STUDY ELEVEN: 1PETER 3:8 – 17 SUBMISSION WITHIN THE CHURCH

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

In 3:8ff, having applied the principle of submission in a range of contexts (2:13 – 3:6) Peter now tells us what submission will look like generally in the fellowship of believers – he now speaks to ‘all of you’ (3:8). The fact that he introduces his instructions here with the word ‘finally’ links it to what he has been saying before. He is talking about, and summing up, the same thing: submission. A submission that expresses the humility and selflessness demonstrated in the incarnation, life and death of Jesus Christ.

A. UNITY IN THE CHURCH

Peter says, first of all, ‘all of you, live in harmony with one another.’

The Greek word translated ‘live in harmony’ – homophron – means ‘of the same mind’. This does not mean that we are all to think the same or say the same so that we lose the individuality that God deliberately created in us. Rather, Peter is telling us that our minds are to be focused on the same thing, that we are to have a common mindset or world view. As a result, we will all value the same thing, we will all have a common interest, we will all have our minds set on the same objective: to know Christ and to glorify Christ.

This centrality and significance of Jesus Christ in our lives is the one thing that binds us together:

Read these verses. How do they express the unity and equality of all believers in and through Jesus Christ?
Romans 3:22b,23

Romans 3:22b, 24

Galatians 3:26-29

2Corinthians 5:14-17

We know that we are all sinners, without any difference or distinction [Romans 3:22b,23].

We know that we are all justified freely by God’s grace through Christ’s death, without any difference or distinction [Romans 3:22b,24].

We know that in Christ we are all one, without any difference or distinction [Galatians 3:26-29].

We know that we are no longer to view each other on the basis of who we are in ourselves and what we ourselves have done, but to regard each other as God now regards us: always, ever and only ‘in Christ’ [2Corinthians 5:14-17].

There is no room in Christ, and there is no room in Christ’s church, for any kind of elitism, or for any kind of legalistic pride or self-justification. There is no place for divisions and distinctions based on human merit or human achievement. My personal spirituality or piety is nothing. The righteousness of Christ is everything.

For in Christ, as Paul has taught, ‘grace reigns’ [Romans 5:21]. Grace is the operating principle of Christ’s kingdom, a unifying truth that binds together all who comprise his church, effectively eliminating all of those personal differences and distinctions that are commonly seen as spiritual or religious merit.

Jesus, discarding and disempowering all divisions based on human merit, commands us ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another’ [John 13:34]. And here we must ask ourselves ‘How and when did Jesus love us?’

Answer these questions:
How does John define how and when Jesus loved us? [1John 4:9-11].

 

 

How does Paul define when God loved us? [Romans 5:6-10].

 

 

Jesus loved us when we were still his enemies, undeserving of his love, and undesiring of his love. This is the kind of love he wants us to have for each other.

Just as Christ shared our humanity and bore our sins, so we are commanded to identify with our fellow-believers:

To deny our supposed ‘rights’ for the well-being of our fellow believers [Romans 14; 1Corinthians 8:9-13].

To carry each other’s burdens [Galatians 6:1-3].

To bear with each other and forgive each other as we have been forgiven [Colossians 3:12-14].

This Christ-like, self-denying love expresses and cements the unity that we have in Christ.

It was for this unity that Christ prayed, and it is this unity, this love, that demonstrates the truth of the Gospel to the watching world:

‘I pray ... that all of them may be one ... I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ [John 17:20-23].

B. BE SYMPATHETIC

The New Testament uses three words related to feeling or expressing sympathy, a total of only five times:

sumpascho – to suffer with or like another [1Corinthians 12:26; Romans 8:17].
sumpathes – sympathetic [1Peter 3:8].
sumpatheo – to sympathize with [Hebrews 4:15; 10:34].

These words derive the verb pascho – to suffer, to be emotionally impacted. The related noun is pathos – suffering, and/or the related emotion or passion.

When Peter, in summing up what submission looks like in the church, commands us to ‘be sympathetic’ he is commanding us to enter into the sufferings of our fellow believers – to feel with them what they are feeling. This sympathetic entering into each other’s suffering is an expression of the unity of mind that Peter has already commanded.

Paul wrote about this. Using the image of a human body he taught that if one member of the body suffers all members of the body are impacted [1Corinthians 12:12-26]. In this context Paul says of the church, the body of Christ: ‘that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other’. Not one of us should see ourselves as an individual removed from the sufferings and hurts experienced by others, but rather, we should feel with them their burden of sorrow, the pressure of their temptations, their vulnerability to doubts and fears. As Paul instructs us in Romans 12:15, we are to ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’

Jesus himself lived out this sympathy.

In the context of human sadness:

‘When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.’ [John 11:33-34]

Even though he knew that he was about to raise the dead Lazarus to life, Jesus entered into the deep sorrow of Mary and the Jews. He felt their deep emotional pain. He cried tears of grief. He agonized along with them. Their deep sorrow was his deep sorrow.

In the context of our human spiritual predicament Jesus took sympathy to its deepest level:

‘... we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize [sumpatheo] with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ [Hebrews 4:15].

Jesus became one of us. He lived a real human life – complete with the same kinds of pressures and challenges to faith that all humans suffer. He knows what it feels like to be tempted by sin and pressured to give in and give up and take the easy way out. He knows what it feels like to be poor, to be tired, to be misunderstood, to be unrecognized, to be rejected. He has felt our pain. And because he knows, he sympathizes.

Jesus did not hold himself aloof from our suffering. He entered right into it.

It is therefore quite out of order for any of us to hold ourselves aloof, to act as though we are beyond suffering, removed from the common human lot. Rather than our union with Christ putting us beyond the reach of suffering it plummets us deeper into it as we align with both his mission and his compassion [Romans 8:17].

It is even more out of order for us to stand in superiority over a fellow believer and express that kind of erroneous theology that wrongly makes a direct connection between their suffering and either personal sin or defective faith. Rather, we should help them in their weakness, agonizing with them and for them as the Holy Spirit does [Romans 8:26], restoring them gently because we know that we also share their weakness [Galatians 6:1-3].

Peter condenses this to two words, instructing all of us, in our attitudes to our fellow believers: ‘be sympathetic’.

C. BE COMPASSIONATE

In New Testament culture, emotions were generally considered to arise not from the heart but from the gut. The words most commonly used to refer to compassion are built on the word splagchnon – ‘bowels’. Sometimes, older English versions use the words ‘pity’, ‘merciful’ or ‘tender-hearted’ rather than ‘compassion’ to translate this reference to deep-seated, over-whelming tender emotions.

Here in 1Peter 3:8, Peter tells us ‘be compassionate’. This translates eusplagchnos. The ‘eu’ at the front adds emphasis, as it, in itself, means ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’. So Peter is telling us to have this good, beautiful, tender, gut-wrenching feeling towards each other: compassion.

The Old Testament instructs us that God is a God of compassion.

Read these verses. How do they describe God’s compassion?
Psalm 78:38

Psalm 86:15 (read Exodus 34:6)

 

Ezekiel 16:5,6.

In the gospels, we see ‘compassion’ reported of Jesus himself, and in his parables. Jesus sets the bench mark for what compassion looks like.

Describe the compassion of Jesus Christ reported or illustrated in these verses:
Matthew 9:36

Matthew 14:14

Matthew 18:27; read 18:15-35

Matthew 20:34

Mark 1:41

Mark 5:19; read 5:1-20

Luke 7:13

Luke 10:33-35

Luke 15:20

This is the compassion of God towards us – both in our physical needs and our spiritual needs. And it is this compassion that God expects us to exercise towards each other.

‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ [Matthew 18:33]

‘Go and do likewise’ [Luke 9:37], a command to imitate the good Samaritan in his selfless compassion.

‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ [Ephesians 5:32].

‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? [1John 3:17].

This compassion, this tender-heartedness, this gut-wrenching love goes hand in hand with Peter’s ‘be sympathetic’. ‘Be sympathetic’ feels with others in their pain. ‘Be compassionate’ adds action: it moves to do something to remedy or relieve the spiritual or physical suffering of others.

D. BE HUMBLE

In 3:8 and 5:5,6 Peter commands humility.

Humility goes hand in hand with the New Testament principle of submission. It takes strong humility to practice the submission demonstrated by Jesus Christ. His non-retaliation under unjust treatment expresses his deep humility [2:21-23].

Peter repeatedly refers to the mistreatment and misunderstanding experienced by Christians.

Read these verses from 1Peter. Describe the contexts in which Christians live, and in which we are commanded to express the same kind of humility expressed by Jesus Christ.
2:12

 

2:18-21

 

3:9

 

3:13-17

 

4:4

 

4:12-16

 

4:19

 

E. DO NOT REPAY EVIL FOR EVIL ...

Peter further emphasises his theme of non-retaliation in this very clear statement: ‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing’ [verse 9].

Compare Peter’s instruction with these texts:
1Peter 2:23

Isaiah 53:7

Romans 12:17-21

Matthew 5:43-47

Read 1Peter 3:10-12. Suggest how his quote from Psalm 34:12-16 explains his meaning in verse 9.

 

 

 

From the following verses in 1Peter 3, what will this non-retaliation look like?
Verse 13:

 

Verse 14:

Verse 15:

 

Verse 16:

 

Peter’s expectations challenge us. He expects that even in the context of mistreatment we will be eager to do good. We will not give in or give up because of fear, but will continue to live with the firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the Lord. We will be always be ready to give a gentle respectful answer if anyone questions our reasons for believing in Christ. We will live such good lives in the presence of unbelievers that our consciences will be clear, and those who wrongly accuse us will have no basis for their accusations.