As part of a class we teach at our church, we say that, among other things, a church member is one who aspires to be a “unifying member.” Someone who understands that we are to be “eager”, or “make every effort”, to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). As part of this discussion we talk about what unity is not. It’s not uniformity, everybody looking, thinking, acting the same. It’s not about artificiality, a culture of pretending that we’re something we’re not in order to portray a reality that doesn’t really exist. Nor is it about superficiality, relating to each other at such a surface level that we avoid the undercurrents that invariably exist when people seek to do life together.
Instead it’s about different people with a like mind who have been brought together with a common gospel experience; real people figuring out how to live out a real faith in real relationship with one another; and those adopted as children of God committing themselves to do family life together. How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters live together in unity (Ps. 133:1).
But how do you do that? Practically what does it look like? As I hover over a couple of verses in 1Peter this morning, there’s seem to be here at least one very practical thing we can do. It seems that such unity is more than just how we relate to one another, but also how we respond to one another.
Finally, all of you, 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.
(1Peter 3:8-9 ESV)
As the culture became increasingly hostile around the Christians Peter was writing to, it was sure to test the metal of their new nature in Christ. External pressure has a way of exposing internal frailty. And so, Peter addressed the need for servants to serve well their masters, for wives to gently contend for their unbelieving husbands, and for husbands to lean in to honoring their wives. And then he concludes by addressing “all of you.”
First he talks about how they should relate to one another. Acknowledging their common calling and commission. Suffering alongside those who suffered. Loving each other as one would their own brother or sister. Having compassion for one another, soft towards their struggles, empathetic as to their circumstance. And with a humility that showed itself in kindness to others, esteeming others better than themselves.
But when the inevitable happens in a family, when there’s a blow up, when there’s misunderstanding, when the tongue gets ahead of the brain and things are said that probably shouldn’t have been, it’s how we respond that practically works to maintain the unity.
We are not to retaliate. No sharp-tongued sarcasm (MSG). No tit-for-tat.
On the contrary, Peter writes, bless.
That’s the right action that springs from the right attitude. The right response from right relating. Bless.
“Fine speaking” . . . that’s the literal meaning. It’s the word to eulogize.
Despite whatever dust up has occurred, speak well of and invoke God’s favor for. The incident processed through the context of the relationship results in an unexpected response.
Even though we feel slighted or demeaned, because we are likeminded, because we seek to suffer alongside of, because we see each other as blood-bought kin, because we’re tender hearted toward each other with the compassion of Christ, because we’re willing to take the lower place, we respond with blessing.
If I’m relating right to my brother, I’m more likely to be responding right to my brother. And that, only possible through Christ who dwells in me by His Spirit.
By His grace. For the His glory.