By Skip Heitzig | First Published: July 23, 2015
Seventh in a yearlong series on the books of 1 and 2 Peter.
Pastor and author Skip Heitzig
I was playing with my grandkids recently, and I was reminded that there’s a whole set of laws just for toddlers. For example, property laws for toddlers really boil down to one simple concept: “It’s mine. If I like it, it’s mine. If I can take it from you or if I had it a little while ago, it’s mine. You must never think it’s yours, unless of course it’s broken. And even then, the pieces are mine.”
Though that may work for toddlers, it certainly does not work for mature believers in Christ. As followers of Jesus, our watchword isn’t mine but yours; not me but you; not self but others. Why is this so important? Because the sweet personality of an others-oriented person will attract more flies!
Back in 1744, Poor Richard’s Almanack featured a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” That’s not to say that unbelievers are bugs to be trapped, but it is to say that when you take a kinder and gentler approach, you will be more successful in achieving your goals than if you are mean and cantankerous.
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Undergirding all that the Apostle Peter was writing is this stark reality: the unbelieving world is watching us and scrutinizing us very carefully. By the way we live our lives—our wise and gentle speech, our honorable conduct, our submission to authority—we could attract someone who is antagonistic toward the Gospel. This is especially true when it comes to how we treat fellow believers. Peter wrote that we should “be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). The way Christians treat each other is either an attraction or a repellent to unbelievers who have heard our message.
Peter’s five-fold description of what a believer’s general attitude should be can be summed up in one word: love. Just as Jesus summarized the whole law as loving God and your neighbors (see Matthew 22:36-40), Peter’s words summarize five ways we can love our brothers and sisters in Christ and represent Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.
Peter called it being “of one mind,” and it simply means having a unity of thought or belief. That doesn’t require agreeing with someone on every point. Such wouldn’t be unity; that’s just uniformity and that’s simply not going to happen.
If we were talking about politics, clothing styles, what shows are appropriate to watch, or what styles of music to have at church, we would have a roomful of disagreement. There will be a wide variety of opinions and convictions about all of these subjects. Even the early church didn’t always agree. There were differences and even disputes over things like eating meat sacrificed to idols, keeping the Sabbath, which days are appropriate for worship, and which widows should be taken care of by church finances. Paul and Barnabas argued about the viability of John Mark for ministry. The apostles even argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.
But though there may be diversity of thought about secondary issues, there is to be unity of thought over primary issues. There are certain essential beliefs we must all agree on, like the nature of God and the person and work of Christ, His atoning death and resurrection and that He is coming again. So rather than getting mired in nonessentials, let’s be of one mind about the essentials.
ADD A TOUCH OF COMPASSION
Second on Peter’s list is to have “compassion for one another.” The Greek word is sumpathés. We get our word sympathy from it. It literally means to feel the same thing as someone else. Paul encouraged us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In other words, instead of being callous and insensitive toward a fellow believer, we should enter into their joy or sorrow. “If one member [of the body, the church] suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). That empathy, that true shared feeling and experience, is something the world longs for and seldom finds. When an unbeliever can see our genuine concern for the feelings of others, they’ll be more open to hear our Gospel.
I grew up with three older brothers, so when I first read Peter’s third point—“love as brothers”—I laughed. I remember getting punched by all three, and even chasing one down with a baseball bat! The love that we four Heitzig boys shared was far from ideal.
Maybe a better way to think of this is “love as brothers should.” Maybe Peter even had his own brother Andrew in mind when he wrote this; after all, Andrew was the one who led Peter to Jesus. Loving our Christian brothers and sisters is one way to prove we belong to Christ: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
GET A TENDER HEART
The next phrase Peter used, “be tenderhearted,” is a bit hard to translate. The Greek word is eusplagchnos, which actually refers to your internal organs. In the ancient Middle East, people thought the deepest emotions originated in the abdominal region. In other words, Peter was saying, “Be deeply considerate toward others.”
The church ought to be the place where the walking wounded feel at home. Those who are distressed and anguished should feel as though they stepped into a spiritual clinic where tenderhearted healing is freely administered. We in the church—especially if we’re leaders—must guard against distancing ourselves from people’s problems. We have to resist the tendency to see just another person, just another problem or just another petition. A tender heart will help.
Peter’s fifth point is to “be courteous,” which always makes me think of my mom reminding me to say please and thank you. But a better translation renders it “be humble” or “have a humble mind.”
The Greco-Roman culture in which Peter was writing scorned humility. Rather than being seen as a virtue, it was considered a weakness, the kind associated with conquered people and slaves. The Greeks loved the qualities of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-assertiveness. They would have admired the swagger of modern hip-hop artists, or Clint Eastwood’s defiant “Go ahead, make my day!”
But pride is one of the least attractive characteristics of anyone, especially a Christian. No one is drawn to arrogance or haughty conceit. Humility, on the other hand, is an irresistible magnet. F.B. Meyer said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
Few things show the love of Christ like humility. And when our attitude is flavored with the sweetness of genuine love and a meek approachability, we can attract those in the world whom God is calling to Himself. D ©2015 SKIP HEITZIG
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS ARE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW KING JAMES VERSION.
FROM THE GREEK:
Having a fellow-feeling; mutually commiserative. From the verb sumpaschó, to experience pain jointly or to suffer together with.
A Tender Heart
Tenderhearted; merciful. From the noun splagchnon, the inward parts; the heart, affections, seat of the feelings.