“As Far As Possible—Peace”
March 2, 2016 – Romans 12:18
Living at peace with others can be difficult sometimes.
Peace in families. Peace between friends and in relationships. Peace between groups of people, whether in terms of sports teams, religions, music preference, the racial context, food choices, even thinking about the pets some people choose to have!
People have disagreements about all of these areas—and then some!
What does the Bible say about disagreements? Conflict?
Let’s take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s book of Romans, 12:16-21. This is two paragraphs in a larger section. There is a lot here, in terms of pointers for conflict resolution!
These are a series of good pieces of advice from Paul. A laundry list of valuable ways of acting. Plus, these are pieces of advice that Paul gives to the whole congregation. We can tell from the verbs—all plural, for the group of believers. A group pep talk!
How does Paul recommend the Roman congregation to act? “By living in such a way that fosters peace.” Commentator Elizabeth Shively says, “Verses 17 and 21 act like bookends, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil’” As she tells us, these ideas are connected. We are truly overcome by evil when we allow spite to infect us. 
Aren’t evil, spite and resentment like a disease? Like a particularly nasty, insidious virus, that sneaks into our bloodstream. Gets under our skin, and burrows down deep inside. Evil, spite and resentment are particularly difficult to get out of our hearts and lives.
Yes, we can think about different people in a congregation. Our church, or any church. Yes, there are serious matters that come up. Divisive issues, and sometimes matters that are particularly difficult to resolve. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this kind of serious conflict! He gives us some words of advice that may be useful in just such a contentious situation. More than that, he gives words of advice that are useful in many situations—squabbles between friends or family, and arguments between church folk and those outside the church.
This can be a complication! Paul comes right out and tells the believers in Rome that they are not to repay evil for evil. Instead, show love. Paul does not say so here, in this paragraph, but he does several times in other places, in this letter.
It is the Christian’s job to show love! Paul tells us expressly how we are to show love, too.
How are we to show love? Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” And further, verse 20 quotes from Proverbs 21, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’”
Let me give an illustration. Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote, “In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned.
“Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”
This African man showed love to his enemy. He did everything he could to put out that fire in his neighbor’s house. He lived out God’s love towards his enemy, just as Paul urges us to do, here.
God shows us abundant love! God shows us plentiful mercy! And, we do not deserve it. That’s why Paul urges us to do the same for those who do evil to us, and for those who are our enemies.
Since the believers in Rome were shown God’s love and mercy, Paul recommends tending to enemies in the same way they—we—would tend to the material needs of families, and friends. As our commentator Elizabeth Shively says, Paul’s audience “are to do more than refrain from repaying evil; they are to initiate doing good to opponents. This is much harder. But in doing so, Christians overcome evil with good, showing that they “cling to what is good,” expressing the definition of true love.” 
How difficult is that? Really difficult! How hard to express true love. How hard to live at peace with everyone. Yet, that is what we are called to do as followers of Christ.
Yes, the idea of living at peace with everyone is a wonderful thing. Living it out is a challenging thing. Sometimes, even an almost impossible thing. Remember, it’s the Christ-like way to live.
What would Jesus do? How would Jesus act?
“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.”
We are called to act in practical and physical ways. Show love. Express mercy.
That, I think, is how Jesus would act.