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 68b 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
[God has intended that believers do not walk in isolation from one another. Therefore almost as soon as Paul has finished his exposition of the great work of God in our salvation, he launches into an intense entreaty on how we may cultivate the bond of love in the church.
We are now at the end of his list of exhortations for that purpose. We saw previously how we are to do all things honourably in the sight of all men. In this follow-up study, we must consider Paul’s encouragement to dwell peaceably with one another –JJL]
2. Live Peaceably
a. Notice how he repeats the words “all men” (v. 18, cf. v. 17)? Paul is speaking about the unity of the church, so “all men” would refer primarily to all the members in the church. But more generally, it would also refer to other persons outside the church.
We are to “live peaceably with all men.” That is, we must labour to preserve the peace in the church, and indeed everywhere the Lord places us in.
We must desire and work for peace between ourselves and others wherever the Lord places us in.
We are to do so regardless of who the other people are. They may be quarrelsome, or they may be obnoxious, but we still have a responsibility to seek to dwell peaceably with them.
We must not be like dry tinder that catches fire easily. We must strive to be like a fresh wood that cannot catch fire easily.
We must not say, “I don’t care… if he is such a kind of person as to be disagreeable about everything and everyone, why should I bother?” You must bother, because the word of God requires for you to live peaceably with all men, and not just with some men.
You say, this is impossible! It is not my fault that I cannot dwell peaceably with him. The fact is that he can’t get along with anyone!
Well, even so, you must try. You have a responsibility towards God to seek to live peaceably towards him.
b. But God is not unreasonable. He does not fault you if the problem does not lie with you. You must put in your best effort. You have a responsibility to do so, but God does not penalise you for what you cannot do.
Notice how the apostle puts it again:
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
See how reasonable the word of God is?
In the first place, God does not require us to do that which is impossible. For example, he does not require us to preserve the peace when we cannot do it without offending God or wounding our conscience. “Peace without purity is the peace of the devil’s palace” says Matthew Henry.
There are times when we simply cannot keep our peace. How can we keep our peace if God’s name is being blasphemed? Jeremiah was known as “a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth” (Jer 15:10). Why? Because he spoke the truth without fear or favour of men! He spoke against sin. He was not afraid to offend men because He feared God.
Our Lord was in the same situation. He strove with the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He was not very peaceable towards them. He could not be peaceable towards them without offending God.
Now, we must be like the Lord and like Jeremiah. But make a distinction between this instruction and the previous instruction to provide things honest in the sight of all men. The fact is, though our Lord and Jeremiah, contended with men, they were right in the sight of all men. None could bring any accusation against them because they knew they were right.
God does not require us to be peaceable towards those who are actively at war with Him.
c. But secondly, God does not hold us responsible for anything beyond our control. “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” says the apostle Paul.
“It takes two to clap,” says the common idiom. Peace cannot be achieved only by the effort of one party. God does not hold you responsible for peace with everyone you encounter. But He does require you to put forward your best foot. He does require you to study and to strive to make sure that nothing is lacking on your part for the preservation of peace.
So for example, if there is someone in the church whom you cannot get along with, and you have tried everything you can think of to win him over to you, but still he is not moved; then you need not feel guilty if he continues to be antagonistic towards you.
But what can you do to live peaceably with all men?
Well, let me suggest that all you need to do is to go to the beginning of the list given by the apostle Paul in this chapter and seek God’s grace to obey all the instructions that Paul gives us for the purpose of cultivating a warm bond of love in the church.
- First, to live peaceably with all men, try to love everyone in the church sincerely; and try to cultivate a warm brotherly affection with others in the church (v. 9-10)
- Secondly, to live peaceably with all men, you must seek to serve the Lord fervently in the church (v. 11). When you are fervent for the Lord in the church, there will be little occasion for anyone to be tempted to think that you are just a trouble maker when you attempt to admonish him out of love for him.
- Thirdly, to live peaceably with all men, you must be patient in tribulation and instant in prayer. You must not give up, but you must ask God for wisdom if you find yourself caught in the midst of some unhappy situations in the church (v. 12).
- Fourthly, to live peaceably with all men, you may try to use hospitality (v. 13). If there is someone whom you find it particular difficult to relate with, why not try inviting him over to your home to have a meal and a good chat in a relaxed atmosphere.
Sometimes, someone whom you may find hard to relate to in the church because you have so little time to understand one another, may turn out to be not what you expected.
- Fifthly, to live peaceably with all men, pray for your enemies or for those whom you think persecute you (v. 14). Unless you pray for your enemies, it will be hard for you to live peaceably with those you perceive to be difficult.
As you pray for your enemies, many things can happen. For example, God may change your enemy’s heart so that he ceases to be hostile to you; or God may change your heart that you learn how to relate to your enemy and realise that he is not really as hostile to you as you imagine.
If God has called you to strive to live peaceably with all men, will He not hear and answer your prayer when you pray that you will be able to keep His command?
The apostle James teaches us that if we lack wisdom we must ask of God without doubting, and he adds that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17). So pray, dear reader, for heavenly wisdom and a peaceable and gentle spirit if you find yourself in a situation of strife with someone.
- Sixthly, to live peaceably with all men, you must seek to rejoice with everyone who rejoices and weep with everyone who weeps. If you will develop sympathy of sorrow and joy with every member in the church, it will be hard for anyone in the church to quarrel with you.
- Seventhly, to live peaceably with all men, you must seek to humble yourself to be of the same mind with others in the church. Do not always think that you are right and your opinion is the best. Seek to esteem others better than yourself.
Seek to talk and respond meekly to one another in imitation of Christ. Never answer someone in anger. Never allow anger to dictate how you speak to someone. Solomon says: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov 15:1).
So, learn never to raise your voice when talking to one another. If you learn to respond to angry words with a soft answer, you will be able to cultivate peace even with the most explosive and difficult person.
- Eighthly, to live peaceably with all men, you must strive to do all things in such a way as to be not only right in the sight of God, but right in the sight of all men.
If you succeed in doing so, there will be no occasion for anyone to find fault with you and you would not be the cause of dissension and division in the church.
The apostle Paul says:
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.
Dearly beloved reader, we have come to the end of the series of instruction on cultivating the bond of love within the church.
Do you see how this final instruction is really a summary of everything else that Paul has said regarding cultivating the bond of love in the church.
The bond of love in the church is felt through the peace that the members of the church enjoy while being a part of the body of Christ.
I mean, how do you know that the church is warm and loving? Do you not know by your experience with other members in the church? If your experience is that people are quite indifferent or even hostile and judgemental, then would you not conclude the church is cold and unloving?
But if your experience is that the members are all warm and friendly or peaceable towards you, will you not conclude that there is love in the church?
The fact is the experience of peace is directly related to the bond of love that exists with the church.
Now, of course, the apostle is not telling us to judge if a church is warm or cold. It is not for us to judge! What then is the apostle Paul telling us to do? He is telling us not to destroy the peace in the church. He is telling us to cultivate the peace in the church as much as we can, as much as lies with us as those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. He is telling us to play our part in the church to cultivate the bond of love and peace.
If everyone of us were to obey this instruction and seek peace with everyone else in the church out of obedience to the Lord, will not the church truly grow in a bond of love that the world does not understand? Will not the church reflect the peace and unity that the church in heaven is enjoying and will enjoy?
Therefore, let us take heed to these instructions. As Christ our Lord laid down His life to reconcile us to the Father, shall we not follow His example and lay down our lives for one another that we may cultivate peace one with another in the church which Christ our Lord has place us in. Amen.