February 2, 2014

Harmony Among Christians




1 Peter 3:8-12 8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For “He who would love lifeAnd see good days,Let him refrain his tongue from evil,And his lips from speaking deceit.11 Let him turn away from evil and do good;Let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,And His ears are open to their prayers;But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Introduction
-     Perhaps there is nothing that reveals us to ourselves as how we react when faced with conflict
-     In conflict, we can demonstrate the power of our faith or deny it by our actions, because the drive to win is a powerful force against the commitment to be Christlike.
-     In situations of conflict, the struggle between responding in kind versus responding to evil with good is natural for the Christian
-     While James and Peter often give us rules to live by—for example, “Do not repay evil with evil” (verse 9)—Paul describes the inner struggle: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:19-20).
-     Paul also tells us there can be ultimate victory in this inner struggle: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It’s not that this victory over the old nature is automatic, but it is possible, and it comes with our continuing maturity in the faith and, frankly, a lot of prayer and just plain effort to become the people God wants us to become.
-     In a sense, there are two of us—the one striving to think and live according to our convictions and commitment to holiness and the old nature, driven by self-centeredness and emotion.
-     Robert Louis Stevenson describes the conflict in his well-known allegory of good and evil, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson, who seemed often obsessed with the inner struggle between good and evil, developed the character of Dr. Jekyll, a well-respected London physician who has a split personality. Whenever the evil personality, Mr. Hyde, takes over, Dr. Jekyll takes a potion he concocted to drive away the evil Mr. Hyde. But he runs out of the potion, and as the allegory ends Mr. Hyde is about to become his permanent nature.
-     Today, the phrase “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” describes anyone who demonstrated markedly different behavior from one situation to the next.
-     All of this illustrates the fact that is a biblical truth—it is possible for us to experience a struggle between our biblical convictions and our emotions, or, as we often put it, the old man and the new. When I take stock of myself and how I react to conflict, the question is, do I let my convictions, or my emotions, guide me?
-     Peter writes in his letter about relationships. In verses 8-12, he summarizes with three principles that are applicable not just in times of peace, but also during conflict.

1.   Our manner of living should promote harmony (8)
Remember Peter’s context here is that he is writing to fellow Christians, “all of you, live in harmony with one another.” There is the implied assumption that conflict will occur among Christians…we have strong opinions, different beliefs in doctrines—even in these early days of the church, there were doctrinal conflicts—we can have conflicting personal and business interests and political differences, jealousies, pride, and selfishness.
Peter’s bottom line is that we must live in harmony.
“Live in harmony”: literally, “be of one mind” or “be likeminded”; unified in thought and feeling.
It does not mean surrender or be a doormat. It means find ways to be likeminded; where conflict is possible or probable, resolve it before it becomes conflict.
Living in harmony is proactive—we initiate ways to be likeminded; prevent conflicts from even arising.
Peter gives us some ways to promote harmony or likemindedness:
            1)   Be sympathetic—Literally, “be of one mind, sympathizing . . .”
a.   Sympathy means more than feeling sorry for; it means sharing a feeling and it implies some kind of remedial or pain-relieving action
b.   The parable of the Good Samaritan is a great example. The priest and the Levite who crossed the road and passed the injured man perhaps felt sorrow for the injured man’s condition, but they did not sympathize; the Samaritan took pity (a synonym for sympathize).
            2)   Love as brothers
a.   How? Share in lives; share feelings, the ups and the downs; be friends; care about one another’s welfare and do something about each other’s problems if possible, etc.
            3)   Be compassionate (literally, tenderhearted)
                  a.   Related to sympathizing—caring, gentle, helpful
            4)   Be humble (literally, “humble minded” or even “courteous” or “kind”
a.   Meaning is to not be self-centered or seek to meet our own needs and desires, but to have the interests of the brother or sister in mind.
D.  Verse 8 is one continuous thought first telling Christians to live in harmony and they explaining how. A literal translation: “Live in harmony with one another, sympathizing, loving as brothers, being compassionate, and being humble.”

2.   Don’t contribute to conflict (9)
A.  Growing up, I was always the one with a smart mouth in our house. As a teenager, few corrections from my parents went unanswered. Sometimes created conflict. Always escalated conflict.
      B.  Peter tells us the two ways to promote harmony and end conflict when it arises:
            1)   Do not repay evil with evil. That is, don’t be vengeful.
a.   Paul expands on this in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
            2)   Do not repay insult for insult, but (repay) with blessing
                  a.   In the heat of the moment, how hard is that?!
b.   Peter tells us why: “because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” That reminds me of what God did for me while I was still rebelling against Him: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words, not repaying wrong for wrong or insult for insult is just repeating what our Father in heaven has done for us.

3.   Pursue peace (10-11)
A.  Peter repeats himself and expands on the thoughts of verses 8 and 9 in verses 10 and 11, quoting from Psalm 34.
B.  Two marks of a growing, contented Christian who pursues peace in his or her relationships are (1) that we do not speak evil and deceit and (2) that we turn away from evil and do what is good (righteous).
1)   Once again, Peter’s instructions place the responsibility directly on us. Not speaking evil and deceit and turning away from evil to do what is good are decisions we make.
2)   Practical benefits—we avoid saying things we later wish we had not, we avoid the messy entanglement that always comes after we lie, and we don’t find ourselves paying the price for (unrighteous) conduct.
C.  God does not want us just to live with or ignore conflict; He wants us to help solve it—calmly, lovingly, honestly—and not contribute to it by our attitudes or unrighteous responses and actions.
D.  Note that Peter doesn’t say be peaceful or avoid conflict. He says “seek peace and pursue it” (verse 11).
1)   In other words, make an effort . . . have a strong desire for peace (seek peace) and make it happen with a strong, unrelenting effort.

4.   Righteous responses please God (12)
      A.  Verse 12 confirms the truth that God blesses us and our efforts to do His will.
1)   When we seek to live in harmony, be likeminded, love as brothers, show compassion, demonstrate humility, turn from evil and do good, and pursue peace, God blesses and even empowers our efforts.
2)   But when we do just the opposite—seek vengeance, trade insults, and speak deceitfully—we cannot expect to succeed.
      B.  When conflicts arise, Peter is telling us, we must choose righteousness

Some closing thoughts:
-     We need to remember who we are when conflict arises.
-     God expects us to be likeminded, which means we seek like-mindedness in resolving conflicts rather than to ignoring or running away from them.

-     We need to remember God’s will for us when conflict arises: that our very lifestyle promotes harmony, that our relationships are characterized by brotherly love, sympathy for each other, compassion, and humility, and that rather than contributing to conflict, we pursue peace.