Biblical peace is far more than an absence of war. It’s wholeness, completeness, abundance, joy… It’s like a return to Eden.
Today I want us to answer the question, How do we find peace in our families? Especially this Christmas…
LOVE EACH OTHER
Let’s dive in. Today we’re going to look at part of a letter that the Apostle Peter wrote to encourage early Christians.
1 PETER 3:8-12
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life
and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right,
and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the LORD turns his face
against those who do evil.”
Let’s dig into what Peter is saying here. If we want to, as verse 11 says, “search for peace, and work to maintain it” in our families, perhaps here we can find a clue.
Let’s start with verse 8. He gives five commands for how we’re meant to be in Christian community. Be of one mind, sympathize, etc. And this applies to our families as well.
If you look at how these ideas are arranged, they actually mirror one another.
A - Be of one mind (Thought)
B - Sympathize with each other (Feeling)
C - Brotherly love
B' - Be tenderhearted (Feeling)
A' - Keep a humble attitude (Thought)
Be of one mind, keep a humble attitude - this is how you think. It’s your mind.
Sympathize, be tenderhearted - this is how you feel. It’s your heart.
And in the middle is brotherly love.
Now, this way of structuring ideas is very common in the Bible. Especially if you look at Hebrew poetry like the Psalms. It’s called a ‘chiastic structure.’
The name doesn’t matter. What matters is that, whenever you see this structure in the Bible, it’s always the central idea that’s most important and the other ideas build to it.
So for Peter, brotherly love is at the center of Christian community.
What does that love look like? How do we know we’re loving each other as brothers and sisters? Well, that’s where the other ideas come in.
Let’s start with the heart ones. Sympathizing with each other and being tenderhearted - this isn’t just about nice, warm feelings. Sympathizing means seeking to understand the feelings of others, not just your own. A better word is probably empathy - sharing someone’s feelings.
And tenderhearted? In Greek it’s a word I talk about a lot. Splanchnon. It means the same deep and gut-level compassion that Jesus had for the poor and broken and marginalized. That’s what we are meant to feel.
So brotherly love, when it comes to our heart, is not just, “Hey pal. Love ya, man!” No! It means a profound willingness to set our own needs aside and focus our emotions on the needs and the desires of others. It’s selfless.
And then these other two phrases about our thoughts - be of one mind / keep a humble attitude – they’re also selfless. You don’t think the same way as somebody unless you’re willing to set aside some of your own opinions, right? It takes humility.
It boils down to this: according to Peter, if we want to “love each other as brothers and sisters” - whether that’s spiritual brothers and sisters or literal brothers and sisters, we have to set ourselves aside and have concern for them, compassion for them… Just like Jesus did.
We focus our hearts and our minds on them, and not ourselves. Frankly, that’s what Christmas morning is all about.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
The love of Jesus was selfless. The God of the universe becoming one of us to return humanity to Eden – to bring peace on earth. That’s our model.
When we see baby Jesus in that manger, we see self-giving love personified. And we’re called to love each other the same way. Jesus himself said it:
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
So that’s our foundation. That’s the core idea: If we want peace in our families this Christmas, we must love like Jesus loved.
Now, that’s already a lot to ask, self-giving love is hard even if we’re on good terms with our family members. What do we do if things are not so congenial? What if we can’t stand our family members? What if there’s division or pain or anger?
Well, let’s take a look at verse 9 because Peter goes on. To make this selfless “brotherly love” possible he says:
“Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.”
Can you even imagine? You’re sitting at Christmas dinner, and someone - a sibling, a parent, an uncle, a child - somebody insults you and mocks you and you pay them back by… being nicer to them? Giving them an even better Christmas gift?
Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, who would do that?
Well, according to Peter, Jesus would.
It’s not explicit, but what Peter is doing here is picking up on a teaching that Jesus himself gave that was so shocking and yet so profound that it gets repeated all over the New Testament.
Matthew makes sure to quote Jesus directly.
“Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
Luke captures the same teaching.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid.”
Paul picks up on this and says,
Romans 12:14, 18
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them… Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
The Apostle James taps into this thread…
James 3:15, 17
Jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom… The wisdom from above is… peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.
It’s everywhere! Peter, James, Paul, Matthew, Luke… It’s almost as if this is a teaching we need to pay attention to.
Love your enemies. Bless those who insult you.
It’s wild. But if you think about it, it’s that same selfless attitude from verse 8 - setting yourself aside and focusing on the needs of others… even if they’re out to get you.
That is how we maintain brotherly love. That is how we find peace in our families this Christmas. Not just selflessness, but radical selflessness.
SEARCH FOR PEACE
So, let’s just give up, right? Cause that’s a lot. Raise your hand if you’ve got the energy and stamina right now to love people who hate you.
Who here really wants to be the sacrificial lamb who gets trampled all over by your family this Christmas?
What are we supposed to do with this? Because we all want peace. But radical selflessness? Loving your enemies? It seems like an awful lot to ask.
Well, thankfully Peter does not leave us high and dry on this one. He calls us to practice the self-giving love of Jesus in our relationships, but he gives us two reasons why this may not be entirely impossible.
First, look at the rest of verse 9. Peter says:
“That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.”
I’ve talked about this before, but the “blessing” of God is not some vague spiritual concept.
Blessing in Scripture refers to God’s intentions for humanity coming to fruition. A return to Eden, life, love, wholeness, abundance, and joy. It’s the “peace of God” that we talked about last week.
Peter says God will give this to us. And actually, in Greek he says that we will inherit this blessing. It’s an inheritance.
In other words, as children of God, this blessing is coming our way no matter what. You don’t earn an inheritance. It’s yours by right.
I believe what Peter is getting at here is, because we have God's blessing as our inheritance, we can and should overflow that blessing to others, even if they don't deserve it.
I mean, think about ourselves. How many of us ‘deserve’ the boundless grace of God? None of us! He blesses us despite our rebellion. We were his enemies, yet he loved us enough to send his Son to rescue us.
So is it really so crazy to think that we might be called to do the same to those who have gotten on our bad sides?
We talked last week about the peace of God that guards our hearts in Christ. When we focus on what God has done for us (“You mean there’s MORE?!?”), it changes our outlook on the world.
I believe we can bless others because we’ve already been blessed. We’re not generating this love and blessing out of nothing. It doesn’t come from good intentions. It comes from what God has already done for us.
We’re overflowing the blessing we’ve already received. Focus on that, allowing the peace of God to transform us, loving our enemies doesn’t seem quite so impossible.
That’s the first bit of hope that selfless love for our families is possible. Because it overflows from our inheritance of peace.
The second bit of hope is in verse 10. Peter is quoting Psalm 34.
“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days,” (in other words, if you want to return to Eden - if you want the peace of God - if you want to live into your inheritance of blessing), “keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.” (Don’t talk trash about others) “Turn away from evil and do good.”
And this is the key. If you want life, “Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”
If you do that, verse 12, remember that, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers.”
In other words, as you do your very best to live out the self-giving love of Jesus in your family - as you try to love your enemies and have compassion for the needs of others - as you set yourself aside and overflow blessing… You are not alone.
God is watching over you. His Spirit strengthening you. And he hears your prayers. The Lord is near.
Remember our breath prayer from last week? The Lord is near. The Lord is near. We’re not doing this alone.
Peace on earth is now possible - in our hearts, in our families, in our world - because Jesus came to show us the way. The Lord is near.
If we want peace in our families this Christmas, we must love like Jesus loved.
And he is with us on the journey.
So how do you put this into practice? Literally, in your family, this Christmas… what do you do?
Well, I’ve got three encouragements for you to consider as you “seek peace and work to maintain it” in your family.
The first encouragement is this:
I - Practice empathy
As I said before, Peter encourages his readers in verse 8 to have sympathy for one another and deep, gut-level compassion. In other words, selfless love involves trying to understand and even share the emotions of others.
How well do you do that in your family?
Parents, when you find yourself saying, “look at this mess… what were you thinking?!?” Do you ever actually try to understand what they were thinking?
What they were feeling as they poured a pound of sugar into the air vents or whatever?
Or when your teenager lashed out at you, did you try to understand what they were going through? What would happen if you practiced empathy with them?
Or teenagers, when you’re moping around saying, “my parents don’t understand me… this house is a nightmare!!!” Have you ever taken time to have empathy for your parents? What are they feeling these days? What’s it like raising you? Do you have compassion for your parents?
Or for any of us, it’s easy to roll our eyes when a crazy uncle or grandma is going off on some tirade about something they saw on Facebook and just dismiss them. But why do they feel so strongly? What’s at the core? What are they afraid of?
You get the idea. This works for any family relationship. Are we willing to set ourselves aside long enough to actually understand who they are and what they’re feeling right now?
Jesus already showed us the way on this one. He had deep compassion for everyone he met, because he had empathy. He was born as one of us. He understood that at our core, every one of us is just insecure and broken and looking for love and purpose.
Can we see our family the way Jesus sees us? Can we set ourselves aside and practice empathy?
If we do, we may very well experience a peace that goes beyond our understanding.
So that’s the first encouragement. Practice empathy. The second is this:
II - Remember grace
I mentioned before that we have an inheritance of God’s blessing. That we did nothing to earn.
If we are going to “search for peace and work to maintain it” this Christmas, we’ve got to remember where we came from.
We were God’s enemies, and yet he entered our world because of his boundless grace. The birth of Jesus was a gift that not a single one of us deserves.
Can we remember that grace when, in our family, we are faced with enemies, or lies, or insults?
When that person - you know the one I’m talking about - chooses to say something to push your buttons, can you choose to “pay them back with a blessing”?
In that moment can you remember God’s grace for you? Can you remember your inheritance of blessing? And can you overflow from that deep well into their life?
You don’t deserve God’s blessing, and they don’t deserve yours. But that is what grace is all about. If we ever want peace on earth – if we want peace in our families, that’s a truth we all need to learn.
Jesus loved us while we were still sinners, and we are called to love the same way.
So, practice empathy. Remember grace. Finally, I want to encourage you to
III - Keep going!
Last week I mentioned that the breath prayer, “The Lord is near,” has two meanings. Yes, Jesus is close, but he’s also coming soon.
Yes, the world is still broken, but since Christmas morning, Jesus has been on the move to make all things right, including your broken family relationships. Don’t lose hope.
You know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
So don’t give up. The Lord is near. Grow your endurance as you wait for God to move.
Friends, I know that the holidays often bring out the worst in families. But what if this year was different? What if we set ourselves aside and loved our family this year better than we ever have before?
Search for peace and work to maintain it. Practice empathy, remember grace, and keep going!
It’s not an easy road to walk, but Jesus showed us the way.