1 Peter 3:8
Review: Firstly, it’s important for us to recognise that this isn’t simply a sort of check list of things to do. Perhaps some of you find it helpful to keep a “to do” list. You add the things that you need to do onto your “to do” list and then you tick them off one by one as you complete them. It’s a useful way of ensuring that you remember to do things. Well, the things that Peter is mentioning here are not at all like that. Rather than telling us things to do and then tick off once we’ve done them, he’s really encouraging and even urging us to be a particular kind of people. He’s highlighting the characteristics that should always be evident among us. So, these are not so much items that should be on the Christian’s “to do” list. Rather, they are items that should be on the Christian’s “to be” list. And, they should always be on the “to be” list. We should never tick them off because they are to be ongoing characteristics.
The second thing for us to note is that, although these characteristics seem to be presented in the form of a list, they are actually presented in a recognisable and commonly used structure. They take the form of what is known as a chiasm. That is named after the Greek letter “chi” which is a sort of cross shape. In a chiastic structure the first item is closely related to the last item, the second item is closely related to the penultimate one and so on. The middle item is the central or most important point. In this case you can see that the first item, “unity of mind”, and the last item, “a humble mind”, correspond to one another and the second item, “sympathy”, and the fourth item, “a tender heart”, correspond to one another. The middle term is “brotherly love” so that is the central or most important characteristic.
In view of that structure, rather than looking at the characteristics in the order in which they’re presented, we’ll start by considering “unity of mind” and follow that by considering “a humble mind” because they belong together. Then we’ll consider “sympathy” followed by “a tender heart” as the next pair and, finally, we’ll consider “brotherly love” as the over-arching characteristic.
Following the chiastic structure that we’ve noted, closely related to this “unity of mind”, we find that Peter speaks of:
A humble mind
Peter is saying here that we are to be meek. We are to be characterised by humility. That was a very counter-cultural thing for him to say because, in the Greek society of Peter’s day, humility was viewed as being a foolish and despicable thing. They saw no virtue in being humble because it was seen as weakness. What they valued was being strong and assertive. When you think about it things haven’t really changed much have they? Our society still tends to admire strong, go-getting types and anyone who isn’t naturally like that could well find themselves being encouraged to have some “assertiveness training”! But, believers in Christ are to be meek and humble. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because that is what Jesus is like. Look at Matthew 11v29: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
Given that Jesus is characterised by meekness and humility it’s hardly surprising that the New Testament often exhorts believers in Christ to also show humility. I’ll just give a few examples.
Firstly, look at Ephesians 4v1-3 where we read: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
Then look at Colossians 3v12-13 where we read: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”.
For one last example look at 1 Peter 5v5 where we read: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”.
What is meant by being meek or humble? Does it mean being a doormat so that everyone can walk over you? Does it mean having a very low self-esteem and thinking that you’re good for nothing? Certainly not! Biblical humility is much more positive than that. I think a good Biblical definition of what humility means is to be found in Philippians 2v3-4 where we read: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”.
You see, to be humble is to “count others more significant than yourselves” and to look “to the interests of others”. That’s exactly what Jesus did. Paul went on in Philippians 2v5-8 to say: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.
If we all have that Christ-like “humble mind” then there will be the “unity of mind” that Peter mentioned at the outset. Competitiveness among us would undermine “unity of mind”. Vying with one another to be top dog would undermine “unity of mind”. But, if we all have a Christ-like “humble mind”, rather than competing against one another, we’ll be eager to serve one another. So, having this “humble mind” feeds and supports the “unity of mind” that we were just thinking about. That’s why we find “humble mind” being paired with “unity of mind” in the chiastic structure.
For our next discussion we will focus on the second characteristic: Sympathy