"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Romans 12:18 NKJV
Do you have a favorite chapter in the Bible, or maybe a book that you find yourself going back to time and again because for some reason it speaks to your heart? My book is Paul’s letter to the Romans, and my favorite chapter is the twelfth where today’s passage is found. I can remember when I first read it as a student in the Christian School my parents had enrolled me in when I was just eleven or twelve. We had to memorize it completely, which probably had a lot to do with remembering it all these years, but it did have a message as well which I have never forgotten and that is that God expects us to try and get along with everyone else in this world.
Of course, it won’t take anyone watching the news or reading the internet, very long to realize this world is nowhere near close to following the admonition of Paul in this passage. On the contrary, if one were to try and describe the state of mankind right now I expect it would be a far cry from living peaceably with others. Yet while many might point the finger at others in attempting to explain the reasons for this sorry state of affairs, I want to go so far today as to suggest that although there are plenty of examples we could use to illustrate this point, Paul directs his admonition to us as believers rather than to the world around us.
So what is Paul’s message to believers when discussing how to live peaceably with all men? I want to take the time today to point out just four things Paul shares with us in this passage, and surprisingly, it won’t be about what we need to do. Although this chapter is full of positive instruction regarding what we should be doing, and I would suggest you read the entire chapter to see exactly what that is, instead what I want to focus on today are four things Paul tells us not to do. So bear with me as we look at Paul’s four “do not’s”.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14 NKJV
Now this is going to be one of those times when it is important to look at what these words mean in the original Greek. I can hear some of you now saying “I never curse or use swear words”. Well while I applaud you for that, it might be important to understand that this is not what the text is saying. The Greek word for curse is “kataraomai”, which translates to mean “to imprecate evil upon”. What exactly does that mean? Simply put, imprecating is when you wish or hope something bad happens to someone else. Think of sayings like; “what goes around comes around”, “same to you”, “you’ll get yours”, or maybe something like “payback is coming”, etc. In essence, your reaction to what someone else does to you is to hope something equally bad or worse happens to them. Although many would say that it is a “natural” reaction, Paul says don’t do it.
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.” Romans 12:17 NKJV
Not only are we not to wish something bad happens to someone we feel has wronged us, we are also told not to try and “payback” someone for what they have done. How many of us have felt justified in taking it upon ourselves to “do unto others as they have done to us”? The world says “tit for tat” is an acceptable response to being hurt, and unfortunately many believers feel the same way. Yet Paul admonishes us to regard, or simply to look at the good in someone else instead of focusing on the wrong we feel they might have done. Have you ever been angry at someone for something they may have said or done, only to find out later it was unintentional and unintended, or possibly never happened as you might have thought? In situations like that, not only is your response wrong in God’s eyes, it will have unjustified consequences which only serve to make a situation worse. Paul tells us, don’t try to repay.
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord." Romans 12:19 NKJV
Most of us have heard the phrase “judge not”, but here Paul introduces another one which we all would do well to become just as familiar with; “avenge not”. Who hasn’t wished to be the instrument of God’s judgment on another? Why is it that we somehow feel better when we try to punish someone else for something they have done to offend us? Why do we take joy in someone else’s suffering? Paul tells us here that not only is it wrong to try and pay someone back, we are to give that feeling over to God, and allow Him to repay as He sees fit. We would do well to notice that God “promises” to repay, so there is never a doubt that if deserved, judgment will fall on those who wrong us. Further, if it is left up to God, there won’t be any mistake that the judgment is deserved, as God knows the heart of man and where we could make a mistake deciding to pass judgment, God never does. Paul makes it clear that it is God’s job to punish, not ours.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21 NKJV
Two wrongs don’t make a right. A negative and a negative won’t make a positive. Evil will never cure evil. The only proper response to evil is to repay with good. It is unfortunate that our nature is to focus on other people’s behavior rather than our own. Paul takes pains to tell us in these verses that our only responsibility is to monitor our own behavior. The context of the book of Romans was that believers were suffering unimaginable evil at the hands of the government, as well as non-believers. The entire book of Romans could well be described as a treatise on the Christian belief of personal non-retaliation. As difficult as this philosophy might be for the believer, I have heard the book of Romans and the concepts it contains described as the “pinnacle of Christian maturity”. Paul admonishes us to not try to fight evil with evil.
Timothy tells us that all who desire to live Godly will suffer from the actions of an unbelieving world. Paul, surprisingly, tells us we can expect it from other believers as well. Jesus even taught that we will suffer from members of our own immediate family. Christians are a walking target, and Satan lives to take his shots at us from unexpected places. What is the key to living peaceably with all men? A mature believer looks at his own life and actions rather than those of others. Try practicing the four don’ts Paul shares in these verses and see what a difference it will make in your own life.
"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth." Isaiah 53:7 NKJV