Have you ever been faced with unwanted reactions from another - you present something and then you almost immediately get a reaction back which is out of proportion to what you requested? How about saying or asking something and then finding out someone is talking behind your back about what you said? If you are living and breathing on planet earth, you probably have experienced some kind of reaction from another, good or bad, which you somehow felt was just not what you'd thought you'd receive. It is part of human nature to somehow be a little less agreeable at times. We aren't always as sympathetic to another's position as we probably should be. We sometimes exhibit behavior far from compassionate - almost bordering on disinterested and/or totally judgmental. What we do with these reactions when we receive them often determines what the course of the relationship will become. Reject them. Form walls which separate and drive away intimacy. Give into their negativity. OR...embrace them in love. Smother them in kindness. Break down the barriers which they put up, but which do nothing to build the relationship. The choice is ours - not theirs. What? They strike out and hurt with their words, actions, or inactivity and the choice is ours, not theirs? What? Glad you asked!
Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. (I Peter 3:8-9 MSG)
Scripture points us to something quite the opposite of our natural reaction to another's rejection or disinterest. Peter put out some pretty pointed expectations related to dealing with the negativity and hurtfulness of others. Be agreeable. Another word for this is harmonious. In other words, be willing to get along with another you may not see eye-to-eye with. Discord enters when two refuse to agree - to live in harmony. To that end, Peter is simply telling us there is no place for disharmony in God's family. How do we live without disharmony? How do we handle relationships where there seems to be an inability to reconcile our differences? The other instructions which Peter gives actually help us to do this:
- Be sympathetic. Affectionate, caring, compassionate, interested, sensitive, and supportive of another. For this to work, WE have the responsibility to oftentimes respond with the exact opposite of what it is we are receiving. We want the response of another to be the way we imagine it to be, don't we? This is the danger of setting expectations of another - we sometimes set the bar a little higher than they can jump! To be sympathetic, we simply are putting ourselves in the shoes of another - we begin to understand how it is they see life. This is not always the easiest thing to do - putting ourselves in their position. Somehow, when we are able to do this, we often begin to change our attitude toward the other person just because we get a different vantage point. Remember - no one truly knows the heart of another - the best we can do is attempt to connect to it as closely as possible.
- Be loving. Most of us would think this refers to the affection in a relationship, but it is more - it is the ability to be attentive and caring even when they are not. Society teaches love is something which is either "earned" (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours), or it is something which is given, but with strings attached (as long as you do this, I will do that). If you have ever taken steps to love another when they seem disinterested, you know the frustration this can produce. Peter goes so far as to tell us to "be loving" - BE is an action word. It is not an emotion - it suggests we are to "do" something - to make some investment. Another word for "loving" is "faithful". In telling us to be loving, Peter is reminding us of the power of faithfulness. Nothing speaks clearer about our intention and our heart than this.
- Be compassionate. Aren't these all synonyms - sympathetic, loving, compassionate? Not really - they actually build upon one another. What Peter is referring to with this next instruction is to be merciful. In other words, allow grace to prevail. Grace, by definition, is neither earned, nor is it deserved. Peter is telling us to give what is not deserved - be merciful in the face of unwarranted and unwanted disinterest, hostility, rejection, etc. Isn't this the behavior of Christ? Did he not exhibit intense compassion in the midst of disinterest, hostility and rejection? What else would you call the cross than the ultimate display of compassion? Compassion is really the willingness to "forbear" - to give mercy.
- Be humble. This one doesn't seem to "fit", does it? The other actions are really clearly important in relationship, but "humility", why does this one make it to the list? I think it may come in realizing humility is what actually serves to un-complicate a relationship. Humility puts us in the place of being "unassuming" in the relationship. We develop a respect for the other - revealing it in our actions. This willingness to be "real" - to stop pretending in relationship - is the result of our willingness to embrace the other behaviors outlined in this passage.
To these, he adds to not retaliate or use sharp-tongued sarcasm. Both destroy relationship. Retaliation is based on the perception our "rights" have been violated somehow - someone did not live up to their end of the bargain. The sarcasm is really a masking of our hurt, and a subtle way to build up a little more of a wall in the relationship. If we are willing to start with what we haven't received and give back what we thought we'd receive, we are acting in the exact opposite of retaliation. In other words, respond in mercy when another's actions really "deserve" anything but mercy and you will be removing the brick before it has a chance to harden in the mortar!
These are not easy principles to learn, but so advantageous in relationship. Most important of all is the willingness to allow God to make you a blessing in the lives of those who don't realize they are being blessed! Before long, when you bless long enough, they will notice your blessing. Just sayin!