1 Peter 3:8—Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Thursday we discussed the need for local churches to be places of humility. If you’ve read the blog faithfully this week, you might have thought that I skipped the middle virtue in 1 Peter 3:8. Smack-dab in the middle between the other four virtues, Peter commands us to “have . . . brotherly love.”
Most scholars believe that in this verse Peter is employing an ancient poetic device called a chiasm. In this type of poetry, a passage would be organized like a sandwich. The ideas on the outer edges would be similar, but in the middle is the meat. Whatever is in the middle is what the author is highlighting.
Look again at our passage. The first and last virtues (unity of mind and a humble mind) are both telling us how to think. The second and fourth virtues (sympathy and a tender heart) are telling us how to feel. But what’s the meat? What’s the glue that holds everything together. Love.
And that’s the key to cultivating humility, which will help you to cultivate sympathy and compassion. The key, the supreme Christian virtue is love. Remember what Jesus said when a scribed asked Him about the most important commandments? Mark 12:29-31 tells us that Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (31) The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Peter himself tells us in 1 Peter 4:8, Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
It is love that enables us to have unity. If we truly love, we’ll care more about others than our opinions on lesser matters. We won’t divide over the things that don’t matter. But if we truly love them, we’ll also love them enough to tell them the truth about the things that do matter. We won’t let them run into hell believing a lie about who Jesus is or how we can be saved. Not without warning them first.
It is love that enables us to have sympathy. If we truly love, we’ll care more about the feelings of others than our own feelings. We’ll be willing to step into the joy of another and celebrate with them, even if we feel discouraged or sad. We’ll be willing to step into the grief of another and mourn with them. Even if we’d rather think positive thoughts. We do it because we love them.
It is love that enables us to show compassion. If we truly love, we won’t be satisfied with merely mourning with those who mourning. We’ll want to help them. To serve them in some way. To work to alleviate them in their suffering. Or, if we cannot take their pain away, we’ll simply work to remind them that they’re not alone.
But how does love enable us to be humble? I believe that it is only those who know the love of Jesus that can truly be humble. It is only through the Gospel that we can be truly humble. Think about what the Gospel says to you: The Gospel says, “Wake up, you are worse off than you could ever fear! Your sin is so bad that Christ had to die for you!” But the Gospel also says, “Cheer up, you are more loved than you could ever dream. God is so good that Christ was glad to die for you.” Nothing can humble a person quite like that.
If you’re not a Christian, we invite you to humble yourself today. Right now. C.S. Lewis says, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”[i] Right now, right where you sit, wherever you are. You can cry out to this Jesus. You can admit your pride, your self-reliance, your self-importance, your self-love, your selfishness. You can admit that you don’t love this way. You can ask God to forgive you for this pride, and then you can put your trust in this Jesus who loved you like no one has ever loved you.
When Peter chose these five virtues that we should expect to find in a local church, they weren’t chosen at random. Peter witnessed all five virtues, perfectly modeled by his best friend, Jesus.
Jesus is the perfect example of unity. Peter watched as Jesus brought together a ragtag group of disciples that had no business being together. Tax collectors and zealots didn’t get along, but Jesus led them to be unified. Peter listened as Jesus prayed that His disciples would have the same unity that He shared with the Father in heaven.
Jesus is the perfect example of sympathy. Peter watched as Jesus stepped into the feelings of Mary and Martha outside the tomb of their dead brother, Lazarus. Jesus knew that He was going to resurrect Lazarus, but as He saw the sadness of these sisters, Jesus wept with those who wept. Even now, Jesus still is feeling sympathy for you. If you belong to Jesus, He is stepping into your feelings even now! Hebrews 4:15 says For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus sympathizes with you even now!
Jesus is the perfect example of compassion. Peter watched as Jesus had compassion on hungry crowds and fed them, had compassion on a demon-possessed boy and healed him, had compassion on a helpless crowd and taught them, had compassion on the sick and healed them, had compassion on a begging leper, and healed him.
Jesus is the perfect example of humility. Peter watched Jesus on the night that He was betrayed. Peter had been arguing with the other disciples about who was the greatest. Meanwhile, Jesus took off His outer robe, wrapped Himself in a towel, and began washing the feet of His disciples.
Jesus is the perfect example of love. Jesus told Peter, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And yet the Bible tells us that while we were still enemies Christ dies for us (Romans 5:10).
[i] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 128.