1 Peter 3:8
Previously we considered Peter’s instruction pertaining to Sympathy. Moving on now, the next characteristic for us to consider is Brotherly love.
I pointed out 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 overarching characteristic.
Finally, we reach the climax of this chiastic structure. We said that in a chiastic structure the middle item is the central or most important point. In this instance, we see that that is:
In speaking of “unity of mind” stemming from a “humble mind” and “sympathy” stemming from a “tender heart” Peter has been building towards “brotherly love” as the pinnacle or summit of the characteristics of a Christian community. We could say that “brotherly love” contains or includes “unity of mind”, a “humble mind”, “sympathy” and a “tender heart”. It sums up “unity of mind”, a “humble mind”, “sympathy” and a “tender heart”. As such, it is pre-eminent and over-arching. Paul speaks of the priority of love in 1 Corinthians 13v13 where he says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”.
That’s not surprising when you remember the commandment that Jesus gave. In John 13v34-35 we read: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another””. You see, love for one another is to be a clear characteristic of disciples of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10v24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”. We are exhorted to “stir up one another to love”.
In the ESV, our text speaks specifically of “brotherly love” because the Greek word for “love” in the text is “philedelphia” which means “brotherly love”. The NIV simply says “love one another” and so misses the emphasis on “brotherly love”. It’s something that Peter has already emphasised. Back in 1 Pet 1v22-23 he said: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. Why are we to “love one another earnestly”? Why are we to be characterised by “brotherly love”? Peter says it’s because we “have been born again”. We’ve been born of the Spirit of God into the family of God. We’re to be characterised by “brotherly love” because we’re brothers in Christ. Not surprisingly, we find that the New Testament repeatedly speaks of “brotherly love”. For instance, we read in Hebrews 13v1: “Let brotherly love continue”. Or, look at Romans 12v9-10 where we read: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor”. The only competitiveness there is to be among us is to be a striving to “Love one another with brotherly affection” and to “Outdo one another in showing honor”.
Paul commended the Thessalonian believers as excellent role models in this. We read in1 Thessalonians 4v9-10: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more”. Notice that, although he commended them for their brotherly love, he also urged them to continue to love one another “more and more”. He had a similar emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 3v11-12 where we read: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you”. You see, he wasn’t just urging them to love one another, he was asking the Lord to make them “increase and abound in love for one another”. And notice that he loved them in the same way. That’s an indication of the importance and priority of brotherly love within the Christian community. We can never love one another too much.
Did the Thessalonian believers manage to love one another “more and more”? Yes, they did! Look at what Paul said in his second letter to them. In 2 Thessalonians 1v3 we read: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing”.
That’s a challenge for each one of us isn’t it? The question is not just “do we love one another?” but is our love “for one another is increasing”? Is our “unity of mind” increasing? Is our “humility of mind” increasing? Is our “sympathy” increasing? Is our “tenderness of heart” increasing?