Sym – Pathos
When I was in seminary Greek classes, I learned more about theology than in almost any other courses that I took. That’s because the words are so much more meaningful than what we consider in the English translations – in fact, it is almost like seeing the Bible in color rather than black and white.
Almost every day, we would be exposed to something in the language that made so much sense that I kind of wondered why we weren’t taught these things in church or Vacation Bible School when we were younger. Anyway, one of my favorite verses to translate was from the book of 1 Peter and had to do with how we treat one another. The book was written by Peter and had to do with the subject of suffering. It was written around 64 A.D. during the reign of Nero, who hated Christians. Nero was known for impaling Christians on large stakes, dipping them in tar and igniting them to light his gardens at night. Clearly, it was a horrible way to die but that didn’t make any difference to Nero.
Peter wrote his letter to Christians letting them know that some of the brothers and sisters in Christ would be killed, while others had the responsibility to pray for and take care of those who were being persecuted by the Romans. Nobody knew what role each person would be called to but the idea was that they were of one mind and pledged to help one another as if they were of the same DNA.
I was reminded of this verse because of the current political situation in this country. So many people running for president in the 2020 election and nothing but animosity among the candidates. The Republicans hate the Democrats and the Democrats hate the Republicans. Nobody wants to take a step toward civility and the country is being torn apart from within.
When the US is attacked from outside, we stand together as one and fight any enemy – anywhere in the world. But this most recent threat is from within and we are only hurting ourselves. We don’t trust each other, we want our way or the highway; and I have never seen such hatred in all my life. Honestly, it is disgusting and I am tired of it – from both sides. Someone will need to take the first step and I have no idea who will be big enough to do that and stop this insanity. Hatred is running rampant.
So I have been thinking about Paul’s words and how he coalesced Christians to care for one another, support one another and even die for one another if necessary. Our verse for this evening is from Peter’s first epistle, where he admonishes the followers of Jesus, and reminds them, in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Now this verse, while certainly understandable in the English, is really much deeper than it sounds. A humble attitude means to “see others greater than you see yourself” and to live in harmony means to get along in everything – as when you think of a group singing and how everything blends together.
But for me, the most significant word in this verse is “sympathetic” because it has a much different connotation than in the English. It is really the combination of two words. The first is “sym,” meaning “the same” – and we see it used in words such as symphony which means that the instruments blend together to produce the same sound or same voice. And the second word is “pathos” which is where we get our English word pathology. Some scholars even go so far as to think of the word as meaning “tissue” as when we think of living tissue.
If you combine these words, you get our English word “sympathy” – or, to have the same tissue, or DNA. So when one of us is suffering, Peter wants us to know that we should care enough that we hurt as much as the person being persecuted. And when they celebrate, we should celebrate as if some great thing has happened to us! Regardless of the circumstances, we should grieve, mourn, hurt, share and celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters as if we were experiencing all of these possible things ourselves. As if we are all of the same DNA – when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Isn’t that a great way to think about our unity as Christ followers? And do you see how different the Greek meaning is from our English definition of the word “sympathy?” I hope you will consider using the Greek definition know that you know what it really means!
My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to live as brothers and sisters. After all, we are all in the adopted family of God and brothers of Christ. That makes us family with God Himself. My prayer is that we will all consider how important it is that we try to get along and realize that we are all created in God’s image and that we are all important to Him. And we should all be important to each other as well! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…