Loving and Living Like Jesus
1 Peter 3:8-12
As most of you know, I grew up in Ohio. And the ground down there is quite different than it is up here. Our soil up here is sandy. Down there, it has a lot more clay. Up here, when it rains, the ground drains pretty quickly. Down there, when it rains, the ground can be soft and squishy for days, depending on how much rain falls, even if the days after the rain are sunny and warm. You often have to wait for days, not hours, for things to dry out enough to mow your lawn. And when it rains, the ditches quickly fill with water.
Well, I can remember one really rainy day, and the ditches along the road at our house were full of water. Brown, muddy water. And the ditch bottoms were just mud. Inches of gooey mud. After raining all morning and the first part of the afternoon, it quit, and we went outside to play, and one of our neighbor boys was over playing with us. I think his mom was off running errands or something. He was a bit younger than us, but we knew him well. So we took him outside to play. And as is often the case with curious, adventurous little boys, we headed toward the water filled ditches. I think we were jumping back and forth over the water. And at one point, this rolly, polly little guy didn’t quite make it and when he landed, his feet hit the edge of the water and the slope of the ditch, and he fell backward into the mud and water. At that point, he decided to just go with it and he started laughing and rolling around. So when my mom looked out the window, she saw little John Atkins rolling around in the ditch, covered – I mean completely covered – from head to toe in mud, and soaking wet. He was literally brown and soaked from head to toe.
When mom came out, she had smoke coming out her ears and fire and death in her eyes. I think she thought we’d pushed him in or something. She finally figured out what happened, and decided that the only thing to do was to strip off his clothes outside the garage, hose him, and them off, and then shove him in the shower to clean himself up while she cleaned his clothes. I think she gave him some of my brother’s clothes to wear in the meantime.
We are called to model the love of Jesus that we have experienced with those we come in contact with, whether its here during worship or out there on the street. Sadly, we’ve tended toward one of two extremes. We’re either legalistic and judgmental and harsh, or we completely ignore sin and brokenness and hope that we can all just get along. Both are wrong, and neither does justice to the good news of Jesus and the life he invites us to live with him.
As the body of Christ, followers of Jesus, we have two options when someone shows up on our doorstep muddied and dirtied by sin. Some are broken and bleeding by things that have happened in this life. We can get mad at them, yell, and send them away, or we can embrace them, help them get clean, and find and bandage their wounds. We don’t ignore the dirtiness and woundedness, but we don’t yell at them for it either. We simply welcome them and help them find the cleansing and healing of Jesus. You see, Jesus isn’t just our Savior. He is also our model for living and loving. Turn with me to 1 Peter 3:8-12.
Back in 1 Peter 2:21, Peter reminds us of our calling as followers of Jesus: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Follow in his steps. That’s what we’re going to be talking about this week in next. Jesus doesn’t just forgive us and rebuild our relationship to God, and then leave us to go our merry way as if nothing had happen. No, Jesus also calls us to actively seek to walk in his steps, following his example, as he begins to transform us from the inside out and empowers us to walk in his steps.
But we aren’t left to just decide on our own what that looks like either. We aren’t left to decide in what areas we’ll follow Jesus and in what areas we won’t. We aren’t left to decide how we’ll follow Jesus. Peter spells it out for us. And it starts with how we think and feel. Look at V. 8. He begins and ends this list of characteristics of following Jesus with a focus on how we think. As followers of Jesus, we are to have “unity of mind” and “humble minds.” The word “unity of mind” is actually often translated as “harmony.” Harmony and humility are to dominate our thoughts.
Harmony focuses on unity, not uniformity. Musically speaking, beautiful harmony comes from the blending of many different notes together to create chords and chord progressions that are pleasing to hear. Uniformity is sameness. Everyone looks the same, talks the same, thinks the same about everything. To accomplish uniformity, the church would have to exercise a lot of control. Controlling what people think, what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot wear, how they can and cannot speak. And that isn’t good or healthy. In the world of sound, that’s more like a siren. It might get your attention, but it isn’t pleasing to hear.
Harmony, unity, is the bringing together of differences around a unifying structure. Everyone still needs to be in the same key, but the notes are different. And in the body of Christ, the unifying structure, the key, is … Christ. We aren’t just any body, we are the body of Christ. Our harmony, our unity, is built around Christ. When we get out of that key, the harmony is lost. So like mindedness, or harmony, comes when we train ourselves to think about others in ways that preserve the unity, the harmony. It means we train ourselves to focus our thinking on Christ, and not on something else. We recognize that we agree on Christ, and might disagree on a number of other things, and we all have a variety of different gifts and talents and perspectives that, when focused on Christ, bring about a beautiful harmony. But I don’t insist that others dress like me, and talk like me, and view every single issue under the sun in the same way that I do. I can respect diversity and still seek unity, harmony. Uniformity, on the other hand, seeks to stamp out diversity and any difference.
We are also to train our minds to tend toward humility. Humility isn’t saying “I’m no good.” Humility is the willingness to take the lower place at the table, to do the less exalted job or form of service. Humility puts the needs of others before my own. We live in a world where we tend to put ourselves forward. We view some places, positions, and jobs or forms of service as beneath us, beneath our station and our status. Humility takes that desire to put myself forward and transforms it into a desire to place myself back. To take a genuine interest in others, regardless of their status or background. To recognize and embrace the truth that no form of service is beneath me. Christ modeled it when he did the most menial task, washing the feet of his disciples, something they were each obviously unwilling to do, because it would mean placing themselves, socially, beneath the one whose feet they washed. Harmony and humility in our thinking.
And then sympathy and tender heartedness in our feeling. Look again at V. 8. When we show sympathy, we are entering into the experience of someone else. But sympathy here is a practical sympathy. We seek to understand their feelings SO THAT we can act appropriately to assist them. Sympathy here is actually closer to what we today call empathy. Today, sympathy is being able to relate to someone because you have experienced what they are experiencing. Empathy involves trying to actually enter their experience, seeking to understand, but not to judge, what they are thinking and feeling. We live in a world that listens to reply, rather than to understand. So we have a lot of people talking, and shouting, and screaming at one another, but not really communicating, because there is no understanding. We listen with an agenda, and while the other person is talking, instead of seeking to understand where they are coming from, even if we disagree, we are already forming our replies. And because no one feels heard or understood, everyone is talking, and yelling, and screaming louder and louder and louder, trying to force their point of view across.
But that isn’t how things work in the body of Christ. We seek to understand others, even if we disagree. Understanding doesn’t require agreement. But it does require setting aside my agenda.
But we don’t stop with understanding. We move forward toward compassionate, tender hearts. In other words, we allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break the heart of God. We take care of others not simply because we understand but because we care deeply about them. And when that happens, the suffering of one becomes the suffering of all, regardless of what they look like or where they live in the world. When my neighbor hurts, I hurt too. Not in an unhealthy way, but in a way that lights a fire under me to get up and actually care for them. Meet their needs.
Karisa Smith tells this story: My 4-month-old daughter and I took a trip to the library. She babbled softly as I browsed through the books. As we walked, I heard an older man say gruffly, “Tell that kid to shut up, or I will.” Angrily, I responded, “I am very sorry for whatever in your life caused you to be so disturbed by a happy baby, but I will not tell my baby to shut up, and I will not let you do so either.”
I braced myself, expecting an outburst from him. Instead, he looked down, took a deep breath, and said softly, “I apologize.” He looked up at me with tears in his eyes, and we remained silent. Finally, he looked at my daughter. She smiled at him and happily kicked her arms and legs. He wiped his eyes and said slowly, “My son died when he was 2-months-old.”
I moved to sit in the chair next to him. He went on to explain that his son died from SIDS over 50 years ago. He described how his anger grew, leading to a failed marriage and isolation. I asked him to tell me about his son. As he did so, he smiled back and forth with my daughter. Eventually, he asked to hold her. As he held her, his shoulders relaxed, and he briefly laid his cheek on her head. He returned her to me with a heartfelt “Thank you.” I thanked him for sharing his story, and he quickly departed.[i] Empathy moved to compassion, and an angry man found what he needed in that moment – a gentle response.
This is all summed up in the phrase “brotherly love.” Now, we know that they Greeks had several words for our one word “love.” And we know that the highest of those types of love is agape love, selfless, sacrificial love as an act of the will, not just emotion. But here Peter specifically uses the word for brotherly love, the kind of love we experience in a family setting. And he’s using that word not because he’s calling us to a lower form of love than self-sacrificial, God-like, agape love, but because he’s emphasizing the family-like nature of the body of Christ. He’s identifying the church not as an organization or a building, but as a family.
But Christ’s transformation and our following in his steps doesn’t stop with how we think and feel. It continues on to what we do and say. Look at Vv. 10-12. Restrain your tongue, do good, and live peacefully. Don’t just harness your thinking, harness your words. Don’t just feel compassion, actually do good and help those in need. And when you’re mistreated, don’t seek revenge, live peacefully. From thoughts and feelings to words and actions. And we do these things not to earn God’s favor. God chose to save us, gave us his favor, while we were still separated from him and didn’t deserve it. That’s grace. We do these things because AS forgiven children of God, we are called to intentionally follow in the steps of Jesus so that others can see what Jesus can do in a broken life and will be drawn to him too.
And that happens, perhaps most visibly, when we are mistreated, especially when we are mistreated because we follow Jesus. Look at V. 9. We are wired, I think from birth, to attack and insult back when we are attacked and insulted. And that innate tendency is completely reinforced by our culture. If they hit you, hit back. If they insult you, insult back. And it’s running rampant in the church. And Jesus wants to completely snuff that reaction out of his people. Look at V. 9 again. This is the word of God folks. When we are mistreated, what are we to do? We are to bless those who do it to us. And by the way, this isn’t just a marginal note on the pages of Scripture.
The words of Jesus, in Matthew 5:38-44. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
The words of Paul in Romans 12:14. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
And the words of Peter, here. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
Even in the Old Testament. In the Law of Moses, from Leviticus 19:18. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
What does it look like to bless when you are reviled? Bless. It’s a word that has several layers of meaning. First of all, it means you speak good of the person who reviles you. You refuse to speak ill of the one who speaks ill of you. It also means you do good to the person who reviles you. And third, it means you ask God to bless them. This is an active response. You aren’t just to refuse to speak evil. You are to actively speak positively about them. You aren’t just to refuse to take revenge. You are to do good to them. And you aren’t just to pray for their salvation. You are to pray that God will bless them. That’s what Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Peter mean. And it’s what Jesus embodied.
Kim Shin Jo is a gentle pastor from South Korea. He used to be a trained killer.
In January of 1968, he was a part of a team of North Korean assassins silently slipping through the woods near the capital of South Korea in a daring attempt to kill the president of South Korea. The team of 31 commandos made it to within a few hundred meters of the president’s residence before they were intercepted. A fierce battle ensued, killing 30 South Koreans. All of the North Korean soldiers were killed, except one who escaped and Kim Shin Jo, who was captured.
After months of interrogation, and through a surprising friendship with a South Korean army general, Kim Shin Jo’s hard heart started to soften. Later he would confess, “I tried to kill the president. I was the enemy. But the South Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness. I was touched and moved.”
The South Korean government eventually released Kim Shin Jo. Over the next three decades he worked for the military, became a citizen, and then married and raised a family. Finally, he became a church minister.
Today Jo’s life serves as a symbol of redemption for the entire country of South Korea. Reflecting on the day of his arrest, Kim Shin Jo commented, “On that day, Kim Shin Jo died. I was reborn. I got my second chance. And I’m thankful for that.”
Kim Shin Jo found a new birth and God’s grace through the power of Christ. But his encounter with Christ came through the unexpected, surprising love of other people. Despite his betrayals and sins, an army officer accepted him, befriended him, and believed in him. At one time he was the enemy of the South Korean people, but in the spirit of Jesus Christ, they surprised him with the startling gifts of belonging, forgiveness and even citizenship.
In the same way, the church is called to extend the gift of acceptance so others will find Christ’s “second chance.” God unleashes tremendous power for good when his people surprise the world, especially unlovable people and even our enemies, with unconditional love, friendship and forgiveness.[ii]
People look at his transformed life in awe. I look at the transformed lives of those who chose to love him in the same awe. Because that man was transformed into one of them by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them, and in him. We are called to live and to love like Jesus, following in his steps. Let’s pray.
[i] Karisa Smith, Wheaton, Illinois
[ii] “South Korean pastor is also a trained killer,” CNN Religion blog (8-9-2010)