In I Peter 3:8, the apostle uses only seven Greek words, whereas the King James employs nineteen to get the meaning across. At the risk of boring the reader, we will look at I Peter 3:8 in the Greek, as if it were in an interlinear Bible: Telos pas homophron sumpathes philadelphos eusplagchnos philophron. Here it is, word by word, with English equivalents and a note or two:
Telos (finally, in the end, to sum up)
pas (individually and all, each and every one of you, collectively)
homophron (of one mind, in accord with one another; used in the New Testament only this once)
sumpathes (suffering or feeling the same with one another; used only this once)
philadelphos (love as brethren, brothers and sisters, countrymen; used only this once)
eusplagchnos (compassionate, tender-hearted; used just twice)
and finally, philophron (friendly, kind, courteous; used only this once).
The apostle Peter is here summarizing his instructions from the previous 20 verses, going back to I Peter 2:17. That passage deals with relationships: how to get along with brethren, mates, and the world at large.
We could paraphrase I Peter 3:8 like this, which sounds a great deal like The Amplified Bible: “In summation, each and every one of you, individually and collectively, have compassion, sympathy, even empathy for one another, loving everyone as if they were your family; be compassionate and courteous.”
The only way to do what Peter recommends is to consider others more important than ourselves. This can be quite hard to do in this competitive world we live in. We have to win in everything. We have to be in the fastest line at the bank or store. We have to ensure no one breaks in line ahead of us. We have to close up on the car ahead and not leave a gap to allow another car to cut in.
If we fail to do these things, what happens? We are life's losers, right? Of course not. There is no pain in living a courteous life. It does not cost us a thing to tell someone, “No, you go first.”
Why has our society coarsened? Is it because our schools for decades now have emphasized how “special” we all are? We have many adults now who cannot read or write very well and who know little history or math, but they feel really good about themselves! They have high self-esteem. Anything that comes their way is deserved or owed to them because we have taught them that.
Or are we less polite because, as a people, we drift further from God every day?
A short definition of courtesy would be “polite behavior that shows respect for other people.” Does God have anything to say about courtesy? Remember the “Golden Rule”? Jesus exhorts His disciples in Matthew 7:12: “Treat others as you want them to treat you. This is what the law and the prophets are all about” (Contemporary English Version).
If we truly lived by this, we would always treat others with courtesy. Chivalry would not be dead. For those younger folks who may not know, chivalry was an ancient, knightly code emphasizing the virtues of service to others, honor, love, and courtesy.
Consider, for instance, how we treat the “hoary head(s)” among us. Leviticus 19:32 commands us: “Show respect for old people and honor them. Reverently obey Me; I am the Lord” (Good News Bible). There have been times when I have come up on the rear of a slow-moving car and muttered, “Come on, grandpa, let's go!” only to remember that I, too, am a grandpa!
In all seriousness, though, do we revere the older folks as we should? Do we encourage our children to go last in line at a potluck? Do we take the time to do the simple things like teach our kids to look an adult in the eye when he or she speaks to them? Do we insist that they say, “Yes, sir [or ma'am],” not interrupt an adult conversation, hold doors for them, and generally, as God urges, “Show respect for old people and honor them”?
Why would we be impolite to the elderly—or anyone, for that matter? Why not move over on the road and let others going faster drive by? Why be rude to sales clerks and wait staffs? Why not use the simplest of courtesies like “please” and “thank you”?
The apostle Paul gives the answer in Philippians 2:3: “Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves” (Contemporary English Version). Now that is truly a hard thing to do. I can hear it now: “Treat others more important than moi? How can that be? The left lane was built for me! All others must go around. Why, if I were to move over and let you by, then I would lose face. I would be admitting defeat. I would be a loser in life's rat race.” Most people fail to consider that, even if they win the rat race, they are still a rat!
Paul's counsel to the congregation in Rome (Romans 12:17-20; 13:8-10) is clearly in line with what Jesus taught. He insists that we must never allow vindictiveness, the desire to get even with someone for a suffered wrong, to drive us.
In the same vein, Peter taught that we must not repay evil with evil, insult with insult, but we must bless (I Peter 3:8-9). Why are we called to react this way? Because if we want to be in God's Kingdom, it can only happen without the spirit of murder dwelling in us, and those evil retaliations are the spirit of murder. We are not to take vengeance because God has retained that responsibility to Himself. Is that not the way it should be? Only He fully knows and understands every facet of the circumstances and can judge perfectly. By the way, Paul addresses the issue of retaliation four times in Romans 12, which begins by stating that we are to be living sacrifices and not to conform to this world's ways.
The picture should be clear. Somebody must be willing to do this if there will be peace. Jesus set the example: He, refusing to strike back, died for the entire world. Christ's non-retaliatory remedy is ultimately for everybody's benefit, but until He returns, the standards He set can be met and lived only by those who, like Jesus, have the Spirit of God, are living by faith, and are enabled to keep God's ways by God Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment
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