RPM, Volume 16, Number 14, March 30 to April 5, 2014

A Life of Harmony

1 Peter 3:8-12

By D. Marion Clark


The topic of Peter's epistle since 2:11 has been "How to Live in a NonChristian World." We've treaded through the minefield of authority in civil life, the workplace and campus, and in marriage. The directive was the same in each category — submit to appropriate authority. The guiding principle in all circumstances is that we are to live in response to God and not to the world. Our motive is to glorify God and to win our neighbors to the gospel.

We seem to be moving into safe territory now. Verse 8 presents the behavioral traits that should characterize Christian community. Verse 9 then takes us back to the hostile world and gives us the same difficult instruction we have received before. With that fair warning, let's step forward.

Christian Community

8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

This is not a startling verse, at least in comparison to similar passages and to what we have always been taught. Let's break it down.

Live in harmony with one another. Literally, it means to be "same-thinking." The KJ has be "of one mind." "Live in harmony" expresses well what Peter means. His concern here is about behavior, and to live in harmony is to live with the same intent of building up one another in the Lord. We are to be one-minded about glorifying our Lord and bearing witness to the world. We are living stones (2:5) being built together to offer acceptable sacrifices to God. Our different gifts, abilities, personalities, etc., are to complement one another, not conflict.

This is not a superficial harmony in which we are merely trying to avoid conflict. We are one-minded about loving each other and seeking the good of one another. We are one-minded about honoring and serving our Lord together. That one-mindedness makes us put aside our superficial differences and focus on what really matters to God.

This is an important point. We tend to think our differences are what is real and our courtesy is what is superficial. We say a real one-minded church would not have two styles of worship. We must be practicing a superficial politeness in order to get along. But the reality is that the harmony is real and the difference superficial. Both sets of worshipers desire to glorify God in worship; both groups fellowship together and minister together.

Be sympathetic. Sympathetic comes from this Greek word, sumpathais. It means to share feelings with another. It is what Paul meant in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. More often than not it refers to sympathizing with those who are suffering. That's why the KJ speaks in terms of compassion. "We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear," goes the old hymn.

The main thought is that we are to come alongside our brothers and sisters and share with them their feelings. That includes their joys as well. It is just as meaningful to us to have someone feel our joys; indeed, there are few things more frustrating than to have those close to us not share the same excitement we feel about something.

What we are being encouraged to do is to value what our brothers and sisters value. Be alert to what matters to them, how they are feeling about it; and then share the joy or sorrow with them.

Love as brothers. We are back to that word, philadelphia, which Peter first introduced in 1:22. We are to love each other like family; we are to bear the mark that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples they were to bear: 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 (John 13:34-35).

Peter has already given the best commentary on this in 2:9-10. Our love for one another is to be sincere. It is not the superficial smile with the promise "we'll have to get together sometime." We are to really care. Indeed, we are to be devoted to one another in showing love. Just as in a family, we are to see ourselves as connected to one another so that we show special love to one another, and we are bothered when we are not showing that love.

Be compassionate. The KJV says to be pitiful. Many of us may fit that category, but it means to show pity, or, as the NKJV puts it, to be tenderhearted. I think the distinction between this term and sympathy is that being compassionate takes on the added meaning of being kind. To show compassion is to act. It may be to provide a shoulder for support or tears; it may be to help with provisions or to help with a task. It is lending aid out of real concern for the other in need.

Be humble. The KJV, interestingly enough, translates this word as "be courteous." Both translations shed light on the other. To be humble is not simply to have a low opinion of oneself; it has to do with how we relate towards others, which translates into being courteous. It is possible, however, to be courteous without being humble, and, indeed, people will oftentimes practice extreme courtesy to patronize or show contempt. We are called to be humbly courteous to one another. To treat one another with respect with this addition — that we consider them better than ourselves.

Look at similar passages.

Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. John 13:14

I suppose another way of regarding this is that when we look at a sister or brother in Christ, we should be seeing a precious and holy daughter or son of God who shall some day receive public praise and honor from God himself.

Back to the World 9,10

Peter then leads his remarks back to Christian living in the world, although we don't need to make a clean delineation between behavior among Christians and with nonChristians. We, unfortunately, still retain the aptitude to do evil towards others and insult one another.

9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing. I mentioned that there was nothing startling with the admonitions in verse 8. By that I meant the behavior required of us, though it is difficult to actually live out, does not strike us as being odd or wrong behavior. This admonition, however, is startling, perhaps even more than the previous instructions to submit to authorities who abuse their responsibility.

How should we respond to evil done against us? What should we do when someone is mean to us? There are four basic responses. One is to whine. We may cry and rant, but that is all we do. The second is to retaliate with our own form of meanness. I think this is the more popular form of response judging by the movies. The good guys, it seems, like to do their own share of dirty tricks against the bad guys. There is no real satisfaction unless the bad guys are humiliated somehow and their deaths are especially gruesome.

There are two other responses that we generally regard as good ways to respond to evil. One is to stoically take the hits. For whatever reason, we do not react against the bad guys, but we keep our emotions in check and go on. The other is the John Wayne response. You're not looking for trouble. You're a decent guy, but if the bully tries to make trouble, you do what you need to do to stop him.

Both of those seem appropriate and the most reasonable behavior that we should expect of anyone. And yet, Peter, wants us to go beyond even these responses. We are called to bless those who do evil against us and insult us.

Peter is not being original by any means. Paul said the same thing. In Romans 12:17 he writes: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. We can understand that. It is reasonable that we should not react against sin with our own sin. But three verses before that he said, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Peter and Paul are saying that we are to actively do good to those who would do us harm. We are to apply the Golden Rule to our enemies. Where do they get this stuff from? Jesus. He is the one who gave the Golden Rule. Let's read that verse in its context.

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back (Luke 6:27-35).

This is a tough life to live. It is hard, but it comes with the gospel package. Because to this you were called. When we were called into the kingdom of God, we were called to adhere to its standards, and God's standards prove to be much higher than the world's or anything that we would have come up with.

And Jesus never hid the cost of living for him.

27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish' (Luke 14:27-30).

It is a tough life to live, but it is also a blessed one: to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. Peter has already held up for his people the great reward that awaits them when they receive their inheritance in glory. I am sure he has that in mind, but he also is indicating the blessing they receive in their present lives.

Verse 10, Whoever would love life and see good days could apply to the future life, but probably means now. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous now. His ears are attentive to their prayer now, verse 12.

The Christian life is not a postponed life. We take Christ's call to bear our cross now as meaning that we must postpone joy for our future life and simply endure the burdensome life now. If we are seeking full joy now, we will be disappointed. Full joy and the accompanying glory to come is for the future life, but though we may not receive our fill until the future, we can be more than amply supplied with blessing now.

What are the blessings we receive now? There is the blessing of having an inheritance to expect. In his great mercy he has given us new birth…into an inheritance (1:3-4). Many times we have been comforted amidst this life's sorrows knowing the joy that awaits us; many times we have been comforted in the death of loved ones knowing that they have entered into joy.

There is the blessing of the peace of God. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you (John 14:27). We can attest how, in the midst of trials, we have been given an unexplainable peace. We have had a sense of calm and security that we can only attribute to the Spirit of God.

There is also the blessing of giving blessing. In Romans 1, Paul speaks of the judgment God placed on those who rebelliously sin. Three times, after noting their sins he says, "God gave them over." What he gave them over to was further depravation, to further sin. To be entangled in sinful behavior was punishment. Again, we need to be reminded, living in wickedness is not the good life; it certainly is not the blessed life.

Now, if God punishes sin by giving the sinner over to more sin, understand that he blesses loving behavior by making the person an even greater blessing to others. To be a blessing to others is the blessed good life. We understand that. The less a person's mind is taken up with resentment and hate, and the more it is filled with the desire to bless others, the happier such a person will be. Who will have more peace in life? The one filled with desire to "get what's coming to me," or the one filled with desire to lead others into the salvation of the Lord?


Nevertheless, it is a tough life to live. Indeed, the kind of life to which we are called to live is more than any of us can bear under our own willpower. My goodness, I get sullen if I think a waitress is not giving me proper service; now I'm told I should be thinking how to make her cheerful. I'm being told I should be sharing blessing with the store clerk who is sharing his boredom with me. How am I going to bless those who really are trying to cheat me and offend me?

The first step for us to take is to pray. We need to name these individuals in prayer to God. Even that can be difficult for us because we don't like to admit to ourselves that there are people we don't like and who we don't want to bless. But we need to take these individuals to God in prayer. We should pray for God to be merciful to them and not give them over to further sin. We should pray for their salvation. We should further confess our own sinful attitude towards them, that God would change our hearts and use us to bless them for his sake and the gospel's. It is through prayer that we are most likely to experience change in both ourselves and our enemies.

The second step is to study faithfully the Bible. Through systematic reading of the scriptures you will find insight into God's character and the gospel that will motivate and guide you into right behavior. If you read through the Psalms you will find people experiencing the same troubles you do. If you read through Proverbs you will find practical wisdom for every area of your life. The Bible is the proclamation of God's redemption, but throughout its pages is practical wisdom to guide you through life's challenges.

The third step is to seek the counsel, encouragement and accountability of fellow Christians. For whatever reason, God has not made us to be self-sufficient. We have neither the mental nor the emotional capacity to live for God's glory without the support of one another. We like to say, "All I need is God." It is more biblical to say, "All I need is what God provides" and God provides the community of his people.

Finally, always turn to the grace of God. That is the gospel — God's grace. Turn to the grace of God's forgiveness for the many times you have failed to do right and the many times you will fail again. Turn to the grace of God's power to work in you what only his Spirit can do. You will find yourself going beyond what you ever thought you could do. And turn to the grace of God's promise that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Do these instructions burden you because of your inability to carry them out completely? Someday you shall. The promise for you is that someday you, yourself, will be sinless. You will fulfill the destiny for which you were created and recreated in Christ — to reflect fully the image of God.

Until that day, know that your God will lift you up each time you stumble. By grace we were redeemed; by grace we are sustained; and by grace we will be brought to glory.

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