How do Christians live together and in the larger world? How should we live as people offering our entire lives in sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1–2)? That’s the question Paul has been answering in Romans 12. If we love others the way Christ loves us, we will forgive them and show them the same undeserved grace we have received. The bullet points we’ve studied thus far point to this:
- Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.
- Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.
- Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord.
- Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.
- Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
- Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.
Now Paul follows the command of the previous verse (17), which was to always act honorably. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:18) As believers, we should live peaceably with all people. This would include our siblings in Christ, as well as unbelievers. Another way to read this command might be, “Never let yourself be the reason for an un-peaceful relationship with another person”. This is not a statement of total pacifism or complete apathy, however. Paul gives two clear conditions: “If possible” and “so far as it depends on you.” This command recognizes that conflict is sometimes unavoidable.
We can only control our decisions, our behavior, the way we respond to other people. We should make it a priority to bless others, go out of our way to do what is right for the other person’s sake. We can’t control others, but we can control our behavior and reactions. We do what we can do to get along with others, to bless others, to lift others up. If they refuse to accept our blessing, we can’t control that. But we can lift them up in prayer.
What does it require to live this way? For one, of course, we must be willing to admit our wrongs, to apologize, to make things right, and to forgive. This is where the idea of “so far as it depends on you” comes into play. Our own ego, pride, desires, and prejudices should never get in the way of living peaceably with others. First and foremost, that means we ought not do “wrong” things to or towards other people.
Not all conflict is related to wrongdoing, however. Sometimes, it’s simply a question of two sides who disagree about an issue with no absolute answer. In those cases, maintaining the peace may require us to be willing to yield, to be moved, on an issue we care about.
The Bible is clear, however, that on matters of bedrock conviction, we must take our stand with grace, mercy, and integrity. “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since He who promised is faithful.” (Heb 10:23) When making “peace” is possible only by compromising the truth, or the commands of God (Acts 5:28–29), then peace is simply not possible, and the choice no longer depends on us. That stance might result in our own suffering or persecution. Paul has shown that it always matters more that we represent Christ well than to come away with an outcome we find favorable (Phil 4:11–13).