Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15a
[This short sermon was preached at a service of Holy Communion following the Book of Common Prayer. Hence the use of ‘traditional’ language]
Peter’s purpose in writing was to encourage persecuted Christians to stand firm in their faith, 1 Pet 5:12. Accordingly, he repeatedly reminds them of the blessings that belong to those who belong to Christ: so much so, that this letter has been called ‘the epistle of hope’. Moreover, he instructs them in the behaviour that Christians should exhibit in the midst of suffering: what kind of relationships they should have with the world in general (2:11f), with the state (2:13-17), within the home (2:18-3:7).
In 3:8, the apostle gives a 5-fold summary of the kind of relationships Christians should have with one another.
1. Like-mindedness – ‘be all of one mind’. How often does this plea for unity ring out from the NT! It can only happen as we have the mind of Christ. It is as we draw closer to him that we draw closer to one another. Our very coming to the Lord’s table is an expression of that unity: here we all meet on precisely the same terms, as needy sinners pleading only the merits of Christ crucified. We have every reason to be like-minded.
2. Compassion – ‘having compassion one of another’. This means to enter into the feelings of others, making their joys and their sadnesses our own. It means overcoming our reserve, individualism and self-sufficiency and following our Master: ‘who is not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. We therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ What an example of compassion for us to follow!
3. Brotherly love – ‘love as brethren’. How can we say we love Christ if we do not love those who belong to Christ? How can we say we love the head of the family if we do not love the other members of that family? “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” Firms words about the vital importance of brotherly love.
4. Pity – ‘be pitiful’. The word ‘pity’ is not often used nowadays, but Peter is referring to something that is needed in every generation: tenderness of heart. We are in special danger of losing this quality in our own day, because we are bombarded with so many stories and images of the suffering and the needy. But God had such love for a needy world that he sent his Son to be its Saviour, and God’s people are called to share in that same compassion. May God give us today a heart full of pity for those who are in any kind of need.
5. Humility – ‘be courteous’, says Peter. A better translation is ‘be humble’. To be humble is to have a true sense of one’s own worth and the worth of others. The teaching of Peter is remarkably similar to that of Paul, when he writes: ‘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. 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!’
All praise to our redeeming Lord,
who joins us by his grace,
and bids us each to each restored,
together seek his face.
He bids us build each other up;
and, gathered into one,
to our high calling’s glorious hope
we hand in hand go on.
Ev’n now we think and speak the same,
and cordially agree;
concentred all, through Jesu’s name,
in perfect harmony.
We all partake the joy of one,
the common peace we feel,
a peace to sensual minds unknown,
a joy unspeakable.
And if our fellowship below
in Jesus be so sweet,
what heights of rapture shall we know
when round his throne we meet!