16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:16-21 NIV
In verse 16 Paul is calling all believers to a common mindset. He is not suggesting that we must all think in just the same way or that we must think exactly the same thing about every issue. Instead, we are to agree to disagree agreeably over non-essentials. In doing so we demonstrate the love, unity, and sacrifice that can only be found in Christ.
Paul commands us not to be proud in mind. Rather, to associate with the lowly. The word translated “lowly” (tapeinos) refers to those first-century Christians who could boast of little in the way of worldly goods or social position.
The command, “Do not be proud” implies that we need to recognize that often the socially “lower” Christian has much more to give than the rich Christian. Indeed, all Christians have something to share with other Christians; and all Christians have things to learn from other Christians. The problem is that we can often think like Archie Bunker who said, “I’m not prejudiced, I love all those inferior people.” We need to get over ourselves! We need to see our fellow believers accurately and biblically. We need to exercise humility. If we’re humble, we’ll never look down on anyone. We can only look up to them.
May we begin to regard others as more important than ourselves?
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves – Philippians 2:3 NIV
May we ensure that our Christian relationships are healthy and whole? Love without action is not love.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. – Romans 12:7
Paul begins with a simple principle. Verse 17 begins, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Immediately we realize that this is a tough pill to swallow. Our strong instinct is to strike back at those who strike us. When we are hurt, we want to hurt in return. When we are slandered we tend to slander back. If someone criticizes us we are quick to say, “But what about you . . . .?” as we fire back a counter charge.
The simple and profound wisdom of Paul’s comments however, are inescapable. Three things we need to remember about retaliation. First, it causes conflict to escalate. Whenever we add a log to a fire we are providing fuel to keep the fire burning. When we retaliate against a wrong that someone has done to us we add fuel to the conflict.
Consider two drivers on the road. One driver wants to go a little faster than the driver in front of him. At the appropriate place this driver passes the car in front of him. Maybe the passing driver pulls back into his lane a little too early so and the other driver is upset. This driver hits the gas and roars past the man who just passed him cutting in way too early. When he gets past him he slows to 10 mph under the posted speed limit to dare the man behind him to pass again. When the man tries to pass, the first man speeds up. Before long these two drivers are playing “chicken” on the road. They are driving recklessly all because neither would “let the matter go”. These two cars have become a danger to others.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Do you sometimes show an uncooperative spirit while driving like the example? Do you peacefully allow others cars to merge into your lane?
Second, retaliation is usually excessive. We have already alluded to this. We never want to simply pay a person back for something they did. We desire to pay them back with interest!
In the Old Testament there is a very familiar law that states, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” [Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) This law was established for a very specific purpose: to limit this tendency to retaliate to the excess. This law was not designed to say that if you poked someone’s eye out that they had to poke out yours. What the law was saying was that a person could not go BEYOND poking out your eye in response. The human tendency is to meet one offense with a great offense! Someone injures you and you try to kill that person! We see this in road rage. You get mad at another driver and then shoot them . . . that is excessive! Someone offends you so you do something to destroy their reputation! That’s excessive.
Take a lesson from summer baseball. A coach disagrees with a call and tells an umpire that he feels his strike zone is inconsistent. The umpire tells the coach to keep quiet or he will be thrown out of the game. The coach questions the parentage of the umpire and before you know it two adults are being restrained! All this at a children’s baseball game!
Third, retaliation always ruins our witness. When we retaliate against a wrong done to us we prove that the love of Christ is not in us. We show that we are no different from anyone else who is around us. A lifetime of witness can be destroyed with one act of retaliation.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18
Verse 18 is so realistic because sometimes making peace is unattainable. The key is to do everything you can do to be at peace with everyone. Notice the phrase, “If it is possible” and then the next one: “as far as it depends on you.” This literally means, “As far as what proceeds from you.”
Here are some questions to ponder when it comes to peacemaking.
- Have you accepted your part in the breakdown of peace?
- Are you willing to make right the wrongs that you may have done?
- Have you forgiven any wrong that has been done to you?