This is our last message on Romans 12. In today's passage, Paul concludes the chapter with some difficult truths about Christ-like love.The Roman church to whom Paul was writing was no stranger to persecution. So how do Christ followers get along with their enemies? In this passage Paul gives four principles for getting along with enemies: 1) blessing; 2) humility; 3) trust; 4) doing good.
The first principle Paul gives for getting along is blessing. Romans 12:14 "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." In this verse, Paul is taking a page from Jesus' playbook in the Sermon on the Mount. To bless means to call on God's name to bestow favor on the other; wishing good fortune on someone. Cursing is the opposite. It is calling on God's name in prayers for vengeance, wishing misfortune on someone.
In Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells his listeners to pray for those who would persecute them, for those who would beat them, put them in prison and kill them. Jesus gave the ultimate example of this when he said to those who were crucifying him, "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
It is so much easier to curse those we are angry at or who are hurting us. But we can get along with our enemies when make the choice to forgive and to bless them with kind words and to pray God's favor for them.
The second principle for getting along with enemies is humility. In Romans 12:15-16, 18 the central theme is to live in harmony with one another. These verses remind us of Paul's message to the Philippians in Philippians 2 when he tells them to "be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind." But also in that same chapter of Philippians is the attitude of Jesus, "who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant..."
We are able to get along with enemies when we are humble because it reminds us that we are all just fellow human beings striving to get through life. When we are able to identify with others, to rejoice and weep with them, we are able to see them as God sees them and to love them as He does.
3) The third principle for getting along with enemies is trust. Romans 12:17, 19 gives explicit instructions that the Roman church is not to take revenge. But our natural instinct is to want justice! If someone has wronged us we want the guilty party to be punished.
Why does Paul tell his readers not to repay evil for evil? Firstly they are "to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone." They are a testimony of Christ. The world around them will watch to how they respond. And when they are able to respond to their enemies with blessing, forgiveness, and humility - that is a powerful witness to Christ. Secondly they are "to leave room for God's wrath." This should fill us with holy fear but also the assurance that God does not leave the guilty unpunished. Our task is not to take revenge but to obey the Lord and leave the results with him.
We are able to get along with enemies when we trust the Lord because we know that God is in control and knows the situation and that His wrath is stronger than our vengeance.
The fourth principle for getting along with enemies is doing good. Romans 12:20-21 details an interesting principle: the idea that feeding your hungry and thirsty enemy will heap burning coals on their head. Most commentators believe that this is NOT talking about doing good things to people so that they will suffer more. Instead most commentators think that the idiom refers to an Egyptian ritual in which a person guilty of some wrongdoing would carry a pan of burning coals on their head as a sign of repentance. So doing good for one's enemy may cause them to repent.
Doing good to those who have done evil to us is one of the most counter-cultural things Jesus Christ asks of us. But he never asks anything of us that He hasn't done first. Jesus Christ overcame the evil of sin, death and hell by doing us the greatest good: giving his life for ours.
We are able to get along with enemies when we make it our personal challenge to do something good for them.
As we reflect on all these ways that we can get along with our enemies (blessing, trust, humility, and doing good) we remember that we can only hope to treat our enemies this way because of Jesus Christ.
Before we received Christ, we were enemies of the cross and instead of receiving the condemnation our sins deserved, Jesus Christ blessed us with his words, his prayers and his death for our forgiveness. He humbled himself and became one of us and rejoiced and wept with us. He entrusted himself to God in the midst of the agony of the cross and He did us the greatest good by being willing to die for us while we were yet sinners.
Who have you been struggling to get along with recently? This week can you commit to bless them and pray for them, to try and identify with them? Are you willing to entrust the situation into God's hands? Will you commit to the challenge of doing something good for them this week?