Thursday, September 20, 2018
Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Sometimes it’s just not possible. Our best attempts at reconciliation are met with stiff resistance. We cannot help but wonder – “How far should I go to make things right?”
How far should we go to bring peace? I know for myself there have been times in my life when I just didn’t feel I had anything left to make things right. I think I struggle with this issue because I tend to believe that I am responsible for other people’s choices. As a result, I developed a dysfunctional need to fix everything. That’s okay when I’m working on a dryer or a dishwasher, but not with people.
I was challenged with this a couple of weeks ago when I received an email from a reader who shared how she misunderstood this aspect of reconciliation. She said, “As a very young child there was a lot of yelling in my family. I tried to be the peacemaker by making excuses for everyone’s behavior. If that didn’t work, I’d apologize for whatever was wrong just to stop the fighting.”
“What the Father pointed out to me was that I was reinforcing Satan’s lie that I deserved no better than to be treated this way. My whole life I have, in effect, accepted responsibility for other’s actions so that they wouldn’t feel bad and would have a way to save face. I tried to keep the peace. I came to realize that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors and maybe doing more harm than good. It’s not up to me to make excuses for anyone’s transgressions. It is my place to say ‘That hurt’ and forgive them. Or ‘I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me’. Just like the Father does for me.”
In an attempt to feel good about herself, this reader was actually prolonging a lie that made matters worse. The truth is that we are not responsible for the choices of others. We are only responsible for ours. When the Bible calls us to be peacemakers we are not to confuse that role with that of an enabler. Taking responsibility for another person’s choices and actions only enables the behavior to continue. That’s not God’s model of reconciliation. Reconciliation isn’t real unless both parties agree. Both parties must take personal responsibility for their own choices and actions. It isn’t peace if both parties in the dispute aren’t brought to a point of repentance for their own actions. We must stop sugar-coating our choices and the choices of others, and we must not fix the consequences until the full lesson has been learned. That should be true not only in our relationships as adults, but it’s a good guideline for proper parenting as well.
Our Scripture passage today emphasizes this point of personal responsibility. The Apostle Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are only responsible for our choices. We are charged with living in peace with others. We are not charged with forcing others to live in peace with us.
Sometimes people won’t respond with peace towards us. When they reject our attempts at peace, I see three possible responses we could have. First, we could retaliate. For an example of this and how God taught King David a lesson, read the story in 1 Samuel 25. Our Scripture passage above makes it clear that we are not to take revenge in any form.
Second, we might try to manipulate the situation to bring what looks like peace. This may involve things we’ve mentioned before like taking false responsibility for an action or by lessening the severity of the action or the hurt it caused. This type of dishonesty does not bring true peace.
Third, we can continue to love – not only in thought and feeling, but in activity. This is the only correct response to people’s rejection of our attempts at reconciliation. We must not deceive ourselves into believing that we are living at peace with everyone if that peace is in word only. There must be specific activities of good intentionally directed at our enemies if the evil is to be overcome.
Surrounding the story of King David in 1 Samuel 25 are two other stories of David’s relationship with King Saul. Saul had chosen to be the enemy of David. Twice, once in 1 Samuel 24 and once in 1 Samuel 26, David spares King Saul’s life. Read those stories. When you’re done, put the lessons learned from all three stories together and you will discover the truths of Romans 12:17-21.
We have not been commanded to do something impossible. By the grace of God in our lives, we can live at peace with everyone by acting towards them as if nothing is wrong, even though they may treat us differently.