“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18, ESV)
In my lifetime, the United States has been engaged in four major military conflicts overseas. I served in the Army at the tail end of the Vietnam conflict and during the Cold War. On top of these conflicts, there have been other times of conflict and recently we engaged in a war on terror. I have seen social unrest and rioting on many occasions, not just in the most recent ones associated with the death of George Floyd.
During these times of unrest and conflict, we urgently desire peace. However, it seems to allude us as a nation. Then there is the unrest and conflict that we see between people. Paul states, “if possible” we are to strive for peace with everyone. How are we to do this when we live in a world prone to conflict?
Paul gives us some practical advice. First, it is our personal responsibility to seek for peace. We cannot pass the buck on this saying it is up to someone else. We can either live with hate in our hearts or love, hostility or peace. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15, KJV 1900). We have the peace of God in our hearts and it is our responsibility to let this peace reign.
Yet, Paul says, “as much as it is up to you.” We may never be able to avoid all conflict, but we are not to initiate it or worsen it. Thus, Paul gives us this practical advice. To seek peace, do not retaliate. We can defend ourselves, but we cannot take the initiative in retaliation. When someone takes the initiative in retaliation, they will respond with the intent of doing injury or harm to another. This will usually escalate the conflict rather than diffusing it. For example, if someone says something mean to you or sends you a nasty email, in your flesh you will want to retaliate with harsh words for the other. If you respond with harshness, you can expect a harsh response, which only escalates the intensity of the problem.
Rather than retaliation, Paul tells us to do what is honorable. This includes not retaliating, but rather leaving it to the wrath of God. Let God be your avenger. He will take care of the problem much better than you ever could.
It is also honorable to respond with loving kindness toward your enemies. I admit that this is very difficult. However, it works. I had a parishioner once who just seemed to have a great dislike for me. I never discovered the reason. However, I continued to minister to this man and his family. One day his brother was in the ICU with a heart attack and I visited the family at the hospital, spending time with them. This one incident of extending love to this man and his family seemed to change the tide for our relationship. Try it. It works. Paul states, “overcome evil with good.”