Living in Peace
v. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Dear friends in Christ, we have as our text the latter portion of St. Paul's lengthy letter to the Romans in which he urges the Christians to use their gifts in loving service to their neighbor, thereby also bringing honor and glory to God. Indeed, St. Paul had just written how the body of Christ—the church—has been blessed by God with many and various gifts. Each person—each member of Christ's body—has been given different gifts by God, which ought to be used in service of others. But, as they are all gifts of God, no one should be thinking more highly of themselves than anyone else. The gifts themselves are not the important issue, but rather how those gifts are used.
Therefore, just prior to our text, in v.9-10, Paul exhorts Christians to let their "love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Throughout v.9-21 of chapter 12, Paul is giving various illustrations of what genuine love looks like. It is in keeping with the 10 Commandments of our God. Indeed, we are to follow Jesus' teaching as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, which Paul refers to in this very text.
Picking it up now in our text for today, we see that Christians ought to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them." We are to speak well of—and pray to God on behalf of—all people—even our enemies. We must follow the example of our Lord Jesus who, from the cross, spoke blessing to those who were killing Him. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." We Christians should never call down curses on anyone, but always uphold them in prayer—even when they have done us wrong—or done evil. We should pray for them—that God in His mercy would bring them to repentance and faith in Christ—so that they, too, may receive forgiveness for their sins—even as we ourselves have freely received God's grace and mercy in Jesus.
As the Body of Christ, we are to share one another's joys and sorrows. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." We are to rejoice and celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Christ, whenever there is cause for joy. This means we ought not be envious or jealous of other peoples' successes, but genuinely be glad for them in every good blessing that God bestows. Conversely, we are also to weep when there is cause for sorrow: poor health, death, injury, job loss, relationship problems, etc. When our brother or sister is hurting—we come alongside them—we weep, sorrow, and lament—casting all our griefs and sorrows upon the Lord—trusting in His mercy to overcome all hurt, pain, and suffering—even death itself—through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Through His forgiveness and life, we are strengthened to carry on in the midst of difficult trials and tribulations. But we do not walk alone. We walk with Christ—and we walk with one another—holding each other up in both joy and sorrow.
So, then, we "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight." We are to have the same attitude toward one another. We should be harmonious in the Christian church—formed by the Word of God itself—shaped and molded according to what Scripture declares to us is good, right, and salutary—not our own thinking. This can be very challenging at the best of times.
As the church is full of sinners, we sometimes let our sinful natures get the best of us—and so we don't always look with kindness upon our fellow members—nor do we always exhibit grace toward them in putting the best construction on the things they may say or do. We sometimes get bent out of shape over various issues, which really should be secondary to the household of faith. In part, this is because we are by nature arrogant and think we always know what is best—not only for us—but for those around us—and for the church. Let this not be so. Particularly as we begin to come out of a pandemic, we will be challenged in our harmony toward one another, as we wrestle about how best to implement lessening government restrictions, etc. Through it all, we should try to keep the mindset of Christ—and to seek harmony with one another in Christian love.
Even when we may be offended by others—both within—and without—the church—we should never "Repay evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Particularly when we are treated wrongly by the unbelieving world, it may be tempting to seek vengeance. As Christians, however, our Lord forbids us from this course of action. Rather, we leave it in the hands of God. To be sure, we try to live peaceably with all. However, in a world that is so hostile to Christianity, this may not always be possible. But we are not to intentionally cause hostility—nor react to it by the way of vengeance. Rather, we entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly. We look to God's promises given to us in Christ, and we know that come Judgement Day, the Lord will take vengeance upon our behalf.
So, then, we confidently live our lives in peace—as much as is possible—while freely confessing the truth of God's Word—despite whatever consequences we may face. Instead, we treat our neighbors—especially our enemies—with love. When we see them in need—we do what we can to fulfill that need—using the very gifts that God has given to us to love and serve our neighbor. By doing so we "will heap burning coals on his head." That means that they will blush with shame as they see our attitude toward them remains consistent of one of goodwill—even when they shower hatred and animosity toward us. Despite all of the hostility we may endure, we do not respond in kind, but rather only in humble love, serving them as Christ has first served us.
For our God has loved us so thoroughly—so completely—in Christ—that we cannot but help to show mercy and love to all people—even those who may hate and persecute us. No, our salvation is not dependent on how we love, but our love is certainly a response to God's love toward us in Jesus. Our acts of loving kindness serve to show our neighbor the "proof" of our faith.
Our Lord Jesus descended to earth in utmost humility—divesting Himself of His divine power and glory. He did so willingly, out of genuine love, even while we were His enemies. His blood cleanses us from all sin and changes us to be more like Him. So that we can freely serve those around us, no matter the need. Jesus has overcome all evil by His suffering, death, and resurrection. He has overcome it for all who believe and trust in Him. Let us, therefore, also seek to overcome evil with good—looking to the cross for our hope and salvation. In Him we rest secure. For He liberally and daily showers us with His hospitality in Word and Sacrament—that our sins may be forgiven—our faith strengthened—and our love renewed. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.