Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of compassion, and how compassion and unity with one another can provide a foundation for reaching others with the message of the Kingdom.
1 Peter 3:8-9 – Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other in brotherly love. Be compassionate, and keep a humble attitude. Do not give back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, give blessings, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.
According to Peter, being compassionate is simply one of many expected traits believers should exhibit. The compassion he is speaking of here is extended not just to those outside of the faith, but to one another. If we cannot be compassionate with one another, how can we be truly compassionate towards others who are not believers?
For us to be truly compassionate with others, we should be operating from a base of harmony with one another, and recognizing one another’s needs sympathetically. Once we are able to show brotherly love to each other through humility and compassionate actions, we can then have a united purpose with those outside the faith.
Humility is a challenging trait to exercise because almost everything we are involved in on a daily basis in our current culture urges us to succeed over others to achieve goals and progress in our careers, or to draw people to our online content. If we remain humble about our skills and abilities, we may be passed over for promotions at work or for other opportunities where we could exercise those skills.
We all know how social media is purposely designed to generate “likes” and followers based on unique or controversial topics, and so it tends to breed a continual stream of those who are posting their opinions to pose as knowledgeable or successful in areas where they may or may not be. It is common knowledge that most people’s feeds are nothing but contrived and arranged photos to highlight only the best of what they want to share, not the reality of their lives.
It is this type of conditioned social response that is becoming “hard-baked” into our culture more than it ever has before due to the ubiquitous presence of being connected online. And yet, though we as a society are more connected than ever before, we have never been so distant and segregated than we are today. We are becoming lost in the echo chambers of our own fantasies that we think are the representative journals of our lives, and we are seeking only to elevate ourselves to appear more successful than we really are.
Peter’s direction to maintain humility and compassion among each other could not come at a more needed time in the history of society. However, he was only building on the teaching of his master. Yeshua taught, “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:5) and, “Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matthew 11:29).
The apostle Paul also taught humility:
- Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
- Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
- Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
Likewise, James taught humility:
James 4:6, 10 – …God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. … Humble yourselves before Yahweh, and he will exalt you.
As we survey these apostolic writings we find that humility is a constant and recurring theme like a drumbeat against the selfish and hypocritical show-boating of the religious leaders of their day. The true faith of God is based not on outward show, but on inward sincerity and demonstrative concern for others.
Humility and compassion are tied together at the hip because they are both concerned with the needs of others above the needs of oneself. Consider that if every believer put the needs of other believers above their own, each person would be amply supported through the collective encouragement and assistance of others. It is this type of mentality that Yeshua taught and instilled in his disciples so that they would be able to faithfully teach it to others.
Peter says that with humility and compassion, we can then sympathize more effectively with one another, and it is in sympathizing with one another we become united.
How desperately unity is needed among believers today! We have isolated ourselves into our creeds and denominational strongholds, rejecting others who are not in 100% agreement with every aspect of our own beliefs. We gather weekly in similar but separate chambers, attempting to worship the same God but in separate ways that we deem best.
I recognize it is a fine line between remaining vigilant for truth and yet attempting to bridge the gap between others who may not be in total agreement with our views, but if we as believers don’t have the ability to at least begin these conversations, then how can the rest of the world do it, as well? We are supposed to be the light of the world, not the poster children for disunity and isolation from one another. When we can’t even find the humility and compassion to begin conversations over doctrinal differences, we are likely to never bridge those gaps at all, much less make an impact with those outside the faith.
This leads to Peter’s next point about being examples to others through our humble and peaceful actions in the process of blessing others. In a moment, we will explore a little deeper the need we have for building unity with one another in order to serve as a springboard for creating peace amidst the rest of the world.
Once he establishes their preferred base actions with one another, Peter expands his directives to their attitude toward others who did not agree with their positions or their beliefs.
1 Peter 3:9-14 – Do not give back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, give blessings, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of Yahweh watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But Yahweh turns his face against those who do evil.” Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.
Peter is here quoting directly from Psalm 34, a psalm which focuses on the protection and blessing of Yahweh which rests upon the righteous. The entire psalm contextually enriches this passage in 1 Peter. But if we widen the context of Peter’s quote by even a few surrounding verses, it helps to provide a little more substantial basis for the point he is making in his letter.
Psalm 34:11-16 – Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of Yahweh. Who is someone who desires life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of Yahweh is set against those who do what is evil, to remove all memory of them from the earth.
The psalm states that those who practice what is right in seeking peace with others are the ones who are truly demonstrating the fear and respect of Yahweh. This was a very real need and an accurate assessment of the social status of the early believers. They were always in danger not only from the civil strife of their day, but from the religious antagonism and persecution of their Jewish brothers and sisters. Additionally, they were challenged with resisting the influences of the pagan society. Through all of this, Peter encourages them to repay evil with blessing and seeking to maintain the peace, because “this is what God has called you to do.”
Notice also the dichotomy in how Yahweh makes himself known among the people: “The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of Yahweh is set against those who do what is evil, to remove all memory of them from the earth.”
Our society today has this backwards. The cultural tendency today is to glorify and maintain the memory of those who do evil and to erase the memory of those who are righteous. The Bible and those who are honest and upright are mocked or viewed as simpletons and backwater fools, while those who are notorious criminals and murderers are glorified and memorialized in books, movies, and television. Just look at the popularity of TV shows that do “hard-hitting” documentaries and series on “true crime” stories. Consider the glut of books and dramatic shows and movies that are based on law enforcement and legal themes, all dealing with those who do evil. True crime as a genre is so wildly popular it has also spawned a whole industry of podcasts, all relating how these vicious crimes have affected the lives of ordinary people.
With this steady diet of aberrant behavior constantly portrayed in our social consciousness, is it any wonder that these types of behavior are more and more becoming the hallmarks of modern society? The psalm states that God is set against these types of individuals to remove all memory of them from the earth, and we instead magnify their wickedness for the sake of ratings, popularity, and morbid curiosity.
By contrast, Peter says that the believers have been called by God to consistently swim upstream against the current of wickedness around them. We must maintain righteous behavior, not to be congratulated for doing so, but because it is simply the right thing to do. And when we do so collectively as believers, we demonstrate a unity with one another that can be recognized by others. We create a firm foundation to then stand united in the face of opposition and evil. Not only that, but more than just standing firm against opposition, it is the believer’s obligation to turn away from evil, to provide blessings in return for insults, and to seek and pursue peace with all others. We have no other alternative approved by God; we must always stand for peace and righteousness with one another and with all others.
For our part, peace in the world may not happen in this generation or even in the next five or ten generations, but if it grows with each generation, then we are making progress. According to this passage, peace grows through humility and compassion; there is no other way. If it doesn’t begin with us, those of us who have experienced the grace of God and live and move in his Spirit, then who has the ability to accomplish it in any lasting way?
For us to fulfill our obligation and our calling, as Peter says, we should mimic those early believers in their harmony, humility and compassionate actions with one another so we may be able to effectively stand together for God’s purpose. When we openly demonstrate the fear of Yahweh by doing what is right with one another and actively seek peace with all of those around us, we serve this higher calling we have received and build on the legacy of Messiah in continuing to establish the Kingdom of God in this world for all time.
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