Truth be known, when the going get’s tough, I tend to get tough, too. When the heat is on, I have a propensity to harden. When I’m being tested, often I get testy. When I feel the seemingly relentless pressure of bad vibes, too frequently I get bad-tempered. And, to be clear, that’s not good. Not the way of Christ. Not the fruit of the Spirit. But an ugly, emerging-way-too-often remnant of the old man. And I’m thinking that’s why Peter’s exhortation hits so hard, this morning.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
(1Peter 3:8 ESV)
Peter writes to a people who were on the run (1:1). Persecuted for their faith, reviled for their beliefs, being grieved “by various trials” (1:6). And while Peter reminds them of who they are in Christ, and the future they possess through the resurrection of Jesus (1:3-5), he knows too–or at least the Spirit who moves Peter to write knows too–the ways of the flesh, and the default reactions of the old nature, when it comes to being in the fire. The tendency to fight back. The tendency to lash out. The tendency towards callousness. And not just towards one’s enemies, but towards one’s family and friends, as well.
That’s why, for the sake of their testimony for Christ, Peter exhorts these brothers and sisters in Christ, who are taking it in the teeth, to “put away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander” (2:1). Why he commands them to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13).
And, because he knows that getting hammered from the enemy can often make us turn on our family, why he tells them to guard their relationships as believers. For servants to continue to serve well their masters (2:18). For wives to continue to follow the lead of their husbands (3:1). And, for husbands to not stop loving their wives just as they are (3:7).
And then he says, “Finally.” Not because he’s wrapping up his letter, but as in “Finally, here’s a word for you all.” Because, as a community of believers, they needed to hang together.
So, Peter says, despite the outward bombardment that tends to spawn inward bickering, they were to have unity of mind. Not a uniformity of thinking, but a desire for a harmony even amidst the heat they were feeling. What’s more, they were to be sympathetic toward — not suspicious of — one another. Suffering with one another, even as they suffered together.
They were to love as brothers and sisters for that, in truth, is what they were — family. All children of God. All unconditionally received, through the finished work of Christ, as sons and daughters, to be co-heirs with the Son.
And, in order to love one another as they should love, it would require their hearts to function as the new hearts of flesh they had been given (Ezek. 36:26), sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Not functioning as the old heart of stone with it’s tendency to be cold, callous, and cynical. A heart made tender and supple through a humble mind. A mind not focused and concerned with self, but willing to speak and show grace to others because it put others first.
High expectations! Especially in the heated seasons of life. Heavy sigh!
Who is sufficient for such a walk? Not this guy (see my opening paragraph). Who’s failed, again and again? Uh, that would be me.
But that would also be why Jesus came. To provide a justified forgiveness for the failures of sinners like me. To pay the wages for sin I could never pay. And, just as importantly, to provide the power to overcome such sin, and to walk in a manner worthy of who I am in Christ. A power and ability to walk that I could never muster up on my own.
And so I chew on Peter’s commands this morning–both as a rebuke and, as an encouragement. Both confessing my tendency to be testy, and believing in the Spirit’s promised power to overcome such tendencies. Sorry for having fallen short, but wanting so much to live as I should.
Only by His grace. Only for His glory.