Making Peace On The Front Lines of War
When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Christianity was still outlawed in the Empire. Worship to anyone not under the Roman godhead or Caesar was deserving of punishment equal to death. The only reason the Jews were able to uphold their customs was because the Romans saw little value in wasting lives in Judea and the Jews weren't trying to convert the entire Empire to their beliefs. The Christians were a real threat and they needed to be snuffed out.
How did Paul, one of the leaders of Christianity-one who had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned and ridiculed-ask for the Christians to react? Did he put swords in their hands? Did he talk about social revolution? No, he told them to make peace with the enemy (Romans 12:17-21). Let's look at these scriptures more closely to better understand what Paul was asking.
Verse 17: Good instead of Evil
The term for evil hear means wicked and bad. That's pretty straightforward, but its what the term honest means here. To provide things honest in verse means to do good things. As a side note, the term for evil in Greek is kakos. The term fore honest is kalos. The difference sometimes between what is good and what is bad is only a letter or idea off. Back to the point of the verse, Paul asks the Roman church to give good things to all people in a way that is public and open. He was asking a group of people who were being persecuted and murdered for their faith to practice good works in public to all people. That included the ones who would persecute and potentially murder them. We see that being a true peacemaker begins with deciding to be a peacemaker to all people.
Verse 18: If possible, live peaceably
In this scripture, we see a request for us to live peaceably with all people as much as possible. We are told to do it with what is resting within us (i.e. the Holy Ghost and presence of Jesus Christ). A lot of us look at the if possible as an out clause. We look at some people and decided that it is impossible before we try. We right folks off before we giving peace its chance to work a ministry in their lives. What Paul is saying here is that we have to give peace a try with everyone. That meant with the Roman soldiers, and the pagan and secular class that hated Christians. That even meant the Jews that rejected them. He asked arguably the most persecuted group in history to reach out to arguably the most persecuting community in history with peace and the love of God. Can we do the same in our community?
Verse 19: Let God take care of the enemy
In this scripture, we see exactly what we are suppose to do when someone does evil to us. It's not nothing. It's deferring. Paul asked the Roman church to give place unto wrath. This means to let wrath stand with the only One qualified to handle it. Paul probably used earthly wisdom here, knowing how dominant and ruthless the Empire could be with those who fought back. However, he used divine understanding as well. He recognized that only God has the ability and authority to properly mete out justice and wrath. It's not for His people to defend themselves because that steals glory from God. However, if we will defer to God, He will be sure to take care of us and He will exact His justice as He wills. With that in mind, we should have no problem living the path of peace.
Verse 20: Do good to them that hate you
The phrasing above is from Christ's Sermon on the Mount, but it is clearly present in this scripture as well. Paul asks the Roman church to provide and care for those that hate them and look to hurt them. Considering that many of the Christians in Rome were also poor, to give up food, drink and resources was a great sacrifice. We see that in order to be peacemakers, we sometimes must sacrifice for those who don't like us-and maybe we don't like them. Harkening back to the previous scripture, this works to their undoing. We don't do good to produce evil, but God watches and when people continue to hate and hurt his people after they have been blessed by them, He takes note and prepares His arm of justice. However, it might be that by doing good to those who treat us poorly, we might save them from eternal damnation and the coals reserved for them can go to where it rightfully belongs: the head of the devil.
Verse 21: This is how we overcome
The final scripture of this group implores us to do things the right way. We can't overcome the world with its ways. Backbiting, fighting, cursing, violence, and hate won't save us from the world. Doing so will only drag us down to become like the world. We must do good. The description for the word used for good here is amazing:
Upright, honorable, excellent, distinguished, good, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy, useful, salutary, of good constitution or nature
If we can do the above list in every action, thought and word we express to the world, we will be overcomers. We will be true peacemakers because we won't have put condition on who receives our offerings of peace. More importantly, God will look down on our sacrifice and bless us accordingly.
Practice providing good to all people. Even or especially to those who do bad things to you, go above and beyond to provide God's good things to them. Offer avenues of peace throughout your community and watch as God blesses you abundantly.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.