If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In the book of Romans, we see the first book of Paul’s and perhaps the first that’s so rich in theology. It was a time of cultural awkwardness inside and outside the walls of the church – Claudius had exiled all Jews from Rome due to rioting by a man named Christus (or Chrestus) – this incident was likely referred to in Acts 18:2 – because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. The Roman Church had in that time become a purely Gentile Church, free from the Jewish traditions. But upon the death of Claudius about 5 years later, many Jews had returned to the city. The sudden influx of Jews in the city also saw the Jewish Christians entering the Roman church, leading to a standoff and confusion between the two. The book of Romans thus served to clarify, correct, and also encourage.
If you read this blog regularly enough, you’ll know that Romans is my favourite book, and Romans 12 is my favourite chapter. It is one chapter that I recite daily almost like a personal manifesto. Romans 12:9 [Article] onwards is a lesser-known passage on love, and how we should interact with others – often overshadowed by the gentler passage on Love in 1 Cor 13, but I like the directness here. It gives practical and straightforward examples on how to act, what to do. In this study, we will examine the tall order tasked us in the command of verse 18, and translate it into practical application for our daily lives.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you – the first thing this line should tell anyone is the fact that it is not always possible and it doesn’t always depend on you. As much as it is ideal, Paul knows that we are limited. We can neither control others, nor can we control our very own circumstances. As such, we can only look at ourselves and do what we can do. We’re not asked to do the impossible. We’re not asked to change others. But if it is possible, let us do it with a fair measure of humility. If we find ourselves in a position that we can influence, let us influence. If we possess the power or the ability to change something, then, without compromising what is right, let us do it.
There are many examples, aren’t there?
In Matthew 5:23-24 it says – Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. – Jesus was teaching about how it was important that reconciliation with men had nothing to do with the religious acts that they performed. It’s just like in Job 42, where the Lord first demanded reconciliation between Job and his three friends before he went ahead to bless Job. Is reconciliation something that depends on us? Not exactly – but if we would only swallow down our pride and initiate the reconciliation, sincerely, then we are doing what we can. Whether the reconciliatory efforts are appreciated or not, that doesn’t depend on us.
Even if we fail to reconcile, or even if reconciliation was impossible due to the unwillingness of the other party, let us not increase our bitterness and deepen the hostility by exacting revenge. Indeed, Romans 12:18 is sandwiched between two important verses that warns us against vengeance – in Romans 12:17 – Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. In Romans 12:19 – Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
live at peace – do you live at peace? Can you say with certainty that you are at peace with the people around you? This is an age-old teaching, an age-old concept:
- Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it [Psalm 34:14]
- Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy [Proverbs 12:20]
- You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you [Isaiah 26:3]
- Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other [1 Thessalonians 5:13]
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful [Colossians 3:15]
- Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace [Ephesians 4:3]
- Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart [2 Tim 2:22]
- Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord [Hebrews 12:14]
What is peace? And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [Phil 4:7|Article] – I’ve always felt that this verse alone more than adequately defines the Biblical peace, the peace that Jesus left us [John 14:27]. The instruction is clear – Christ left us peace, so let us live in peace, pursue peace, promote peace, letting this peace rule in our hearts because we were called to it.
with everyone – or at least, everyone around us, whom we interact with. In our families, with our parents, our spouses, our children – our natural relations, those whom we interact with most. This is perhaps, for some people, hardest. Spiritually, in our churches, with our leaders, our co-workers, our fellow members of the congregation. As much as churches often seem to put on a veil of perfection on the outside, there is often a lot of strife inside churches – this has been true since the early church era. If we live without peace, perhaps this will be our ending: If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other – If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other [Gal 5:15|Article]. In our marketplaces, with our employers, our employees, our clients and our contractors. In our schools, our teachers, our counsellors, our students. In our community, with our neighbours near and far. The list goes on.
This is a verse that I hold on to very dearly in my interactions with others, especially in situations that I am not comfortable with. It forces me to adopt a different perspective than what I’m usually inclined to, or what the world and my survival instincts teaches me to. Do you think it is hard? Well, it is – without a doubt. Often you may lose out, often you may be taken advantage of. Let us just bear in mind the first part of this verse – if it is possible, as far as it depends on you. At times, it may be easier to take the peaceful way out, and keep quiet, shut up, and move on. But even as we seek peace, let us seek the peace that is not of this world but of Christ – the peace that Jesus Christ left us, the peace that transcends human understanding. Let us not compromise the truths of the gospel, the edification of others, or the glorification of God in order to achieve peace. That would be very much defeating the purpose of what the Bible preaches about peace.
Otherwise, let us do our best, and live at peace.