“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8–9, NASB95)
In addition to the charge to be one with each other in mind and practice, Peter adds several other traits that are to mark us as followers of Christ. The next on the list is “sympathetic.” The Greek word “sympathies” means to have compassion for others. It stems from another word meaning to suffer with or feel the pain of another. This is what our Lord has for us as we read in passages like Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB95) Looking to the heart of sympathizing we find inherit in it two things. One of them is understanding. Jesus being God knows fully the most intimate of details of every single one of our lives. He not only knows them, but He understands perfectly what it at the core of each of them and how they affect our lives. When we say that someone doesn’t understand, that they don’t get it, we frequently do so because they don’t agree. We cannot say this of God. He knows fully and understands completely. Adding to this, the Son of God took on the form of man and then as man He personally experienced the great harshness of man. His understanding includes compassion. He experienced the things we experience, but He did so without sin. Hebrews 4:16 continues, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NASB95) Because Jesus knows, we know that we can come to Him and experience his mercy and grace in our time of need, which is the heart of compassion.
We are called to have sympathetic hearts toward one another such that when they struggle we can reach out to them with the heart of Christ and help them in their time of struggle. This is what family does for one another. The NAS uses the word “brotherly,” while others use “brotherly love.” The Greek word here is “philadelphos.” It stems from the word “philos” which speaks of a friend or being friendly and “adelphos” which is most commonly translated brother. It is from this that Philidelphia is known as the “city of brotherly love.” It is this familial love that we are to show to one another in Christ. As joint heirs, we are called to jointly love, which means even when things are not going right between us. In Proverbs 18:24 we read, “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24, NASB95) The word “friend” used in the second half of the verse is the Hebrew word “ahab” which speaks of more than a friend, but gets to the heart of what a true friend is. It speaks of one who loves. We are called to love one another and to respond to one another in love with the bond that we have as brothers (and sisters), united one in Christ.
Next, we read that we are to be “kindhearted.” This word has the meaning of being kind or doing well toward others from the deepest part of us, from our bowels, or our passionate core. It is defined as being compassionate or tender-hearted. It has the meaning of desiring the best for others and seeking to help them in the process. I think we all know when we have experienced kindness and when we have met a kindhearted person, just as we know when we see the opposite. The Word of God says that we are to be marked by our heart toward others as we know the heart of Christ toward us, even when people’s hearts do not reciprocate.
Being “humble in spirit” is last on this list of five. Some translations word this simply “humble” or “humble mind.” At the heart of this word (tapeinophrones) are two words, “tapeinos” meaning not rising far from the ground (literally) or a lowly condition, attitude, or spirit (metaphorically), and “phrones.” We looked briefly at this word in our first word on the list (harmonious) where we saw it to mean “understanding.” A humble in spirit person is one who understands himself to be just who He is before our God as one who has fallen greatly, been forgiven immensely, and enabled generously. Apart from Christ we are lost, and apart from Christ we can do no good thing. Apart from Christ there is no righteousness in us and we can do nothing to make it right. But, in Christ we have been lifted up and become incredibly blessed to be used by God to accomplish the works that He ordained for us so that we would walk in them. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10, NASB95)
As humble-minded followers of Christ we are reminded of His extreme humility and the example that He set. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3–11, NASB95)
Every single one of these words has at its core a sober assessment of who we are in relation to our God, a realization of who we are apart from Him, and a real and a recognition of what we are to do in response. He created us all as man and He brings those He calls together as one into His body—the church. He knew our eventual condition from before the beginning of time, and He set in place out of His great love a compassionate resolution in His Son. He loves us and He set for us the example of love in His Son as He then calls us to love particularly those we have been knit together with in the body of Christ. His kindness, shown in His mercy and grace toward us, is beyond measure, and He calls us to be this way toward others in response. And, knowing who we are, we are to live this way in the continual recognition of who He is and how we are set apart for His glory.