As I shared in the last quarter of 2019, I have been invited to teach a Bible lesson each Thursday morning to approximately 80 women, called the Soul Sisters, at a Presbyterian church where our daughter happens to be on staff. It all started when the ladies were doing a book study on Thessalonians and there were some theological questions that I was asked to come and address. Anyway, I had a great time and since then I have returned numerous times to teach on a regular basis – in addition to being made an honorary “Soul Sister.” I couldn’t be more pleased.
Today, the new year started with a kickoff of the next study – a book by Max Lucado titled, “Anxious for Nothing.” I have agreed to start each week with a short lesson on the topic of study and today, I went to the Scripture to talk about this current topic of anxiety. Almost all of us suffer from this, from time to time, and it is interesting to note that average children today suffer from the same level of anxiety that would have resulted in professional counseling less than a generation ago.
It is also estimated that anxiety creates the same kind of health risks that smoking 15 cigarettes a day causes in people who have been unwilling or unable to quit. Social isolation and other health related issues are also the results of anxiety in our modern day society.
Clearly, I advocate going to the Bible to find ways to handle our suffering. Of course, there are verses such as the one in Philippians, that tell us to “not be anxious about anything…”, but there are also other great, less well known verses that can help us navigate severe stress.
One verse that comes to mind is in the book of 1 Peter. This book was written by the apostle Peter during a time when there was severe prosecution of the Christians in Rome. Nero, the leader of the Roman empire, hated Christians and impaled them on long spears after pouring hot tar over them. Then, in the ultimate act of disregard for human life, Nero lit his gardens at night with the burning bodies of martyred Christians. It was into this reality that Peter wrote his letter.
Peter knew that some of the believers would be killed and others would be asked to walk beside those who were slated to die. Furthermore, almost every family had members or friends who had lost their lives during this time in Rome. Peter wrote his first epistle to address the issue of suffering and how we should act toward one another, and toward God. It was a terrible time in the history of Christians.
Our verse for tonight needs some explanation. Peter tells us, in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” While we can read and understand this in English, the original Greek is even more compelling. Specifically, we are to live in a like minded manner (harmony) with one another and to be sympathetic. This word, in the Greek, is made up of two smaller words. “Sym” means “the same”, as when you think of the word “symphony” – it means the “same sound.” Similarly, “sympathetic” means the “same pathos.” Think of it as a mandate that we are to act as one body – of the same DNA.
Said another way, when one of us celebrates, we are to all celebrate as if we are rejoicing for ourselves. Likewise, when one of us suffers, as with anxiety, each of us is to grieve and hurt like the one being affected. As a body of Christ, we are to come alongside one another and live life invested in one another – both in times of joy and in times of despair.
The rest of the verse tells us that we are to love each other, to be compassionate and to treat others as better than ourselves (humble). Peter gave us wise words to live by – and we would do well to share our anxieties and sufferings with those fellow believers who are with us. And if by chance, you know someone who is suffering from anxiety as we start this new year, just listen… that’s right, just listen.
People who are suffering all too often suffer in silence. But the truth of the matter is that it will help if they can speak to someone who will listen – not try to solve their problem… but hear what they have to say…
My encouragement this evening is that Peter gave us wise words to assist us in helping one another. My prayer is that we will all be sensitive to those around us and that we will be available to lend an ear when the need arises as we, as children of God, start a new decade! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…