You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?
And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length and in detail about how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters. As you read there is a definite sense that although relationships within the Family of God are vitally important, they are also a lot of work, even downright messy at times. Here in his own letter we find Peter echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an excellent life. Whether we are talking about governments, marriage, or the Family of God, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the One who called us into His kingdom. Practically speaking, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself. Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to detail the everyday nuts and bolts of how to walk as children of the light, and confront us with our behavior. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” Peter says, and it’s a little shocking that he needs to say that to believers about how to treat each other, but I am glad he does. I appreciate his honesty about the fact that any relationship can be difficult at times, and our learning to follow Jesus’ example is a long slow process.
In Peter’s day, Christ-followers did not seek out flocks of similar feather. Whatever their personal backgrounds and preferences, their numbers were small enough and the need was great enough that any group threw together the merchant and the slave, the educated and the illiterate, of every race and both genders. Forming a new spiritual community required setting aside deep-seated prejudices and cultural values to embrace the equality they had in Christ. It is ironic that in our modern day when so many of those cultural divisions have been overcome, and we have the freedom to worship wherever we want, we tend to choose the spiritual community that is the most like us and feels comfortable, just because we can. Maybe it’s laziness on our part– an attempt to avoid the hard work of loving others and pursuing peace– or maybe just taking advantage of the options. Most likely we’ve never even thought about it, but I wonder if we are often stunting our growth to maturity in the process. Peter has no interest in our comfort or our options: he holds up high standards of relationship as something we should all be working toward if we want to “love life and see good days.” (1 Peter 3:10)
In his letter, Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care, who enter into one another’s lives to share both rejoicing and pain. Christ-followers who are courageous enough to confront sin, to bear with one another’s growing pains and offer forgiveness. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. As Paul puts it, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent and called to be a holy people, regardless of where we have come from, or who we were before. If we stop to think about it, the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– who we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. So Peter fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold up the same values, not because the group is culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from the world’s perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the kingdom of light.
If I am serious about being a Christ-follower, I must also take the rest of the Family seriously, and work hard to have healthy relationships here. Because people are watching us, and the most valuable way to build bridges is to live an excellent life. Because we need each other in order to run our race well and persevere. Because Jesus emptied Himself of privilege and power to come down and live as a servant, even to the point of dying in our place. Because God calls us to follow in His Son’s footsteps, and He says it is all glory.
And again there is this theme of beautiful light running throughout Peter’s letter, and us living as strangers in this world, shining in the darkness to draw others to God.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, n make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…Philippians 2:1-5
We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.