Sermon: Live Peaceably (Romans 12)
Order of Service: Service of Prayer & Preaching
#696, “O God, My Faithful God”
#895, “Now Thank We All Our God”
Location: Good Shepherd, Marshall, MN
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:17-18)
“Live peaceably with all.”1Romans 12:18 It’s intriguing that we have this text in our reading for this Fourth of July weekend. A weekend where we celebrate NOT living peaceably with Great Britain. The government God had ordained in the New World. But we declared our independence. We turned up the heat in our Revolution. We said, “No more to the British way of life.” We would no longer “live peaceably” with them.
Our headlines for the last few weeks have showed us that we really haven’t changed all that much throughout our nation’s history. In fact, it is history that is blamed for our not being able to “live peaceably.” The riots around the country show that we are still divided and hostile towards one another. Historic, systemic racism is blamed for all our troubles. Racism that some want to point back to the Civil War. But they don’t go back far enough to find the source of our conflict. The source of our conflict is sin.
It was the Fall into sin that first divided humanity into “us” and “them.” The blame game between Adam and Eve set the stage for all their children.2Genesis 3:9-13 Their sin separated Adam and Eve from God and each other. The divide has never been repaired. Not in this world. Here, it will always exist. It will always be for the slightest of differences. Gender. Skin color. Hair color. Eye color. Height. Weight. Age. All things we have little or no control over.
Paul calls us to “live peaceably” because we are in Christ. In Christ, the differences have been all taken away. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”3Galatians 3:28 “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has BROKEN DOWN in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might RECONCILE US both to God in one body through the cross.”4Ephesians 2:14-16 If we have been reconciled to God, if all our differences have been taken away in Christ, how can we NOT “live peaceably” with one another?
Again, the answer is sin. Although we have been reconciled with God, we are still plagued by sin. No matter how close we think we are to others, we still want to divide ourselves from some. But Paul says, “IF POSSIBLE, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”5Romans 12:18 You COULD shrink back in despair because you KNOW it is NOT possible “so far as it depends on you.” That would be very proper, but you must also remember that you are not in this alone. We heard that line during the months of lockdown, but it wasn’t a great comfort, was it? But Jesus promises, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”6Matthew 28:20 He is with you because He is in you and you are in Him.7John 17:23 He lives this out in His life and death. He lived peaceably with everyone, even those who denied,8Matthew 26:69-75 betrayed9Matthew 26:14-16, 47-56 and handed Him over to be crucified. 10Matthew 27:1-2 How else could He say, “Father, forgive them,” 11Luke 23:34 while He was on the cross? He lived peaceably so that we can too.
To do that, Paul encourages us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”12Romans 12:21 But, in a world full of sin, how do we do that? “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”13Romans 12:14 Jesus said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”14Matthew 5:39 We don’t resist those who seek evil against us. Look at our Old Testament reading. Joseph could have EASILY done evil toward the brothers who sold him into slavery. But he feared God. He knew that God had been with him the entire time he was in Egypt. So he tells his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”15Genesis 50:20 “By so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.”16Romans 12:20 The burning coals will melt the stubborn, icy heart that seeks your destruction and harm. Even the most dreadful circumstances can lead to great blessings because “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”17Romans 8:28 His purpose often has us confronted by evil, but we are not to be overcome by it. Just as God told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”18Genesis 4:7 We “rule over it”—we “overcome evil”—by doing the good works God has prepared for us to do.19Ephesians 2:10
Paul continues to list those good works. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”20Romans 12:15 The way to overcome evil with good and to continue to do good in this life is to meet people where they are. If they are rejoicing, rejoice with them. If they are weeping, weep with them. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what was planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to seek; and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.21Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
We heard it last week when Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.22Luke 15:3-10 When the shepherd found his lost sheep, and the woman found her lost coin, they called out to their neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found … [that] which was lost!” They were happy, and they wanted to share that happiness. You and I can be there to rejoice with those who only want to have someone to be happy with.
On the other hand, Job’s friends came to see him after he had lost everything.23Job 2:16-18 They tore their robes in mourning with him and sat in silent vigil for a week “for they saw that his affliction was terrible and very great.”24Job 2:18 They were able to give him a bit of comfort in his mourning and agony. Just by being there. Many times the best present you can give someone is the gift of your presence. I’ve seen it often enough in my ministry. A family whose loved one is nearing the end of their earthly journey is often more comforted when I say nothing than by my words. It’s simply the presence of one who understands the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one. Someone who can relate. Because that is what we are called to do.
Paul continues, “Live in harmony with one another.” How do we do that? “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”25Romans 12:16 Last week, we heard this exemplified in Jesus’ ministry. He told the parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin and Son because the scribes and Pharisees had derided Him for who He chose to associate with. Instead of hanging out in the places where the religious elite hung out, Jesus chose to be where the tax collectors and sinners hung out.26Luke 15:1-2 Not that He was condoning what they were doing. Not that He was approving of their lifestyles. He was there because it was His calling. “For though the LORD is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.”27Psalm 138:6 He told Zacchaeus the tax collector, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”28Luke 19:10 He didn’t come to gather together the righteous and haughty. He came to pick up the lowly in their brokenness. He came to “live in harmony”—to “live peaceably”—with those who need Him the most.
Right before our text, St. Paul gives other examples for living peaceably and in harmony, including “outdo one another in showing honor.”29Romans 12:10 It’s part of not thinking of one’s self “more highly than he ought to think”30Romans 12:3 but “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”31Philippians 2:3 If you think someone is “more significant” than you, you are going to honor them.
We think of that honor we give to those who serve and have served our country in the armed forces. We consider them “more significant” because they are willing to lay down their lives for us. They risk life and limb in order to keep our country’s freedoms intact. They do so, not out of selfish ambition. They do it because they see you and I as being “more significant.” They protect us because they value us more than themselves.
On this Fourth of July weekend, we celebrate our inability to “live peaceably with all”32Romans 12:18 by ourselves. But we also celebrate the wonderful glory that we “live peaceably” with Jesus. Not by our work. By His work on the cross. Granting peace through His death. Not repaying our evil with evil, but overcoming our evil with His eternal goodness. Only through His goodness are we able to live in harmony with our neighbors, friends, strangers and even our enemies. This is living in His peace. Living in Christ. Amen.