Peter gives us some challenging instructions in this text: we are to love one another deeply, have compassion and sympathy, be like minded, be humble. We are not to return evil for evil, or respond to insults, but rather we are to bless. All this seems like a pretty tall order. But there are two keys to pursuing this: first, we focus on the wonderful, eternal promises of God. Second, we rely on Jesus to live his life through us.
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1 PETER #21. 1 PETER 3:8-14
Peter is going to encourage us to live out our relationships in a way that can be pretty difficult and challenging. It might even seem impossible. We’ll look first at what he asks us to do, but don’t be discouraged. We’ll finish with how we can actually do such things.
After dealing with various relationships that involve authority in one way or another, Peter turns his attention to relationships within the church in general. Earlier, he established that we are God’s specially chosen people, an ethnicity of holiness, citizens of God’s kingdom. Now, he is beginning to explain what all that means for how we should treat fellow Christians. He starts with “unity of mind,” as the ESV translates it. I prefer the translation “like minded,” which several translations use. The idea is not that there are never differing opinions in the church. It’s not that no one ever thinks different thoughts, but even when the thoughts are different, the thinking is similar. Because we have the mind of Christ, we think alike. One way to put it is that because the Holy Spirit lives in our spirits, we will look at the world in a similar way. We understand things through the same spiritual lens, because it is the same Holy Spirit that informs our understanding. Paul describes this to the Corinthians:
14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,(1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NLT)
“Who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach him?”
But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.
Because we have the mind of Christ, our intentions, our sentiments, our goals and purposes are the same. We might get there in different ways, but we should be able to recognize “the mind of Christ,” in other Christians, and that should motivate us to get along, even when we disagree with each other about particulars.
Peter adds that we should be full of sympathy. Sympathy means that we “feel with,” one another. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians:
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.(1 Corinthians 12:22-27, NLT)
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
This is exactly what Peter is getting at in our text for today. Your joy is my joy. Your sorrow is also mine. Not in a fake way, but in a real way that says: “Because of Jesus Christ, we belong together in the same family forever. So, I’m with you. I’ve got your back.”
Peter adds three more things that should characterize Christian community (that is to say, churches): brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. I think we understand brotherly love. I just want to make sure that we don’t start faking it. As Paul writes elsewhere: “Love must be genuine.” Brotherly love isn’t actually brotherly love unless it is real. This could be very challenging – how do you love some one genuinely if you actually sort of dislike them?
The next one is translated by the ESV as “a tender heart.” Several translations have “compassion,” here. This is actually a very rich word in Greek. A literal translation might be: “a good feeling in your very bowels.” In practice it means, a deeply felt emotion toward others that is positive. At your deepest being, you are committed to other followers of Jesus.
Finally, there is a humble mind, or humble thinking. Humility in your thinking doesn’t necessarily mean that you think you are wrong. You can be absolutely certain you are correct about something, and yet still approach others with humility. Our humility is to be directed at our own selves in a particular way. We are to be humble about getting our own way, humble about being heard; preferring to let others be honored. You can be absolutely sure you are correct, with no doubts, and yet still approach others with humility. You aren’t humble about what you believe, but rather, because of Jesus, you don’t need to insist on your own way. You don’t need to show off, or make people see that you are right, after all.
If Christians took these instructions of Peter to heart, churches – which, again, are supposed to be communities of Christians – would be wonderful places to be. We wouldn’t just be nice to each other in a surface way. In fact, sometimes, real love means confronting one another with a kind and humble attitude, but not compromising the truth. Such churches would be very attractive to non-Christians – beacons of grace and love in a world that cares about performances, wealth and status. But a lot of Christians don’t because we think it is up to us to make it all work.
Peter once again admonishes us to follow the example of Jesus in all of our relationships:
9 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(1 Peter 3:9, ESV)
This, along with everything before, would be impossible, and even foolish, unless we could look to promises that were imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Which of course, is why Peter began his letter by reminding us that we do have such promises. If this life is all there is, how could it possibly be useful to bless those who revile us, or to not repay those who do wrong with a taste of their own medicine? We would live a life where people hurt us, we did nothing, and then we died. So what? What would be the point in being that sort of person? Peter says that by behaving this way, we “obtain a blessing.” He seems to think that Psalm 34 provides some help on this subject, so the next few lines he writes are a quotation from that Psalm. Here’s the section he quotes:
12 Who is someone who desires life,(Psalms 34:12-16, CSB. [If you compare it to 1 Peter 3:10-12, you will see that they are the same, except that Peter’s translation is slightly abbreviated])
loving a long life to enjoy what is good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from deceitful speech.
14 Turn away from evil and do what is good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry for help.
16 The face of the LORD is set
against those who do what is evil,
to remove all memory of them from the earth.
When we think about this, I believe it is very important to understand how the promises of God work. Everything we have in this life, except for our own selves, and our relationships with others, will eventually pass away. Our strength will fail, and our bodies will die. Our wealth will either be used up, or passed to others when our bodies die. Our cars will eventually fall apart, probably sooner rather than later. Our houses might stand for a long time, but they will no longer be ours, and eventually, they, too, will be either bulldozed, or fall apart on their own.
Therefore, any promise of God that is for this life, is only temporary. As such, it isn’t really much of a promise, if it is only for the here and now. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone (CSB).” To make it practical, imagine I had the promise of physical healing from my pain in this life, but NO promise for eternal life. Even a couple decades free from pain would not be comparable to eternal life in a perfect body, living in fellowship with Jesus and all those who trust him in a beautiful, pain-free world.
So any promise that is for this life is only a partial promise. The promises of God that are most precious are those that last forever. We can ask for, and receive in thankfulness, God’s blessings in our lives today. But those are just extras, thrown in to remind us that the real thing is coming soon. Those blessings and miracles and answered prayers are just a foretaste, and aperitif, of the main course that is coming.
Now, it isn’t wrong to ask for blessings here and now. It isn’t wrong to crave more of the delicious foretaste. What is wrong, however, is to declare that God is somehow unjust, or evil, or cruel, for not doing what we think is best here and now. In many cases, I assume, God’s promises can’t be truly fulfilled until we are in the new creation. Take the promise of eternal life, for instance. Imagine God gave eternal life to your sinful flesh. You would be stuck in your present body forever. Every little thing you don’t like about your body would be with you forever. Because your body is corrupted by sin, you would be stuck in patterns of sin and disappointment and self-centeredness that last forever. No, I don’t want that particular promise (eternal life) fulfilled before it is time, before God’s perfect plan has come to fruition. In fact, if God fulfilled it now, it would become a truly horrible thing. I believe that if we could know what God already knows, we’d be able to see clearly that so many of his eternal promises are like that. So many things that we want cannot really be had as long as we live in this sin-corrupted world, and in these sin-corrupted bodies.
So, when Psalm 34 talks about long life and good days, or evil people being removed from the world, I believe that is referring mainly to eternal life. I think that is also true when Peter says that when we don’t return evil for evil, we “obtain a blessing.” Now, perhaps what God does in eternity has echoes here and now. So maybe we do have some sense of blessing, and “good days” now. The foretaste is real, but it’s not the main course. Your best day in this life will be unbelievably worse than your worst day in the New Creation. Therefore, because of what we have coming to us in eternity, we can live a different sort of life, here and now.
Maybe it’s a bit like a multiplayer video game. You’re playing a game with several other real people, and maybe some computer generated players. In the game, one of the real people pulls a kind of dirty trick. That would make most normal people a bit angry. The emotion of anger is, I think, normal in such a situation, and not wrong. And yet, if you take a moment to get perspective, you can let it go fairly easily, because it doesn’t actually impact your real life. Though it matters at this moment, once you are done with the game it won’t matter at all.
If we can remember that we have a new creation and eternal life waiting for us, that allows us to treat others more kindly. If we remember that we have promises in the New Creation that will never spoil or fade, promises of a life full of joy and adventure and love and friendship, that makes it easier to put up with stupid stuff right now.
All of this is confirmed, I think, by Peter’s next words:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.(1 Peter 3:13-14, ESV)
Even if we suffer for doing good, even if we suffer unjustly, we will be blessed. How can he say that? Because of the eternal promises of God. How can we possibly live like this? Even though we have the promises of God, sometimes it is hard to love our fellow Christians as Peter exhorts us to. Sometimes it is hard to not return evil for evil. What can we do?
If you think about it, what Peter is really asking of us is that we should be like Jesus. But I think the concept of being like Jesus isn’t quite right, because frankly, I can’t be like Jesus – at least not for very long at a time (I speak only for myself, but I trust you to be honest about yourself). If that’s all that Peter is saying, we are back to living by the law.
I don’t think that’s what Peter is asking, however. Instead, I would put it like this: we are supposed to manifest the character of Jesus. Jesus lives in us, through the Holy Spirit. We need to “let him out.” Let Jesus, who is inside of you, live his life through you, as you. It isn’t about me making a huge effort to love my fellow Christians, and to not repay evil for evil. Instead, it is about me surrendering my life to Jesus, to let him do as he pleases with my life, and through my life.
The life of Jesus living through me will look slightly different from the life of Jesus living through you, but there will be a commonality, which is why Peter says we ought to be “like minded.” We recognize Jesus in each other, and that leads to the love and deep compassion, sympathy and humility that Peter talks about. Our main work is to trust that Jesus will do it, and then trust when the Holy Spirit gives us a nudge to do something, or not do something. When we rely on him, it is no longer about us.
This is one reason it is so important to know the Bible. The more time we spend with the Bible, the easier it is to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, how he leads you. We also learn by engaging with our fellow-disciples, and through prayer and worship, and through self discipline.
Why not give it a try right now? Let Jesus live his life through you. Pay attention to the Bible as you read it. Pay attention to the little nudges you get from the Holy Spirit. Listen to how other Jesus-followers encourage you. Above all, ask, and then trust, the Holy Spirit to do this work in you and through you.