As I said last time, we’re in that part of Paul’s letter where he’s explaining to us how to live a heavenly life and a life of grateful obedience to the Lord. Chapters 1 to 11 were all about God’s grace to sinners like us. And chapters 12 to 16 are about how we’re to live in view of God’s mercy towards us. And so, we’ve seen that we ought to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to living for his glory. Instead of being conformed to this present evil age, we’re to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. We’re to use whatever gifts God has given us in the right way. And we’re to love one another; and we’re to put others first; and we’re to be full of zeal as we seek to serve the Lord; and we’re to endure afflictions; and we’re to share what we have. This is how we live the heavenly life. This is how we live a life of grateful obedience. And this is the kind of life we’ll live as the Holy Spirit renews us in God’s image so that more and more we’re reflect the Lord’s glory and goodness on the earth. But Paul hasn’t finished yet. There’s more for him to teach us.
Verses 14 to 18
And perhaps we can summarise what Paul teaches next by saying that, on some occasions, there needs to be a mismatch between us and others; and on some occasions there needs to be a match between us and others; and on every occasion, we need to be humble. Let me say that again. On some occasions, there needs to be a mismatch between us and others. And on some occasions there needs to be a match between us and others. And on every occasion, we need to be humble.
So, first of all, the mismatch. On some occasions, there needs to be a mismatch between us and others. So, look at verse 14 where Paul tells us:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
When Paul mentions ‘persecution’ no doubt he’s thinking about the kind of persecution the Lord meant when he spoke about being persecuted for righteousness’s sake. He’s thinking about those occasions when believers are persecuted because of their commitment to Christ. And when that happens, when our neighbour hates us and is trying to hurt us because of our commitment to Christ, what should we do? Hurt him back? No, says Paul. We’re to bless him; we’re to bless her. In other words, we’re to pray to the Lord to fill their lives with good things and not with evil. Our neighbour only wants harm to come to us; but we’re to be different, and we’re to ask the Lord to do them good. That’s the way to live the heavenly life, and the life of grateful obedience. That’s the way to live a life which reflects the glory and goodness of the Lord, because instead of cursing us, he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
So, one some occasions, there’s to be a mismatch between us and others. But on other occasions, there’s to be a match between us and others. So, we’re to rejoice with those who rejoice; and we’re to mourn with those who mourn. Now, sometimes, in our worst moments, we might be envious of our neighbour who is rejoicing. You know, something good has happened to them. And they’re so happy and want to celebrate. But we’re just feeling bitter and envious and slightly resentful. Or, it’s the reverse. Someone is going through a hard time. Something bad has happened to them. And in our worst moments, we’re glad. We think:
Serves you right!
Well, we mustn’t be like that, says Paul. We must rejoice with those who rejoice; and mourn with those who mourn. We’re to live in harmony with one another, sharing their joys and sharing their sorrows. Again, this is the way to live a life which reflects the Lord’s glory and goodness, because he saw us in our sin and misery and because he is rich in mercy, he sent his Son to save us.
So, on some occasions, there’s to be a mismatch; and on some occasions, there’s to be a match. But on every occasion, we’re to be humble. So, look at the middle of verse 16 where Paul says:
Do not be proud, but be willing….
Willing to do what? The NIV says:
be willing to associate with people of low position.
In other words, instead of despising the weak and the poor and the needy, we should welcome them. However, the NIV has a footnote in verse 16 which tells us this could be translated:
be willing to do menial work.
The proud person is unwilling to do lowly jobs: he or she will only do the most important work or the work which gets the most praise and the most recognition and the most support. But the humble person is prepared to do whatever needs to be done. And the humble person will do whatever needs to be done whether their work is recognised or not.
So, which it is? Is Paul referring here to lowly people or lowly work? It’s hard to say, but perhaps the two go together anyway, because, as one commentator puts it, the one implies the other: being involved with the weak and the poor and the needy will involve doing lowly work. And doing lowly work will often lead to working with lowly people. And once again, this is the way to live a life which reflects the glory and goodness of the Lord, because the Lord Jesus was prepared to humble himself for our sake. Though he was equal to God, he made himself nothing for us.
And then, says Paul, we’re not to be wise in our own sight. Some people are unwilling to listen to the view and opinions and advice of others. They’ve got their mind made up; and they’re sure they’re right. Well, instead of being like that, we should be the kind of people who are humble and who are willing to listen and learn from others.
So, on some occasions, there’s to be a mismatch between us and others and between what they do to us and what we do to them. And on some occasions, there’s to be a match between us and others and between how we respond to them. But on every occasion, we’re to be humble. And then, in verse 17, we’re back to the mismatch. Paul writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Paul is referring here to the way we’re to treat one another in our personal lives. He’s talking about our personal dealings with one another. He’s not here referring to the work of the judge or the policeman who are duty-bound to uphold law and order so that the guilty are punished for their crimes. He’ll get to the role of the judge in the next chapter. But here, in chapter 12, he’s referring to our personal lives and to our personal dealings with one another. And in our day-to-day dealings with one another, we’re not to repay evil for evil. Someone in church, someone at home, someone at work, does something unkind of us; something hurtful. How do we respond? Well, in our worst moments, when we’re ruled by the sinful flesh, we’ll want to get our own back. But now that we’ve been filled with God’s Spirit and are living the heavenly life, we’ll not repay evil for evil. Just as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us, and we want our lives to reflect his glory and goodness, then we’ll be willing to forgive whoever has offended us.
And according to verse 17, we should be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. So, the believer should always try to do what’s right and should run as fast as they can from everything that is wrong. And, verse 18:
If it is possible [and it may not always be possible, but if it is possible], as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do you remember the story of David, Nabal and Abigail from the Old Testament? David was on the run from Saul. And he sent some of his men to Nabal to ask for his help. Nabal — who was described as being surly and mean — refused. In fact, he was insulting too. David was so angry that he got his men together to attack and destroy Nabal and all who belong to him. But Abigail, Nabal’s wife, heard what happened. And she immediately went out to David and apologised to him for her husband’s rudeness and she gave him and his men the help they needed. In other words, she did what she could to avert disaster and to make peace with David. Some people are like Nabal, always offending people by their words and actions. But we’re to be like Abigail, who was able to make peace. And we’re to be like the Lord Jesus who has made peace between God and us by his death on the cross.
Verses 19 to 21
Finally today, we’re not to take revenge. That’s in verse 19. And again, Paul is thinking about our personal lives and our own personal dealings with our neighbour. And we should never seek to get revenge on our neighbour, but to leave it up to the Lord to do whatever seems best to him. Instead of seeking revenge, we’re called to love our neighbour, so that if he’s hungry, we’ll feed him; and if he’s thirsty, we’ll give him something to drink. In doing so, says Paul — and he’s quoting from the book of Proverbs — we’ll heap burning coals on his head, which probably means that our enemy will begin to feel a burning sense of shame whenever we repay his evil for good. And who knows? Perhaps our enemy will see our kindness and will be led to repentance for what he has done and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. So — and this is Paul’s point in verse 21 — instead of being overcome by the wickedness of our enemy, we’re to continue to do only what good and right and pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
So, here’s how to live the heavenly life. Here’s how to live a life of grateful obedience. Here’s how to live a life which reflects the glory and goodness of the Lord. All who have trusted in Christ have been raised up with him by faith to the heavenly realms where we now belong. We’ve been filled with his Spirit who is renewing us in God’s image. And this is how we should live our lives, doing these things. And so, we should pray to the Lord to forgive us when we fall short. And everyday we should seek his help to live our lives like this.