The Kind of Church Community Everyone Wants
We are examining 1 Peter 3:8 and Peter’s exhortation to all Christians. Continue reading . . .
We are examining 1 Peter 3:8 and Peter’s exhortation to all Christians:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
There are dozens of things that Peter might have said to us about our responsibility toward one another. In fact, we could put together a lengthy list from the entirety of the NT that outlines all the so-called “one-anothering” responsibilities of Christians. But Peter here focuses on only five. Don’t get the idea that he is talking here merely about actions or deeds. Yes, that is involved. But clearly he also has in view our attitudes, our affections toward one another. He’s talking about what goes on inside us, not simply outside.
And virtually everything he tells us to do is utterly contrary to human nature. Without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the life that we were granted when we were born again, none of this would work. It would all reduce to rank hypocrisy as we put on a face and say the right words but don’t really mean anything we say or do.
Now, one more thing before we look at v. 8. I’m sure many of you have had some really rotten experiences with the local church. Me too. But try to envision yourself in a church characterized by the opposite of each of the five things Peter mentions in v. 8. In other words, the reason why Peter focuses on these particular elements of Christian community is because he knows how devastating it would be if the church were characterized by the antithesis to each of these. So consider:
A church that instead of unity of mind is riddled with disunity and the confusion that it brings . . .
A church that instead of sympathy is filled with people who quite literally couldn’t care less how others feel . . .
A church known not for brotherly love but selfish disregard for others and their struggles and their significance . . .
A church that is filled with people who are cold-hearted and calloused when it comes to other people, utterly insensitive to their pain and their disappointment and their needs . . .
A church so puffed up with its own importance and people so arrogant and prideful that instead of compassion there is competition and instead of generosity there is greed and instead of preferring others there is only preference for oneself.
Is that the sort of church to which you would be drawn or that would hold forth any appeal to the spiritually hungry in our world? I doubt it.
Let’s take note of the first two of five features of Christian community
(1) The first thing he mentions is “unity of mind”.
Other translations render this, be "harmonious," that is, have a common mindset, not necessarily all the same tastes or gifts or habits, but the same thoughts and assessments of the essentials of life: God, salvation, virtue.
Peter doesn’t mean we all have to dress the same way or like the same food or cheer for the same football team or drive the same model of car or enjoy the same hobbies.
Rather, he is talking about sharing the same spiritual values, recognizing and contending for the same theological truths, proclaiming the same gospel, and most important of all, being devoted to and passionate about the same Christ and his supremacy and glory.
Interestingly, this is the only place this word appears in the NT, but the idea is also found in Romans 15:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:1-2; 4:2. We tend to idealize the early church and speak often of a restoration of its life and values. But let’s be realistic. If they weren’t as prone as we are to division and rivalry, there would have been no need for the repeated exhortation to be harmonious and unified and of one mind!
In 2 Corinthians 13:11 Paul exhorts them to “agree with one another.” Be like-minded! Think the same thing! Don’t settle for agreeing to disagree (cf. Phil. 4:2; cf. also Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10). “Modern evangelicals who share a common allegiance to the Scriptures,” notes D. A. Carson, “would do well to foster this sort of attempt to come to one mind and thought as to what the Scriptures mean. Too many of us are so threatened by our fellow believers or are so bound up with our denominational distinctives, that we are afraid to be reformed by the word of God or too proud to be corrected by those with whom we disagree. The apostle expects us to work at the business of being of one mind” (184-85).
This does not mean, of course, that community life is impossible unless we all agree on eschatology or that our witness for Christ will be forever ineffective until we achieve a consensus on every secondary doctrine. But it does mean that we must strive for unity on the essential truths of the faith and that our common vision as a church and our commitment to the gospel must never be compromised.
Is this really possible given the vast array of differing opinions on seemingly countless issues? No, if you think Peter is asking us to agree on every secondary doctrine of the Christian faith, it isn’t possible. But that isn’t what he has in mind. What Peter is calling for is unity on the nature of the gospel and those foundational truths apart from which a Christian church would only be another religious gathering.
(2) Second on Peter’s list is “sympathy” (see 1 Cor. 12:26).
Be "sympathetic," says Peter, that is, feel what others feel so that you can respond with sensitivity to the need.
It is fascinating that Peter would command us to “feel” something! How do you do that? You can’t just say one day, “Hey, I think I’ll decide to feel sympathetic today.” It doesn’t work that way. The only way you can experience genuine, heartfelt, sincere sympathy is by entering into another person’s life. You have to know them. You have to spend time with them. You have to see and understand what they are experiencing and grow in your love for them to such a degree that it begins to matter to you whether or not they are in pain or are suffering profound disappointment or are disillusioned.
You don’t walk up to a virtual stranger who is hurting, perhaps weeping, contort your face as if you are hurting too and say: “I know how you feel.” The fact is, you probably have no idea how they feel because you know virtually nothing about them.
True spiritual sympathy doesn’t spring up spontaneously whenever you want it to. It grows and develops gradually from shared experiences in community.
For years Ann and I used to glibly say to single moms, “We know how you feel.” It was a lie. No we didn’t. We had no idea what they were feeling and were thus largely incapable of genuine sympathy until we walked through the experience with our own daughter, day in and day out over time, intimately involved in her struggles and frustrations and exhaustion and often feelings of hopelessness that it brings. The point Peter is making is that we must not only be of one theological mind with each other but also emotionally intertwined with one another.
Finally, when you think that you’ve run dry of sympathy and comfort or that it is too demanding or that you’d be happy to comfort others if only they’d comfort you first, recall that God is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” and that he will comfort you in all your anguish so that you “may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” with the very comfort with which you are comforted by God (see 2 Cor. 1:3-4).
To be continued . . .