Reflection | Previously, Peter has been addressing relational situations related to particular groups of people – citizens, slaves and servants, and spouses married to non-believers. It is important to realize that while Peter was speaking into specific circumstances, his overall message of mutual submission is applicable to all Christians. Biblically, submission is not about forced subordination. It is about bearing a voluntary posture of giving in and cooperating, of assuming responsibility and carrying a burden with and for another.
When we mutually submit to each other – not out of obligation but in love, we are following Jesus because this is how Christ came to and engaged us – in humble service and sacrifice.
What has been implied now becomes explicitly stated to everyone: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (verse 8). Peter calls every follower of Jesus to adopt these deportments as they live in relationship with others. Notice how observance to each of these commands necessitates an overall posture of mutual submission.
To begin with, Christians are to be like-minded or harmonious. The Greek word that Peter employs here means thinking the same things. The connotation of this word is not uniformity – having all the same opinions and perspectives. Rather it is about sharing a common mindset – being unified around the way of Jesus.
The history of the Church has been one long struggle in this regard. More often than not, it has been easier for us to divide and separate – to be able to articulate where we disagree. However, Peter is reminding us this is not how it should be. Both our witness and our work as the Body of Christ are lessened rather than strengthened by our various theological and doctrinal disputes. The will and work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us together in the midst of our differences. Our priority therefore ought to be on recognizing the One who unites us is greater than anything that divides us.
Peter goes on to invoke a trio of related dispositions. We are to be sympathetic – meaning, we are to be emotionally moved – to choose to understand and identify with both the pain and the joy of others. Likewise, we are to love. In speaking of love, Peter invokes the Greek word, “philadelphos” or brotherly love. We are to love others like family because as fellow children created in the image of God, they are. The love Peter invokes here encompasses much more than a feeling of affection. It is the resolve to do right by people – both in one’s actions toward another and in one’s advocacy for others.
To these temperaments, Peter adds a call for compassion. Compassion or kind-heartedness, while related to sympathy, raises the bar in terms of how we are to engage others. It is to go beyond being moved by the sorrow of another and to act on his or her behalf. If we read the gospel accounts carefully, something stands out about most of the healing miracles Jesus performed. They were motivated by the compassion of Christ. In following Jesus, identifying with the hurts of where we begin but never of where we end. Thanks to the Spirit who is at work both in and through us, we are to be agents of the healing Jesus seeks to give to all. Such healing demands the initiative of compassion.
Peter closes out this litany by beckoning us to be humble. Much like today, humility was not a prized value in Greco-Roman society. It was frequently associated with weakness and ultimately deemed to be shameful. In the economy of the Kingdom of God, however, genuine humility is foundational to living and experiencing the fullness of life that Jesus offers to us. If we do not recognize our utter dependence upon the Lord, then we will rely, even in part, on our perceived strengths and merit. Any lack of humility on our part, we will be reflected in how we treat others – as not as important or less than ourselves. Only in the confession of our weakness before God do we find the strength to mutually lift up and support each other.
Peter moves from talking in general terms to being more practical. “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” (verse 9). In Greco-Roman culture, the promotion and maintenance of one’s honor versus one’s shame was a fixation. One actually could increase his honor by putting down another person and/or by settling a score with someone who wronged you. And of course, once a person was attacked in this way, responding in kind was necessary to defend or uphold one’s honor.
Our modern society has not evolved in this respect. In a world that has become increasingly retaliatory – where even our leaders have no hesitation in airing their invectives via Twitter – Peter, in no uncertain terms, declares such a response to be unchristian. In seeking to put an end to such an unedifying cycle, Peter echoes the writings of Paul in this regard as well as the direct teachings of Jesus. Our so-called “normal” human impulse to strike back is anything but. It is a manifestation of our brokenness, of our sin. And so, Peter commands us to resist any such instinct by instead choosing to bless those who offend and injure us.
Peter is spurring us to turn every negative into a positive The Greek word he exercises here for “blessing” is “eulogia.” We get our modern word, “eulogy,” from this word which means “benediction or good word” in the sense of benefiting another person. Biblically, to bless is to request God’s favor be shown or experienced by the person in question. Just in case we are wondering why we might ever do such a thing to someone who has wronged us so badly, Peter tells us the reason.
We, who ourselves deserve condemnation and yet have received not only the mercy of God’s forgiveness but also the grace of eternal salvation, have no claim or basis for getting even. As inheritors of the blessing of God, we cannot and must not remain those who trade in a spirit of vengeance. God’s forgiveness in Christ has broken the cycle of human revenge. To repay evil with evil is to betray the essence of the Gospel. True evangelism – sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – is to bless others rather than to curse them. When we return a word or work of blessing in exchange for an insult or an act of evil, we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus because that is what Christ did for us.
In verses 10 through 12, Peter furthers his case by referencing Psalm 34. This ancient song was written by King David when he was on the run from the murderous rage of King Saul. In the midst of being treated badly – being exiled from his homeland and cut off from his friends and family, David chooses to trust that God is both with him and watching over him rather than taking matters into his own hands.
In this psalm, David shares the wisdom he has gained from making this choice – a general principle by which to live a better and more full life. Peter seeks to apply the wisdom offered by David to the Christians he is writing to who are living in Asia Minor. No doubt they were, as individuals and communities, facing persecution and unjust treatment for their faith in Jesus. Seemingly, some of them were starting to lash out and strike back against their accusers and tormentors. But Peter urges them to follow a dramatically different path of resistance – to “turn from evil and do good…[to] seek peace and pursue it.”
Let us notice what Peter outlines is not a passive process. Turning away is an intentional act. It requires focus and effort. We have to be willing to turn away from the pain of the hurt done unto us. We have to choose to distance ourselves from the innate response of broken, sinful humanity – to strike back – to return evil for evil.
It is impossible to turn away when our suffering and the allure of vengeance is all we can see. To truly turn away we need somewhere to turn. We must turn toward something – or someone. The turn we can and must make is towards Jesus. As we turn to Christ, we have someone who is willing to take our pain. As we turn to Jesus, we have someone who offers us a different path – away from propagating death and towards that which is good – which extends life.
Turning from evil to do good is the more difficult choice but it is not one that we must make alone. For by the grace of God, you and I can lean into and rely upon the Spirit of the one who is in us, who is greater than the one who is in the world. The “peace” that Peter quoting David calls us to “seek and pursue” is the peace of God – the peace of the Holy Spirit who has taken up residence in us. In and through the Spirit we find the initiative and the power to de-escalate conflict and forfeit the sequence of revenge.
At a time when it seems like everyone is indulging their so-called righteous rage in the name of Jesus or in the name of their right to free speech, the peace of the Spirit often is ignored or rejected. In a world hell bent on revenge, making peace is never easy. It always requires purposeful searching and even a little bit of chasing. But for those of us who want to love rather than hate life, for those of us who long to see good days on this side of heaven, following Jesus is the choice we need to make – each day and every moment of our lives.
Consider & Discuss | Can your relationships with others be described as harmonious, sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble? If not, why not? Where do your struggle the most to maintain this five-fold posture? Have you ever been insulted or grievously wronged? How did you/are you respond/responding? Are you known for saying discouraging or unkind things, or uplifting and encouraging things? How different would today or tomorrow be for you if you indulged the Holy Spirit and choose to bless rather than curse those who hurt and/or wrong you?
Prayer Focus | Merciful Father, You are the God who loved Your enemies, the Ruler of All who was willing to become the Servant of all – even those who sought to put You to death, the King of all Kings who died and conquered death to rescue rebels like us. Who are we to judge and to condemn each other? Forgive us for making You grace cheap and for choosing to indulge our appetite for destruction rather than to learn how to make peace. Please be with me as I seek to cast out evil thoughts, selfish actions, and an unclean heart. May all foolish talking and covetousness, bitterness, wrath, and anger be put away from us, with all malice.
Fill me up with your Word and Holy Spirit. Through Your Spirit, help us to hear and understand your Word. Enlighten and remind us continually of how much grace has been shown to us. Impress upon our hearts just how blessed we are in Christ with unconditional love and extravagant forgiveness. And may that knowledge humble us even as it creates in expressible joy in us, so that we might see ourselves in those who hurt us and thus choose to bless them with sympathy, with love and with humble compassion. For Your glory, amen.