Summary: Here in Romans 12, Paul gives us the keys (sacrifice, transformed life, sharing of gifts, hospitality to strangers, and love) to living at peace with God and with one another.
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If that was a secular, or humanitarian reasoning against war and strife, then what we come to in Romans chapter 12 this morning is the spiritual counter to violence and destruction. Keep that clip in mind as you hear now these words from Paul.
Read Romans 12: 1-21
There’s a lot going on in this twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I could probably preach twelve different sermons on this passage alone; what it means to be a living sacrifice, how each of us has different gifts to contribute to the work of the body of Christ, the ways we can offer hospitality to strangers, and on and on. But what I want to do this morning is to look at all of those things through the lens of this one statement from verse 18: “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all.” Because when I look at what is going on in the world around us, and when I hear these words from Paul, it seems we have here the key to turning the tide of violence, suffering, and strife in our world.
And it begins with self-sacrifice. It’s my observation that self-interest governs our actions far more than we realize. It really makes me wonder what this world would look like if we all offered ourselves completely sacrificially the way Christ did. This week, a gentleman was celebrating his birthday with friends at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. When the ticket came, he gave a birthday present to himself, a $1,000 tip to his waiter. “Happy birthday to me,” the man wrote on the check, “pay it forward!” Sure, the man called it a birthday present to himself, but it was also a gesture of generosity and sacrifice offered on behalf of another.
A similar thing happened on a flight a few years ago. I read a story about a woman who offered her first class seat to a soldier who was headed home from Iraq on a two-week leave. Pretty soon, all the folks booked in first class had switched out their seats with soldiers booked in coach. Here were these people making a gesture of sacrifice for the soldiers who everyday in Iraq put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens. Sacrifice frees us from the bonds of selfishness. It improves the lives of others. It unites us with others in a unique bond of shared experience. Sacrifice, though often difficult, lifts our spirits and the spirits of others, and it unveils signs of hope in the world.
But sacrifice also changes us. If we make sacrifice our way of life rather than selfishness, then we are living contrary to the ways of the world. And that’s the second key to living at peace with all. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is acceptable and perfect.” We know beyond any shadow of a doubt what God wants for this world. It’s laid out in scripture over and over again. God’s will for this world is good news, healing, release of the captives, justice, peace, mercy, and love. Because of what Christ has already accomplished on the cross, we are able to live according to God’s will, even as the world rages in chaos around us. But in order for that to happen, we have to live apart from the world, which means our minds must be transformed. We have to stop thinking like the world and instead think like God in Christ Jesus.
And thinking like Christ means that we don’t think of ourselves more highly than others. If there’s any one main key to peace in this world, I think this is it. Power and pride make us delusional, and we get these crazy ideas that somehow we are better than other people, and then we start attacking people that we see as less than us. But Paul says here that we are all members of the same family, parts of the same body, with unique gifts that are valuable in their own way. Scott Pelley called it our shared humanity in his commentary we saw earlier. I like to think of it as the imago Dei, the image of God that is part of every one of us simply by virtue of our status as people created by God. If I remember the image of God in the person who wronged me, how much easier is it to forgive them? If I remember the image of God in my enemy, how much harder is it to pull the trigger against them? If I remember the image of God in my neighbor, how can I think of myself as anymore important than that person? Simply put, I can’t. “Triggers are easily pulled when there is nothing clear in the sights,” Scott Pelley said. When we can see clearly the value, giftedness, and imago Dei, in every person then we cannot help but to live in peace with all.