Summary: God expectes different responses to offence depending on whether we act as an individual or as a government.
I know some of you are visitors to St Theos today, so let me just fill you in on what we’ve been looking at in our preaching for much of this year. We’ve spent most of the year working our way through the letter to the Romans. It’s a fairly complex letter so we’ve taken some time to get to ch12. We read the first few verses of this chapter last week and this week we finish the chapter and go on to ch 13. So it might be good to quickly look back at what we read last week before moving on.
What we read last week was an appeal to the reader to respond to God’s love and grace towards us by turning our lives over to God’s service. The picture that’s used is that of giving our bodies as living sacrifices. That’ll involve the way we think about ourselves and each other and it’ll result in us having an attitude to one another of love that’s different from the way we normally love. If we let God work on the way we think about ourselves and each other we might begin to love others the way God first loved us; that is, on the basis of who God is, not what we’d done for God. Now it’s important to begin there, because the passage we come to now begins and ends with this idea of love for one another as the sign of being the people of God.
As I said last week, the sorts of behaviour and attitudes that we’re exhorted to adopt in this passage don’t come naturally to us. We read here "Bless those who persecute you ... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. ... never avenge yourselves." Well, this past week we’ve seen events that make us long for vengeance, for justice, for evil to be visited on those who perpetrate this sort of evil. And so when we read this we’re brought up short. How should we respond when terrorism strikes at us? Does this mean we should just ignore such acts of violence against unsuspecting holiday makers? Does turning the other cheek extend to religious or nationalist extremists?
Well, let me suggest that there are actually 2 levels of response contemplated in this passage. There’s the level of personal relationships, where we have personal responsibility for the response and there’s the wider platform of civil and national, even international relationships.
The fact is that everyone of us can think of situations where we’ve been wronged by someone else, who, in our opinion at least, had no right to do whatever it was they did to us. It may be on the scale of the bombings in Bali last week or it might be on a much more local and hopefully less serious scale. But what we’re told here is that the way we respond to those sorts of wrongs should be informed by our understanding and experience of the gospel. So lets think about how an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ might affect how we respond.
The first type of injury is the personal insult or harm done to us by someone we know. In NT times the reality was that if you were a Christian you were likely to be the target for persecution of one sort or another. So how should a Christian respond to persecution, for example? Well, we’re told, don’t curse them, bless them. This of course is the same thing that Jesus said in the passage from Matt 5 that we read last week. "Turn the other cheek." "Go the extra mile." "If someone sues you for your coat, give them your cloak as well." This is radical stuff! This is not the way we’ve been taught to think. The world’s attitude is summed up by the phrase, "Do unto others before they do it to you." I think I first heard that on Hill Street Blues. Do you remember that show? But when you think about God’s mercy and grace shown to us when we least deserved it, you realise that if you believe the gospel, if you’re one who has received God’s forgiveness, all you can do is to respond to others the same way.
You may have seen a movie a year or so ago called "Pay it Forward." It was about a boy who decided for his social studies project he’d carry out an experiment where he did someone a favour and then asked them not to repay him but to do a favour for someone else. Rather than paying the favour back, they were to pay it forward. Well, it’s like that when we think of how God has loved us. We can never pay God back. His gift to us is beyond measure. But we can pay it forward in the way we show his love to others.