Summary: One of the hardest things we as Christians have to deal with is people who don’t like us and who do bad things to us. We think we know how to react but Paul turns life upside down as he gives us the real way to overcome our enemies.
Here are a set of principles that many of us live by without knowing it.
• Each negative action towards us should be met with an overwhelming opposite reaction so that those that oppose us will be crushed and humiliated.
• Be happy when others are happy. Be absent when others are sad.
• Associate with those who are slightly above you – using that association to one day attain their status, and then step on and over them on your way to the top.
• Never appear conceited.
• Leave no slight unanswered
• When you see your enemy hungry or thirsty – rejoice; they deserve to be miserable!
The values of this age basically tell us to get what you think you deserve, and a little bit more, making sure no one else gets it first. It’s not surprising. This age thrives on the values of its leader: Lucifer, who is the king of self.
When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we know the old self is crucified (Romans 6) but still hangs around to hassle us. The process of transformation (Romans 12:2) is the process of exfoliating the old skin, and letting the character of God, being created inside us by the Holy Spirit, be manifested in our character, choices, and the actions of our lives.
It is easier said than done. Paul tells us that this new creature is part of an organism called the body of Christ—that each of us is gifted by God to have an equal and important part of that body as we set about to become part of God’s story of redemption. Last time we talked about the character of that work as it relates to your own life: love genuinely and live patiently as you see God working in the other’s lives and in the big picture.
But Jesus revealed a major truth to His followers: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Tribulation means “pressure.” We will feel pressure in this life because we have become part of a rival kingdom. While we were once Satan’s slaves, in Jesus we become his enemy. He will pressure us to conform once again to the values of this age and ignore our allegiance and citizenship in this new kingdom—the kingdom of God. Part of that pressure comes when people who do not know Jesus start acting like it! He’ll also put the pressure on by using members of his kingdom to hassle us.
The temptation is to treat them like enemies instead of prisoners of war. The temptation is to declare our independence from this age by fighting and withdrawing, rather than engaging and redeeming by the gospel.
From here through the first half of chapter 15, Paul informs us how to live at peace in a war zone, and it starts by combating those base worldly values as we encounter those who are hostile towards us. Here mainly we are dealing with three areas of the flesh: anger, pride, and greed—as we put these aside, we begin to see how to truly love the way God does.
Let’s read verses 14 – 21 and then I want to give you what I think are the Christ-like values to replace the world-like values we have grown up with and see modeled for us in the culture around us.
Think “prisoner of war” not “enemy to be destroyed.” Those that persecute need God’s love just as much as you do. You may win the battle in the situation, but lose the war for their soul. Who cares if they say nasty things about you? Who cares is they do nasty things to you? What is more important, your pride and protection, or the eternal state of their soul?
Be empathetic. People will see Jesus in you the more you love them and the less you judge them. I don’t mean to wink at sin; I mean that prisoners of war are being thrashed by the enemy. Life’s victories can move someone to acknowledge God, and life’s tragedies can move someone to their knees and acknowledge their need for a Savior. So be there as an understanding ear.
Empathy leads to harmony. The world wants us to get ahead and leave everyone else behind. But Jesus calls us to get rid of those class stereotypes and realize that “the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11). “associate with the lowly” can also mean “give yourself to humble tasks.” Instead of puffing ourselves up by doing great things (in a worldly sense), we should humbly go about serving the needs of others—often the most menial task may be the most important bit of service you do in a day. These previous verses mainly deal with our relationships to one another. Now we talk more about relating to pre-Christians.