“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do 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. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 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.’ Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:8-17).
Church (or that big word, ecclesiology) finds its relational or social foundation in the terms and concepts of “household” and “family.” The church (really a locally addressed gathered-church) is a new kind of “household,” a new kind of “family”; with a new definition, not of blood, but from new birth in Christ, that is a company of gathered strangers and unequals who are now in Christ, where the Spirit of God dwells, and who are the presence of Christ (His body) in space and time in a community, a neighborhood, a spot on the map.
The presence of this new family, a local gathered-church, was viewed as inappropriate to the social order of the Greco-Roman (even Jewish) world by those outside the church, especially by those in authority and those who had power over the social order; and, thus, was viewed as a threat to the status quo and social order. The church was dangerous to those who were in power (from Caesar to male head of households).
The question is, do we, the local church, so look and feel like the world and social norms around us that we are no longer a real threat. We do not read well our text here in 1 Peter 3 (above) unless with get, unless we grasp the church as “as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1) was a threat to the Roman Empire and its ordered way of life.
This text reminds us of who we are as a gathered (local) church—in a neighborhood—that is, first, a safe space for a gathering of strangers and unequals, a new kind of family; and that, second, our gathering together as church and our putting on Jesus provokes those outside the church to ask us about the hope we have in Christ. On the one hand we ought to be scandalous, while at the same time be the hope those who are outside need.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.