There is a sweet peace in giving up the responsibility to control everything and the drive to get vengeance.
That spirit of sweetness is what Peter is talking about when he quotes Psalm 34 in his first letter to the church: “… [T]he one who wants to love life and to see good days, let him. … seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil” (1 Peter 3:10–12 CSB).
Peter also gave several words that describe this sweetness in action in the preceding verses. They are words that should characterize the fellowship of the church as it pursues peace, even in evil times: “Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
Peter commands us to pursue unity (“be like-minded”) because unity doesn’t come naturally. After all, the church is supposed to be composed of people from different cultures and backgrounds. What we have in common is not life experience, but our common hope in Christ.
But our cultural backgrounds are strong. And bringing different cultures together creates tension. Jesus foresaw that. He and his apostles never envisioned the church as a place where everyone thought the same about everything, but as a place where everyone was radically welcomed and everyone was radically challenged. A place where, amidst diversity, a group of people could find a unity in Christ that outweighed their differences.
Then Peter gives two words necessary for that kind of like-mindedness: sympathy and love. Sympathy means feeling something alongside someone else and trying to enter with them into their pain.
During a time of conflict, if you are sympathetic with your brothers and sisters, you will ask, “Do I really understand their perspective? What hurt is behind it?” You ask why certain political messages resonate so deeply with them. You don’t have to agree with them, but sympathy means you do everything you can to see things through their eyes.
Love means you care deeply about someone—even more than you care about having them agree with your opinion. Love means we are comfortable being around people who differ from us in some cultural or political perspective because our love for them is greater than the affirmation of our perspective.
It’s hard when you are deeply passionate about something to be around people who think differently than you. But the body of Christ and the message of the gospel are worth it.
Peter also says to be compassionate and humble. The root word for “compassionate” in Greek is splagma, which means a deep feeling of pity that works up from within. It means you don’t just fake nicety like we often do in the South (where “Bless your heart” means “What an idiot”). Compassionate people really feel someone else’s pain.
When we pursue peace, our love for others is more than just surface-level platitudes. We invest ourselves emotionally in the pain of our brothers and sisters. We share it and bear it because people won’t care what you have to say until they are convinced you really care for them.
One of the chief causes of disunity is a bunch of people strutting around assuming they’re right about everything. Seeking unity means practicing humility and being open to being wrong and having your perspective changed.
My wife says the motto of my life should be, “Often wrong, never in doubt.” I always think I’m right about whatever I am thinking. But now, looking back five years with a different perspective, I wonder, “What was I thinking?” And if that was true of five-years-ago-J.D., won’t future J.D. think that about many things I hold to today? If I really believed that, I’d act with much more humility.
We all would.
When you disagree with a brother or sister, be willing to listen to them. At the very least, they’ll know you care. But they may also help you see something you haven’t seen. Don’t just listen so you can refute your friend’s arguments. Listen so you can understand them. Listen so well that you can restate them in your own words. Be quick to hear and slow to speak.
These may feel like evil times. Unity may feel impossible. Peace may feel like a pipe dream. But there is a way to love life and pursue peace: Trust like Jesus; respond like Jesus; live like Jesus; love like Jesus.