Back in 1969, John Lennon came out with his famous anti-war song during the height of the Vietnam War which was sung by him and Yoko Ono titled, “Give Peace A Chance” (YouTube video is available at this link). The refrain, “All we are saying is give peace a chance” still echos down through the decades since he recorded that song. And peace is still just as elusive now as it was back then. In fact, it has always been elusive. “The Bible accurately describes the human condition in Romans 3:17: ‘The way of peace they have not known’” (quote source here).
In my last blog post, “The Bond of Peace,” I ended that post with a verse from Romans 12:18:
If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.
So let’s explore what that means. The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans in the New Testament (Paul is attributed to being the author of 13 books in the New Testament known as the “Pauline epistles”), is writing to believers (e.g., those who believe in Jesus Christ) in Rome. The above mentioned verse taken within the context of all 21 verses found in Romans 12 state the following (from the NIV version):
A Living Sacrifice
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform 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.
Humble Service in the Body of Christ
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 faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love in Action
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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.
“As far as it depends on you [e.g., believers], live at peace with everyone”. . . . And that same statement is repeated again at the end of verse 15 in 1 Corinthians 7 (another New Testament book written by Paul): “God has called us [e.g., believers] to live in peace.” Taken in context, the subject of 1 Corinthians 7 is the marriage relationship, and that specific verse is in reference to a believer who is married to an unbeliever. The entire verse (7:15) states, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister [e.g., follower of Jesus Christ] is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” The key is to live in peace with everyone, regardless of the situation or even how the other person might react in any given situation.
Living in peace isn’t an option or a luxury for Christians–it is a vital necessity. We cannot control how others react to us or regarding situations and circumstances that come into our lives, but how we react to others and those situations and circumstances is something we can very much control. And Romans 12 (see above) is clear on how we should live in this world in order to maintain peace on our end. We need to remember that universal peace is not the goal, and even a brief look at history proves out the fact that universal peace is not attainable in this world; however, as much as it depends on us, we should live in peace with everyone.
In Philippians 4, also a New Testament book written by Paul, he states the following regarding the importance of peace in the believer’s life in verses 4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6) will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. . . . We cannot underestimate the importance of maintaining peace in our lives, and Paul tells us exactly how to receive “the peace from God that transcends all [human] understanding.”
In the New Testament book of James, written by James, who is widely thought to be the half-brother of Jesus (source here), he gives us one of the main causes of a lack of peace in Christians’ lives in James 4:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Brothers and sisters [e.g., believers], do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
It’s obvious that this kind of behavior will not lead to peace with others, and especially with those we don’t particularly like for whatever reasons we don’t happen to like them. Disdain for others (including fellow believers) and even our enemies is not an option for Christians, and it does not lead to peace, either. It leads only to strife and division.
So how should we behave around others, including unbelievers? Again, Paul gives us the answer in Colossians 4:5-6:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Everyone (including those we don’t like) . . . . In an article titled, “Colossians 4:5-6: Proper Conduct Towards Unbelievers,” by Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), he opens his article with these compelling questions:
How do you behave with and toward unbelievers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you tolerate them? Are you concerned about their salvation? Do you act like them when you aren’t in Christian company? Do you snub them if they aren’t holy? Some Christians think that being kind to unbelievers is like throwing pearls before swine. Then there are Christians who stand on street corners, in malls, and in front of abortion clinics to witness to unbelievers. Others just don’t care one way or another. Where do you fit in? Do you share your faith using hugs or headlocks? Honey or a hammer? Or do you even share your faith at all?
The Word of God is very specific about how you as a Christian are to conduct yourself toward the non-Christian. (Quote source here–and the rest of the article is also available at this link.)
And it’s not just our actions with unbelievers but also with fellow believers, especially those we disagree with or disdain for one reason or another.
This brings up the subject of what Jesus had to say in Matthew 22:37-40 when he was asked a question by a Pharisee regarding what is the greatest commandment in the Law:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So then, that answer lends itself to this question. Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers that question by way of “The Parable of the Good Samaritan“ found in Luke 10:25-37:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In an article titled “Who Is My Neighbor? Well, Who Are You?” by Jonathan Parnell, lead pastor of Cities Church, he writes:
“Who is my neighbor?”
An earnest lawyer asks Jesus this question in Luke 10:29. We soon learn it’s one of those conversations that’s padded out in advance. He asks a question to set up something he wants to say. He was earnest to “justify himself,” as Luke makes clear. And obviously, he was feeling pretty good about how it was going through verse 28. But then comes the curve ball.
Whatever this lawyer had in mind for the answer, it wasn’t the story Jesus told. And it’s not what we would expect either. Yes, we may all know the parable of the Good Samaritan, but it can be a little confusing. The “neighbor,” it would appear, is the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten and left for dead (Luke 10:30). The neighbor is the object, the one of whom the three other characters encounter. But in the end, Jesus says the Samaritan who helped his man “proved to be the neighbor” (Luke 12:36–37).
So here we are, along with the lawyer, trying to figure out whom we’re supposed to love, and Jesus turns the question around. Look at this man who acts in mercy. Stop asking, “Who is my neighbor?” There are deeper questions to ponder. As John Piper explains, “When we are done trying to establish, ‘Is this my neighbor?’ — the decisive issue of love remains: What kind of person am I?” (“What Jesus Demands from the World,” [Crossway, 2006], 264).
“Who are you?” — that’s the question.
Are we going to be like this Samaritan who gives help when help is needed? Or are we going to be caught up in questions about who we’re supposed to help, and when and where and how, and what if it will make me late for Sunday School?
What grounds the way we think about neighbors is actually our identity, not theirs. What matters first is who we are. . . .
The Good Samaritan didn’t give his spare change to fill an empty whiskey bottle, and that’s not the best use of our resources either. But perhaps we should have some concern that we get lost in these qualifiers too often — about when help can hurt and who are the poor and what’s not the Great Commission. These are all important questions, and we do well to give them careful thought.
But while we think — and think we must — may we never lose sight that the central issue has to do with how the gospel miracle bears on our own souls. God has made us new creatures in Christ — righteous before him and empowered to love others for his sake. (Quote source here.)
So the question is not only “Who is my neighbor?” but “What kind of neighbor am I?” And that takes us back to the opening verse in Romans 12:18 . . .
If it is possible . . .
As far as it depends on you . . .
Live at peace with everyone . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here