In the letter to the Romans, Paul tells us how to treat mean people—our enemies, those that don’t like us. It’s silly to deny it—-some folks are just mean and have no plans on changing. Sometimes they don’t like us for no apparent reason. Sad to say, but I’ve been treated the meanest by Christian folks. And no, they’re not very wise or mature Christians, they’re mere infants in Christ, but they’re all around me—-and sometimes I act just like them! You can’t get in your car without coming across them on the highway or meeting them in a county office or at family reunions. Some people are mean to us, some are our enemies, some wish that harm comes to us.
So: How to treat them? What do we do with bullies and hate-filled people in life? Here’s what Paul was inspired to say:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12 : 14-21, NIV)
So, a few of things to note:
-We will be persecuted. Unless we are Christ frauds or mere actors, followers of Jesus will be treated shamefully. Being Christ-like to people will inevitably lead to some of the same kinds of responses He got—-and He got things perfect every time! Yet He did not flinch or run to hide when they tried to throw him off a cliff, stone him, arrest Him or crucify Him. He spoke the truth, did incredibly kind and selfless things for others, cheated no one and never exaggerated, spoke a lie or committed a single sin! And He was persecuted. Do think it odd that you’re being attacked after you’ve done a good thing? You’re in uncommon company…
-We must give up the idea of getting even. Now that’s not common practice in our society or culture; I am appealing to seasoned Christians and to adults that have heard for aeons that we should “turn the other cheek”, etc. But do you? There’s nothing in our political narrative to suggest that we let God sort things out and not seek our own idea of revenge. We live in a culture that pushes us to get even and rub the faces of our enemies in their defeat. Any student of modern history knows that this is exactly what happened in the French Revolution and after WWI at the Peace Treaty of Versailles. The seeds for two hundred years of anger, distrust and revenge in the French culture began because of the means of which the victors dealt with the defeated after they stormed the Bastille. The Reign of Terror in France resulted in untold thousands killed by the guillotine. WWII is primarily a result of the revenge and anger that was poured upon a defeated Germany after WWI.
Compare that with how the allied forces dealt with Germany and Japan after WWII and how, in the UISA, the North offered leniency to the leaders of the South after the Civil War. Japan and Germany are two of our closest allies and the third and fourth greatest economies in the world. It’s good… and to your advantage.. to not seek revenge! It is not “sweet” or satisfying to get even.
-We will have enemies—but don’t treat them like treat you! This is what proves that He lives within you. It’s a sober thought, but if you are preaching the gospel, doing good works, or attempting to bring light into the world, you’ll have enemies—-be sure of it! The first enemy is Satan himself. He desires to trip you and cause you to stumble. But there are also the sons and daughters of Adam that will not be your friends, but your nemeses . Some will hate all that you stand for, they will talk disparaging about you, and when you stumble they will wag their heads and say, “See, I told you”,—they hope for your demise and humiliation.
Today we live in a world where educated adults often treat other adults very mean—-and often they are very, very successful actors, athletes, business men and women, celebrities and national political leaders. And its on both the left and the right!
At this time in our nation, and in all corners of the developed world, people seem more polarized and angry than ever. And yes, it’s hard to be nice to the very people that hate you. It’s difficult to have kind thoughts or to wish for kind things to those that wish you were dead. But this past weekend do you listen to the exchange between the governors of Florida and California over the past 24 hours. They’re insulting each other hair spray and hair gel for crying out loud!
As C.S. Lewis once said, “Love your enemy’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’. I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying.” But think about it:: Do you think well of yourself all the time? Do you think you are a nice person? Of course not. Sometimes we are not very nice and we know it..and yet we still love ourselves enough to feed, cloth and care for ourselves.
So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do, just as I am disgusted at my own failings….however much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the person. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate those things! But God wants us to hate the evil men and women do n the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the person should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere they can be cured.” (Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis)
So how should we treat these people that are mean to us, that use us, that wish we were not here…and do howwe find a way to live with them, because we are surrounded by them?!
Paul’s clear: Pray God’s blessing upon them. What? Why do this? And if this is true, why isn’t Governor Desantis doing this for Governor Newsome? By praying for my enemies the most important transformation of my life is on display for the world to see—-I am becoming like Jesus Christ—-and that is the goal, the prize, the ultimate purpose of my life.. I will never become like Jesus by loving conservative, evangelical, middle-income American citizens! I become like Jesus by loving and seeking God’s blessing on those totally unlike me—-people that are completely indifferent, opposed to me and will never do anything to help me or bless me.
In our hearts we are to be happy for their good fortune …and have compassion on them when they are hurting. In a word, “loving as Jesus loved!” We’re all in this together! We’re all going to the morgue one day—we can’t escape our own mortality. So be happy when others are happy and share in their sorrows. Nothing will break down walls of rivalry or distrust as much as our preparation to share in the bathos or pathos of those that don’t like us. I became closest to a person I was estranged from at a funeral—-we shared the same grief and discovered we had some common ground after all—-we grieved together and our friendship was restored.
-Don’t treat those of lower status…well, like they were lower. This is all connected to personal conceit—-and there’s no place for it in a Christian community. If the wealthiest, more affluent, most powerful and important being in the universe, Jesus Christ, can humble Himself and associate with you and me and call us His friends, what’s your excuse for not befriending those that make a little less than you or born in a different place?
So think about it. People are watching you and me to see if this idea of being a follower of Jesus is real, so be kind to people, even to mean people. Are you humbly treating people like Jesus did? Are you giving them evidence not only that Christ is real, but that He reigns in your heart? Are you and I obstacles for the plans of Satan to keep people away from truth? He wants turmoil, distrust and anxiety to reign! He’s the prince of darkness; Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.
So Paul’s next point is keep the peace! We’re not be trouble makers or try to get folks riled up or hang around those that like stir up trouble! Yes, there’s a time fo protests and go to marches and to get angry, but look at how all anger, in the way it’s presently being displayed, is tearing our nation apart! We’re being led by hotheads and egomaniacs that never say a kind or redeeming thing about the person across the aisle. And you can be sure that our existential enemies in China, North Korea and Russia are just rubbing their hands in delight as we waste time, emotion, energy and precious resources slapping each other…..surely it’s possible to win a debate or an election and be dignified and treat our political or cultural enemies with respect and good will.
Finally, he tells that that when you’re cheated, misunderstood or maligned, trust that God is watching and HE will sort things out. Give Him space to deal with those that hurt you or that hate you. Nothing is happening that He cannot see in Ukraine, or the prison camps of China or in our little community. God will deal with the bullies, con artists, slanderers and people of hate in His own time and in His own way. There is satisfaction in knowing that their will be justice one day, and that in my own life God is able to more than compensate me for my heartache and bruises to my sense of self-esteem by those that despise me; but I have to either handle it myself or resolve to surrender it to Him. And He does take care of things…
So Paul’s closing is all about the enemies becoming like us—-not us becoming like them. Be victorious and win the fight! How? By overcoming their meanness with your kindness. That’s the secret to the battle. Don’t become like them!! Help them become like you.
But what permitted a man as intelligent, educated, well-bred and gifted as Paul to do all that he did and remain so humble and kind? How was able to live among such mean people…such abuse and aggressive adversaries and never hate them? What was His s zeal for brining this accursed people to Christ? The answer is that in his mind he was worse than any of them—-and yet Jesus still loved Him—-and the apostles still took him in and taught him. He was the worse sinner in world in his eyes—-and that revelation removed pretentiousness and pride and permitted him to help very, very mean people. He said this: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (I Timothy 1:15 NIV)