A Study Series in First Peter with Dr Steve Orr

Sympathy

1 Peter 3:8

Dr Steve Orr

Previously we considered Peter’s instruction pertaining to Sympathy. Moving on now, the next characteristic for us to consider is:

Sympathy

Peter is now saying that we are to go beyond the harmony that is suggested by “unity of mind”. We are to be those who show “sympathy” to one another. We are to be sympathetic. That means more than being concerned for others. It involves truly feeling what others feel and responding with thoughtfulness and sensitivity to their needs. People who have genuine “sympathy” would not say something as trite as “I know how you feel” because they are sensitive enough to know how unhelpful that is. True sympathy expresses itself in a quiet and patient way. It involves listening and waiting and simply being there for a suffering brother or sister.

Once again, Jesus is our great example in this. We read in Hebrews 4v15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”.

You see, Jesus is able to sympathise because He, though being God, is also “one of us”. He’s experienced human frailty. He knows what it is to suffer. He knows what it is to be opposed and rejected. He knows what it’s like to face temptation.

Given that Jesus is one who sympathises it’s hardly surprising to find that the New Testament often exhorts believers in Christ to also be sympathetic towards one another. For example, we read in Romans 12v15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”. We find something similar in 1 Corinthians 12v26 where we read: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together”.

We saw previously that “unity of mind” is fed and supported by us each having a “humble mind”. What feeds and supports “sympathy”? Well, following the chiastic structure, we find that “sympathy” is paired with:

A tender heart

Having a “tender heart” speaks of being “kind-hearted”. We mustn’t think that being tender-hearted or kind-hearted means being soft-hearted. It doesn’t mean being gullible or sentimental. Rather, it speaks of having genuine, deep compassion. A literal translation of the Greek here would be “feel generous in your belly” so it’s not primarily about your outward conduct but about what’s inside you. It comes from your inner being.

I suggest that showing the sort of “sympathy” that Peter mentioned requires such a “tender heart”. You see, there can be a hypocritical “sympathy” that outwardly acts tenderly but inwardly feels very different. A tender heart is what is required to ensure that “sympathy” is genuine and not a mere façade.

Once again, Jesus is the supreme example of tender-heartedness. When Jesus was confronted by a leper we read in Mark 1v41: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean””. Look at Mark 6v34: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things”. This was before Jesus fed the five thousand. It was His compassion that led Him to do that. Exactly the same was true when He fed the four thousand. Look at Mark 8v2 where we read: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat”. So Jesus was motivated by genuine pity and compassion.

Given that Jesus is one who is tender-hearted it’s not surprising to find that Peter is not alone in exhorting believers in Christ to also be tender-hearted. For example, in Ephesians 4v32 we read: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”. You see, the exhortation is not simply “be kind to one another”. It’s not a case of being urged to be outwardly kind regardless of what you actually think or feel. No, such kindness is to stem from us being “tender-hearted”. Remember that the Lord looks on the heart. We find another example in 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”. There Paul is speaking of us putting on the new nature that we have in Christ and we see that it includes “compassionate hearts”. The new hearts that we have through the new birth are “compassionate hearts”.

For our next discussion we will focus on the third characteristic: Brotherly love

About Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!
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