The Apostle Paul’s admonition to the church members in Rome to “live at peace with everyone” is a message of truth we desperately need in our culture and as Great Commission Baptists. Too often on social media, in churches, and recently on committee Zoom meetings, we witness people in conflict speaking inciting words in an aggressive tone. Daily on Twitter, we see clashes between pastors who preach the love and peace of the gospel yet use words towards other pastors that are foreign to those fruits of the Spirit.
Amid this conflict, it’s tempting to call for civility as the lowest common denominator in our disagreements; however, the Apostle Paul established expectations for Christ-followers that rise far above our meager standards. In his letter to the Romans, he wrote,
If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Romans 12:18-21 (CSB)
We can draw some insights from Paul’s words which may help us learn how to “live at peace with everyone.”
Bear the Responsibility of Being a Peacemaker
Paul placed the charge of living at peace on his hearers. He did not mention the obligations of the other party or parties in the conflict. His focus is on his hearers’ efforts to be peacemakers. Paul wanted them to do everything they could to bring peace to a situation. They could not assume responsibility for the other party’s actions; however, Paul held these Roman Christ-followers responsible for their efforts to maintain peace with the people they encountered.
God will hold us accountable for our efforts to pursue peace with people we encounter in the church and our culture. We must make every effort to follow Christ’s example and remember His words regarding peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Stay Out of Fights That Are Not Yours
One dynamic I frequently see on social media is the tendency of people to interject themselves into discussions and debates that do not involve them. Most of the time, they comment on arguments or conversations between individuals who know each other but are strangers to the third party. Some people insert themselves into these discussions because they want more likes and followers on social media. They want to tweet out the mic drop or sound bite that will grant them more exposure on the platform. In the meantime, they stir up dissension and escalate the conflict. A simple rule of thumb that would promote peace is to stay out of it if it’s not your fight.
Do Not Respond to Every Attack or Every Individual
Although it is tempting to defend ourselves or answer every attack with a rebuttal, Paul encouraged believers in Rome to “leave room for God’s wrath.” It is wise to answer critics; however, we need to be prayerful regarding when and how we provide such answers. Most of the time, we should simply ignore the snarky comment or attack and leave it to God to deal with the individual. I’m reminded that Jesus did not lash out at His attackers when they crucified Him; instead, He prayed for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34). We should follow His example of humility when dealing with critics or potential conflicts.
Love Your Enemies
Paul encouraged his readers to do good to their enemies. He admonished them to return evil for good. We hear echoes of Jesus’ words in these lines from the Apostle Paul. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded,
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:44-45 ESV
If we want to be the peacemakers that Jesus and Paul call us to be, we must return the evil of our enemies with good. If our enemy is not a follower of Jesus, we should pray that our love would communicate the love found in the gospel to them in a tangible way. If they are Christ-followers, we should pray that our enemies would be reconciled to God and us. We should pray for our enemies and serve them with the love of Jesus.
Can you imagine what it would look like if we took Paul’s words to heart?
I think we would see more unity between believers. Christians would bear a more powerful witness to people who don’t know Christ in our society. They would glorify God and advance the gospel of peace.
Let’s try to follow these steps and seek to “live at peace with everyone.”
(For more from Tim McKnight, click here.)