I’m sure that you’ve all had the experience of listening to a sermon and hearing the preacher say that long awaited and very welcome word “finally”. You heave a sigh of relief and perhaps look to see what the closing hymn is going to be but then the preacher seems to go on and on and shows no sign of stopping after all!
Well, today we’re going to look at 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 8 and you could get the impression that Peter is doing something similar. He says: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind”. You see, the verse begins with the word “Finally” but Peter still has about two and a half chapters left to go! He’s only just over half way through the letter! Why is he saying “Finally”? Well, the Greek word that has been translated as “Finally” could better be translated as “in summary”. Rather than indicating that he’s almost finished the letter he’s actually signalling a conclusion to what he’s been saying previously in chapter 2 verse 11 through to chapter 3 verse 7. You could think in terms of him saying “To sum up or conclude what I’ve been saying in this section of the letter”.
Notice that he is now addressing “all of you”. In the section from chapter 2 verse11 to chapter 3 verse 7 he’d addressed Christian citizens, then Christian slaves or servants, then Christian wives and then Christian husbands. Having done that, he’s now going on to address “all of you”. By that he means every member of the church. He means the whole Christian community. So, the issue he is now addressing is how we are to relate to one another in our life together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What does he have to say to “all of you”?
Well, he goes on to give five features or traits that should characterise us together as believers in Christ. As rendered in the ESV they are: “unity of mind”, “sympathy”, “brotherly love”, “a tender heart” and “a humble mind”. Before we look at those five features or traits there are couple of things that we need to note.
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.
So, firstly, let us consider: Unity of mind
By “unity of mind” Peter means “harmony”. He’s saying “let there be harmony among you”. That’s an emphasis that is often repeated in the New Testament. I’ll just give a few examples to illustrate the point.
Firstly, look at Romans 15v5-7: ”May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God”.
Then look at: 1 Corinthians 1v10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment”.
Next, look at 2 Corinthians 13v11: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you”.
For one last example let’s look at Philippians 2v1-2: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”. You see the sorts of expressions that are being used: ”live in such harmony with one another”, “all of you agree”, “be united in the same mind and the same judgment”, “agree with one another”, “being of the same mind” and “being in full accord and of one mind”.
Now, this is not saying that we’re all to be the same. It’s not suggesting that Christians should all have the same tastes and gifts and habits. It’s not encouraging a dull uniformity. Rather, the picture is one of fitting together and accommodating one another and complementing one another. Harmony is a term that is used in music and it is very different from unison. Harmony involves different parts that fit together and blend together to make a beautiful whole. The individual parts might not be anything special. The beauty lies in the way in which they fit together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s the sort of “unity of mind” or “harmony” that should be evident among us. That’s not because we’re all the same but because we share the same ideas and convictions about the essential things of life in terms of God and salvation and living to please Him as our loving heavenly Father.
We must also recognise that we do not share those ideas and convictions because of any sort of standard imposed from without such as a doctrinal statement or a confession or basis of faith. Remember that right at the outset of the letter Peter had referred to his readers in chapter 1 verse 3 as being those who had been “caused us to be born again to a living hope”. So, the ideas and convictions that unite us stem from the new life and new nature that result from us having been born again. That really is the source of all five of the characteristics that Peter mentions here.