Tender-Hearted and Humble1
We’ve finally arrived at the fourth and fifth words of exhortation in 1 Peter 3:8. Continue reading . . .
We’ve finally arrived at the fourth and fifth words of exhortation in 1 Peter 3:8.
Peter here tells us to cultivate a “tender heart.” This is not a word about conduct but about your insides, literally, your belly, your spiritual guts. The literal translation of the Greek here means "feel generous in the depths of your being.” It's exactly the opposite of hypocrisy that acts tenderly and feels malice.
I find it difficult to locate a middle ground here, and maybe I’m not supposed to. But all too often I either feel hardened and calloused because of someone’s sin and rebellion or so tender and kind that I forfeit discernment and wisdom.
How do you develop a tender heart toward others, especially when they are mean and nasty and seem always to return your love and good intentions with neglect and utter disregard?
There’s only one answer: meditate deeply and at length on the extent and majesty and height and depths of the tender-hearted kindness and love of God in Christ for sinners like you and me! The hard-hearted person is the man or woman who has yet to come to grips with the ugliness of their own sin and the beauty of God’s forgiving grace in Christ!
Finally, says Peter, have “a humble mind” (the same word is used in Col. 3:12).
So just how important is it that all of us strive in the grace of God to cultivate and develop a humble mind? Let me answer that by describing for you what a church devoid of humble minds would look like. All you have to do is define or describe proud minds and then allow your imagination to run wild.
First of all, the proud person is a theological know-it-all who can’t be taught. He’s simply not open to instruction from others. His “show” of interest in what is said by others is just that, a show, a public performance. If he offers an interested response it is often patronizing at best. He or she is unteachable and uncorrectable. The proud heart says, “I’ve arrived. I’ve already been where these other people are only now beginning to go. I’m here to show them how it’s done. They’re mere babes. I’m an adult.”
Pride also shows itself in a quickness to judge and to speak cynically of the sins and shortcomings of others, often with levity or flippancy. The humble Christian will either be silent about the sins of others or speak of them with grief, pity, and a “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
The prideful person is obsessed with comparisons, always measuring himself/herself against others. The proud person finds his identity in relation to someone he thinks of as lesser (which encompasses just about everyone). The humble person finds his identity in relation to someone he knows is greater: Jesus!
Pride invariably leads to inflexibility. After all, if you consider yourself an expert and others as mere rookies, what need is there for you to change? The humble person is pliable and flexible, except where sin or duty is in view.
Pride leads to separatism: “If I’m a notch above these others, fellowshipping with them will only drag me down. They are beneath my dignity and unworthy of my time.” The truly humble person cherishes unity.
The proud person is self-defensive, especially when it is suggested he might be proud! When persecuted or crossed or slandered or attacked, the proud person is angrily defensive of his actions and largely oblivious to all personal failures.
One essential element in humility is the willingness to allow others to say about me the very things I readily acknowledge before God. Humility is living in accordance with the abilities God has given us, neither as if we had more nor less; neither pressing ourselves into situations we are not equipped to handle (for fear that if we don’t people will lose respect for us), nor shying away from those we can.
The key to “humility” is a healthy acknowledgement of and submission to the sovereign grace of God. In 1 Cor. 4:7, Paul writes: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Humility should always be in direct proportion to one’s grasp of grace. Pride is the fruit of the lie that what I have I didn’t receive. Humility is the fruit of the truth that everything is of God (see also John 3:22-30, esp. vv. 27 and 30).
Peter is not saying that to be a good Christian, filled with humility, you must despise yourself or walk around in self-contempt or in denial of the gifts and talents that God has given you. He’s talking about the willingness to take the lower place, to make the necessary sacrifices, and to put the interests of others ahead of your own. That’s humility!