1 Peter 3:8-12 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 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.”
Have you ever seen one of those cardboard cutouts that has the body of a superhero or an animal or a historical figure printed on it and a hole cut out for you to stick your face through? Our family has pictures with several of these throughout the years. The thing that makes these cutouts fun is how silly our faces look on the painted bodies. The humor is in the fact that face and the body don’t match.
The point of our passage for this morning is that the people of God—the Church—honor God when we live in such a way as to match our head, Jesus Christ. When we claim to be followers of Jesus but live in selfishness and fear and hatred and pride we are like the cardboard cutouts. People can only conclude that Jesus is those things too or that we are hypocrites (like our face on the body of Popeye). On the other hand, when we live in love and holiness and unity and kindness and humility, people instinctively know that we match our head, who is those things as well.
Let’s pray that Peter’s words would help us match our head.
As the first word of our passage (“finally”) indicates, vs.8-12 mark the conclusion of a line of thinking that began back in 2:13. The point of this section, once again, is to call suffering Christians to honor God by being “subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” The reason for this charge is that obedience to it puts the effectiveness of Jesus’ cross on brilliant display—it shows that the cross worked as the means of salvation and redemption for mankind. The reason for this charge is that it also puts on display the fact that our hope is in that cross and not in human institutions—it shows that we believe in the effectiveness of the cross. The reason for this charge is that with these two things together serve as a powerful witness to sustain Christians and convert non-Christians—it shows that the power of the cross is available to all who would receive it in faith.
We’ve already seen Peter’s specific instructions in this regard to Christians within the human institutions of government, business, and family. And now, finally, we see his instructions to the Church. That is, the point of this passage is to instruct Christians on how we ought to relate to one another in the midst of trial in such a way as to direct people’s attention to Christ. It describes what the body of Jesus will be like if it is to match our Head, for it is when we match our Head that we most fully show the glory of God and minister to the unbelieving world.
With that, let’s consider Peter’s instructions to the Church.
For those of you who love lists, you’re in luck. Peter gives a list of things suffering Christians must “have” in order to please God…sort of. Remember, the point of the section (and the list) is to call Christians to live in such a way that their belief in the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection would be the only explanation. Consequently, Peter certainly didn’t mean this to be understood as an exhaustive list. He meant it to teach his readers of the kinds of things that they might pursue as a means of accomplishing that larger goal. The point, therefore, isn’t the list, but fulfilling the purpose of the list. And that reality means two important things that I want to draw your attention to before getting to the list itself.
First, it means that we ought to think carefully about our own context and the attitudes/dispositions we might have to accomplish the purpose set forth by Peter. Our list will never be contrary to Peter’s—as if disunity of mind or callousness toward the suffering of others might point people to Jesus—but it will likely include additional items and different emphases in light of our differing culture and circumstances. For instance, in Peter’s day when the church was experiencing significant persecution, the courage to endure physical suffering might have been the virtue that most made the watching world marvel at the gospel’s transforming power. While today, in a place of exceedingly limited physical persecution, giving your life to missions or caring for orphans or serving the poorest of poor (none of which made Peter’s list) might better accomplish the same purpose. Again, our aim is to accomplish Peter’s purpose, not mark off each item on his checklist.
The second important thing to see before getting to the list is the context in which Peter’s readers lived. Remember, he was writing to people who had been exiled because of their faith in Jesus. They had endured suffering of all kinds including oppression, beatings, reviling, abuse, and injustice. Undoubtedly, in their suffering, Peter noticed in himself and in those within his churches certain temptations of the flesh—that is, temptation toward certain sinful responses. It is, therefore, as important to understand what kind of attitude Peter’s list is meant to combat as it is to understand the attitude he prescribes.
With that, keeping in mind the gospel-highlighting purpose of the list, let’s consider the six things (five internal and one external) Peter charges the Church to have, and the sinful temptations they’re meant to combat. Next week we’ll look at the specific reasons and grounds for these things.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 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.
- Unity of mind. To have unity of mind—or to be of one mind—means accepting the same standard of truth (God’s Word) and the same foundational convictions (most centrally, the gospel). It does not mean having the same musical preferences or hobbies, or even the same conclusions on every theological point. It means acknowledging that God’s word is the standard for all things, God’s glory is the goal of all things, and Christ’s sacrificial death is the hope of all things. And it means living alongside God’s people with an earnest desire and willingness to work toward common convictions. This concept is found throughout the bible.
Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Philippians 2:1-2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
We are in the middle of working toward this as it pertains to women’s ministry at Grace. I’m thankful for the several men and women who have given careful and prayerful thought to the bible’s teaching concerning God’s unique design for and charges to women. And I’m thankful for the fact that, having discovered a few different perspectives, we’re all eagerly working toward unity of mind through the refining work of God’s word.
As we all know too well, however, it doesn’t always work like that. At Grace we’ve occasionally seen the other side as well. We’ve experienced the distracting and discouraging effects of disunity of mind, resulting in ministries becoming paralyzed, skepticism regarding other’s motives, and much discouragement even among friends.
At the time in which Peter wrote, the gospel was so new and fresh that there was a good deal of confusion regarding a number of doctrinal and practical implications of the gospel. This confusion produced conflicts within the Church (Acts 15:39; 1 Corinthians 11:18). Peter witnessed the harmful effects of disunity himself, watching (and participating in) betrayals and denials of Jesus. He certainly had these things in mind as he wrote of the need for “unity of mind”.
And yet, most importantly of all, he undoubtedly also had in mind the very words of Jesus (which he was there to hear in person) concerning the perfect unity of mind among the godhead (which is the real foundation of the Church’s charge for the same). For that reason, he called the church to subject their minds to one another as they all subjected them to God’s word.
Grace, let us not be indifferent to the unity of our convictions. It is our convictions that determine our feelings and actions. And it is our feelings and actions that are most on display to the world to either tell the truth about the gospel or to lie about it.
- Sympathy. As we’ve noted previously, perhaps the easiest temptation in times of personal struggle is to turn inward under the belief that our suffering justifies our selfishness. In a war it’s easy to reason, “While I’m being shot at, I’m exempt from worrying about the fact that my buddy is too.” When sick it’s easy to reason, “I’m miserable, therefore I can’t be expected to worry about other people’s needs.” When lonely it’s easy to reason, “No one is seeking me out, and so why should I worry about someone else’s loneliness.” When money is tight it’s easy to reason, “I barely have enough to pay my bills, I have enough to deal with without having to deal with anyone else’s financial problems.”
I shared this example with you all a while back…Having spent a night watching our puking kids, after getting everyone cleaned up and off to bed, I was so exhausted that I went to sleep without even considering the vomit that I’d left untouched in the van. I felt like the mental-checkout was justified in spite of the fact that Gerri had meningitis—and was left to clean it up.
And yet, believe it or not, my suffering-induced self-focus did not leave Gerri thinking of the gospel; and neither does the running soldier or inward-turned sick, lonely, or financially struggling person.
What does make people think of the gospel, however, is genuine concern for the suffering of others—especially when we’re enduring suffering of our own. That’s exactly what sympathy is and that’s exactly why Peter calls for it. He first charges the Church to pursue unity of mind. Here he charges the Church to pursue unity of concern.
Grace, we cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others—even if we’re in a season of suffering ourselves. If we are to live in such a way that matches our head, Jesus, if we are to draw people’s attention to the gospel, we must be people of profound sympathy. Taking a meal to someone who is caring for a family member with cancer or who has recently lost a loved one isn’t primarily about feeding them (McDonalds can do that), it’s primarily about expressing the fact that we’re experiencing sadness because of their sadness and our love for them. Again, I’m exceedingly glad to be a part of a church that gets this. Grace, continue in this and press even further in. Ask God to increase your sympathy and ability to express it fruitfully.
- Brotherly love. The first two of Peter’s charges (unity of mind and sympathy) are made possible and even easy (at times) by philadelphia—brotherly love. My sister and I have plenty of issues. We haven’t always seen eye to eye or gotten along. We’re spread out by hundreds of miles. We have different tastes in many things (she only recently started liking meat). We’ve broken one another’s bones and caused one another to need stitches. And yet, in spite of all our differences and in light of countless disagreements, there is a shared affection that would cause either of us to drop everything at a moment’s notice if need be. She knows that she’ll never have to worry about having a home or clothes as long as I have a home or clothes. She knows that as long as Gerri and I are alive her kids will have a family. She knows that our money is hers. And she knows that if she screws something up, I’ll be there to help (even if that means tough love).
We have a type of affection, a type of love for one another, that the bible calls “brotherly love”. By in large the world around us expects this kind of love between biological siblings. What it doesn’t expect, however, is this type of love among people of different tribes, tongues, and nations. It doesn’t expect it between people with different skin color and cultures. It doesn’t expect it among those from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. It doesn’t expect it from people who have nothing visible in common.
The church is made up of people with all of these differences and more, and with nothing visible in common. It is the gospel that binds us as adopted sons and daughters of God; as members of the family of God. But our family bond through faith is far deeper and far more significant (Jesus taught) than any merely biological bond. We ought to have, therefore, Peter wrote, an even greater and deeper brotherly love for one another. If our earthly families need not worry about food, clothing, shelter, money, or affection, how much less ought our heavenly family need to worry about these things.
It must have been tempting at times for the exiled Christians to whom Peter was writing to want to close ranks around their immediate family. It’s not hard to imagine that temptation is it? But Peter understood that, that is not consistent with the gospel and so he called the Church to brotherly love for one another. We must and will love one another in these ways, therefore, as a necessary fruit of the gospel. This will cause us to stand out from the world, pointing to world to Jesus, and enabling God’s people to match our Head.
- Tender hearts. To be tender hearted is similar to having brotherly love. It is to be kind. It is to have a deep desire for the good and well-being of others. It is a willingness to trust and be vulnerable with others.
The opposite is a calloused heart. Again, unfortunately, I’ve seen this in the church (as Peter must have as well). Some difficult situation takes place—perhaps an interpersonal conflict or a theological disagreement or a difference in opinion on a particular point of ministry philosophy—and all of a sudden we stop giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. We start questioning their motives. We start interpreting things in the worst possible ways. We stop thinking of others primarily as children of God and instead think of them mainly as the ones who hurt us or got in our way.
When this becomes the state of our hearts, we lie about the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. And we overshadow the power of the cross. Allowing calluses to develop on our hearts will keep us from being hurt to a certain degree, but it will also keep us from painting an accurate picture of Christ’s sacrificial death. We cannot allow our hearts to grow hard toward one another if we mean to point people to the cross.
If there is a disagreement with another, don’t leave it to fester. Don’t allow your heart to harden. Instead, fight to preserve tenderness as Jesus did (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”) and for the sake of the gospel be reconciled.
- Humble minds. Finally (in terms of Peter’s internal charges), we must be humble. Simply, this means not thinking more highly of our selves than we ought. Humility is thinking appropriately about ourselves—nothing more and nothing less. At the very least this means recognizing that even though we are loved and blessed in unbelievable ways by God, we are also finite, limited, ignorant, and vulnerable to sin and temptation of all kinds.
When trials come our way, especially the kinds that involve other people, it can be all-to-easy to pridefully believe we have the upper hand. It’s easy to believe that we have things figured out and others have things wrong. We would do well to be of the same mind as the apostle Paul who wrote, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4).
This type of humility frees us to pursue unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, and tender hearts. It frees us to be eager to learn and quick to apologize. It frees us to highlight the grace of God in others without the need to draw attention to ourselves. It frees us to take lowly positions within the body while delighting in the fruitfulness of those who rise to positions of prominence.
And above all, this type of humility proves the effectiveness of the gospel working in us, it points people to Jesus, and it is the kind of disposition from the body that matches the Head.
Unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender hearts, and humble minds are to mark the hearts of God’s people. It is these things that make us look like Jesus. It is these things—especially in the midst of persecution—that best put the gospel on display. And as these things increasingly take hold of our insides, they will work themselves out in specific external ways. Peter lists one in particular.
- Don’t repay evil for evil or reviling with reviling, but on the contrary bless others who persecute you. This language parallels 2:20-24. That is, it is these exact things that Peter pointed to in Jesus’ example.
1 Peter 2:22-23 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
This is also very much in line with the teaching of Jesus and Paul.
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…
Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Grace, when our hearts begin to properly conform to Jesus our lives will be a blessing to the whole world. Eyes open to the glory of God, our own sinfulness, and the amazingness of the grace of the cross, freed from the fear of anything the world can take from us, conformed to the moral character of God himself, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and overflowing with love for the lost, we will be a blessing to everyone who we come into contact with—whether friend or enemy, whether one coming to bless or persecute. They may not recognize our love and sacrifice, our submission and truth-telling to be blessings, but that will not change the fact that they are.
How easy is it for us to repay evil for evil and reviling for reviling? It is so easy that we can do it while dead in our sin. How hard is it for us to bless those who persecute us? It’s so hard that it took God himself becoming flesh and dying on a cross to make it possible. Which do you think the world expects to see? Which do you think is most likely to make the world think of the power of the cross?
In conclusion I want to simply and briefly answer the question of what we ought to do when these things do not mark us as fully as we’d like. What do we do if we lack unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender hearts, humble minds, patience or a desire to bless? First, confess this as sin. Don’t make excuses. Acknowledge your failure to God. Second, accept the forgiveness that is already yours in Jesus. Godly sorrow doesn’t wallow in sin and misery, it delights in the gospel. Third, cry out to God to change you. These things, if they are to be honoring to God and a blessing to others, cannot be faked. But it is God who effectively works out the change in our hearts before we are ever able to work them out in our lives. Therefore, go to God in prayer. Fourth, act as if you believed these things even as you fight to believe them. Don’t be a hypocrite by presenting yourself as one who feels these things deeply when you don’t, but live in the faith that they are good and God is working them out in you. You might not feel like opening your home to a suffering saint, but as you confess your sin of selfishness to God, delight in the forgiveness that is yours, and pray for God’s sanctifying power, open your home with full assurance that it is right and that God may be pleased to use your obedience to change your heart. And finally, fifth, remember the calling and blessing of God to all who walk this way.
Grace, as Peter charged the early church, so now he charges you and I, “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.” Amen.