In his Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius (a Roman writer and secretary to Hadrian) was one of the first pagan writers to mention Christianity. But the context was hardly positive: believers are mentioned only as ‘a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.’ This charge of superstition was perhaps the most serious, and most common, pagan accusation. The comment was repeated by Tacitus, a Roman historian, in his account of the burning of Rome. He acknowledged that Nero fabricated the accusations that Christians started the fire, but he held little sympathy for the ‘notoriously depraved’ believers.
…But what did the Romans mean by superstition? According to several prominent Roman authors, including Cicero and Plutarch, it was any offensive religious belief or practice that deviated from Roman norms. Certain groups were given to such, ‘irrational’ religions, in which they acted unpredictably-without regard for the rites, rituals, and traditions of Rome.
…Christians among the elite, usually philosophers and writers, vigorously refuted the charges against their religion. They are known as ‘apologists, from the Greek apologeo meaning ‘to defend.’
…Justin Martyr, a convert form paganism who became the best known of the early apologists, went a step further, arguing the Christians should not be condemned unless factual evidence proved they were criminals. A close examination of the facts, he said, will prove that Christians are moral, upright, and law-abiding citizens who are the empire’s ‘best allies in securing good order.’
…Christians obeyed Christ’s command to pay taxes (Matt. 22:15-22), as well as Paul’s teaching to submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-5). How can that be considered subversion? Even more, Christians regularly offered prayers for the emperor and the empire as a part of their worship.[i]
While false accusations and persecutions will arise against the church, where we as the church have been wrong, we need to take responsibility and acknowledge it. Confession of sin is a powerful element in bringing about transformation, both in our own lives and those around us. Having said that we must also realize that blaming has always been a popular sport.
If there is one critical element in learning to really enjoy life is the ability to get along with people. We discover sooner or later that there are no problems quite like people problems. You can have a job that demands long hours and great physical effort, but neither the hours nor the energy demands drain you like difficult people can. You can have financial difficulties, physical pain, a tight schedule, and miles of driving, but these things are not the cause of our major battles.
Learning to live successfully with others, is one of the most important keys to life. God knows that if we are going to impact others with the good news about Jesus, if we are going to live healthier lives, if we are going to enjoy life, we need to learn how-to-live-in harmony with others.
In first Peter, we discover insight into dealing with people, even people hostile to our faith. Peter gives us some incredible insight on how to achieve harmony, restore broken relationships, and just thrive even when being attacked. How can we handle the verbal attacks and not allow them to devastate our souls? In other words, how can we produce a Teflon life in a mud-slinging world?
There are two elements we will examine regarding the nature of relationships. How do we build them and then deal with hostility and differences when they arise?
THE FIRST ELEMENT REGARDING THE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIP IS BUILDING THEM.
In other words, what does it take to have a meaningful relationship with others? Every generation faces different challenges. Young people today are often facing life with poor relational models. What has been modeled to many of them has not helped them in a time when people are discarding people, like they do disposal dishes. The hard work of maintaining relationships are ignored. This is one of the reason for marriage failures, businesses dissolving, churches splitting, and long-time friendships faltering. Many today do not have the skills nor do we have the ability to disagree with others without casting people aside. Many today live with much rejection, and do not know the joy of being loved and accepted for who they are, and in turn showing that kind of love to others. While people are looking for others to show them love, we find in the Scriptures a challenge to show God’s love to others. What we sow, we generally reap. What we give is often what we receive in return. Peter has been talking to believers that are experiencing tremendous hostility and persecution in what is now modern Turkey. They have been told to live a submitted life to those in authority, both civic and within the home. Peter now moves toward a key ingredient in interpersonal relationships, namely, loving people, starting within the home and church family, but also extending out into the hostile world that they find themselves living in. “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another; be compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8).”
A. Peter outlines in this verse some elements of harmonious relationships.
A couple of thoughts immediately emerge. Notice who Peter is encouraging to be like-minded which produces harmony. He is speaking to believers. This tells me that even good people can run into differences. You know you are maturing when you learn how to work through differences with others. People who live with the idea that there should never be relational difficulties have generally superficial relationships. They have not gone deep enough. Learning to accept others who are different is an element of relational maturity.
Obviously, we want to live together in unity, which is the goal, but that goal comes through working through issues. Where there are people, you will have differences of opinions and convictions in which you can have ruffled feathers and hurt feelings. That’s certainly true wherever close relationships exist. The word harmony means to be of one mind. In music it’s the idea of blending the right notes together. Two separate notes that blend. To be in harmony is to have unity. This is the one-mindedness explained for us in Philippians 2. It is only as we have the mind of Christ that it is possible to become like-minded.
When we first entered the pastoral ministry, Patty and I were serving as youth pastors on staff in Ft. McMurray. The church was experiencing tremendous strife and difficulties. Some were directing their anger at the Senior Pastor. But the problem was not the pastor, but a certain dynamic that they did not understand, and were struggling to cope with. Earlier, the church had been very small and the people of that community that attended that particular church had sacrificed much time, energy and finances to build a new sanctuary. With the development of the oil sands, workers were needed and many people from Newfoundland moved to McMurray. Many started attending that church. Pretty soon those from the east outnumbered those from the west. The people from east soon dominated the church, while those from the west felt displaced. The church was struggling with embracing two very distinctly different cultures and styles of worship. The result was conflict. Rather than identifying what was happening, learning to value each other, and growing into something uniquely different than either culture, there was an entrenchment where each group saw that there values and convictions were biblical, while depreciating the other side. They were not like-minded, nor were they sympathetic to each other. Rather than love, compassion and humility; driving the church forward, there was criticism and dissension.
We had no idea when we joined the staff that this was all transpiring. People were hurt and alienated. I certainly did not understand what was going on, until one day, in preparation to preach an evening service, I was studying the book of Philippians, where I read Bishop Lightfoot’s commentary on the book of Philippians and in his introductory remarks he began to describe that the church in Philippi was dealing with that very issue of strife, where two distinct cultures were vying for preeminence in that church. As I was reading this, I realized that this was the very problem we were struggling with in McMurray. It was one thing to understand a problem, but now what could be done about it? What was the solution? The questioned echoed in my mind, how do you bring people together who have real differences? Where do you find common ground? It was then that the second chapter of Philippians struck me with its powerful message.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross![ii]
Unity can be reached in a diverse group of people if they can come to a common denominator. One place every believer should come to is having the mind or attitude of Christ. The mind or attitude of Christ teaches us to value others more highly than ourselves. Thomas Schreiner points out: “Harmony and humility belong together, for the primary means by which harmony is disrupted is pride and self-assertion.”[iii] He also points out in 1 Peter 3:
In the Greek of verse 8 there are five adjectives without a verb. …When we look at all five words together, we see that obeying these exhortations would lead to smooth relationships within the church (and with outsiders in most cases).”2 It is interesting that being like-minded which is another way of expressing harmonious relationships requires a key ingredient, namely humility. It takes humility to create harmony. “To be sympathetic means that we care deeply about the needs, joys and sorrows of others.[iv]
Here is verse 8, we have a pattern where they adjectives are placed in a balance with each other. The first and last go together: like-minded and humble, then we have the second set of adjectives; sympathy and the fourth one compassion are reinforcing each other. It seems that the middle adjective seems to be the focal point where we are to love one another. Jesus explains that this is the apex of what it means to know Christ and to actually make Him known to others. The marks of true discipleship is manifested in experiencing and then demonstrating God’s love to others.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.[v]
When this becomes the central value of each believer is will transform our relationships with our spouses, children, and parents. It will impact the life of the church community and reach beyond into the larger community as a whole. The greatest measures of our Christian experience is how we love the wide variety of people that God brings into his family. How many realize that we can choose our friends, but we don’t choose our family? Family is something we are born into. It is the same with the family of God. We do not choose our family, God does. We are asked to love each other. When you see a loving family in action, people who are devoid and long for love, want to be a part of that family. One of the most powerful messages that we can send our world is a message of love. May that love begin in each of our hearts and extend out from there. But what happens when harmony disappears and there is conflict in significant relationships? How do you restore harmony?
THE SECOND ELEMENT REGARDING RELATIONSHIP IS DEALING WITH HOSTILITY OR DIFFERENCES.
Even the best of people can have differences. Paul and Barnabas had a dispute over the work ethic and commitment of John Mark, and went separate ways in ministry (cf. Acts 15:36-41). Later in Paul’s life we find that John Mark is someone that had matured and proved to be a real blessing to Paul (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11). Barnabas’ extra time and investment in this young man’s life made the difference. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we find a picture of relationships repaired. We certainly see that in Paul and John Mark’s relationship. But what happens when sin enters, hurt enters, failure enters into relationships? What then?
A. We need to rise above the hurt and demonstrate the goodness of God.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).” “The New English Bible has a marvelous translation of those important instructions: Do not repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse; on the contrary, retaliate with blessing”[vi]
Someone needs to break the hate chain. Someone must take the initiative to stop the escalation of hostilities. Forgiveness is always in order. Most marital conflicts could be resolved if people learned how to communicate forgiveness. For that matter most strained relationships could be mended and strengthened if people would use this very tool in their communication with others. So often we do not listen or else we don’t understand what the other person is trying to say. Once a person has been hurt it seems that the conflict escalates. How many situations would end differently if someone said or did something to hurt you and you responded with blessing and concern for that person. Love has the ability to melt many a cold hearted person. Many a foolish misunderstanding could be mended very quickly. Unfortunately, people tend to hold grudges that only hurt themselves. Human pride keeps us from being all that we deep down inside want to become.
Unfortunately, there are people you can’t be reconciled with. They refuse to show grace and remained hardened in their attitudes. Paul recognizes when he is addressing these same issues in Romans 12. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).” What is interesting in our Peter text is that we are called to bless those that hurt us. Peter is certainly giving God’s wisdom taken from Proverbs.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty; give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the LORD will reward you.[vii]
This statement of ‘will heap burning coals on a person’s head’ has been debated, but the idea here is it is a form of a blessing.
“Most commentators agree with Augustine and Jerome that ‘coals of fire’ refers to the ‘burning pangs of shame’ that a person will feel when good is returned for evil, his shame producing remorse and contrition. William McKane writes: ‘When the enemy has steeled himself to meet hate with hate and is impervious to threats of revenge, he is vulnerable to a generosity which overlooks and forgives, and capitulates to kindness.[viii]
As we bless we know that we are going to inherit a blessing from God. Peter now makes a compelling argument from Psalm 34:12-16 in which he quotes freely from in 1 Peter 3:10-11.
For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongues from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.[ix]
Psalm 34 which is being quoted by Peter was written by David when he was fleeing from King Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 23:7-26:25). He was being mistreated because he was deemed a threat to Saul. David begins his Psalm. “I will extol [bless] the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips (Psalm 34:1).”
Think of Saul chasing David in the wilderness, in which he is trying to kill David. On two different occasions, recorded for us in 1 Samuel, David has the opportunity to kill Saul, but chooses rather to blessed him instead. Notice Saul’s response. “You are more righteous than I, he said. You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly (1 Samuel 24:17).” Saul points out that God will reward David for his gracious acts of goodness toward him.
You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me.
When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today.
I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.[x]
When we bless others, we will inherit God’s blessings in our lives. Peter tells us that we need to ‘repay evil with blessings, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (3:9b).’
In the Greek world the word bless meant to publicly speak well of someone. While that may be in view here, it is probably the Jewish and Christian use of the term, meaning to invoke God’s favor on someone, that is primarily intended.[xi]
Rather than maintain a passivity in moments of hostility, what God’s Spirit is teaching us is that our active resolve is to bless rather than show spite when evil is done to us. Jesus models this for us on the cross when he blesses those who have crucified them with His words of forgiveness.
Peter is teaching that those who have been called to return blessing for evil and insult have themselves inherited the blessing of life in Christ. Therefore, they are called to a course of ethical behavior that does not stoop to the level of pagans, even though pagan behavior constitutes the acceptable social norm.[xii]
David could say with full assurance as a result of practicing blessings rather than retaliation. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4.”
The assurance that Peter is giving the persecuted or wronged believers is that God does hear our cry and will address injustice. We don’t have to live in fear of what those who oppose us, what they will say or do. “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 (1 Peter 3:12).” When we do the right thing, we allow God to justify and defend us. Just as Isaiah prophesied and was true about Jesus, it is equally true of all God’s children.
No weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me declares the LORD.[xiii]
Peter than gives us a general principle in life. Most people respond to being treated nicely by returning good for good. “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good (1 Peter 3:13)?” Yet, knowing human nature, Peter realizes that there are some people who will be hostile and aggressive against those who do good. There will be those who will treat with contempt those who are doing good. What should a person’s response be? “ But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened (1 Peter 3:14).”
We should not allow fear of intimidation keep from doing good. We need to remind ourselves who is in control. God is in control and not those who despitefully use us.
To reverence Christ as Lord means really to believe that Christ, not one’s human opponents, is truly in control of events. To have such reverence in your hearts is to maintain continually a deep-seated inward confidence in Christ as reigning Lord and King, who even now has angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.[xiv]
Does that mean we’re to become doormats and allow people to abuse us and take advantage of us? Absolutely not! There are times that we need to stand up and speak up for what is right. Peter tells us that we must be prepared to give an answer [an apology], a defense of the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect. We see that this answer or response must be done with respect toward those that are being answered. It must be done with gentleness. A person must reject a haughty and proud attitude which would escalate conflict. We must have the spirit and attitude of Jesus who submitted to others while retaining a quiet and dignified attitude.
But after saying all that, someone might say to me, we have tried all these things and still we were treated like dirt. Unfortunately, there are some people who will try and take advantage of your goodness. If you have suffered at the hands of someone else that you have tried to show kindness to, you need to remember the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He suffered for doing what was right and God had a plan and purpose in it. We too can rest assured that it is a better thing to suffer for doing good, than to suffer because we have done evil. “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).”
…if the righteous God, who has established a moral order in creation, not only allows well-doers to suffer, but Himself wills that they should, it must be for some good reason and purpose. Far from such suffering being a penal consequence of their own evil-doing, in being thus ordered to happen to them, it must be intended to be a creative cause of good. God must intend that some profit or benefit should come out of it-for His own glory, for others’ good, or the personal good of the sufferer himself.” Peter then goes on to give us the supreme example of the good suffering for doing good in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. “…He [Christ] suffered according to the will of God, and for the benefit of men.[xv]
One very dynamic reason God allows good people to suffer is to help others back to God. That Christ’s suffering brought men back into a right relationship to God. If we too suffer for doing what is good we may be instrumental in seeing someone reconciled with God. The effect of the Christian life lived out in difficult situations is often quite dramatic and forceful in its impact on the non-Christian.
An article that appeared in Christianity Today (June 21,1974), was about Christians in the former Soviet Union. A former criminal, Kozlov, later a church leader, wrote of life in a Soviet prison:
Among the general despair, while prisoners like myself were cursing ourselves, the camp, the authorities; while we opened up our veins or our stomachs, or hanged ourselves; the Christians (often with sentences of 20 to 25 years) did not despair. One could see Christ reflected in their faces. Their pure, upright life, deep faith and devotion to God, their gentleness and their wonderful manliness became a shining example of real life for thousands.[xvi]
As we submit to God’s word, we can endeavor to develop harmonious relationships with others. Is it always possible? NO! The question is what effort have we put forth to maintain loving, harmonious relationships? Have we allowed evil to overcome us, as we have responded in kind? Are we overcoming evil by blessing and doing good to those around us? As we do this, then is Christ gloried in our lives?
[i] J. David Cassel, Defending The Cannibals: How Christians responded to the Sometimes Strange Accusations of their Critics, Christian History Magazine, Issue 57, Vol. XVII, No. 1), 12-16.
[ii] Philippians 2:1-8, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 164.
[iv] Ibid, 163.
[v] John 13:34-35.
[vi] Paul Cedar, James, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude, The Preacher’s Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 163.
[vii] Proverbs 25:21-22.
[viii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 331.
[ix] 1 Peter 3:10-11.
[x] 1 Samuel 24:18-20.
[xi] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 218.
[xii] Ibid, 219.
[xiii] Isaiah 53:17.
[xiv] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 152-153.
[xv] A. M. Stibbs and A. F. Walls, I Peter, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 137-138.
[xvi] Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 399-400.