Ask A Pastor
By Pastor Scott Osenbaugh,
The Healing Place (Nashville Assembly of God)
Did the apostle Paul actually exhort Christians to live at peace with everyone?
Not exactly. Here is what the apostle actually wrote: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). That’s a far cry from a blanket statement to live at peace with every other individual on this planet.
Make no mistake here — it is better for a Christian to seek after the ways of peace when it comes to having interpersonal relationships with others. Certainly there is nothing in the New Testament which would give permission for Christians to be surly, or curmudgeonly, or snarky. Serving the Prince of peace as we do, and being called to model Him, as we are, puts a definite emphasis on being peaceful.
Jesus, though, wasn’t peaceful with everyone; twice He got more than just a little indignant at the sellers and money-changers in the Temple area, using a self-made whip to drive them out and his free hand to overturn the tables and scatter the merchandise. Then, in Matthew 25, He really took the self-righteous and hypocritical Pharisees to task, referring to their actions using some very pointed and scathing remarks. Since the Pharisees then plotted all the more to have Jesus killed hardly shows much peaceful happening there.
Paul’s encouragement about living in peace with others has two conditioners. The first is “if it is possible”; the second one is “as far as it depends on you.” The idea is simple: the preferred way of life, as it depends on the efforts of the believer, is to cultivate peace with others. However, it may not be possible to be in a place where peaceful living can happen. What Paul writes in Romans 12:19-21 shows the need to work as hard as possible to be a blessing to others, and through it, cultivating peace; revenge is not to be in the believer’s playbook, rather doing good things to one’s enemies in an effort to overcome evil with good. That’s the ideal, that’s the way life is meant to be.
The conditioner of “if it is possible” shows Paul understood there might be those times when separation from others could well be the course the believer would need to take, when those others are not too keen on living in peace and harmony. For example, in Ephesians 5:11 the apostle says believers are to expose the deeds of darkness, something that will more than likely create a less than peaceful response from the ones being so exposed. In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul says those who are just pretending to be right with God are to be avoided, again more than likely eliciting a less than peaceful response from those being so shunned. The preferred way of life is to be a peaceful one; Paul recognizes there will be those times when living in peace with others may not happen. Strive for it, work for it — and realize there are those who will not go along with the idea at all.