Jesus famously teaches to offer the other cheek when someone strikes you, and to love your enemies. Paul’s version of the same principle is bless those who persecute you (I wonder if Paul had in mind Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him). How different would our collective Christian witness be if we took this seriously? One concern I have about the church in America is the potential for us becoming embittered, resentful, and spiteful as we face increasing antagonism. As Scripture, Christ, and Christianity may be held in less general esteem in our culture, we may feel threatened, and when threatened lash out in retaliation. That is not the way of Jesus. As Peter states; “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Paul points us in the way of Jesus. Bless those who persecute you. I would ask you to ponder your own heart, and Christ’s heart in you. How are you doing at loving and blessing those who may stand against you?
Beyond this, are your relationships characterized by peace? We know in a fallen and sinful world that it may not be possible to be at peace and reconciled with everyone. Forgiveness is a necessity – that has to do with my own heart disposition toward the other. Reconciliation is a possibility – that depends on two parties being at peace with one another. And we are only ever responsible for one end of reconciliation. Sometimes others won’t allow peace, in the same way that Egypt wouldn’t allow peace with Israel. So Paul doesn’t lay that impossible burden on our shoulders. However, he does call us to be at peace wherever possible. So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In my mind, this means that wherever I can possibly make peace in any of my relationships, I should work to make that happen. If there is tension and bitterness in the relationship, I should do what is in my power to be reconciled. It may not be possible if the other person isn’t willing, and I cannot force what they won’t allow. But if I can make peace, I should pursue it.
This may be difficult. We may want to get vengeance. Then we are reminded that vengeance belongs to God. And His vengeance is far more severe than anything within our power. Knowing that God is sovereign and powerful and just and righteous, we should be comforted and at peace with leaving any vengeance in His hands. Our retaliation is less than helpful. We then are freed to pursue peace, and to overcome evil with good. I pray that will be our posture in a hostile world.