Dwelling in Unity (1 Peter 3:8; Psalm 133)Series: 1 Peter (Living in Exile)
When we were younger there were certain kids shows we weren’t allowed to watch. Even some kids shows make bad attitudes seem normal. The show “Rugrats” was like that. The characters were hostile to one another — always fighting and whining about something. However realistic that may be, my parents could see a difference in how we brothers treated one another after watching shows like that.
We are not of the world, but we do live in the world. The world is always carrying on doing its thing, and we are onlookers. Living as foreigners in the world carries the challenge of ensuring we don’t bring worldly attitudes and ways of relating to others into the church. Since the past year has brought a lot of strife into a lot of churches — including this one — let’s slow down and look at the attitudes Christ expects us to embody towards on another from 1 Peter 3:8. After we do that, we’ll look at a short Psalm that celebrates the goodness of unity.
Traits of Like-mindedness (1 Peter 3:8)
Each of these traits is needed for us to dwell in harmony and unity together.
Unity of Mind. This means we are on the same page. Our theology and beliefs are united. How we look at the world — united. How we think about the crazy stuff going on in the world — united. We will disagree at times, but since Peter commands us to have unity of mind, disagreement means two things. First, it means we are going to be purposefully united in mind and spirit despite the difference. There are places where we cannot have differences (cf. Eph. 4:4-6), but Romans 14 shows us there are places where we can see differently. The world and even sometimes other Christians are going to tell us, “That’s absolutely absurd that they think this about that!” But, often, we need to choose to be united. But, second, the command to be united in mind means that we prefer to not have to agree to disagree. Sometimes we may think, “Well, her voice inside says this and my voice inside says this, it can’t be helped!” God tells us, “No! Get on the same page! Have unity of mind!” Unity of mind is actually a choice.
Coming out of the pandemic, we have work to do. We all know that after 14+ months apart, things aren’t the same. None of us is the same. I’m actually really excited that our unity has been totally shaken up. Think about it, God has given us a fresh opportunity to find unity in Jesus Christ. I see how in some places our unity before was based on general friendliness and humor. God let Satan kill that unity and I am so glad because it will be his demise — let’s not try to reconstitute it. Oh, God wants us to laugh together, but not for the same reasons. The Spirit is forming each of us into his likeness so we can fill the world with images of God so people — whether they like it or not — can’t help but feel that they are walking around a temple. Everywhere there are these weirdos whose purpose in life in the glory of God in all things. Let’s unite under that, exiles! Let’s own our weirdness. In that vein, just make a choice today to have unity of mind with Jesus Christ’s church. Let’s leave behind independent, disconnected, uncommitted behaviors. Get in with the community. Let’s study together in our Bible classes. Let’s live it out together the rest of the week as we preach King Jesus to this hopeless world.
To be united in mind, we need sympathy — the ability to feel what one another is feeling so we understand them and where they are coming from. Sympathy and understanding has been lost in our quarantined, virtual, judgmental, and sectarian world. Everyone is always making harsh distinctions between people because of their views on the pandemic, social justice, the election, vaccines. May we make no distinctions except for who is loyally committed to King Jesus and who is not. Let us not make harsh, foolish judgments that divide. Let’s sympathize and understand. Someone else may be making a different decision than you. Someone else may believe something differently than you. Understand. Sympathize. Now, their decision may be unwise. Their belief may be objectively wrong. In those situations, sympathy doesn’t mean we ignore bad beliefs or behaviors — it means we acknowledge the demonic spirits at work in them without demonizing the person. It means we have emotional intelligence enough to talk to them winsomely.
Unity of mind requires brotherly love. If you remember last summer we talked about how God’s word is the Father’s seed that causes us to be born again so that we are kin. We need to see each other as kin and have the loyalty and affection that comes with kinship. Do we see one another as brothers and sisters? Fathers, mothers, and children? I have appreciated that aspect of our relationship even more over the past year. The world has spewed so much hatred. We have disagreed about some stuff over the past year, but if you are here, it’s because you decided that our kindred spirit matters more than our differences. Peter will say in 4:8 that “love covers a multitude of sins.” Our familial love for each other will get us past the toughest times — even if when we sin against each other.
There are things Ashley and I need to do better as leaders of our family. There are things Willa and Ruth certainly need to do better. But we are family and so we are going to grow and make changes together. We need to grow together as a church and do things better. But if we have all been reborn as children of the same Father, we do that together. Thank you for not caving to the pressures of cancel-culture and for prioritizing brotherly love.
Unity of mind requires that we be tender-hearted and compassionate. Serving King Jesus means caring for the little people and people who are in pain. People in the world are tripping over one another to get to the top, but the greatest among us is the one who serves. Look around the room to the people who don’t feel like they belong, the people who are going through a tough time. Understand them. Be compassionate.
Finally, we must have a humble mind. Did you know that humility was not valued in the ancient world? It was seen as a sign of weakness. If you had any self-respect you would defend and promote your own personal honor. This way of thinking is making a comeback over the past year because being wrong or not woke is social suicide. We always have to posture as if we really do know and understand things that we really don’t. We have to act as if we were really right all along. We cannot admit being wrong. I hope we will see that the mercy of Jesus allows us to let go of that. Trusting the mercy found at the cross of Christ allows us freely see and admit where we have been wrong. Let’s have a lowly, accurate estimation of ourselves.
Now, let’s remember why all of this is important. It’s important so that we have unity of mind. Does unity really matter? That’s a hard sell in our Western culture. The West is so individualistic. Sympathy, brotherly love, tender-heartedness, and humility all assume that we have a high commitment to the good of the community over ourselves as individuals. On this, I thought one person summed up the challenge of putting this into practice.
“These are qualities that presume a high commitment to the stability and well-being of the community. Modern Western concepts of individualism tend to trump commitment to community. Where commitment is found, it is often evaluated in terms of individual needs. An individual whose needs are no longer met by a community terminates the “commitment” and seeks a new and more obliging group. Such thinking runs counter to the qualities of 3:8. Like-mindedness implies a willingness to conform one’s goals, needs, and expectations to the purposes of the larger community.” (Jobes, 287-88)
Do you see her point? When the world is committed to a larger community, it is because we have judged that community to serve our individual needs. And when that community no longer meets our individual needs, we sever our ties and find a group that will meet our needs and bend to our will. I cannot over-stress both how common this thinking is and how contrary it is to Peter’s thinking. For us to be like-minded, we must be willing to conform our “goals, needs, and expectations to the purposes of the larger community” of Christ. Jesus did not die on the cross because it suited his needs and made him feel good. Paul did not travel the world preaching the gospel because it made him happy. Dorcas didn’t continually make quilts because it helped her express herself through art. Phoebe didn’t travel all the way to Rome with Paul’s letter and give time, energy, and money sacrificially because it would get her recognition.
We must not come here today, or to any classes or events because we want to. We must not go to one another’s homes or invite each other into our homes or serve others because we need to. We must not get to know our neighbors so we can love them and preach the gospel to them because it satisfies us. We may find all this satisfying, or we may not feel that. Either way, professing allegiance to Jesus as Lord is a commitment to set aside our individualistic needs and desires for the good of the community. Let us seek unity of mind together because we value and love the body of Christ, regardless of whether the body of Christ always serves us or makes us feel good.
However, when we are committed to the body of Christ, something great happens. Unity of mind and brotherly love increase. This reminds me of Psalm 133, a Psalm of David.
How Good It Is! (Psalm 133)
Israel was plagued by so much division and disagreement and selfishness and fighting. But I wonder if David, in his crazy experiences, wrote this Psalm from a place of peace in Israel. When brothers and sisters dwell in unity, it is just so good, isn’t it?
David compares that to two things that sound pretty strange to us — oil and dew. The common denominator here is that both the oil and the dew are said three times to yarad — to run down, trickle down. Anointing oil smells good and when it is abundant, it would have flowed down from Aaron’s head to his beard even to the collar of his robes so that the good qualities and good smell of oil would spread and trickle down. Mt. Hermon in the north of Israel was quite a distance from Mt. Zion, but there is more moisture in the air there and Mt. Hermon is usually capped with snow. And the picture is that unity is like dew that falls from Mt. Hermon onto Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
Both of these situations are impossible. David never knew Aaron — he had been dead for hundreds of years. And dew most certainly does not travel 200 miles from Mt. Hermon onto Mt. Zion. These are fantasy-based images of just how good it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity and harmony together. Just as an abundance of oil that might run down Aaron’s head to his beard to his robes or as dew might run down from Mt. Hermon to Jersualem, the refreshing trickle-down effects of brother’s dwelling in unity could be described in mythical proportions.
What are those effects? Why is this so important? Go back to first Peter.
1. Unity for the glory of God (2:12; John 13:35; 17:21-23). Remember how all this started out in 2:12. Peter is telling us to keep our conduct among the “Gentiles” honorable so that we will bring them to glorify God with us on the day of judgment. The world is watching us to see if we are legit. Our unity is a sermon to the hostile, unbelieving world that Jesus Christ really is in us. Jesus talked about this in the Gospel of John.
John 13:35 (ESV), “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 17:22–23 NLT, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
The world is dubious as to whether the Creator has really sent Jesus. Maybe Jesus was just speaking on his own authority. Maybe he’s just another guru. But the Father was truly in Jesus, and when Jesus is truly in each of us, the Father is in us. And when Jesus and the Father are in each of us, we are one. And when we are one, the world is able to clearly see that the Father really did send this Jesus that we confess as Lord. The world can then clearly see that the Father does indeed love them — and how he has expressed that love for them in Jesus. All that happens through our unity because our unity is the litmus test the world will use to see if the power of Creator God is in us. If we aren’t, they think Jesus is a sham.
2. Unity for a safeguard against hostility (2:9ff). This is important not only because of what Peter said before, but because of what he will say after. He’s about to talk about how we will at times face hostility and suffer for doing good in the world. And we will talk about that next time. But for now, will we see that this needs to be a safe-haven from all the hostility? We have to do violence towards sin. And we have to send wolves running. But the pride, strife, and hostility of the world needs to stay out there so this can be an oasis of Christ-like love and support where the presence of God is experienced and mediated through our presence together.
Will we let down our pride and self-interest? Free up our busy schedules? Re-order our personal commitments for the good of Christ’s body? The glory of God in the world depends on it. Let’s join in song and in prayer and in Christ-honoring living together!