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.

18 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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  10. It blows me away with how relatable our brothers and sister from the first century are to us in the twenty-first century. Peter is writing about familial qualities the Christian community should have because Christians are being abused and mistreated in their everyday life. Peter is teaching things that would have made a lot of sense in a Greco-Roman world. As you wrote, each aspect of community that Peter lists is cohesive to a Roman family with the exception of humility. Even though this may have been present in the family dynamic there was not much discussion about such a virtue. One thing that does separate my brothers and sister in the first century and me and the Christian community of the twenty-first century is that in the first century a Christian community was a refuge from abuse, neglect, and mistreatment but in the twenty-first century the issue usually is not with abuse, neglect, or mistreatment from the secular culture (at least in America). The issue is the abuse, neglect, and mistreatment between the divisions of the Church today.
    The letter seems to take on a different frame of mind in the twenty-first century. The purpose is still the same, for the Church to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The reason that the church needs to have these qualities (at least in America) is completely different than the first century Christians. It is because in the Church there is a lack of such things stated above that the Church cannot function as a family the way that Peter encourages us to. Peter seems to encourage this type of community because there was not one. Now that there has been one and it has been divided this passage takes on an application from a different perspective. The church needs this type of unity in order to be strong like a Greco-Roman family. Seeking community over being correct. Speaking the truth in love. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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  11. Through Peter, God is encouraging us all to develop virtues with others, especially as a church family. One of the most unappealing parts about the church and ministry is the conflict and disagreement amongst believers. It had personally brought to me disappointment and given me distaste. Being “like-minded” is unity amongst Christians, through working together and serving together with our mind set on Christ. An encouragement and challenge as it is so hard for our society today to agree and move forward without hurt and disagreement. If we became a church that has unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humble mind, we would become distinct and united Christians just as Peter says we should be. “increasing devotion to him motivates moral transformation, which allows the Christian to live a witness among unbelievers and to build community with others following in the footsteps of Jesus (Jobes 351). Though we still constantly fighting and disagree amongst each other, I take comfort that everyone in my church family are following in the footsteps of Jesus and doing everything to serve Him.

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  12. I found it appropriate to reflect on what an ideal christian community is like during this time of uncertainty and panic brought on by the Corona virus. Part of our responsibility as the church is to be the hands and feet of Jesus and that means caring and loving for people during times of trial and hardship. I have seen many churches rally together to provide basic needs to people who are quarantined and to show intentional love to people who are struggling right now. The characteristics given in 1 Peter 3:8 (unity of mind,sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart, and humble mind) are things that should be evident in all churches and ministries even when a crisis is not at hand. I found great value in following the analogy of the church as a family because a family is supposed to be the people that you can always lean on. “Peter wants his churches to be like the proper family that the individual Christians have lost when they accepted Christ as savior” (Long,2018). A lot of people have never known what it is like to be part of a healthy family that genuinely loves and cares for each other. When we recognize that our local church fills in this gap in our lives we can better love each other and accept the love of God that is shown to us through each other.

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  13. All of these words had significance to the Roman family and so his readers would have understood his meaning without much explanation. I think there are a few things we can draw from these texts because they apply to our church today as well. Some are practiced well, and others are practiced badly. Does unity of mind apply to denomination? This is the first thing that stood out to me, because there are hundreds of denominations just in the U.S. This doesn’t seem to portray unity of mind. If there was unity of mind, there may be disagreements on teaching, worship, and traditions, but the hatred often shown to each other would not be present. The word tenderhearted is used in Ephesians in conjunction with forgiving others because that’s what Christ did for us (4:32). To be open and teachable would also mean to show humility. Being open to new ideas or someone else means that we have to put aside our own pride to listen and respect them. No humility means that these words that Peter has listed would mean nothing. To show humbleness to the fellow Christian would mean to approach their mistakes like we have also made mistakes. In the modern church, this would make these attributes much easier to practice. Jobes calls this list a resource of strength and purpose (348). In the midst of trials and tragedies we face, to not feel like we are the only ones on our island can give us the strength we need to keep going. In the midst of the COVID-19 fear that has taken over our world, showing sympathy, brotherly love, and compassion, can offer strength to those struggling and help them see that they aren’t alone.

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  14. I work on staff with an amazing church. We have a team staff that works for hand and hand together! When reading this blog post I was reminded of individuals on staff and in our church family that portray these five characteristics well.
    Unity of mind was viewed Christian communities with common beliefs and values, this is defined as a family. Sympathy is feeling the same things. This meaning the Christian community approaches situations similarly. I think about the coronavirus occurring currently, and the response from the church. Not only have our staff jumped to action, but they have also approached the situation with meeting the needs locally. We look at how we can be there for those who need it. We also look at brotherly love. This means we encourage one another, we have deep relationships, we love and yearn for the best for them. I see this is our staff, in our volunteer relationships, and the church body as a whole. The Christian community is tender-hearted. These are individuals who are open and teachable, compassionate. Looking at this in a modern context we see this through our actions and the ability to make changes and be changed. It is easier to think we have it all together, but being open to change yourself and to move past difficult situations. Lastly, humble minds are those who build each other up and help succeed. These contributions to a community produce family and build deep loyalty. There are difficult and not ideal parts of the church, and those are things to work on every day. Peter here is encouraging believers to go deeper and grow in their relationship with God and the community.

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