1 Peter Part 4: A Plea for Unity and Love
1 Peter 3:8-12; 1 John 3:14; Matthew 5:38-45 - Harmony, sympathy, brotherly love, kindheartedness, and a humble spirit; do not return evil for evil.
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For,
“The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.””
1 Peter 3:8-12 NASB1995
Peter tells his believers that they should ALL be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted and humble in spirit. Other versions of the Bible (KJV, NKJV, NIV, for example) speak of being of “one mind” or having a unity of mind, which is encapsulated in the word harmonious in the NASB1995 version.
Let’s explore these five virtues:
Harmonious comes from the Greek word ὁμόφρων or homophron, which means to be of one mind. This is the only usage in the NT. To be harmonious is not telling us to be robotic, identical clones of each other, but to know the mind of Jesus through the Word of God and emulate Him in harmony with other believers. We are members of a vast choir, singing different notes and in different voice ranges, but bringing together the result in a splendid harmony. Here are some salient points about this harmony from Precept Austin, which is a wonderful compendium of detailed examinations and other commentaries on most verses of Scripture:
A phrase that is appropriate in this context is:
In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Love.
“Unity in diversity" and "Diversity in Unity”.
Unity does not mean uniformity but it does mean cooperation in the midst of diversity. The members of the body work together in unity, even though they are all different. Christians may differ on how things are to be done, but they must agree on what is to be done and why.
A man criticized D. L. Moody’s methods of evangelism, and Moody said "Well, I’m always ready for improvement. What are your methods?"The man confessed that he had none to which Moody quickly replied "Then I’ll stick to my own."
Whatever methods we may use, we must seek to honor Christ, win the lost, and build the church. Some methods are definitely not scriptural, but there is plenty of room for variety in the church. How would you describe your church… harmonious? Are you contributing to the harmony of your local body or are you marked by discord in attitude and action?
Think about your church as a "symphony orchestra" that the world is watching and listening to. Is you church "music" concordant or cacophonous?
Sympathetic comes from the Greek word συμπαθής or sympathes, meaning having mutual compassion and commiseration with each other. This is the only usage of this word in this tense in the NT. Again, some excellent points are made in Precept Austin about this virtue:
Sympathy is a feeling for or a capacity for sharing in the interests of another. The sympathetic individual manifests an affinity, association, or relationship with others such that whatever affects one similarly affects the other. Sympathy often suggests a tender concern and can also imply a power to enter into another’s emotional experience of any sort.
Sympathy is feeling what others feel so that you can respond with sensitivity to the need. It's the picture of suffering with another by entering into and sharing their feelings rather than simply by having compassion on them from a distance.
People who have true sympathy generally do not say, "I know how you feel." Because since they know how you feel, they also know how unhelpful it is to hear someone say, "I know how you feel."
True sympathy is usually a fairly quiet, time-intensive, presence-intensive way of being, feeling what others feel so that you can respond with sensitivity to the need.
Remember people usually don't care to know how much you know until they know how much you care.
Brotherly comes from the Greek word φιλάδελφος or philadelphos, defined as a love among brethren or the love of one Christian for another. This is the only usage of this word as an adjective in the NT. This love come from creating relationships with other believers that are more like family relationships than just casual acquaintances. The Apostle John also advised believers about having this type of love in one of his epistles:
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.”
1 John 3:14 NASB1995
Kindhearted comes from the Greek word εὔσπλαγχνος or eusplagchnos, literally meaning “to feel generous in your belly” or be truly compassionate and tender-hearted. It is a state of being that comes from being able to forgive and go beyond that forgiveness and have a tender heart for others. Precept Austin quotes biblical scholar Kenneth Wuest about this virtue:
The first century was cold and hard-hearted. Christianity, with its tenderizing influence upon the heart, had not had time nor opportunity yet to make much of an impact upon the callous heart of man. Today we have as a result of its benign influence hospitals, homes for the aged, charities of one sort or another. And yet how callous our hearts are to another’s pain. Only the overflowing love of God and the experience of much suffering in one’s own life can fit us to really sympathize with others in the sense of feeling their pain ourselves, thus suffering with them.
Humble in Spirit comes from the Greek compound word ταπεινοφροσύνη or tapeinophrosýne, meaning deep sense of one’s own moral littleness or modesty, humility or lowliness of mind. I’m finding all sorts of good commentary on Precept Austin today; here are some nuggets about this virtue:
Humility is not thinking poorly of oneself. Rather, it is having the proper estimate of oneself in the will of God. The person with humility thinks of others first and not of himself.
Humility, when it becomes self-conscious, ceases to have any value
It is not just that we are to act the role of a servant, but that inside, with all authenticity, we are to have a lowly spirit. We feel that we are utterly dependent on God for life and breath and intelligence and emotional stability and faith and safety and the use of our senses; and we feel utterly fragile and vulnerable in ourselves. On top of that we feel sinful and unworthy as we look at ourselves apart from the free grace of God. And this grace makes us wonder-struck that we are loved, not pushy and self-assertive.
Did you observe something that all five of those words have in common? They are all descriptions of what we are on the inside, not primarily how we act. A common mindset, sympathetic in feeling, a family love, kindly disposed in the depths of our innards, humble in spirit. That's an unusual human being. This is why Peter's call to us is not possible without a new birth and a new heart, one that now has the potential of being controlled by the Holy Spirit and life out these inner attitudes supernaturally. Be wary of trying to live out these attitudes in your own strength, because it is not possible.
I included the last paragraph because this commentary notes that all five of these virtues are on the inside and not in how we act. You cannot live out these attitudes on your own strength. You must be born again and receive the Holy Spirit to even begin to model these spiritual graces.
Peter continues in this precept, telling believers that they should not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead give a blessing upon others so that you can receive a blessing. Peter obviously listened during the Sermon on the Mount or read good notes later on, when Jesus said this about retaliation and loving our enemies:
““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Matthew 5:38-45 NASB1995
To emphasize to his readers that this command is nothing new, Peter quotes from Psalm 34:12-16, reminding them that the face of the Lord is always against those who do evil. Let’s end this with a couple of comments on this passage from Enduring Word. Our world is full of hostility, retaliation, and counter retaliation. Go read the comments on ANY topic on social media and you will see evil blooming as strangers insult each other and “up the ante”. It is up to us as believers to break the cycle:
No dispute, argument, or personality conflict among believers should linger. Even if one Christian gets out of line, the loving response of other Christians should keep the problem small and short-lived.
The natural response to hostility is retaliation. This is what the terrible ethnic conflicts all over the world are all about – one group wrongs another, and dedicates the rest of its existence to repaying that wrong. Only the love of Jesus for our enemies can break the terrible cycle.
Let him turn away from evil and do good: Doing good is often difficult because as a general rule, evil is rewarded immediately and the reward of doing good is often delayed. But the rewards of good are better and far more secure than the rewards of doing evil. God promises this in the passage quoted by Peter.
My next devotional examines 1 Peter 3:13-17 How to handle it when our good is returned with evil. This will greatly expand on the last part of this devotional today.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me model these virtues in everything that I do. I pray that I can be harmonious, sympathetic, have love for other believers, be kindhearted and humble in spirit. I pray that I never retaliate with evil for an evil or an insult for an insult (I certainly need help with the latter in particular). Help me to bring blessings to others, even to enemies. In Jesus name, Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.