My mother drummed “no fighting with other kids” into my ears growing up. So, I passed through elementary and high school avoiding conflicts of all kinds as much as I could. In my late teens, a couple of hard knocks I experienced, made me conclude that I needed to be super-aggressive to achieve my life goals.
In reaction to testing times, I swung from a “peace first” person to a “war against everyone” person. The super-aggressive person may win lots of prizes, but this comes at a very high cost of hurting too many people – family, friends, colleagues – and losing out on enjoying the warmth of love, kindness, and heavenly approval.
Peter counsels against this swing from “niceness” to “meanness” in testing times. In the book of First Peter Chapter 1 he informs the suffering Christians that their suffering is a test of their sincerity and commitment to the faith; in Chapter 2 he shows them that God is at work in their lives even in testing times – he elevates their thinking by showing them how they fit into God’s masterplan for the world.
At the end of Chapter 2 and continuing into Chapter 3, Peter counsels the Christians to put their best foot forward in all their relationships, that is to be exemplary in their behavior first towards political leaders and workplace leaders who are making life difficult for them; then be exemplary in their marriages – hard times can place incredible stress on marriages and make couples mean to one another.
1 Peter 3:8-9 then says (New Living Translation): “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.”
Peter ends Chapter 3 by showing how Jesus handled the incredible suffering he passed through to save us; Jesus is tenderhearted; Jesus did not lose focus, even in death he went and preached to spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19); and at the end Jesus now has absolute power including power over those who made him suffer.
As hardship and stress threaten to overwhelm us in this COVID-19 season, let’s draw strength from First Peter that God is with us even in this season; Christians are a chosen people in God’s hands (1 Peter 2:4-12); let’s not be mean-spirited in testing times – but remain sympathetic, tenderhearted, humble, and kind.
Lord, often the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, help us to put our best foot forward one day at a time, in these testing times, Amen!