In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 68a of 83
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.Romans 12:17-18
Christ laid His life down for His Church comprising the full number of the elect of God. But in God’s wisdom, these must be redeemed and nurtured in local Christian congregations, or true branches of Christ’s Church Visible Universal.
What does a faithful Christian congregation look like? Some of us, looking at the arrangement of a worship hall, may imagine that it looks like a huge bus with the congregation seated in front-facing rows, being driven by pastor appointed by Christ. But is this the right mental image of what the church local should be?
Well, no! If we have understood the apostle Paul correctly, the church should be more like a large family dwelling in a little village whose members take care of one another.
In a sense, the apostle is seeking, in the section of His great letter that we are studying, to teach us how we may dwell happily together in this village.
We have seen that we must love sincerely, seek to do good to one another; and cultivate a warm brotherly affection with each other (v. 9-10).
We should be on fire to serve the Lord in all areas of our lives. We must not be slow and lazy in our attitude, but rather fervent in spirit (v. 11).
We must rejoice in hope believing that God is doing all things well for the good of his children, and patiently endure all pressurising situations (v. 12).
Similarly, we must learn to share with one another the things that God has blessed us with, and we practice sincere hospitality towards our visitors and to one another (v. 13).
We must not give in to the temptation to do evil to those who persecute us. We must, rather, bless and curse not (v. 14).
We should cultivate sympathy in sorrow and joy so that we can rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep (v. 15).
We must also strive to have the same mind one toward another (v. 16).
But now we have come to Paul’s final counsel on this subject before he reiterates something which he has already spoken about, namely that we should bless those who persecute us (v. 19-21, cf. v. 14).
This final counsel is in verse 17-18—
17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Now, we had already considered the first part of verse 17 when we studied verse 14, and so we will pass by it. It will be a good exercise, though, to consider by ourselves how the two parts of verse 17 are related.
But for now, for the purpose of our present study, let us consider the two clearly related instructions, “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” and “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
1. Provide Things Honest
a. What is it to “provide things honest”? Well, literally, the Greek literally says “foresee good.” Or see to it that good emerges; or in other words, take care to make sure that you do what is good.
Now, the word ‘good’ in the Scriptures can mean absolute good or it can be relative good. That is, it can mean “good in the sight of God” or “good in the sight of men.”
When we say that “there is none that doeth good” (Rom 3:12), we are speaking about ‘absolute good.’ No mere man can do any good in the sight of God, for all our righteousness are as filthy rags in His sight. There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that doeth good, no not one. This is the reason why we can only have a relationship with God by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—who alone is righteous and does good.
None of us can do ‘absolute good.’ So when the apostle says, “provide things honest” or take care to make sure that you do good, he is not speaking about absolute good. He is speaking about relative good.
In fact, this is very clear when we read the rest of the sentence. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” We are to take care to do good in the sight of all men.
b. Notice what Paul is saying. He is telling us that whatever we do, we must do it not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men!
God sees our hearts, but men can only see our actions. So we must not say that so long as our heart is right, we can do things anyhow.
We are not to entertain the attitude that “so long as my conscience is clear before God, I don’t care what others say.”
We must care because we are to live as witnesses for Christ! The apostle Paul himself made it a philosophy of life to be right in the sight of God and also in the sight of men. Look at Acts 24:16. Here Paul says:
“And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).
It was not enough for Paul that his conscience should be void of offence toward God. It must also be void of offence toward men.
How to have a conscience void of offence towards men? By doing all things in a way that will not give rise to questions in the eyes of all men.
Let me put it this way: we all know what a guilty conscience is. When do we get a guilty conscience? We get a guilty conscience, when we sense that we have done something wrong, whether in the sight of God, or in the sight of man.
For example, if you start replaying a movie you watched earlier during the worship service, you will have a guilty conscience though no one knows what is going on in your mind. You will get a guilty conscience towards God when you sense that you have sinned in the sight of God.
On the other hand, if you spoke to someone rudely in a moment of frustration, you may get a guilty conscience towards the person, because you sense that you have done wrong in the sight of the person.
Well, if your conscience does not accuse you in both of these situations, you have a seared conscience. You are backsliding, and you ought to deal with your sin. But if you have a guilty conscience, what must you do. You will have no peace until you do something about it. What should you do?
Well, if you perceive that you have offended God, you must go to the Lord to seek His fatherly forgiveness. But if you perceive that you have offended someone (whether or not you think you have actually done wrong), then you must go to the person to seek his forgiveness, or at least to seek clarification. Unless and until you do so, your conscience will give you no peace.
Now, this is why we must exercise ourselves always to have a conscience void of offence not only towards God, but towards man as well.
Paul is, in our text, instructing us to have a conscience void of offence towards men, by striving always to conduct ourselves in such a way as not to give occasions for questions and doubts to arise in the heart of those who observe us. This is what is mean by providing things honest in the sight of all men.
How to do so? Well, let me give you three examples that should illustrate what you could do.
- First, to provide things honest in the sight of all men, you must try not to provoke in others a wrong impression by your conduct.
I remember once following a ministerial friend who had fallen on hard times as he went about his supplementary job of debt collection. We were going to a pub to collect the debt from a certain debtor. When we reached the pub, the pastor parked his car quite a distance from it. Then he began to look around in a rather suspicious way. I wondered what he was doing.
Well, he explained that we must not be seen in this place or rumours would spread abroad and it would be very hard to wash away the stain. You see, there was nothing wrong with what he was doing, but we had to make sure that no one sees us there and misunderstand what we were doing. So if we saw someone who recognized us, we would have had to go up to explain what we were doing there!
We must be right not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men!
- Secondly, to provide things honest in the sight of all men, the deacons in this church has adopted a procedure for counting the collection every Sabbath. Now, our deacons are, of course, honest men. We know that they will not pocket a single cent. And yet, after they have collected the amount, they make sure that it is counted in the presence of at least two witnesses, and then they report every single cent that is collected.
Why do they do so? Why can’t they just put the amount into the bank and that settles it? Well, the procedure of witnessing and reporting is in place because they understand that they must do all things right in the sight of all men. They must not allow room for doubt because they bear the name of Christ as His servants.
They must do all things not only right in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men.
- But third, as an example of providing things honest in the sight of all men, think about some of our brethren are careful to make sure our elders know when they are unable to attend a worship service or meeting. There is no law obliging them to do so, but they do anyway. Why?
Well, I suspect it is not just common courtesy, but a desire to provide all things honest, or right in the sight of all men. They understand that the elders are accountable for them and the brethren are also concerned about them, so they seek to give an account to them without being asked.
c. There are, as we can imagine, many other scenarios in which we may put to practice what the apostle is enjoining us to do. But isn’t it pandering to the fear of men and seeking to please men when we take care not to offend any or to pre-empt any possibility of being misjudged?
Well, admittedly, there is a fine line between pleasing men and seeking to do what is right and honourable in the sight of men. But the reality is that this line is crossed only when we please men at the expense of pleasing God. There is nothing wrong with seeking to please men per se. The fact is that God would have us not only to love Him, but also to love our neighbours. Therefore, we must seek to be right not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men. Indeed, those who fail to care about what men think often destroy their own witness for God and therefore blaspheme His holy name.
The apostle says “Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” The word ‘provide’ is a strong word in the Greek (προνοέω, pronoeō). “See to it,” he is saying. Or “study, and anticipate.”
We must not be apathetic. We must not say, “I don’t care!” We must care! It is important to anticipate what others will think about our actions or non-actions.
We must strive to present ourselves as being right not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men.
Do not say, though I am wrong in the sight of men, I am right in the sight of God! No, no; if you think you are right in the sight of God, but wrong in the sight of men, you are overall wrong!
When you are right in the sight of God, even your enemies should admit that you are right even though they may not agree with you. Therefore, if you are the only one who thinks you are right in your action, or if the only ones who think you are right are those who are afraid to offend you, then you know that you are probably wrong!
Let us for the sake of bearing well the name of Christ before men seek to provide all things honest in the sight of all men.
And not only so, but let us strive to live peaceably with all men.
.…to be Continued Next Issue