Strangers And Aliens (15a): Turning The Other Cheek (1 Peter 3:8–12)

1 Peter 3:8–12

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (ESV).
8 Τὸ δὲ τέλος πάντες ὁμόφρονες, συμπαθεῖς, φιλάδελφοι, εὔσπλαγχνοι, ταπεινόφρονες,  9 μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας, τοὐναντίον δὲ εὐλογοῦντες ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο ἐκλήθητε ἵνα εὐλογίαν κληρονομήσητε.
10 ὁ γὰρ θέλων ζωὴν ἀγαπᾶν
καὶ ἰδεῖν ἡμέρας ἀγαθὰς
παυσάτω τὴν γλῶσσαν ἀπὸ κακοῦ
καὶ χείλη τοῦ μὴ λαλῆσαι δόλον,
11 ἐκκλινάτω δὲ ἀπὸ κακοῦ καὶ ποιησάτω ἀγαθόν,
ζητησάτω εἰρήνην καὶ διωξάτω αὐτήν·
12 ὅτι ὀφθαλμοὶ κυρίου ἐπὶ δικαίους
καὶ ὦτα αὐτοῦ εἰς δέησιν αὐτῶν,
πρόσωπον δὲ κυρίου ἐπὶ ποιοῦντας κακά.

v.8: United In Mind, Feeling, Affections, Compassion, and Humility
When a group faces external pressure, criticism, or perhaps even persecution of some kind it may lead to internal fractures and schism. The Apostle Peter was aware of this possibility among the congregations in (modern) Turkey. He has been urging them to respond appropriately to those outside the congregation but in this section he turns his attention to those within the congregation. How ought they to relate to one another?

When he says “finally” (Τὸ δὲ τέλος) he is only drawing this section to a close. He wants the congregation to foster among themselves five qualities or virtues. The first of these is having a like mind (ὁμόφρονες). This word, like several others in 1 Peter appears only here in the NT. It does not seem to occur in the LXX but it did occur in secular literature where it signals “of the same sentiment” or “of the same opinion.” In short, the first of the human faculties Peter addressed was the human intellect. Peter assumes the essential perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture on the Christian faith and the Christian life. It is clear from the context of this epistle, the gospels, and 2 Peter that Peter believed that Scripture is normative and that there is Christian doctrine that is objectively true and that can and must be believed by all (πάντες) Christians.

Peter’s approach is in sharp contrast to the way that post-19th century evangelicals and liberals have often talked about unity. Among evangelicals, the basis of unity is usually located in subjective religious experience. Liberals, i.e., those associated with the mainline churches (the so-called “Seven Sisters of the Mainline”) and the associated ecumenical groups (e.g., National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches) typically begin with subjective but from a different direction. It is not possible to survey theological liberalism here but those liberals who continue to profess some degree of adherence to the Christianity usually redefine the faith in subjectivist terms. Christianity becomes the quest to recover Jesus’ religious experience. Doctrine becomes a metaphor for personal experience, not claims about objective truth and reality. Liberals have typically set Jesus’ teaching against that of the apostles (especially Paul) and reduced the core of the faith to the Sermon on the Mount. We may be forgiven for wondering how often those who say such things have actually read Jesus’ words. One may be reasonably sure that Jesus would be denounced in most mainline assemblies as an intolerant fundamentalist.

Unlike evangelical subjectivists (e.g., Pietists) and liberals, Peter does not set objective truth against Christian experience or feeling. The next virtue or quality to which Peter exhorts us is translated by the ESV as “sympathy” (συμπαθεῖς). Our English word “sympathy” is borrowed from the Greek word that Peter uses here. Again, like the first, Peter uses a noun here that occurs only here in the canonical Scriptures. It occurs in the Apocryphal book of 4 Maccabees 13:23 in the same sense as here. In secular usage it bears the same sense and that is that we ought to feel with and for one another. This is an essential part of what it is form and be a community of believers in a congregation. Each of us needs to know that our brothers and sisters feel for us as we struggle with sin or as we face pressures from the unbelieving world.

We are familiar with adjective translated as “brotherly love” in the ESV (φιλάδελφοι). It genetically related to the word Philadelphia, after which the famous American city is named. This virtue (using the abstract noun φιλαδελφία) is taught explicitly in 1 Peter 1:22, which we have already discussed and again in 2 Peter 1:7. Paul commends “brotherly love” in Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1. Love  for the brothers is not, in the first instance, a feeling or an emotion. It is what we do. Scripture says, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). How much did God love the world? How do we know God loved the world? He sent his only and eternally begotten Son. 1 John 4:10 gives us a characterization of love: “…this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (ESV). Brother love means self-sacrificial service for brothers and sisters in the congregation.

To this Peter adds “tender hearted” (εὔσπλαγχνοι). In secular usage it meant “to have healthy bowels” but metaphorically, as it is used here it means compassion. This is term Paul uses in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted (εὔσπλαγχνοι), forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (ESV). It is not simply a feeling toward others, though it is that, but it means more. It signals that, just as God has forgiven us in Christ so too we must forgive one another. We do not look at other sinners as if we are not sinners, as if we ourselves are untouched by human sins and infirmities. We too are recipients of God’s grace together.

Finally, for this installment, we consider the adjective “humble mind” (ταπεινόφρονες). We get a sense of how to understand this quality through comparing it to Paul’s use of a related noun (ταπεινοφροσύνη), humility. Paul says in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (ESV). Peter began this thought by discussing the intellect and he concludes the thought by considering the intellect but conditioned this time by humility. One of the vices that leads to schism and division in a congregation is the sort of immature cocksure arrogance that insists on its own view regardless of the effects or consequences. This is not to advocate doctrinal laxity nor to advocate a latitudinarian approach Christian truth. Rather, it is about the manner in which one pursues and advocates truth. How many times have advocates for great truths driven away adherents to that truth by the way they have taught or defended it? To be sure, in a radically egalitarian, subjectivist, age any assertion of truth is treated as divisive. Peter certainly does not imply anything of the sort but he he does want the congregations to band together around the truth, compassionately, graciously, lovingly, sympathetically and humbly.

These are not easy qualities to develop but they are necessary and we can expect the Spirit to work in our midst to these ends.

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