What does it look like to be a people of peace? This week, we encourage you to pause and turn to Him so that His voice will transform us into gentle rightness capable of bringing all humanity to repentance.
February 2, 2023
Teaching by Pastor Dustin Scott
Speaker: Pastor Dustin Scott
Passage: Romans 12:14-19
So as we were worshiping, we sang about the glory of the Lord, and I couldn’t help but go back to John chapter 17, to this moment where Jesus is giving what’s called his High Priestly Prayer.
It might have been when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, or it might have been slightly earlier. But what we can exposit from the text is that this is one of the last things Jesus prayed before He died on the cross.
It was one of his last intercessions. And He’ll make a statement within his communication to the father. He’ll say, “This is glory, that they may be one as I and you are one. You in me and I in them, that they might be perfectly one so that the world might know that you sent me.”
And I was just thinking about this invitation to peace and this famous prayer of Jesus and how we’re so hungry for the glory of the Lord. But are we ready to embrace the peace of the Lord that makes that glory possible?
You see, if you go to Matthew chapter 18, right next to a passage most of us are familiar with, we’ll see, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them also.”
If you look at the context of that verse, it’s talking about how to create peace in the midst of an offense. How do you deal with conflict?
So because we’re all so hungry for the glory of the Lord — I know I am – I want to invite us into this question:
How do we live in such a transformed way that 1) our lives invite the glory of Heaven, and 2) the peace and the holiness with which we live actually brings greater degrees of God’s presence into our lives?
We’re going back to Romans chapter 12, but before we dive into the passage, let’s consider this question:
What does it look like to be a people of peace?
I want to set a little bit of a background. Who knows that studying the Bible in historical context, cross-referencing context, and cultural context is important? We can do really weird stuff when we rip verses out of context, right?
We have been calling this passage throughout our teachings on Romans “Paul’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.” And I think that’s an incredible title. Greg’s used it, I’ve used it.
But the interesting thing to explore is if that when you listen to the voices of modern scholarship, they actually believe that Paul was writing this letter to the Romans 30 to 40 years before the Gospel of Matthew was written.
So what does that tells us? That Paul was talking about it first.
And I’m not sure how Paul had heard this message. Maybe Jesus taught it to him directly during his time in the desert, getting privately tutored by the Lord. Maybe it was getting passed around orally through the communications of the church that was called the Euangélion or the Evangelion, and it’s where we draw the modern term “evangelism” from. It was the Good News!
And last but not least, maybe the Gospel of Matthew was floating around in small fragments and other pieces of writings. I know some scholars have speculated about the source called “Q.” (They came up with that name, not me.) I don’t know what the Q stands for. I can’t remember.
But all of that aside. What does that tell us? It tells me that Paul looked at the entire ministry of Jesus, all the teachings of Jesus, and took these statements of Jesus as being central to the Christian life.
This is what he saw the gospel actually doing in the world in which they lived. So with that context in mind, I’d love to go old school and invite you to stand for the reading of the scriptures.
We’re going to be in the New Revised Standard Version. And we’re going to start in verse 14, and go to verse 19. It says:
Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay evil for evil. But take thought for what is right and noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written, vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.
Lord Jesus, I prayed this in the first gathering, and I’ll pray it again. You know, for all the Lord of the Rings fans here that I have an extended edition of notes sitting up on my table. But I don’t want to do what I’m after. I don’t want to strive after my own ambitions. I want to speak what you’re saying to the church. So Lord, guide us, teach us what it looks like to be a people of peace, who invites your glory and presence in everything we do, so that the world can see what it desperately needs — it can see you, Jesus. We love you, we honor you all this time is for you. Amen.
So we’re going to dig into verse 17. And by dig in, we’re going to dive into the statement. I’ve adjusted it just a little bit in the English so that it can sit a little closer to the Greek.
It says, “Give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.”
Then on to verse 18 which states, “If possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
So Paul’s going to begin this statement with a good old participle which is pronounced “pro-no-meni.” Everyone at the first Gathering did what we did in Kids Church and said it after me, so say “pro-no-meni.”
Good job. This is like Greek class.
And it’s drawn from a verb called “προνοέω” which means, “I give, I foresee, I provide.”
And so because this is a participle, it reads a little bit differently than the Greek. It reads, “Giving thought or providing for.”
One other interesting fact — English has two voices. You guys would recognize active voice if I said “John hit the ball really hard.” You would also recognize passive voice, which would then be “John was hit by the ball.”
Well, Greek has this middle voicing, which is a little bit different, and it speaks to a reflexive or causal action. If I was to put that into words (and this is imperfect) it would be something like “John is feeding himself breakfast.” He’s both causing the action, but he’s also receiving in some way from the action.
So if we go to Paul’s statement, “Give room or provide for,” what is he saying with this participle?
I believe he’s saying the giving of thought or the providing of space – which I am doing – is actually having an effect on me.
As I give space for peace with others, it’s actually adjusting who I am.
The next word that comes up is “καλὰ.” It comes from “kalos” which means “what is right or good.”
And who is it right or good for?
Well, if we look at what Paul is saying, he’ll say that it’s right before this word, “ἐνώπιον,” and then he’ll go on to say, “πάντων ἀνθρώπων.” Do you know what that means?
It means “all humanity” in Greek. So we are to be living, giving thought to what is right before all humanity.
I think it’s interesting to note that Paul’s not encouraging the church at Rome to do whatever seems good, right, or fair in their own eyes. Rather, he’s exhorting them in verse 18, “So far as is possible, do what appears peaceful and write to the world around you. And yes, even the unbelieving world.”
This message is invoking the world’s perception of our faith.
Are we living in a manner that appears genuine, gentle, and inviting to the outside eye?
Didn’t this verse just get a lot harder?
And if we dig into Romans 12 and consider it Paul’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount – which in Jesus’s earthly ministry – it was actually his commentary on the law.
You could say that Paul’s giving us a law by which we’re supposed to live by that we’re commanded to live through conscious thought and effort in a manner that’s peaceful to the watching world.
The non-believers around us are looking at us and evaluating us. Are we kind, gentle, humble, and harmonious as Paul will say in the latter verses?
Now I want to pause right here, because maybe some of our spider senses are going off and you’re like, “Wait, are you saying that Paul is asking us to relativize Christianity?”
My answer would be most definitively not.
That’s why he’ll say, “So far as it depends on you, live peaceably before all humanity.” My Greek isn’t perfect, but from this little preposition in this phrase, which is “ἐξ,” it actually means something closer to “in regards to whatever comes out of you.”
Have any of you ever been driving, gotten cut off in traffic and something flew out of you?
Who wants to raise their hand and share? No, just kidding.
So we’re all familiar with these moments where we’re under pressure, or maybe we’ve been wronged and we’re feeling like something’s going to come flying out of us.
Paul is saying, “Hold on, stop it. Be careful with whatever is about to come out of you.”
Paul isn’t arguing that we should be passive or affirming towards sin. Instead, he’s talking about our communication.
Are we taking the time to think through what we’re saying and asking the Lord, “Is this actually coming from your kindness?”
I was talking with Ben Berkeley earlier this week, I could do a shout-out to him as I did at the earlier gathering. And he put it this way. “Paul wasn’t out to soften our message. He was out to soften our methods.”
So because I’m pathologically disturbed, I wanted to read the background a little bit more.
And so I wanted to ask, “How is the early church living into this teaching and applying it?”
I wanted to look through the councils, the creeds, the canons, the writings of the early church – books like Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache and the Council of Nicaea.
And you’re like, “Where am I in this church history?”
I promise I’m going somewhere.
And I wanted to actually ask, “what were those central issues that the early church thought were worth taking an aggressive stand? What were those kinds of live-or-die topics?”
You guys want to hear them? I was really fascinated by it.
Some central issues were:
Who has seen fights break out over other issues in the church? This seems like a pretty narrow list, right?
So I thought to myself, “I know the early church was flawed. They made a lot of mistakes, particularly as the Jews and the Gentiles began to split. There were definitely errors within the context in the life of the early church.”
But I wanted to ask, “How are they living out this life of peace?”
What are some examples we can look for, and help to inform our lives?
We’re going to fast forward to 325 AD to the Council of Nicaea. And we’re going to listen to a church father named Theoderet.
And while he was sometimes a dubious historian and theologian, I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt him on this issue.
He would say, “As you walked into the Council of Nicaea, you would be shocked because you would see pastors from Egypt who were missing their eyes, bishops from the east from Syria, who were deformed in their hands, other pastors who had lost limbs altogether, all because of the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecutions.”
And he relayed that he felt this awe as he walked in. These men who had suffered so much for the cause of the gospel.
And if you’re like me, you might be tempted to imagine that after suffering this way under a pagan Roman emperor, you might be ready to adopt a harsher and more hostile stance towards the sinful and pagan people of our world, right?
So let’s fast forward another 50 to 100 years. A controversy is arising in North Africa. It’s called Donatism. And these guys named the Donatists were followers of a guy. You won’t be shocked, his name was Donatus. I did. I found that all by myself.
And these guys thought that the church had gotten not too soft on sin, but too soft on sinners.
They wanted to see a church that was aggressive, that was harsh, that was punishing. They wanted anyone who had abandoned the faith and then come back to repent and be thrown out of the church.
They wanted any leader who had made previous mistakes, whether moral or spiritual in his former life, discounted from leadership.
And most of all, they wanted to draw this harsh, dark divide between the holy exclusive people of God and the horrible pagan people of the world.
And I don’t want to go too far into the weeds. But what’s important for us out of this movement, is that the church at large deemed this movement a heresy.
If you open up a book on church history, it will be listed amongst the heresies and I want to ask, “Why?”
Well, here were the three reasons.
So if I’m asking the question, “How do I avoid becoming a heretic?” (because sometimes I lay awake at night wondering that) here’s lesson one on how not to be a heretic.
Don’t get really harsh and demeaning towards the people whom God desires to mercifully and gently save.
So let’s go back into church history once more to a tiny little book called the Didache, which is interestingly older than even some portions of the New Testament.
It gives us this kind of interesting purview into what the early church looked like three times in this little two-page book and describes gentleness as the fundamental marker of a Christian.
And this is all just supplemental evidence to gentleness being called a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five, a condition for church leadership, and 1 Timothy 3, and ultimately, Jesus’s own description of Himself in Matthew 11.
Now, if you’re like me, and if I was listening to myself saying this right now, I would ask the questions, “So what do we do about sin? What do we to do with the people who mess up and hurt us? How are we supposed to work this out? Aren’t we supposed to be set apart from the world?”
I would say yes, we are supposed to be set apart. But we’re supposed to be set apart by living the truth within the confines of kindness, gentleness, humility, and love, because that’s what the harmony Paul is talking about looks like.
We never affirm sin. We call people to repentance. But we walk in the gentleness of conviction-filled compassion.
If you really think about the methods that we’re sometimes okay with in communicating the truth, methods I’ve used many times like hostility, talkativeness, exercising truth like a hammer — has anyone ever been on the receiving side of that hammer?
Not a very good feeling.
Bullying, social media fights. I’ll exclude teaching team fights because we actually had this really fun debate this week on this very passage, and it was amazing. Aren’t you guys glad that a group of people gather together to search the Scriptures as one rather than personally so that you can begin to hear what the Holy Spirit is revealing to the church rather than one person? I think that’s pretty cool.
But if you think about all these questionable methods, aren’t those precisely what the world looks like?
Isn’t the world full of violence, full of bullying, full of loud voices, full of shouting, full of division, full of social media fights. I promise that that’s not a pet peeve — actually it is.
Whereas Jesus imparts to us a much different way of exemplifying the truth.
Now, one might say at this moment, “Don’t you remember the moment when Jesus went charging into the temple with a whip? Doesn’t that show us we have permission to be harsh in our methods?”
And I would say to you, that’s probably not a very accurate reading of what the Scriptures say.
I taught in the first Gathering that in John Chapter 2, it actually says, “Jesus sat down to braid a whip.” Now my wife and I have a little daughter on the way. So if Jesus was like me, it would take Him 40 minutes to practice this braid, but He was probably more perfect. So we don’t know if it was five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes.
All we know is that Jesus didn’t go charging into the temple impulsively. His action was calculated.
And as I was talking to David and Mike this morning, they reminded me that in the Gospel of Luke it says that Jesus actually went into the temple to look at it, to search it, and to evaluate it the night before.
There was nothing impulsive or angry or violent about this action. My belief is that it was carefully directed by the Father, and intimately guided by the Holy Spirit.
And even when we look at this one example in Jesus’ life, which is the exception, not the norm, my fear is that I as a Christian, and we as Christians, often take the exception and we make it the norm.
We expect to be charging into every situation with a whip, whereas the choice to be reactive like that, to be unharmonious, as Paul is criticizing, to be conflict-prone and hostile, is actually an intentional leaving of God’s way in government.
And worse yet, which is really what I think Paul’s getting at, it makes us look like harsh, inhospitable aliens to the world that needs Jesus.
God doesn’t inhabit this behavior. It contradicts who He is. And to show that, I want us to go back to the Sermon on the Mount, because ultimately, this is the teaching that Paul’s pulling from.
Let’s look at Matthew 5 and see what Jesus says.
He says, “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for He makes His sun rise on the good and the evil, He sends rain on the just and also the unjust.” That’s verses 44 through 45.
You see, within this passage, the Father never calls evil things good. But yet He still sends sun and rain, even on the wicked.
Perhaps that’s what the Psalmis meant when he said, “God, your gentleness made me great.” And perhaps that is what Paul means when he says, “God, your kindness has led me to repentance.”
I believe what Paul’s getting at is the world desperately needs to see a church surrendered to the lifestyle and transformation of Jesus – not a bombastic church, not an angry church, not a church of Christians who flip off people in their cars.
It needs to see the body of Christ consisting of normal-looking people who exude the absolutely unnormal supernatural love, presence, and authority of Jesus everywhere they go. A people of truth and love, justice, and mercy, strong in message, but very soft and gentle in method.
So as we get to the end of Paul’s teaching, he’s invited us to seek what looks right to others, to be harmonious.
And my question is, “Now that we know the what, how do we get to the how?”
Because oftentimes, when I’m in the thick of conflict, it’s the last thing I want to do. And I want to start with a quick story.
It was about six years ago, and this certainly isn’t an example of me behaving rightly, but it is an example of God doing something pretty cool. About six years ago, I was living in a condo, and there is no parking in front of this condo. We had one or two street-side spaces. And in the house next to me, there were about seven to eight guys who are all oilfield workers and they loved to party.
Well, you know me a little bit better. I love to read the Church Fathers and Kelly and I would go to bed at 8:30 p.m. if we had our own way. So do we look like we’d fit in the party scene of this neighborhood? Probably not.
And so these guys not only love to party into the dark recesses of the night, they also love to park their trucks the entire way down the street, which meant that when I went grocery shopping, I had to walk two blocks back to my house, which I wasn’t thrilled about.
And so one day, I wrote a note. I put it on one of their trucks. It wasn’t kind but it also wasn’t harsh. It just said, “Hey, could you leave me a space? It’s a really far way to walk.”
And I come home that night and there’s trucks parked in front of our house, but I look and there’s this beautiful shiny spot right in front of theirs. And so I parked there, and this guy comes charging out of the house. He’s screaming profanities.
I joked in the first gathering that I blessed him and made the sign of the cross. But that’s not what I did.
I just yelled right on back. And I was feeling pretty good about myself, pretty proud about this action. And I went upstairs, opened my refrigerator and felt the overwhelming, “Huh…”
Has anyone ever felt that before?
And I thought, “This guy knows I work as a custodian of the church. He sees the cross that’s hanging off my rearview mirror. And that’s what I just showed him about Jesus – this horrible, reactive, angry person.”
So I grabbed two drinks. I ran back downstairs. He’s still standing outside. He runs towards me thinking the fight’s gonna keep going.
And I didn’t really give this huge, ornate apology. I just said, “Hey, man, like, I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Do you want one of these drinks?”
And what was shocking about the situation wasn’t my action, it was actually his reaction. He looked at me like I was an alien from another planet.
Which to me really made me profoundly sad because I thought, “This guy has never seen someone pursuing peace before. All he’s ever experienced is conflict. And this stupid little action of mine had this profound effect.”
So this story wasn’t about me, it was about how much the world desperately needs peace.
So if we’re going back to the passage, Paul is inviting us as Christians to look like a peaceful, righteous people.
But how do we do it? How do we get there?
In Paul’s words, all humanity is robbing our peace sometimes. How do we hold fast to acting gently and rightly?
You guys ready for just a tiny bit more church history? Got it in you?
Both the New Testament writers and also the Church Fathers would make a distinction between peace and passion.
Not “Timmy has a passion to play the guitar” passion, but passion in the sense of “someone has wronged me.”
There’s a situation that’s inciting me. There’s a people group I don’t like or maybe a friend group I don’t like. There’s a temptation that’s pulling on me. And I’m getting this feeling on the inside that I must react. Has anyone been there before? That’s passion.
You see, we beat this drum every week at Vintage. We say it again and again, but isn’t the Holy Spirit our guide and our resource? Isn’t He the one who can give us peace, gentleness, and rightness before the world whenever we need it?
After all, if we look at Paul’s message, isn’t He the one who blessed his persecutors first? Who demonstrated His rightness before all humanity? And ultimately, He even created harmony with the people who once despised hHim.
He never fails to impart to us the rightness and gentleness we need, provided we only pause, refuse to react, and prayerfully await His voice.
My invitation to us is this. Paul will say in Romans 13, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In chapter 12, he’ll say, “Make room or give preference,” and we go back to that participle. I think Paul is talking about the same thing. I think Paul is talking about the willingness within our day, within our struggles, within our conflicts to pause, listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice, and do what He instructs us on, not react within our passions.
It’s the intentional decision that he’s in control and I’m not.
So this week, as we get triggered – to use a word I find kind of obnoxious — by the grumbling of our family members, by a frantic co-worker, by the pitiable poor telesolicitor calls us at 6 p.m. at night, or perhaps more seriously by the voices in our culture that have so distorted truth it’s hardly recognizable, will we pause in the micro-moments to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and do what He says? Let Him lead us into kindness, gentleness, and rightness?
You see kindness and gentleness are God’s mechanisms for repentance. But I know in my life, they’re often lost within the translation of my passions. So my invitation to us this week is to give the Holy Spirit room. Give Him time, give Him attention. When you’re struggling, stop and pause. Seek Him. Listen to where He invites you, and then follow His voice.
Because I believe if we pause and turn to Him, His voice will transform us into the gentle rightness which is capable of bringing our humanity to repentance.
Would you guys bow your heads in prayer? I want to bless you as you go about your week.
Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching us from Paul’s words. I’m so fascinated to think about Paul being utterly gripped by these statements of you so much that he would write them down before anything and everything else. That he would see them as the heart of your message.
So Lord, give us the grace to be transformed by you.
Lead us with your voice.
In those moments where we feel passionate and reactive, would you just come to our mind so that we might pause and seek you first?
You are so, so good. And your peace was the thing that healed us. So Lord, give us the peace to example you to the world. Transform us so that people might come to seek your glory and your presence in this house, in this kingdom. Give everyone in this church superabundant grace so that when they go about their lives, the first thought they have is “Lord, I’m seeking you.”
We love you. Thank you for your scriptures. Thank you for your voice. We ask all these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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