Ask A Pastor
By Reverend John Campbell,
Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Oakdale
Today we are experiencing a time when sides are taken and rational discussion is abandoned. People are ready to shout rather than sit and talk about issues. With this in mind we come to this month’s question: “What does it mean when Paul calls us ‘to live at peace, with everyone’?
There are times when phrases that are taken out of the Bible may seem to be impossible, or they are hard to understand. Often as pastors, we realize that it is necessary to refer to the context of the phrase. The first context for this phrase is Romans in the New Testament of the Bible. Saint Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in the city of Rome. He is giving his teaching in a condensed form to believers that he has not yet met who he hoped to see soon.
Next is the immediate context in the twelfth chapter, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is one sentence in a section of writing. We can find a hint at further meaning in the word just before this: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” So we can see that our behavior is being discussed. The way we decide how we treat others has significance. Right behavior has an effect on how we live at peace.
Here we need to look at the word ‘peace’. We think of peace as the absence of conflict. The word “peace” here is influenced by the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ whose root convey “to be complete” or “to be sound.” Usage in the Bible points to ‘wholeness of life or body’, ‘right relationship or harmony between two parties or people’, as well as absence of war.
It would seem that Paul is thinking of right relations between people. In the Psalms God commands us to seek peace. And Jesus told us: Blessed are the peacemakers. And Paul in another letter told believers that they have an obligation to “let the peace of God rule” in their hearts. As one has written: Over others’ conduct we have no control; but the initiative in disturbing the peace is never to lie with the Christian.
The impossibility of living peacefully with all in some cases is hinted at, to keep up the hearts of those who, having done their best unsuccessfully to live in peace, might be tempted to think the failure was necessarily owing to themselves. The injunction is emphatically expressed to remind us, the readers, to let nothing on our part prevent it.
Living peacefully with all is not by our efforts alone, Christians are to rely on the Holy Spirit who has been given to guide us and empower us to live the life God desires for us. The Christian can only be responsible for their self. So far as one is concerned, one is to do his best to maintain peace.