Living in Harmony
1 Peter 3:8-12
By Paul Robison

In 2001, a book entitled Good to Great came out written by Jim Collins.  After studying several companies and organizations that went from good to great, Collins elaborated on several principles that helped them become great.  One principle is known as the flywheel.  Collins compares these groups and their movement to a massive metal flywheel, mounted on an axle, being pushed slowly, but then a little faster, and a little faster until there is an eventual point where momentum starts kicking in.  He said, “Then it began to dawn on us: There was no miracle moment. Although it may have looked like a single-stroke breakthrough to those peering in from the outside, it was anything but that to people experiencing the transformation from within.  Rather, it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel. ... People want to be a part of something that just flat out works. ... They can feel the flywheel beginning to gain speed. ... Each piece of the system reinforces the parts of system with consistency. ... Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done” (Collins).  Have you ever been in a congregation that worked according to this flywheel principle?  It can be really exciting!  The elders are continually figuring out what needs to done and improved to get the best future results, all the ministries are reinforcing the total program with consistency, members can feel that the congregation is having an impact, and all of them enjoys and praises God for being part of congregation that just flat operates like its supposed to!  That’s how it ought to be!But here’s what Satan wants it to be.  This was written by a former preacher: “After the church meeting, the stories, whispers, and undercurrents seemed to diminish. But it was only a lull before the next offensive.  Within a few months, they began circulating a petition for my resignation.  One Sunday morning, as I walked into the [foyer] to prepare for worship service, I saw several individuals welcoming the arriving congregation by handing out flyers, urging them to sign the petition.  I went over and said to one of them, 'How can you do this to people who are coming here to worship and hear God's Word?'  'This is OUR church, not yours,' one of them replied, 'and it's about time you realized it!'  One of the [elders] was making friendly small talk with those handing out flyers.  I took him aside. 'Do you expect me to [promote] worship and preach with this going on?'  The elder, who loathed confrontation, replied, 'Preacher, you have to understand these people ...'  I was devastated.  The guerrillas were attacking our most sacred event, and one of my [church leaders] was telling me I needed to understand these people!  'You'll have to lead the service,' I said, 'because I'm going home.'  I gathered my family, and we left town for the day.  [My wife] feared the future, and my two boys sat in the back seat in silence.  That week, I asked the elders to call a congregational meeting [to let the members discuss my staying or leaving].  Perhaps by making my leadership the issue, we could finally settle the conflict.  I still thought the war was winnable. ... [The congregation was in favor of my staying.]  But the war continued.  I still didn't get it.  It didn't matter what the congregation wanted.  The opposition would have their way, even it meant scorched earth” (Bustanoby).  Needless to say, this congregation eventually split, the preacher left town and changed careers, and Satan enjoyed another disaster!

So which will it be for each of us?  We will work to better the church or to embitter it?  Will we live our the flywheel principle or the war principle?  Will we give this congregation our best so that it will gain momentum or will we give it our worst so that it will eventually self-destruct?  To be effective, we must learn to live and work in harmony.  And to accomplish such harmony, the apostle Peter provides some instructions on what it will take.  These instructions are not easy to put into practice, so this lesson is for all of us (myself included).  You may recall from a previous study that a good two word summary of 1 Peter was “Be distinctive!” (Don't follow the practices of the pagan culture around you!)  This letter was written around 64 A.D. and can be divided into four parts: all Christians' salvation, sanctification, submission, and suffering.  The reading we had of 1 Peter 3:8-12 falls under the third section of submission.  Peter's instructions can be categorized under four headings—the right actions, the right thoughts, the right habits, and the right incentives.  Let's look at these very unusual instructions towards living and working in harmony.

Look at verses 8-9 where we discover the right actions towards living and working in harmony.  “Finally all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, ...”  As you see, these right actions are: be unified, be compassionate, be loving, be tenderhearted, be courteous, and be blessing.  “All of you” means everyone of the members in the congregations to whom Peter was writing, so these are instructions for all of us.  “Be of one mind” or be united!  We must focus our minds upon Christ and His mission, and we must set our hearts upon becoming like Jesus (Drake).  Maybe this illustration will help.  Football season is here again.  “Each player on a team has his own private life, but when it comes to winning the game, all are in total agreement!  When it comes to going to the play-offs or the bowl games, they are all on the same page!  When it comes to being champions, they have harmony!  Just like those players, we all have our own private lives, but when it comes to following Christ, we're on the same page!  When it comes to our desire to see the people we love to come to know Jesus and be obedient to the Gospel, we are in total agreement!  When it comes to accepting and forgiving one another as Christ has accepted and forgiven us, we have harmony” (Alexrod)!  Paul calls it being like-minded (Philippians 2:2).  The first right action is to be unified!

The next right action is to be compassionate!  “The word 'compassion' literally means 'to share someone’s feelings, to understand what they’re going through.'  1 Corinthians 12:26 says that if one part of the body of Christ suffers, every part suffers with it. That’s being compassionate.  Some member says: 'My mother just got her CAT scan results back from the doctor.  The doctor says that the cancer is spreading into the abdominal area.  Mom’s going to have to have another round of chemotherapy.'  You respond by giving that sister in Christ a hug and by saying: 'I’m sorry.  You must be so sad.  I’m praying for you and your mom, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do'” (Axelrod)  “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)!  That's being compassionate.  “When we [show compassion] on our hurting brothers and sisters in Christ, we are maintaining harmony in the church. We are sharing the love of Jesus” (Axelrod).  “Being compassionate means we suffer with those who suffer, we understand the pressure that elders are under when they must make a tough decision, we hurt with those who have been persecuted.  Harmony cannot exist unless believers feel compassion for one another.  Believers cannot be selfish and aloof; they cannot be seeking attention and seeking to get their own way if they are to be unified” (Drake).  The second right action is being compassionate.

The third right action is to be loving, like members in a family!  “Brotherly love doesn’t mean we’ll never fuss and we’ll always agree.  But it does mean when our brothers and sisters in the Lord need us, we’re there!  We’re supportive!  We’re loyal!  We’re a family of faith!  When a church member is in the hospital, we pray, we send cards, we stop by.  And we celebrate when we see them again back in church!  Romans 12:10 says: 'Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.'  And when we do this, we are maintaining harmony in the church family” (Axelrod).  Think about this idea: “An unloving Christian is a contradiction of terms” (Mounce)!  The third right action is to be loving.

The next right action is to be tenderhearted.  This term means “to be sensitive and affectionate toward the needs of others; to be moved with tender feelings over the pain and sufferings of others. ... Believers are to have pity upon the sufferings of others, and especially our brothers” (Drake).  “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).  “Christians are to feel pity to the point that they are moved to act, moved to sacrifice, and moved to help those suffering.  Again, note how tenderheartedness leaves no room for selfishness.  It demands that a person deny himself and help others in their sufferings.  Helping and ministering to one another binds and knits people together” (Drake).  It promotes harmony.  The fourth right action is to be tenderhearted.

The next right action is to be courteous.  “This word means to be humble-minded or to be lowly in mind.  It means not to be high-minded, proud, haughty, arrogant, or assertive” (Drake).  Jesus once said: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29).  This does not mean that Jesus was a weakling.  On the contrary, “God makes people strong, the strongest they can possibly be.  By humility God does not mean what men mean.  God infuses a new and strong spirit within a person and causes that person to conquer all throughout life, but God doesn't want us walking around arrogantly in pride” (Drake). “Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4).  Humility is having “a balanced view our own significance [when measured] against God Himself, the entire created order, [and other saints]” (Mounce).  By the way, it might not hurt us to practice the more common definition of courtesy as well in order to live in harmony.  So, the fifth right action is to be courteous or humble!

The last right action is to be blessing.  This one is very tough to practice because it goes so much against our grain.  “The instinctive response of human beings when abused [or insulted] is to try to get even, to hurt in return for being hurt, or to threaten to get even later.  But these responses are natural only to people who depend on themselves and believe that God does not have control of the situation.  To the suffering Christian who trusts deeply in God and believes that God is indeed in control of every situation, there is another response, one perfectly exhibited by Jesus: 'He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously' (1 Peter 2:23)’” (Grudem).  In fact, “we [are to] repay insult with blessing or speaking well of another and calling upon God to bless them because we know that God generously blesses all, even the evil and wicked, so we must do the same. ... Isn't this is essence of Christian conduct—acting contrary to our old and [wicked] nature? (Mounce).  Don't retaliate but bless.  It just takes three words: “God bless you.”  Don't hurt them either verbally or physically, but ask God to take control and provide their need.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  So let's have a quick review of the right actions that Peter instructs us to have: be unified, be compassionate, be loving (as in a family), be tenderhearted, be courteous or humble, and be blessing.  Putting these actions into practice will truly promote living in harmony!

The next heading is the right thoughts.  Peter supplies us with two specific thoughts that will help us to promote living and working in harmony.  Look at the later part of verse 9: “Knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”  This passage begins with the word “knowing”.  These are ideas that affect our thoughts.  First, keep this in mind: we are called by God to put into practice those right actions that we just read about, just as Jesus did.  We are to imitate the goodness of Christ.  Peter reminded his readers just a few verses earlier in 2:21-23: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed not sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten.”  In other words, Jesus practiced what He preached about loving our enemies, and we have been called to imitate Him and do the same.  It's like what Paul told Timothy: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Secondly, keep this in mind: “that you may inherit a blessing.”  God is going to bless us when we try to practice the right actions.  Jesus Himself said that we would be blessed when persecuted for righteousness' sake or for doing His will (Matthew 5:10-12).  Most commentators agree that inherit a blessing does not mean that God will bless us with our reward of heaven in the hereafter.  No, they believe that verses 10-12 of our reading show us the blessing that the Old Testament promises to us when we practice all those right actions.  In other words, “God bestows favors on those who obey Him and rewards each act of righteousness [as we live right here on this earth]” (Mounce).  This is a part of the abundant life that Jesus promises His followers in John 10:10.  It's not all about pie in the sky in the sweet by and by; it's also about God's way as we pray in our lives every day!  “There is a special blessing for people who are working things out instead of fighting things out.  Maintaining peace and harmony will be rewarded by God.  This week, why not try to do something nice for someone who hasn’t always been nice to you?  Say a prayer on their behalf.  Then send them a card, or phone or visit them, or provide them with a secret gift!  You know, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, the last thing we would want is for God to say: “Brothers from Prescott, I loved you so much.  Why couldn’t you pass it on?  Sisters from Prescott, why did you have to harbor all that bitterness?  Why did you have to be so selfish?”  Rather we want to here God say: “Brothers at Prescott, you did a nice job.  Thank you for loving the people that I love too.  Sisters at Prescott, thank you for treating people the way you would want to be treated.  Thank you for being My true servants” (Axelrod)!  We can put into practice those six right actions because we have armed ourselves with these right thoughts!

Now that brin
gs us to the third heading of having the right habits.  At this point, we see that Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16 to show us how God has promised to bless those who are righteous, but we must do our part as well.  Let's read verses 10-11: “For He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good, let him seek peace and pursue it.”  So here are three habits which can cause us to love life and to see good days right now in this life!  The first habit is to watch our speech!  James warns us that the tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jam. 3:8).  When we are being reviled and insulted by others' words, it takes much courage and self-control not to use malicious words in return.  Or we can use our speech to mislead or deceive.  You know, those famous half-truths and double-speak.  Jesus taught that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).  Thus, the answer to a wicked tongue is not only self-control but also a new heart, allowing God to change our inner man” (Mounce).  Let's get into the habit of watching our speech!

The second habit is to turn away from evil and do good.  The words “turn away” means literally “to bend away” (Mounce).  We might say it: “Bend over backwards to avoid evil and give it all you've got to do good!”  This takes practice on our part to opt for goodness.  Proverbs 16:17 graphically states: “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who keeps his way preserves his soul.”  The righteous will take the freeway which goes in the opposite direction of evil!  So, let's cultivate the habit of bending over backwards to avoid evil and giving it all we've got to do good!

The third
habit is to seek peace and pursue it.  Peace is that constant condition of tranquility and goodwill between two people.  Paul encourages us: “If is it possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).  Someone else said: “The true peacemaker is not passive but active, and must take the lead, not merely in keeping the peace himself, but in the earnest inducement of others to do likewise” (Coffman).  The word “pursue” is that graphic term for a hunter chasing after his game.  Now I know we have a few hunters in this crowd.  Are you hunting after peace with as much intensity and vigor as you hunt after those other critters?  “We need to be known to others around us as peacemakers, those who strive for harmony with others as much as possible without compromising the truth” (Kratz).  Peter says that if we'll learn to develop these habits, watching our speech, doing good, and seeking and hunting after peace, then we'll enjoy life and see good days!  Developing these habits will also help to reinforce the right thoughts and the right actions as well.

All these right actions, right thoughts, and right habits are not easy to practice.  The wrong actions, thoughts, and habits seem much more natural for us.  So Peter now closes with some right incentives to motivate us towards doing what we should.  Verse 12 states: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  One commentator rightly noted: “The phrase ‘the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous’ implies not merely that God sees what the righteous are doing [for God watches all people], but that He is looking after them for good, recognizing and meeting their needs [since other verses in Psalm 34 affirm God’s timely care for the righteous]” (Grudem).  Here is one of the great blessings we can enjoy right now if we will put into practice the right actions, thoughts, and habits: God looks with favor on those who follow the path of obedience (Mounce).  If God is angry with and punishes every act of disobedience, won't He also be delighted with and reward every act of righteousness?  In other words, God sees our struggles when we are trying to do His will, and He will bless us with His favor.  This passage also affirms that God ears will be open to our prayers.  “Literally the text says that God’s ears are ‘into’ the prayers of the righteous.  It is almost as if he were bending down to hear more clearly the requests of His children [so that He can fulfill them]” (Mounce).  God will take care of those who act wickedly against us.  “‘But the face of the Lord is against those that do evil’ is clearly a verdict of judgment, for the last verse of Peter continues in Psalm 34, ‘to cut off the remembrance of them [the wicked] from the earth’ (Ps. 34:16)” (Grudem).  God will favor us, God will hear us, and God will take care of those who mistreat us.  These great incentives provide a powerful motivation to live a careful, controlled, and stout-hearted Christian life!  This passage boldly affirms the relationship between righteous living and God's present blessings in this life.  You see, it truly is about God's way as we pray in our lives every day!

So which will it be for each of us?  We will work to better the church or to embitter it?  Will we live out the flywheel principle or the war principle?  Will we give this congregation our best so that it will gain momentum or will we give it our worst so that it will eventually self-destruct?  To be effective, we must learn to live and work in harmony.  And to accomplish such harmony, we must have the right actions, the right thoughts, the right habits, and the right incentives!  “Be distinctive!”  And putting into practice these instructions of Peter is about as distinctive and counter-cultural as it gets (and I myself am the first to admit that I need to grow in demonstrating this kind of lifestyle that imitates Jesus even when  persecuted).  “An elderly sister was once asked how she was able to maintain her composure, even in very trying circumstances.  Here was her secret—she pointed to her hands, and then said, 'Jesus took the nails in His hands, so I have peace.'  Then she pointed to her head, and then said, 'Jesus took that crown of thorns on His head, so I have peace.'  Then she pointed to her side, and then she said, 'He took the spear in His side, so I have peace'” (Brothers).  With Jesus at the forefront of all we do, we can live and work in harmony!  Peter's challenge is before us!  Will you ignore it and continue to live your life as an unbeliever?  Will you try to side-step it as a disciple and keep practicing our culture's message of aggressive self-assertion?  Will you embrace it and try to be a person who blesses and seeks peace, even in the midst of persecution?  Please chose Jesus and to follow in His steps.