Civility has disappeared from a great deal of public discourse. Words such as “toxic”, “venomous” and “poisonous” are used to describe it. Political discourse seems to major on insults. It is not difficult to see that language can be not only divisive but degrading. In a polarised world, how should we respond to the invective directed against our views? How do we avoid worldly spite infecting our response? Disagreements among Christians also arise. Sometime there are necessary differences for the sake of truth, but is it possible to handle them peaceably?
John Brown of Wamphray gives some answers to these questions in his comments on the wisdom that Paul expresses in Romans 12:17 “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men”. He notes how helpful it is that Paul goes on to say in verse 18: live peaceably with all men” but qualifies this with “if it be possible”.
1. Christians must expect to be treated badly
A Christian should conduct himself as humbly as possible among his fellow brethren. Nevertheless, such is the strength of corruption in the best and the restless maliciousness of Satan (who is always blowing at the coal of strife and dissension) that they must expect bad treatment even at the hands of their fellow Christians. This is why he adds the following to his former exhortations: “Recompense no man evil for evil”. It supposes that even if the previous exhortations are followed, they will meet with bad treatment.
2. Christians must not retaliate in the same way
Whatever evil Christians may experience and whether from friends or foes, they ought to withstand their own heart corruptions (which are ready to seek private revenge) and forbear this unchristian retaliation. Men who are led by an evil spirit may count it their honour not to endure a wrong but to get even with any who injure them. Yet, it is a most unchristian thing and unseemly for the followers of Christ. “Recompense to no man evil for evil (see 1 Peter 3:9; Proverbs 23:2; Matthew 5:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).
3. Christians must avoid stumbling anyone
Christians ought not to be proud and vain nor scurrilous and dishonourable in their behaviour. Instead they ought to conduct themselves honestly. This means being careful to walk so as we may not stumble any but rather best win them over and in a way best suited to their position and our relation to them. Christians should “provide for things honest” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21).
4. Christians must show respect to all
Christian behaviour means not only avoiding stumbling fellow Christians but also having respect to strangers and seeking not to stumble them in outward things. “Provide for things honest in the sight of all men” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21 and Matthew 5:16).
5. Christians must seek to live peaceably with all
It is not seemly for Christians to be quarrelsome and keeping up arguments among themselves. It is also not becoming for Christians to be striving and contending with the wicked and those who are strangers to Christ; it creates a stumbling block. They should “live peaceably with all men”.
6. Christians will find that peace is impossible with some people
The wicked malicious disposition of some (the seed of the serpent) is so great that they will never allow the godly to live in rest and peace no matter what they may do. The apostle therefore adds this clause: “If it be possible, live peaceably with all men”.
There is great difficulty in conquering our own corruptions in order to join in peace with others. It may also be impossible to achieve peace and quietness with some. Despite this, it is nevertheless, the duty of Christians to be serious and earnest in using all possible or imaginable means to attain peace. They must be gracious in forgiving the injuries they have received and recompensed good for evil (1 Peter 3:9). We must do as much as lies in us to live peaceably with all men (see 1 Peter 3:11; Hebrews 12:14).
7. Christians must not pursue peace on sinful terms
In pursuing peace with others, we ought not to descend to sinful, dishonourable or dishonest terms. Even in pursuing peace we should be careful to behave with honesty as befits a Christian. These two duties may and should be aimed at together: “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” and “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men”.