Romans 12:17-18: Blessed are the Peacemakers: Part One
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- Imitating God
- Repaying evil
Frederick Nietzsche thought that Christianity was a slave morality. The whole idea of turning the other cheek and that the meek will inherit the earth was seen by him to be a subversion of the nobility of man. He thought that we became our best through a will to power and he mourned the fact that Christianity had over the centuries shaped society so effectively. He saw democracy as a weakening of the strong, as a slave uprising keeping our best down. The idea of loving our enemies which we see as a central jewel in God’s crown has always been a startling aspect of Christianity. You merely have to read through Foxes Book of Martyrs to see the great impact the Christian martyrs have had throughout history. However, for many today who are prejudiced against Christianity, Christianity’s response to evil is problematic. Firstly, the fact that Christians suffer seems to be an argument against a good and loving God. Secondly, many see this idea of forgiving and loving an enemy as a terrible weakness that sacrifices justice for mercy. Many see it as a pacifism in the face of evil that has prevented Christians from acting for justice. For example, our church was burgled last weekend and a policeman came to dust for prints. He made an insinuating comment that God was not looking out for us because the burglary happened, so I made a comment about not knowing what God is going to do in the life of the people who did it, or how God would use this event. His reaction was something like, ‘You are not one of those who just says we forgive you, are you?’ Here is an officer of the law who exists to prevent crime and he perceives Christianity as undermining the task of upholding law and order. He perceives forgiveness as a problem that denies justice. We need to stress that there is no tension between justice and love in Christianity, in fact it is the way both of these things are satisfied in the cross that equips Christians to suffer evil with hope and love and not vengeful or self-destructive anger. Justice will be done but not without mercy being put on display. We will be attempting to untangle some of these knots as we proceed.
Paul in Romans 12 has spoken to us about the mercies of God compelling us to be living sacrifices to God, making all of our lives a worship offering to a God who has loved and served us so well. He has spoken about how this manifests itself in loving the church, but now he is speaking about what it looks like to be a living sacrifice as we live in a hostile world. Paul is drawing on Jesus own teaching as He equipped His people to walk in His persecuted steps. We have dealt with 12:14, now we pick up his further teaching on loving enemies in 17-21. Since we know that Paul is drawing on Jesus teaching here is a rubric that will help us understand these verses. Matt. 5:9, ‘”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ So as you look down at the positive and negative commands of this portion you can see they all fall under the notion of being a peacemaker. Blessing not cursing, not repaying evil, seeking to do what is honourable in the eyes of all, pursuing peace with all efforts, not getting revenge and returning good for evil. All these ideas fall under this concept of being a peacemaker. Let me share a few key points about this beatitude before we look at the text. Since this is the main river from which Paul draws his teaching.