An Ideal Christian Community – 1 Peter 3:8-12

Peter concludes the ethical section of the letter with a description of what the Christian community ought to look like (v. 8).  All five of these phrases are single words in Greek, and are rare outside of this passage. (The only exception is tender hearted, although it appears in medical texts to describe a physical condition.) The first and the last words refer to the mind (φρήν, φρονέω), and the middle three refer to some aspect of emotions. This implies that there is a conscious choice to have unity or humility, to control one’s passions so that they are sympathetic and loving. Peter is not commanding the Christians to be servile, trembling before their betters. Rather, they are making a choice to have unity and humility.

1 Peter BibleUnity of mind (ὁμόφρων). This word means something like “thinking the same things.” The Greco-Roman world appreciated traditions that held communities together, especially in families. It is shameful for families to disagree among themselves, or for brothers to fight among themselves. While the modern world commonly has families with several religions or political associations, that simply did not happen in the Roman world. Families were defined by their common beliefs that everyone held. For Peter, the Christian community has a set of beliefs and values that define it as a “family” so that outsiders can see that there is no discord within the family.

Sympathy (συμπαθής). This word does not mean “pity,” as it does in modern English. If “unity of mind” means thinking the same things, sympathy refers to “feeling the same things.” The passions of the Christian community are unified in the same way their beliefs are. Again, on the analogy of a family, the Christian community ought to respond to situations with a similar emotion (compassion on those who need it, encouragement to those who need it, etc.)

Brotherly love (φιλάδελφος). This virtue is found in descriptions of families, where the “brother” is literal (it appears on gravestones, for example, praising the person for being a good brother).  It is shameful in the Roman world for siblings to fight and feud among themselves.

A tender heart (εὔσπλαγχνος). Like sympathy, a “tender heart” sounds like “soft heart,” or even pity. A hard-hearted person never forgives or hears another person’s views, but a “tender heart” is open and teachable.  Quite literally the word refers to “good compassion. (It actually means “good bowels” and appears in medical texts referring to regularity).  Like brotherly love, the tender heart is a characteristic of a family in the Roman world (see f0or example, Pilch and Malina, Biblical Social Values and their Meaning).

A humble mind (ταπεινόφρων). Of the five virtues listed here, humility was the least likely to be considered a virtue in the Greco-Roman world.  The competition for honor in the Roman world made humility and humble service of others a liability. Imagine an athlete who humbly allows others to succeed without thinking about his own success, a rare thing indeed! But in a family, the other members of the family do what they can to help their brothers and sisters succeed because any success brings honor to the family.

These virtues are particularly applicable to the family, especially brotherly love and tender hearts (Jobes, 1 Peter, 214). The reason for this is that Peter sees the Church as a “real family” that deserves the kind of loyalty one finds in biological families.

The Church is supposed to be a place where the believer is free from the sort of hostile attacks that they face when they are in the world.  When the believers gather, they are coming from situations where they are the subject of malicious gossip or abuse on account of their faith in Jesus (the unsaved husband or the unsaved master in the previous passage).  Peter wants his churches to be like the proper family that the individual Christians have lost when they accepted Christ as savior.

13 thoughts on “An Ideal Christian Community – 1 Peter 3:8-12

  1. I think that there is a critical absence of 1 Peter’s theology in today’s churches. When an individual accepts Christ as their Savior, they do not envision themselves becoming a “living stone” in God’s foundation. We do not see our role in his story that only us as unique individuals can fill. We are not demonstrating alertness towards God’s coming because we do not realize the role we obtained when we chose to put our faith in Jesus Christ. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do,” (1 Peter 1: 14-15). Instead, we have assimilated too much with the culture surrounding our church family, that we are not as distinguishable as Christians as 1 Peter says we should be. Karen Jobes points out how believers are living stones because their nature derives from the nature of the life of the resurrected Christ (Jobes 285). Our nature should be following in the footsteps of Jesus’, because he is the foundation we are now living off of. I think that if we did do this as a church, we would have reason to go to church to escape the “hostile attacks” we would be receiving from being contrary to culture. However, in today’s society in the United States, we really cannot relate to being persecuted because a lot of us are not that different than society.

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  2. We can see that the idea of Christians being an example of a family is quite prevalent throughout the bible. Peter here uses it as an example because in their time family was much more important to people than it is for us today.The family structure is no longer a good example to follow for us, because fathers are not taking charge of the their households either spiritually or physically either, mothers get too stressed out, and kids are just dumbing thinking that that they are above all of the rules. The bible shows that we should be a strong family that works together to get things done, not having everyone fend for themselves. God is shown as a father because he is supposed to lead us as a family closer to our end goal, which is living our lives to bring glory to him.

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  3. I think all of the points listed in this article are important for a well-rounded life that is honoring to God but I believe the most important one is how the church is viewed as a family sector. It is prevalent in the Bible how everything works together for the greater of God but in the modern churches this becomes lost in the midst of all our agendas and we lose focus on why we attend church in the first place. When a person accepts Christ for the first time they don’t have all the background information that we as Christians are used to receiving and that is why it is critical that we are taught from the bottom up so that we can view ourselves in his story to have a better understanding. Romans 12:2 reminds us not conform to this world but be transformed. This is a quote that is severely lacking as we have conformed too much to the surroundings around us that we have become blinded by the vision that God has set for us to accomplish. It should be up to us as the body of the church to do something about it and bring it back to the surface. Jobes says that believers are living stones because of the fact they are living in obedience to the will of God and the goals he has for them (Jobes 285). This is something we need to bring back to the surface as I said earlier to make our churches and communities a better place to worship.

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  4. I really liked how we are all given these commands from God through Peter on how we are all to lives our lives. The one that stuck out to me the most was the command of sympathy and showing encouragement towards others. Right away, I thought of how this can all be related to working within the ministry field, more specifically youth ministry. I can attest to this from my experience working with youth in a volunteering role that it is crucial to be encouraging and show sympathy towards youth. One of my favorite verses that talks about encouragement that I have used quite a bit comes from Joshua 1:9 NIV and it reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Youth in some cases do not know yet of the love God has for them and that there is a plan that God will be with them through every step of their life. That is where it is crucial for us put into those positions of effecting youth in a positive way to let them know that if they’re struggling with something that they aren’t alone and others older than them have dealt with the same thing probably before. More times then not, they will end up being receptive and have the feeling of being encouraged because of your dedicated influence.

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    • I think that it is interesting not only to see the commands from God through Peter, but to be able to have background as to what the original words mean in Greek. I think that in order to understand more fully what the Scriptures are saying we need to take a look at the Greek; to the origin of the original text and context. I think that the encouragement aspect is important in all areas. Being a Christians means supporting and encouraging each other; holding each other accountable. That is why Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another…” We are to establish relationships with each other so that we can show that we care and that we can encourage others; it creates a support and accountability system.

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  5. Understanding that the five phrases of this passage are rare elsewhere in the Bible brings to mind just how unique and special 1 Peter is in the New Testament and even the whole Bible. I completely agree that the church is the place where differences are to be set aside and judgment and persecution should not occur within the congregation. However, this is not always the case. Even from the early church days there has been fighting within the congregation. Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians and now Peter is telling his audience to be unified in 1 Peter 3. In recent years, peace within the church has become a big issue in my opinion. I have personally seen a few churches split because of the members not being able to look past differences of the members. Some of these differences are as big as the views on baptism and salvation or small as preferred type of music and outreach programs. The five phrases that Peter gives in the last part of his letter are not only important because they are some of the basics of Christian behavior, but these are also the foundations of conflict management. The teachings of unity, sympathy, love, tender heartedness and open mindedness could have saved many churches from splitting. Looking past gender, color and socioeconomic status within the church is very important. Peter is calling the church to look past all of these differences and live in unity and have love for one another.

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  6. I find it interesting how the humility was one the one characteristic least likely to be considered virtuous in the Greco-Roman world. Out of all of those characteristics mentioned humility really is what sets the believers apart. putting others before themselves is what Jesus really stressed in his life and ministry here on earth. it just goes to show that being a christian is always going to be counter cultural no matter where you are. People don’t understand humility. It doesn’t make sense to lower yourself and put the needs of other before yours ll the time. It is not natural to people and it takes work to consistently be in the humility mindset.

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  7. Compliments to this article that was written because it spotlights the 5 most valuable Christian community principles. Each of the principles signifies the importance of the community or the body of Christ. Jobe’s and 1 Peter both reaffirm these principles in their books. But what and how does this relate to the reader who is reading? Simply put, they are guidelines and acts that should be mimicked while living the Christian life. They serve as a purpose for Christians to bond and love one another without tearing down each other. The most difficult to portray is that of the humble mind-set. In today’s Western Culture, we pride ourselves on how well we do which in return gives us a high level of self-esteem. These motives to achieve greatness are driven by money, knowledge, and status. However, in the Christian walk those have no significant meaning because our riches and treasures are in Heaven. The idea behind being humble in today’s culture is looked as being “soft” or not being confident. With respect to Jobe’s and 1 Peter, there is nothing wrong with being humble because it shows a sense of humility and that you are able to receive criticism. Looking into what the Petrine is saying, we are live mostly in unity with our fellow believers and live a life according to the scriptures.

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  8. I find the idea of “unity of mind” rather interesting. In our culture, American culture in particular, we often favor the idea of our differences being good things and having different opinions and perspectives something of value. While that is still true in at least some ways, lacking a unity of mind can be very dangerous in a Christian community. I know from my own personal experience, it nearly caused our church to tear itself apart due to a moral issue our church had trouble working out our beliefs on, and it took everyone’s desire to keep it to together and God’s grace to keep us going. While it’s not something to be seen very often, I do think there are many benefits to having a more unified mind as a body and perhaps it is something that should be more commonly discussed.

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  9. It is easy to judge our peers and to look down upon them when they are making mistakes. However, we need to take the high road and remember to show them the love and compassion that made us believe in our God in the first place. I know for me, I always saw the church growing up as a place of judgmental people, but the message of the gospel and the work done to proclaim that gospel couldn’t be farther from that reality.

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