Read 1 Peter 3.
Defensiveness is a natural human response to fear. God created us with a self-protecting instinct, so when we feel threatened, we become guarded about what we do and say. We also get ready to run away or fight, and we look signs of increasing danger.
These instincts are to protect us from physical harm but they can be triggered when someone tries to harm us with words or with deception.
If you’ve been hurt often, you are probably more defensive than you naturally would be and possibly more than others around you are. The same is true if you’ve been (or felt) threatened repeatedly. It is also true in any area of your life where you feel vulnerable. My math skills are abysmal so I feel anxious when I have to make change or do some kind of calculation in front of another person. I’m sensitive to criticism in that area and always feel like I’m being judged, so I can get defensive sometimes. [BTW: being open about my weakness there makes me less feel defensive about it].
Since you and I know that we have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we should realize that others do as well. When people surprise us by overreacting to something we said or did, we often react with defensiveness. They attack us verbally so we hit back with words ourselves. The situation can often escalate from there into a full-blown argument.
But if, in the moment, we realize that the other person is feeling defensive because they have a history of feeling attacked or a special sensitivity in that area, we have learned to “be sympathetic” as 1 Peter 3:8, which we read today, commands us to be. That gives us an opportunity to respond with love (v. 8c: “love one another”), to feel compassion for that person’s pain or weakness (v. 8d: “be compassionate”), and to swallow our pride (v. 8e: “be… humble”). That’s the internal process that growing in Christ creates in us.
The outward result of that internal process is stated in verse 9: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” If someone has ever blessed you with compassion, love, and kindness, then you know what a blessing that is. How much would our families benefit if we husbands brought that kind of consideration to our wives (v. 7) and if wives realized how attractive submission to their husbands is (v. 5)? It is so much easier to be obedient to those commands when you begin by being sympathetic to your spouse.
How much would our church benefit if we were humble enough to be sympathetic and compassionate to those around us? How would your workplace improve? Might God use your loving attitude toward others to open doors to witness for Christ (see verses 15-16)?