The Epistle I St. Peter 3.8
Dearly beloved: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eshew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.
I have in my brief time here on earth, known many people who talk and talk and talk and never seem to say anything. These are the sort of people whom one of my former co-workers used to say would emit “much sound and fury, signifying nothing”. But the exact opposite is true of St. Peter in his Epistle today. Indeed, in just a few brief statements, St. Peter tells us quite a lot. For in these verses, we learn from the foremost of the Apostles, all that we need to know and follow in the conduct of our lives as Christians.
The first statement consists of only six words, but the power of these words is amazing; “be ye all of one mind”. In this one simple statement, Peter is echoing Our Lord’s own words; “that they may be one”. As Christians, we are called to unity in Christ. We are called to be in harmony with our brothers and sisters, not allowing our minor differences and disagreements to divide us. This call to unity is repeated so often throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, and Philippians, that we cannot take it as a mere suggestion or urging; no, this is a requirement, a commandment if you like, that is essential to any Church that claims to be Christian.
The unity to which I refer, should not be confused with the unity preached by those who reside in heretical enclaves. Their unity would have us mired in heresy with them, taken down into the depths of ungodliness in the name of “tolerance”. A “unity at all costs”, is a unity that ultimately destroys, leading all to perish like lemmings to the sea.
Neither does this unity necessarily refer to the organic reunion of all the Churches in the world. While that would of course be the ultimate goal, it can be argued that this sort of unity is in fact unnecessary; after all, aren’t we all members of that One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church already? The rest is merely politics.
No, the unity spoken of here, is of the most basic sort; elemental and true Christian unity; The joining together of God’s holy people in the praise and worship of the Almighty; in thanksgiving for the blessings and grace that we have received and in humble acknowledgement of Christ’s Saving Sacrifice.
To achieve this unity, we must set aside ego. We must set aside personal complaints and offences. We must set aside our differences with one another. We must set aside all those things that cause us to avoid one another, to be mad at one another, to dislike one another. To achieve this unity, we must acknowledge one another in that which truly joins us; Jesus Christ.
Our second amazing statement is only five words; “having compassion one of another”. Some other words we might use for “compassion” might include; concern, kindness, consideration, and care. Based on those words, we might think that we are indeed compassionate. We are faithful about including people in our prayers. We may even contribute to those causes and institutions that provide for the needs of the poor. But I want to introduce one more word as an alternative to “compassion”. And that word is “empathy”.
To feel empathy means that you are able to identify with and understand what another person is going through. It might mean that you know and have felt the same sort of pain that others are currently experiencing. It might mean that you have personally endured anguish or anxiety that is similar to what another person is suffering. Or it just might mean that your heart is pained to know that others are troubled or in distress.
It is easy for us to become disconnected from the troubles of this world. I recall in my childhood days seeing the television pictures of body bags coming back from Vietnam and hearing my mother quietly lamenting the loss of young life. Today, we see so many images of terrorist atrocities, governments who brutalize their citizenry, people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after a tornado or hurricane, and we feel….what?
How many of us truly identify with the pain of those victims of terrorist acts? How many of us become indignant at the way some foreign governments treat their people? How many of us can feel the desperation of those people whose lives have been devastated by some violent act of nature? Do we truly add our daily prayers in hope that God will alleviate their suffering? Do we empathize with their plights? Or do we shake our heads at the pictures on the screen and change the channel?
Remember, it is God’s empathy for us, it is God’s concern, kindness, consideration, and care for us, that lead Him to offer the life of His Only Begotten Son for us. I tell you, there can be no Christianity, and we cannot claim to be Christians, without compassion.
“Love as Brethren”. Just as the word “love” tends be overused, and often inappropriately used, the term “brotherly love” has become likewise devalued. In some instances, it has become an almost sarcastic reference, as when some sports announcers speak about the fans in Philadelphia. But this concept of brotherly love belongs to Christ. It is his commandment to us; “that ye love one another”.
This is not only one of the marks of our Christian Faith, but brotherly love is also the test of our faith as well. It is how others may know that we are followers of Christ; “by this, will all men know that ye are my disciples; that ye love one another”. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren”.
It is also how others may know that we are hypocritical about our faith; “he that loveth not his brother, abideth in death”. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him”. “if a man say, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar”. We can be effective evangelists for Christ only if our faith leads us to that brotherly love for one another.
St. Peter also tells us that we are to be sympathetic toward one another. On the surface, sympathy may appear to be synonymous with “compassion” or “empathy”. But whereas those qualities cause us to be able to identify with the plight of our fellow man, sympathy is the natural result of them. It is sympathy that causes us to donate money or food or clothing to the unfortunate. It is sympathy that causes us to reach out to those who are without a church. It is sympathy that leads us to volunteer at hospitals or homeless shelters or on disaster relief efforts.
Sympathy is what occurs when we sublimate our egos and personalities, and allow God to guide our actions though the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. Sympathy is what happens, when we stop being selfish. Sympathy is what comes to pass when we have Christ in our hearts.
Ah and now, the tough part; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing”. “Forgiveness”; if you are of one mind and in unity with your Christian brothers and sisters, then you will forgive them no matter the offense. If you have compassion for your brothers or sisters, you will forgive them. If you truly love your brethren, you will forgive them. If you are sympathetic toward your brethren, then you will forgive them.
Are you starting to sense a theme here? If you have guessed that all my talk about these marks of the Christian life lead to forgiveness, you’re very close. Of course unity, compassion, love and sympathy quite naturally lead one to forgiveness. Now stop and think about it; what lead God to forgive us? Could it be that the Unity of the Eternal Godhead had compassion, love and sympathy for us? So when we are commanded to follow these marks of the Christian life, St. Peter is telling us that we are to follow the example of God Himself. Humbling, isn’t it?
And finally, here’s the really tough part; “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eshew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it”. Yes, this is that ever annoying part about “humility”; an exceedingly difficult concept. But truly, humility is what keeps us coming to Church. If we are to claim to be followers of Christ, if we truly hold him up as our example, then we likewise recognize and admit that we can never measure up to his standard.
We also recognize that everything that we have, all the blessings that we have received, our families, our Church, our lives, all depend on God. Without Him, we can do nothing, accomplish nothing. But with God, all things are possible, even the forgiveness of our sins. Even the victory over death. Nothing that we humans can do can match that.
Unity, compassion, love, sympathy, forgiveness, and humility. These are all marks of the Christian life. These are the qualities that others will recognize in us if we are true followers of Jesus. If we are to display these qualities, then we must come together as one in the Faith, we must reach out to our brothers and sisters in empathy for their troubles as well as their joys, we must love our brethren as we love ourselves, we must be spurred to action in response to need, and we must forgive as Our Lord has forgiven us. And if we truthfully and humbly admit our own sins, and remember that those sins have been forgiven by God himself; and remember the price that was paid for that forgiveness, then we can assuredly be known to the world as true disciples of Christ.