This morning a suicide bomber killed at least seven worshippers and injured dozens more in an attack on a Roman Catholic church in Keduna, northern Nigeria. Compared to our brothers and sisters in places like Pakistan, Syria and Nigeria, Most Christians in Britain don’t really experience persecution. But most of us even if we are Christians, and maybe sometimes because we are Christians, do find ourselves from time to time in conflict with other people. We may have neighbours, workmates, maybe even members of our own family we just don’t get on with. Maybe they insult us, laugh at us, pick arguments with us or maybe they just ignore us. So what should we do in those situations? What does it mean for us to love those who choose to be our enemies?
LIVE IN HARMONY
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
The ideas of Blessing and Cursing are neglected in today’s world, and even in the church. This is not just about saying nice things or nasty things to people and about people. Blessing somebody means asking God to bless them and bring good to them. And that has power because God answers our prayers! On the other hand, cursing means asking God (or asking evil spiritual powers) to bring judgment and punishment on people. And curses like blessings also have spiritual power to hurt and harm others. It should go without saying that Christians should NEVER “put a curse” on another person. Instead we should pray for God to bless others, even those who may be opposing us and opposing the gospel. Then another part of living in harmony should be,
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
We are not always very good at drawing alongside those who are mourning or are sad. We don’t usually know what to say. We need to remember that we don’t necessarily need to say anything! Just being there is often enough.
But rejoicing with those who are rejoicing can be even harder. Many Christians are not very good at praising and encouraging others and sharing in their joys and successes. Many of us just don’t know how to celebrate! In some puritanical way we can feel guilty if we are actually enjoying ourselves! It is strange because nobody knows how to do weddings or funerals better than Jewish people. Here is an element of our Jewish heritage which many Christians seem to have forgotten.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Let’s be clear. Harmony is not unison. Harmony is not uniformity but the blending of voices. Nor is harmony a set of solos so far apart from each other that you can only hear one. Sometimes we can run away from conflict or hide from disagreements. But staying silent is not harmony. We don’t make harmony by avoiding other people but by sharing our lives with them!
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
It is easy to avoid conflict if we only mix with our own kind of people. But there is no place for snobbery in the church. God has chosen all kinds of people to be in his church. We do not have the option of having fellowship with some but ignoring the others.
Romans chapter 12 is all about being transformed into the image of Christ.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, it is no coincidence that Paul talks three times in this chapter about humility.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
And now in verse 16 Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Hudson Taylor went to speak at a large church in Australia. The leader of the service introduced the missionary in glowing terms and told the large congregation everything all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor began his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”
There is no place for pride or conceit in the church. We have heard the same message in three different sermons. The secret of living in harmony is Christ-like humility.
Live in harmony says Paul, and then he says
LIVE IN PEACE
Our lives should be filled with the peace only God can give, wholeness, integrity, wellbeing in body, mind and spirit. This is the shalom which is God’s give to all who trust in Jesus. The starting point for peace is,
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
“We never repay evil for evil,” you say. But what if somebody makes a cruel remark and we hit back with a cutting comment. They bend the truth a little, so we bend it back the other way a little bit more. They are selfish and we lose out, so we are selfish and then they lose out. They make life difficult for us, so we give up bothering to share the gospel with them. They face a tragedy and we don’t get round to offering help or support. They stop talking to us so we stop trying to talk to them. “Do not repay ANYONE evil for evil.”
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
It isn’t enough to be doing what WE think and believe to be right. Part of our witness is to be doing what everybody would judge to be right, society around us and of course God Himself. If our non-Christian friends and neighbours think that something we are doing is morally wrong, we need to doubly and triply sure that we are actually doing God’s will, and not just following our own selfish desires.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
As far as it depends on you! We all know that however much we try, there are some people we will never live at peace with. They won’t let us. The more love we show to them, the more it makes them mad at us. But it should never be OUR fault that we are not at peace with another person.
1 Corinthians 137 Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails!
Message: Love Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies!
Love always keeps trying. It never gives up! Live in harmony. Live in Peace, and
OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD
19 Do not take revenge, my friends,
It is perfectly OK to keep scores so you can pay people back, just as long as you only ever keep a record of the GOOD things people do for you. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Never. Ever. It is not for us to demand justice for ourselves, to go on vendettas or bear grudges. We are commanded simply to forgive others. Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
God calls us to forgive other people, whatever they may have done to hurt us, and simply to trust Him that justice will ultimately be done.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Only the Almighty God can judge the world with perfect justice. Our idea of justice is always blind and self-seeking. It is flawed because we only see part of the picture. We must not fight our own battles but leave it to God to punish the wicked and bring the truth to light. This is the example Jesus has given us.
1 Peter 2 19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
So we should never take revenge. It can be hard to trust God to bring judgment. Everybody thinks forgiveness is easy until they have something big to forgive. But Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to forgive others as God has forgiven us.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Here Paul is directly quoting Proverbs 25.
21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.
The burning coals are not there to increase the punishment of the enemy, but to lead them to repentance. Somebody has said, “Those who deserve love the least are those who need it the most.” So we are commanded to love our enemies in the hope that the burning coals of love and holiness will bring them to repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ. If we repay evil for evil then our enemy will stay lost for ever. Two wrongs never make a right. But if we respond to evil with love then we may yet win our enemy over to Christ.
I came across the story of a Christian lady who owned two prize chickens. One day the chickens escaped from their run and made a mess of the garden of a neighbour she didn’t get on with. The man caught the hens, wrung their necks, and threw them back over the fence. The woman was upset, but instead of getting angry and rushing over and screaming at the man she took the birds and prepared two chicken pies. The woman delivered one of the freshly baked pies to the man who had killed her hens and she even apologized for not being more careful about keeping her chickens in her own yard. The man was speechless! The chicken pie and her apology filled him with a burning sense of shame.
Her motive in returning good for evil was to show her neighbor true Christian love, and maybe even bring about a change of heart. Repaying evil with good. Loving your enemies.
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We don’t have to sit back and let evil overwhelm us. We don’t have to let our enemies mock and persecute and ultimately crucify us. What we are allowed to do and what we should always aim to do is to respond to evil in positive ways. To pray for those who choose to be our enemies. To love them. To forgive them, and do and say everything we possibly can to show them the love of Christ.
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Over the last four weeks we have seen that this renewed mind isn’t concerned with some holy huddle of a church. Being a living sacrifice is all about loving our enemies, living in harmony with other people, living at peace with people and overcoming evil with good. All of which is, of course, much easier said than done!