One thing that has become increasingly turbulent in our day is increasing polarization and antagonisms. There is a feeling that we have to take sides and if you don’t take the right side, watch out, you are the enemy.
One of my seminary professors David Fitch, calls this the Enemy-Making Machine. What happens is people begin to define themselves by what they are against and who they are against. Polarization turns us into enemies.
This enemy machine takes something good and turns into an enemy making rallying cry.
Ex: Christians for decades have discerned the need to be pro-life. (Great!) But for some that means if you don’t vote Republican you are an enemy and perhaps not even a Christian. Christians have also discerned the need to promote social justice and to confront systemic racism. Those are great things too. But for some if you don’t vote democrat, you are an enemy and perhaps not even a Christian.
Have you felt this? Do you feel the polarization we are pulled into right now?
Our world and our churches are filled with polarization, judgmentalism, strife, and antagonism. If we don’t stay anchored, the enemy-making machine and the enemy will destroy us.
How do we stay anchored in such a polarized world?
I think the Apostle has a lot to teach us in this section of Romans.
He is writing to a divided church. He is writing to a church facing hostility and persecution because they don’t worship the emperor. They aren’t patriotic. They are an enemy to the state and they are divided with each other.
What is Paul going to do? He is going to draw on the teachings of Jesus. The one who overcame all of the hostility and enemy-making of the world.
If I could sum it up in 1 point today it would be this:
In a world that makes enemies, make peace. In a world that does evil, do good.
We are to shine a light in the darkness. We are to be salt in the Earth. As Jesus our savior and master gave us an example and command, we shall love our enemies and overcome evil with good.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
This is really unnatural for us. We are disposed to wanting harm to befall those who do us wrong.
That’s why Paul adds the negative here: Bless AND do not curse. Refrain from the enemy-making machine. Refuse to be dragged in to the polarization.
Instead, Be resolved to bless them. To pray for them. As you do, your heart will be changed. You will realize that this too is a person for whom Christ died. In a world that makes enemies, make peace. In a world that does evil, do good.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
This can be difficult for us. We can have a hard time rejoicing with others.
The elder son in the story of the Prodigal Son, he couldn’t rejoice that the last son had come home. His Father had never thrown him such a party, so he viewed it as totally unfair. He wouldn’t join the party. He couldn’t empathize and celebrate the fact that the prodigal son was nearly lost but had now been found. So because he couldn’t rejoice, he missed out on the party.
We also can have difficulty mourning with those mourn. Mourning is not very pleasant. It can be easier to just avoid it altogether. Sir 7:34, “Withdraw not thyself from them that weep” Resist the urge to avoid those who are weeping or mourning.
Do you know what the shortest verse in the Bible is? JN 11:35 “Jesus wept” Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died. He knew he was going to raise him from the dead. But when Lazarus’s sister Mary comes crying to Jesus. Jesus is deeply moved. Then it tells us Jesus Wept. Even though he knew the story had a good ending, Jesus still entered in. He wept in the midst of pain.
When we avoid mourning and rejoicing. We’ve let our hearts harden to those around us. Lord, restore my ability to rejoice and to mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
We are to live in harmony with each other. A beautiful picture of different notes coming together to make a beautiful sound. Unity of love, purpose, vision, humility and selflessness that creates harmony.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Be willing to accept humble duties. We are to not withdraw ourselves from the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, those from a different income bracket than us.
16b Do not be conceited.
Literally: Do not be wise in your own eyes. Pride, arrogance, and conceit don’t lead to peace. They lead to division. Pride makes enemies.
But our model again is Jesus. Though he is in God in the flesh, the king of kings, the most powerful being in the universe, he became homeless, ministered to the poor, was a friend of prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners, and he washed his disciples’ feet. He was an agent of peace.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
In order to create peace in the world, consideration needs to be given to what is commonly considered right in the eyes of the world. Now the world doesn’t decide what right and wrong is, God does. But in order for us to live at peace, we should take into consideration the viewpoints of others.
When Paul was collecting money for the poor believers in Jerusalem, he made sure he had several people with him and all kinds of checks and balances and he concludes: “2 Cor 8:21“Indeed, we are giving careful thought to do what is right, not only before the Lord but also before people.”
Christians, we are to give ample consideration to doing what is right in the eyes of the world. Of course, never if it contradicts the Word of God, but we are to be winsome and respectable of the people around us. The Gospel is already offensive enough! We need to avoid any needless offense.
If you pause and think, that can keep us from needlessly offending others. Paul takes this even further in the next verse.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In a section full of one-sentence commands, wouldn’t it have been smoother and more pleasant just to say “Live at peace with everyone.” That’s something you can put on Instagram. But the Bible is practical. Two caveats.
- If it’s possible
- As far as it depends on you.
Sometimes the peace we long for is not possible. It is not possible to always be at peace with everyone everywhere. But, that does not mean we give up.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. -Mt 5:9
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord.
When something evil, unjust, or mean happens to us, it can be very difficult to let it go. That’s a sign that there is right and wrong in the world. God says, don’t take revenge. Judgment for sin, repayment for sin is my job. Again that doesn’t mean we do nothing about evil and injustice. But it does give us the strength to let it go, because we know God is going to be fair. He will be just. He will repay.
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.”
In other words, the best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him into a friend- FF Bruce
In a world that makes enemies, make peace. In a world that does evil, do good.
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We are to turn evil against itself. We are to take evil, what the world, what Satan, and the flesh throw our way, and we are to respond not by revenge, by overthrowing them and triumphing over them with good.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.– MLK JR
This is what Jesus Christ did for each one of you. Even though we were God’s enemies, we rebelled against God, we chose sin and disobedience, Jesus came and let the most evil thing and the most unjust thing in the world happen to him, a perfectly innocent man was crucified, he let it happen in order that your sin might be washed away, your debt you owed paid in full, and that you would have peace with God forever.
Jesus is our ultimate example of someone who came to an enemy-making world, who made peace. He came to an evil world and did the ultimate good. Now his Spirit is in us.
In a world that makes enemies, we make peace. In a world that does evil, we do good. Because that’s what Jesus did on our behalf and for the whole world.
Beloved, I know election week is upon us. The polarization and the enemy-making machine will be at work. We need a spiritual practice to resist it.