“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:14-18). I wonder what would happen if we took Paul’s exhortations as seriously as we do some other biblical texts. I wonder what would happen if we challenged ourselves to no longer repay evil for evil with as much vigor as some people of faith use in speaking out against what they consider to be among the more egregious sins. Or if we took Paul’s directions to “live in harmony with one another” to be as essential to a godly life as we hear certain other activities to be contrary to God’s will.
I’ve noticed a tendency on my part to do some picking and choosing when it comes to standards of conduct as a Christian. I’ve also noticed that I’m not the only one. It is terribly easy to make up our own catalogue of dos and don’ts and to add what we feel is appropriate to the list while leaving off some items we aren’t as fond of. The fact is that over and over again in the words of Paul—just as in the words of Jesus before him––the focal point remains love for God and love for one another. With this love comes a willingness to suffer with and to care for those around us. Jesus said that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), a sentiment echoed by 1 John which says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 John 4:16); Paul himself says clearly that “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). It all comes down to love and the harmony, and the shared burdens, and the peaceable living, and the willingness to associate with folks from all classes that comes with it. It all comes down to opening our hearts to God in such a way that we also love our neighbors as ourselves.
As we ponder the word of God and God’s will for all people, we must embrace the entire scope of scripture. Yes, God does offer judgment, does seek to correct our sinfulness, does lead us to a more profound sense of righteousness. But first and foremost God calls us to build a community in love and forbearance where no one is haughty and everyone seeks to live in peace with everyone else. I just wonder what that would look like.
Prayer: Almighty God, may our lives be filled with love for you and for each other, and may we be guided in all we do to build a world full of your grace and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.