Summary: How we are as a Christian community and as individuals to live in a hostile world.
The topic of Peter’s epistle since 2:11 has been “How to Live in a NonChristian World.” We’ve treaded through the minefield of authority in civil life, the workplace and campus, and in marriage. The directive was the same in each category – submit to appropriate authority. The guiding principle in all circumstances is that we are to live in response to God and not to the world. Our motive is to glorify God and to win our neighbors to the gospel.
We seem to be moving into safe territory now. Verse 8 presents the behavioral traits that should characterize Christian community. Verse 9 then takes us back to the hostile world and gives us the same difficult instruction we have received before. With that fair warning, let’s step forward.
8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
This is not a startling verse, at least in comparison to similar passages and to what we have always been taught. Let’s break it down.
Live in harmony with one another. Literally, it means to be “same-thinking.” The KJ has be “of one mind.” “Live in harmony” expresses well what Peter means. His concern here is about behavior, and to live in harmony is to live with the same intent of building up one another in the Lord. We are to be one-minded about glorifying our Lord and bearing witness to the world. We are living stones (2:5) being built together to offer acceptable sacrifices to God. Our different gifts, abilities, personalities, etc., are to complement one another, not conflict.
This is not a superficial harmony in which we are merely trying to avoid conflict. We are one-minded about loving each other and seeking the good of one another. We are one-minded about honoring and serving our Lord together. That one-mindedness makes us put aside our superficial differences and focus on what really matters to God.
This is an important point. We tend to think our differences are what is real and our courtesy is what is superficial. We say a real one-minded church would not have two styles of worship. We must be practicing a superficial politeness in order to get along. But the reality is that the harmony is real and the difference superficial. Both sets of worshipers desire to glorify God in worship; both groups fellowship together and minister together.
Be sympathetic. Sympathetic comes from this Greek word, sumpathais. It means to share feelings with another. It is what Paul meant in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. More often than not it refers to sympathizing with those who are suffering. That’s why the KJ speaks in terms of compassion. “We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear,” goes the old hymn.
The main thought is that we are to come alongside our brothers and sisters and share with them their feelings. That includes their joys as well. It is just as meaningful to us to have someone feel our joys; indeed, there are few things more frustrating than to have those close to us not share the same excitement we feel about something.
What we are being encouraged to do is to value what our brothers and sisters value. Be alert to what matters to them, how they are feeling about it; and then share the joy or sorrow with them.
Love as brothers. We are back to that word, philadelphia, which Peter first introduced in 1:22. We are to love each other like family; we are to bear the mark that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples they were to bear: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).
Peter has already given the best commentary on this in 2:9-10. Our love for one another is to be sincere. It is not the superficial smile with the promise “we’ll have to get together sometime.” We are to really care. Indeed, we are to be devoted to one another in showing love. Just as in a family, we are to see ourselves as connected to one another so that we show special love to one another, and we are bothered when we are not showing that love.
Be compassionate. The KJV says to be pitiful. Many of us may fit that category, but it means to show pity, or, as the NKJV puts it, to be tenderhearted. I think the distinction between this term and sympathy is that being compassionate takes on the added meaning of being kind. To show compassion is to act. It may be to provide a shoulder for support or tears; it may be to help with provisions or to help with a task. It is lending aid out of real concern for the other in need.