Romans 12: 14-21
Two strands are interwoven in this section:
How to deal with your enemies (14): Verse 14 takes us back in thought to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5: 10-12). We are to Bless those who persecute us. The word is repeated, as if for emphasis. We are not to curse. Blessing involves thanking God for our enemies (recognising that He has a purpose in their malicious involvement in our lives. Is there someone in your world who is like grit in the oyster? Recognise that God is using this ‘irritant’ to turn you into a ‘pearl’. Thank Him for their major contribution to your sanctification! Hard? Yes. But possible by God’s grace.) It also means we pray for them. It is hard to intercede for people without coming to love them, and to see them in a different light (even if we don’t feel as much affection as we consider we ought to at the start.) Part of blessing is being good to people; being kind (20/21). Reach out a hand to them and seek to help them, even though the only part of their anatomy they’re thrusting at you is a fist. There is a sense of causing them to burn with shame (20b) when you return evil with good. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. The Message. The exhortation here tells us clearly not to try to take matters into our own hands in order to wreak vengeance. Commit them to God; leave them with Him (17a, 19). He is the perfect Expert at dealing with all manner of people. The world says, ‘Don’t get mad, get even!’ God’s ways are so different. In everything, we are called to seek to do what is right (17b). Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. The Message.
How to live with your friends: Paul writes about how to get on with your fellow-Christians.
- Live sympathetically (15): try to enter into the feelings/experiences of others; to sit where they sit. Empathy has been defined as ‘your pain in my heart.’ It could equally be ‘your joy’ there too.
- Live harmoniously/peacefully (16a/18): However, whilst we must Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph.4:3), there is a realistic recognition here that we can only go so far. One or two people are so cranky and contentious and war-like that they make it almost impossible to be at peace with them; so determined are they to have a scrap. Nevertheless, do your very best to have loving relationships with everyone.
- Live humbly (16b; see also 3). Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. The Message. This, of course, reaches out beyond ‘the pews’ and into life in the world also. Don’t look down your nose at anyone or consider yourself superior. A lady with a rather jaundiced view of things once said to the pastor of a fairly middle-class church: ‘This church is just like a country club! What would you do if someone came in from….?’(and she named a particular housing estate, which was perhaps despised by some in that area). The pastor was grateful that he could calmly respond: ‘Actually, someone has already joined us from there and they are welcomed and loved!!’ His words were absolutely true, and there are no prizes for that particular congregation. That is just how it should be. Whatever our background or social status in the world, in the church we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal.3:28).