We’re all in this Together
It’s so easy to read lists like the fruit of the spirit and think “those are some nice characteristics” and move on quickly. But there is real value in slowing down and carefully going through the lists and trying to figure out why each characteristic is listed. It’s not as if the apostles just grabbed a random assortment...
It’s so easy to read lists like the fruit of the spirit and think “those are some nice characteristics” and move on quickly.
But there is real value in slowing down and carefully going through the lists and trying to figure out why each characteristic is listed. It’s not as if the apostles just grabbed a random assortment of positive sounding attributes and wrote them down. There’s purpose in what they wrote, and we have one of these lists to consider in today’s reading from 1 Peter 3 where the apostle says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (v8).
How would you summarize that list? Based on the overall context of Peter’s epistle, which is about suffering, I would say a good way to summarize it is this – we’re all in this together. That’s a good sentiment to have at any time, not just necessarily when the ecclesia is going through a rough period. Generally speaking, in Christ, we’re all in this together. Whatever it is each of us is going through individually, our association in Christ is meant to bring us together so we feel what each other is feeling.
The first quality is unity of mind. Remember what Paul said about that in 1 Corinthians 12 – “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (v26). Getting to that feeling is the mark of true unity. It doesn’t come naturally, especially in our individualistic society. So how do we get there? Let’s carry on reading.
It’s only by talking to each other that we realize we’re not alone in the things we suffer and worry about.The next thing in Peter’s list is sympathy. It describes someone who can really understand the suffering of somebody else. Someone who has experienced similar sufferings and emotions. It’s a word that perfectly describes having a fellow feeling with our brothers and sisters and that we’re on the same journey. It’s only by talking to each other that we realize we’re not alone in the things we suffer and worry about. When you find out someone has gone through, or is going through, the same thing as you, it solidifies the bond between you.
Which brings us to brotherly love. We read about that recently in Hebrews 13 where in verse 1 it says, “Let brotherly love continue” and then gives some examples like “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (v3). We’re in the same body – just as Paul says in the chapter from Corinthians cited above. When someone in the same body is suffering, we’re meant to feel it. Brotherly love is loving your neighbor as yourself. If you injure yourself, you’re not going to ignore it but you’ll look after your body. How much more the body of Christ?
After that Peter mentions having a tender heart, which has the idea of being affectionate or compassionate. The word used here, eusplanchnoi, is only used one other time, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It’s useful to look at the context of when Paul writes, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32). Paul begins with describing the attitude of mind that should bring brotherly love and unity (v2– “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”), unity itself (v4-6), working together as brethren to produce spiritual maturity in the ecclesia (v11-13), becoming like a strong pillar in God’s house instead of buckling under the pressure (v14), growing as a united body in love (v15-16) and the spirit of brotherly affection seen in our actions, motivated by love (v25-32).
Finally, we have to have a humble mind. That means not thinking you’re better than others in the ecclesia. It means even if you’re not struggling in the same way having that empathy that if you were in their shoes you would be. And accepting help when you’re the one struggling.
Studying, meditating on and developing these characteristics, and remembering that we’re all in this together, is what binds us together in Christ. What it leads to is what Peter says in the next chapter – “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8). When we have that kind of love for one another, a love that is sympathetic, compassionate, humble and kind then we will not hold grudges, forgive one another, defeat sin and exalt Christ in our lives. When we are part of a loving ecclesia where these are the ways we treat each other, it helps us all walk together towards the Kingdom.
Simi Hills, CA