The old joke (with many variations) talks about how much greater work in the church would be if it wasn’t for the people! I suspect, no matter what your job there are days when you might say the same thing. One of the greatest stressors in our lives is our dealings with others.
The Bible is clear: if we are right with God, our relationship with God will impact our relationship with each other. Peter has been admonishing us to adopt a different attitude from the rest of the world. He calls us to be soft, respectful and submissive. This morning he broadens his instruction to apply the principle generally in all relationships. He tells us how to relate to others in a way that pleases God.
8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.
11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Let’s examine these words this morning.
Live in Harmony with One Another
One of the most powerful features of the early church was their unity. In Acts 2 we read,
All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
These early believers were like a family. They sacrificed to meet each other’s needs. They served together, they worshiped together, and people on the outside were drawn to the love they saw evidenced among these people. This is what God wants the church to be. He wants people to be able to look at us and see Him.
He wants us to live “in harmony” with each other. Unless you are tone deaf you know the difference between harmony and dissonance. Harmony is when various voices or instruments blend in a way that is more beautiful and rich than any one voice or instrument could be alone. Discord is when these same voices or instruments clash. Harmony is pleasant to the ear. Discord makes us recoil and cover our ears.
When God looks at us He wants to see and hear harmony rather than discord. When the world looks at us they need to see the new and beautiful melody that comes from following Christ rather than the harsh discord of worldly competition. We are to be united in the mind of Christ.
The early church had problems. In Acts 6 there was a debate about widows, Peter and Paul disagreed on how “saved” the Gentiles really were, and in Acts 15 the Christians gathered together to have the first church “council”. Over the centuries there were several of these councils to address issues of disagreement. People will disagree but that doesn’t mean we have to be divided or disagreeable. We all have different passions, interests and experiences. We must start by recognizing that different does not always mean “better than” or “worse than”, it may just means DIFFERENT. To continue the music metaphor, these times of sincere conflict are like the practice sessions of musicians. You must experiment and work together to find harmony and in the process there will be some wrong notes. The key is to keep working until harmony is reached.
One of the black marks against the church over the year has been the many divisions that exist among us. We divide over theological issues (and some of these divisions are necessary; most are not), we divide over styles of worship, denominational labels, the amount of water in baptism, the frequency of communion, the role of leaders, how one interprets the Second Coming of Christ, which version of the Bible is best, and a host of interpersonal offenses. People on the outside rightly ask, “If this truth of yours is so powerful why can’t you get along?” You have to admit, it’s a good and valid question. Those outside the church see the inconsistency that we often overlook.
Peter calls us to work at and pursue harmony not only within our individual churches but also within the wider body of Christ. We are to do this for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Be Sympathetic and Compassionate
I’ve combined these two because they seem to go together. In the book of Romans we are told to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul gives us the picture of the church as a body. He says when one part suffers the rest of the body suffers also.
The word sympathy means to “feel with” another. This means we must get close enough to each other to “feel” what is going on in the life of another.
This is increasingly difficult in our world. Most of our entertainment is in isolation. We have our videos games, iPads, laptops, and video on demand. We don’t have to go out to be entertained. We can remain contentedly isolated. We see this even in a small town but it is way worse in the city. In Chicago you can get on a jammed packed bus in the morning and it will be absolutely silent. There will be no interaction and only fleeting eye contact. Yet, all around us people long to be truly known and loved but no one is paying any attention!
The word compassionate means to let our sympathy for another spur us to action. It is when we not only hurt for someone; but we are also motivated to action. We can feel sympathy for those who had homes destroyed in a natural disaster. We show compassion when we do what we can to help. We can feel sympathy for those who are spiritually lost; we show compassion when we talk to our friends, enter the mission field, or lend support to those on the front lines.
So how do we become more sympathetic and compassionate toward others?
- Take time to listen. Listen not only with your ears but also with your eyes. Sometimes a person is saying “they are fine” with their words but their face tells a different story. Look for moist eyes, wrinkled brows, and clenched fists.
- Use your imagination. Imagine being in that person’s shoes. Mentally enter into their experience. Ask yourself, “What would I want/need if I was in this situation?
- Ask questions that are meant to understand rather than merely gain more information. Sometimes you can ask, “What is it like to lose your spouse?” “How do you handle the stress?” ”Is this scary?” Most people can tell when you are merely being nosey and when you are trying to understand and sympathize.
- Forgive. Let hurts go. Stop dwelling on and beating others up with the past.
- Look for simple ways to help others. We get overwhelmed with the enormity of some needs. Focus on the things you can do. Perhaps you can babysit, bring a meal, cut the lawn, rake leaves, or so something more substantial like giving financial help or transporting people where they need to go. Look for simple things that demonstrate concern.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Love as Brothers
Consistently the Bible refers to the Christian community in terms that reflect a family kind of relationship. Think about your family relationships. When you are family for the most part
- You work through disagreements
- Your heart remains connected even when you are apart
- You enjoy spending time together (most of the time)
- You understand each other because you have come to know each other as few others have
- You share things you would not share with anyone else.
This is how God wants us to relate to each other! When we gather together for worship it should be like a good family reunion. We should be glad to see each other. You should be able to look around and see people in deep conversation, others will be hugging each other, some might even be praying together.
When visitors come to a church for the first time I think one of the things they can sense is whether the atmosphere is tense, indifferent, or loving. Our goal is for our church to be a place where people “know we are Christians by our love”. For that to happen, we are going to have to work at it.
Humility comes from seeing ourselves as we really are. It comes from comparing ourselves with the righteous standard of our Holy God rather than comparing ourselves with the way we perceive the people around us. Humility results from recognizing that we are sinful people who are dependent on God’s grace for salvation. It recognizes that we have struggles, that we make mistakes, and that we frequently fail. Humility comes from recognizing that we are completely and utterly dependent on God . . . even on our very best days (which are few and far between).
The person who is humble is
- Teachable. They recognize that they do not know everything.
- Does not brag. They know that even their best deeds are tainted with impure motives.
- Slow to condemn because they are aware of their own faults and recognize that they often jump to wrong conclusions.
- Living gratefully. They recognize everything they have as an undeserved gift from God. They don’t feel “deprived” they feel blessed.
- Listening for God because they are aware of how much they need His guidance and direction in their lives.
- Available to others. They truly care because they see beyond themselves.
We are drawn to these kinds of people personally. It only makes sense that we should desire to be like this in our own lives.
Repay with Blessings
The last injunction is: “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
For me personally, this may be the hardest command of all. This goes against every instinct in my body. I naturally respond to hurt with
- Angry words
- A resolve to have nothing more to do with the person
- And sometimes I might broadcast to others the wrong that was done
The idea of responding to the negative with positive words and actions seems impossible. In order to do this we must submit to the Lord in our lives. We must truly believe that God is at work in every situation; that God will bring justice and vindication; that God’s approach (good for evil) is the best way to handle things. As we learn to rest in Him we will find that we have His power to do what we would never do by instinct.
When we return evil for evil we are merely perpetuating a problem situation. You do something to hurt me; I do something to hurt you; so you do something more to hurt me, and so on down the line. When we return a blessing for evil we stop the poison from going any further. Maybe you have seen the old Westerns when someone was bit by a rattlesnake. The friend of the one bit would suck the poison out (not swallowing, of course) to save the life of their friend. When we return good for evil that is what we are doing. We are getting rid of the poison so the relationship can be saved and God can be honored.
Don’t miss these words: “to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing”. We are not blessed by “winning the fight”. We are blessed when we respond to hurt the way God has told us to do. We are blessed when we follow the pattern of Jesus rather than the pattern of the world.
How do we bless?
- By loving unconditionally or persistently (this is not embracing faults and errors . . . it is loving someone even thought there are faults and errors)
- By praying for another sincerely
- By encouraging them honestly
- By expressing gratitude for their good points
- By forgiving their sins against us
Old Testament Support
In verses 10-12 Peter does what any good follower of Christ should do: he shows us the scriptural basis for what he is saying, Even though Peter himself was inspired by God he appeals to the authority of the Old Testament (Psalm 34:12-16) to verify that this is the way God wants us to live.
The Message translates the last verses this way,
Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good,
Here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful;
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth.
God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked; But he turns his back on those who do evil things.
David says the same thing. He tells us that if we want to enjoy life and know the joy of the Lord in our living we will do several things.
- We will say nothing hurtful or evil about others
- We will turn away from evil and diligently pursue the good things of God.
- We will be peacemakers rather than troublemakers
And, says David, if we do this, God will see and He will more quickly answer our prayers!
Peter has been intensely practical in this passage. There should be no real confusion as to what he is telling us to do. Once again we are summoned to live differently than those around us. We are to show respect for each other (or submit to each other) by cooperating, loving, caring, and forgiving each other.
Take a minute and ask yourself a question: Do I know anyone who lives like this? Do I know anyone who is humble, kind, gracious, and deals with others with the grace of God?
If you do know such a person, let me ask another question: “What do you think of this person?” My suspicion is that you admire this person as a truly godly individual. You look up to them. You enjoy being around them because you feel better after talking to them. When you think of someone who is mature in the faith, this person’s image comes to mind. Learn from this! Strive to be that kind of person.
But what if you don’t know anyone like this? As you think of your friends perhaps there is no one like this in your circle of friends. Though it may be true that maybe you need better friends. But here’s a question to ask yourself: What is keeping you from becoming this kind of person for your friends? Why can’t you be the person that others think of when they think of someone who is loving, compassionate, humble, and godly? What is keeping others from seeing Jesus in you? If you stop to think about it, it’s a very very good question.