Living at peace with others
19th July 2019
We've been asking how Paul's encouragement to love everybody, in Romans 12:9-14, works out in practice. One of the hardest answers to that question for many of us is:
When somebody's been really unkind to you, mistreated you or said unkind things about you, it's so tempting to say, "What about you? what did you do last Thursday?" or whatever, but we're told to never repay evil for evil. Never try to justify yourself by undermining somebody else, tempting though it is.
The world has many awful sayings, and I think one of the most demonic sayings is "Don't get mad, get even". Which means "Don't get angry, get revenge". But we can fall for it sometimes. Somebody hurts you, and you lash out. We try to justify ourselves, saying "Well, I'm only human" but you're not only human. You're redeemed, you're filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of God. Don't get angry, forgive. God has equipped you to do so.
It's hard, but the only way to bring conflict to an end is for you to forgive the person who's hurting you. For you to get revenge would just perpetuate the problem. It's not easy to forgive, but it is possible, when we remember how much God has forgiven us.
I misunderstood that when I read it years ago. I thought it meant, "Try to do what everybody else thinks is right". That's what it reads like, isn't it? But that's not what it means. Some people have extraordinary and wicked ideas about what's right. Don't go with their judgement. It means, "Try to do what is right, because people are looking".
The 19th century American evangelist D. L. Moody once said, "Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible; the other 99 will read the Christian". People are watching you, so do what's right. Do what's right because it's right but, particularly, do what's right because you're being watched, and every time a Christian behaves badly, it gives a non-Christian another reason not to believe in Jesus.
And Paul says,
Sometimes this isn't possible. Sometimes someone is so annoyed with you, or so unwilling to forgive you, that they will not be reconciled to you. It's sad, but sometimes you cannot fix a problem. We should try to fix it, try to find a way to help the other person accept reconciliation, but sometimes you can't. Forgive them anyway. Forgive them even for their refusal to forgive you. Pray for them. Don't take revenge. Don't repay evil for evil. Even if they refuse to speak to you, just pray blessing and not cursing over them.
But often there is something we can do. Often we can be reconciled to people who have seen things differently from us. Sometimes we can reach out and say, "Hey, mate, let's have a pint", or whatever it is for you, and rebuild the relationship.
When Paul says, "As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone", he does mean everyone. Whatever you can do to be at peace with your brother, or your sister, or your neighbour, do it. You can't do everything, sometimes you can't do enough, but do what you can.
Don't go to bed thinking, "I could have fixed it, but I didn't". Don't go to bed thinking, "I didn't have to annoy him, but I did". Try to be at peace. And, at least,
We've already considered Paul's instruction "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" and this sentence contains the same idea, but it also says something else that's very important. Paul is not just saying that we shouldn't take revenge because it's a bad thing to do. He's saying we don't need to take revenge. Perfect justice will be done. God doesn't need your help. He will bring about justice Himself. Every sin committed against you that it isn't forgiven through the blood of Christ, will be paid for. Let God sort it out.
In fact this is the best piece of advice I have to offer you about somebody who has hurt you, or is continuing to hurt you: give it to God. Ask God to heal your wounds. Ask God to heal their heart so that they don't feel the need to hurt you any more. And if there is any justice to be done, let God do it. He will - perfectly. You would do it really badly. God will do it really well. So let God do it.