange rituals and outlandish superstitions.”[2] 

So, Peter is sensitive to the situation faced by a Christian wife of a pagan – and says that she will win him over – not by “preaching” – but by the quality of her life.

That, then is our theme for this morning – how we may win over the sceptical and critical folks of our pagan world by the WAY WE LIVE.   It is a SILENT WITNESS that has a profound impact.  What sorts of things does Peter suggest will work?

Looking back on the whole passage from 2:12 I suggest the following:-

·        Doing good                2:12, 3:2,  4:4

·        Submission        to God, authorities, other believers …

·        Love                  1:22, 2:17, 3:8,   4:8

The way we live – the way we relate – and the way we love.

Doing Good – the quality of our lives

2 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

3 1   they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty . . . should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

And 4:4

 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

We are not surprised that Peter should echo his Master’s teachings about His followers standing out in a dark world – drawing attention to their Lord by the beauty of their characters, and surprising the pagans by not being part of a dissolute world.

Whilst it is clear that the church community has to SPEAK the Gospel with clarity and forcefulness – the other side of the coin is the SILENT WITNESS of the way believers live.

Peter was writing to a Church in trouble – and his words have a resonance with our situation.

2 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

There is an expectation that the pagan world will accuse us of doing wrong – so we need to have lives so full of god deeds that society cannot deny it – but must give glory to God.

And yet we spend so much time preparing ourselves for spoken witness – and so little attending to the quality of our SILENT WITNESS.

If you read the views of outsiders you conclude that Christians are people with strange views – anxious at every moment to thrust those views on a world that doesn’t want to hear.  We are parodied and criticised for our message. 

It is much more difficult to parody real GOOD DEEDS.

Peter’s words in 4:4 may strike a chord in 21st century believers

4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

NOT plunging with them into the same flood of dissipation.  (Wasteful excessive sensual indulgence)

This is the NEGATIVE form of the witness without words.   Abstaining – not getting involved – and it in turn PROVOKES HOSTILITY.

That is the price we pay – and sometimes we feel it is too high a price – and instead of being clear in our NOT DOING – we grow almost permissive in our attitude – not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.

But the most beautiful statement of what a SILENT WITNESS means comes in that section about believing wives:

3 1   they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty . . . should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Yes, there must be good works, and there must be a willingness to NOT GET INVOLVED – but the most striking qualities are those of CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

Set out here in

BEAUTIFUL LIVES:-

·        Purity

·        Reverence

·        A gentle and quiet spirit

 

Of course Peter is writing about marital purity – but that is a splendid description of the character of a believer – single-minded in relationships – or to use the old word CHASTE

He contrasts the wife who follows the most extravagant fashions and parades herself in what we once called a “common” way.

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

I hope no-one is fingering their jewellery nervously – or worrying about how much the hairdo cost – or the latest outfit . . .  (and believe me in today’s world that can describe the men!)   - what Peter is focussing on is the INNER BEAUTY

Something that God admires!

the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,

We must not forget that Peter’s first focus here is on a “mixed marriage” of a believer to and unbeliever.  Hers is not to be the role of constantly preaching at her husband – but being submissive to his as yet unconverted ways.

That is harder than it seems to any of us who have lived and married within the faith.

And that takes us to Peter’s other central theme:

By submission

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

And we might add . . . “and to MP’s whose expenses make us angry. . .”

17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king.

It is a rounded submission in which all are given their proper respect

Whether God who is supreme

Or the Queen who is head of state

Or the man and woman in the street

Or the family of believers…

To the Pastor, Elders, Deacons,

To all the family members of the Church.

I have no doubt that God planned the coming of His Son at a time when there was hardly any democracy as we know it – and a greater sense of “place” and “role” than in our everyman for himself society.

How is such a radically different world view possible?

Only as LOVE is at work in our lives:-

By Love

 1:22  so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart

2:17 Love the brotherhood of believers

4:8 Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins

We who have experienced the LOVE OF GOD must witness to that love by loving Him – and by loving His people.

That which, from a human perspective, makes it possible for the believing wife whom Peter describes to be submissive to her unbelieving husband – is her love for him.

That which, from a SILENT WITNESS perspective makes it possible for us to be submissive to all authority in a largely unbelieving state – is LOVE

As Jesus said so provocatively:

JOHN 13: 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Striking isn’t it, that Jesus does not restate the Law regarding love of neighbour – but He gives us the key to SILENT WITNESS

By this all men will know . . . IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER

Peter knows that the Church is not perfect – there are still sins in the fellowship – but that which from God made forgiveness possible – is from us the source of covering sins.

4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

“There in your local church is Ann, who doesn’t know much about hygiene and is frankly “smelly.” Bill wears you out with incessant talking. Cathy is unspiritual. Don doesn’t get along with Esther. Fred treats his wife badly. Gene is a gauche teen-ager, never knowing how to act with courtesy and discretion. Helen often grumbles. Iris has a different set of interests and values (she can’t come to the Tuesday-evening prayer meeting because it clashes with the local Amnesty International group). And so on it goes. There is Kevin, to be sure, who is really quite saintly but rather drab as a person. None of them is very easy to love at full stretch.

 

 And yet love is the answer to the problem. We find a whole host of offenses, real and imagined, in other people, and only love will over come them and regard them as of no account because love covers over a multitude of sins. It is a verse we don’t take too seriously because:

 

…We tend to assume that the biblical teaching is concerned only with formal forgiveness for wrongs committed. Doubtless this is included, but the scope is wider. What Peter says here is closer to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5: “Love … keeps no record of wrongs.” It does not treasure up the memory of wrongs committed or offenses, but releases them and does not hold them against the person. …

 

…The practice of formal forgiveness has largely dropped out of our culture. People say “sorry” or “I apologize” when they make a mistake or cross us, and we say “it doesn’t matter” or “don’t mention it,” but seldom are we in a position where it seems appropriate to say “I forgive you.” What matters is that we should not hold other people’s offenses against them but should treat them with continuing love and care.

[3]

So here is a summary of what SILENT WITNESS MEANS:-


----

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/silentwitness/

[2] Plutarch – Advice for Bride and Groom  Conjugalia praecepta  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Coniugalia_praecepta*.html

[3]Marshall, I. H. (1991). 1 Peter. The IVP New Testament commentary series (1 Pe 4:8). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

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