1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)

In 1 Peter 2:11-12 Peter makes a general statement about living holy lives as strangers and foreigners in this world; abstaining from sinful desires that wage war against our souls. He goes on to discuss submission to authority, to masters, and within marriage. And now, he concludes this extended section with directions for living as a believer and enduring suffering. This post will take a look at the first part of this; living as a believer. It is a quick look at Christian ethical behavior; how we should live together in community as well as interacting with those who would hurt us.

A Five Part Rule for Life in Community

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 3:8 NIV

Finally would seem to refer back to the opening of the section in 1 Peter 2:11-12. This would indicate that Peter is bringing this section to a conclusion. And it is addressed to ‘all of you‘. The previous three sections may not have applied to everyone. But this passage does. You might not find yourself as a slave, or in a marriage relationship. But if you are a believer, what Peter has to say in these verses is applicable to you. Pay attention.

Be Like-minded

Being like-minded does not mean we are all mindless drones mouthing the same party line. Instead Peter would seem to be telling us to have one purpose that we are all working toward. To be working together toward a common goal without conflict about either the goal or how to accomplish it. Discussion about how and what we do together as a body is good. But do it in harmony with one another and then work together to accomplish what God has led you to.

Paul also urges us to be like-minded, especially in Philippians 2:2 and Philippians 4:2. In the latter he is pleading with two women in the church, who seem to have been in conflict with each other, to be of the same mind in the Lord. In the Lord is a significant part of that passage. As believers, we are in Christ; we are his body. And as his body, we are to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). And that is what it means to be like-minded; to have the mind of Christ. To be in accord with his mind, working together to accomplish his purpose for us.

How can we be like-minded? It is not something that can be imposed from without. It can only come when we surrender to the working of the Holy Spirit, uniting us together. And this like-mindedness is the opposite of the divisiveness that we are so often warned against (1 Pet. 2:1). A divisiveness that destroys the effectiveness of the church. Unlike like-mindedness that builds it up.

Be Sympathetic

The second directive Peter gives us to be sympathetic. The dictionary defines sympathy as “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” It means that when my brother or sister in Christ is suffering, then I suffer alongside them. Job’s friends can tell us something about showing sympathy for one who is suffering. When they first came to him, they just sat and wept with him (Job 2:11-13).

Being sympathetic is not the same thing as trying to help solve a person’s problems. It is often very tempting to try and tell the suffering person what they did wrong. Or what they need to do to resolve the problem of their suffering. And that is ultimately what Job’s friends did. And if you read through Job it should become quickly obvious that their ‘help’ was neither welcome nor helpful.

Be willing to sit and weep with those who are experiencing challenging times. Come alongside. Your presence will be a comfort. But also be ready to rejoice with those who are rejoicing (Rom. 12:15). It is all part of being the one body of Christ.

Love One Another

Jesus instructs his disciples to love one another (John 13:34-35) and the New Testament authors echo that command repeatedly. But Peter’s command here is somewhat different than what Jesus expressed. Jesus told his disciples to agapaō one another. But Peter tells us to philadelphos one another. While agapaō refers to the active love of God to us, philadelphos means to love as brothers.

I believe that Peter would be the first to say that we should also agapaō one another. But here he is expressing something else. The five instructions he gives in this verse are related to living in community within the body of Christ. We need to love as brothers and sisters. Get along, care about each other, enjoy each others company, be a family.

In 1 Peter 1:22 we find Peter using both of these forms of love. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere philadelphia for each other, agapaō one another deeply, from the heart.” Brotherly love is not the end. It is the entry into the active love of God he want us to have for each other. But brotherly love is necessary for life within the body. Don’t short change the importance of brotherly love within the body.

Be Compassionate

Being compassionate is very similar to being sympathetic. In fact, compassionate is defined as “feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others.” And sympathetic is defined as “feeling, showing, or expressing sympathy.” So what is expressed above for sympathetic is also applicable here to compassionate. If there is anything different in these two it would seem like compassion is more active than sympathy. Not only do you come alongside. But you also take their hand and walk with them through the mud.

Be Humble

And, finally, be humble. To be humble is to put others first, rather than self. It does not mean than I think poorly of myself. But it does mean that I think of others first. It means that I follow the example of Jesus who, though he was God, chose to care for the poor, the sick, the down trodden. Rather than demanding others serve him, he served them. And ultimately he gave his life for all of us.

In some ways this directive matches up with the first one, being like-minded. Rather than demanding my own way, thinking that I have a better plan, I will consider what is best for the body as a whole. Rather than self first, I will put the body first.

Responding to Evil

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 NIV

The previous verse would seem to apply primarily to believers within the body. This verse, on the other hand, would seem to be directed to our dealings with outsiders. If believers are following the previous exhortation, there would be no need to instruct them not to respond to evil and insult with more of the same. But that will not be true of those on the outside. This whole letter is filled with instruction about responding to suffering caused by unbelievers. And this is one of them.

And this is a hard instruction to follow. When someone wrongs me or insults me, it seems to come naturally to hurt or insult them back. I don’t even have to think about it; that desire is instantly there. But that instinctive response is not the proper response for a follower of Jesus. Jesus, when he was insulted, did not retaliate (1 Pet. 2:23). Instead he entrusted himself to God. And he blessed us by bearing our sins on the cross.

Instead of retaliating, Peter calls on us to respond with blessing. And inheriting a blessing ourselves as we do so. But how can I respond to insult or evil with a blessing? It is more than just saying “bless you”. You can bless them by doing something good for them; returning their evil with good. And you can bless them by forgiving their actions. Jesus on the cross, and Stephen being stoned are examples of this. Blessing those who hurt or insult us is hard. But we can do it because we have inherited a blessing ourselves.

Inheriting a Blessing

For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
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 3:10-12 NIV

Peter quotes here from Psalm 34:12-16a. This is a psalm of praise from David during a challenging time in his own life. And in it he expresses what is required to find God’s favor. David is thinking in terms of physical life and prosperity, but it is more likely that Peter would understand living life and seeing good days in more heavenly terms.

This psalm supports Peter’s previous instruction to bless those who harm or insult us. We need to keep our tongues from evil and deceitful speech. Turn from evil. Do good. Seek and pursue peace. Those who do will find themselves in the center of God’s mercy and care.

Call To Action

This short passage packs a real punch. Peter quickly gives us instruction in Christian ethical behavior, including: living together in community; and how to respond to those on the outside who hurt us. None of these are easy. And it is often impossible on our own. But the Holy Spirit, living in us, makes it possible.

To enjoy life in the Spirit, watch your speech. Bless rather than retaliate. Turn away from evil, doing good instead. Seek after peace. And the Lord will be with you, listening to your prayers.

Questions

  • What does it mean to be like-minded with other believers? Why is that important?
  • How can I demonstrate compassion to those who are actively suffering?
  • Do you find it hard to bless those who are hurting you? Why is it important to do so?

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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2 thoughts on “1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)”

  1. This is timely, as I have mulling over in my mind.. the words we speak and I admit am perplexed about those that just blurt out whatever they want.. This is very good!

    Reply

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