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When I was in college, I endured what seemed at the time to be an enormous injustice. I was taking a class in karate—something that I had always wanted to learn—and I thought that I was doing well and advancing in my skills.

One day I was called to the front of the class along with three other students. We were promoted to the next rank, and I was elated—until most of the rest of the class was promoted to the rank after that. Even worse, four students were promoted to the rank after that. That meant that rather than being among the four best students, as I had initially thought was the case, I was apparently singled out as one of the four worst.

This is a somewhat frivolous example, but that’s kind of the point. In a thousand ways every day, we have opportunities to feel hurt or offended. Sometimes the offenses are big, and we think others would agree that we are justified in reacting as we do. But if we’re honest, the offense doesn’t have to be big. We are perfectly capable of being offended over the smallest of things.

Our pride, our sense of self, can be bruised and battered as people denigrate us, disrespect us, or don’t treat us as we think we deserve to be treated. These moments are a challenge and an opportunity. How will we react? Will we become angry? Harbor ill will? Become bitter? Withdraw from the relationship? Plan our revenge? These are all temptations offered by our sinful flesh, and they threaten to destroy relationships.

Paul addresses these tendencies in Romans 12 and urges us to resist them:

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. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (vv. 14–19)

Paul is telling us here about the shape of the Christian life. Negatively speaking, Christians are not vindictive or spiteful and do not hold grudges. Indeed, as Paul states, they leave the judgment of others to God (v. 19).

In its exposition of the sixth commandment (Q&A 134–36), the Westminster Larger Catechism includes among the sins forbidden “sinful anger, hatred, envy, [and] desire of revenge” (Q&A 136). Christians are not to lash out or take vengeance; they are not to nurse grudges or be thin-skinned. Such behavior is unbecoming of followers of the One who “was oppressed, and . . . afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).

Living in a fallen world means dealing with thorns and thistles, but it also means dealing with fallen people.

Positively speaking, Christians strive to live at peace with others. God, after all, is a God of peace (Heb. 13:20). Christ gives us His peace (John 14:27). Through Christ, we now enjoy peace with God (Rom. 5:1). This reality ought to inform how we interact with others. Ours is a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11–21), and we are to be known by our love for others (John 13:34–35).

The Larger Catechism lists among the duties required in the sixth commandment “forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil” (Q&A 135). Obeying this command means raising the threshold for what offends us, being quick to ask forgiveness and even quicker to forgive in light of how much we have been forgiven (Matt. 18:21–35), and recognizing that God is God and we are not.

All this requires humility, in imitation of the One who supremely humbled Himself (Phil. 2:1–11). It requires the killing of an overinflated sense of self (James 4:6). It requires treating others as we would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12). It requires patience (Gal. 5:22). It requires allowing our love for others to cover their sins against us (1 Peter 4:8). In sum, this means living peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).

Yet it is not always possible to live peaceably with others, as Paul recognizes, so he qualifies his admonition in two ways. First, he says “if possible.” Division is sometimes unavoidable. Jesus Himself said that He came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34). The message of the gospel divides, sometimes even one family member from another (vv. 35–36). The gospel is the truth, but not everyone accepts it, and they may therefore reject those who do.

Second, Paul says “so far as it depends on you.” Sometimes it doesn’t depend on us. Living in a fallen world means dealing with thorns and thistles, but it also means dealing with fallen people. Sometimes people sin against us for no reason found in us. Sometimes they refuse to accept apologies. Sometimes they refuse to be reconciled. Sometimes they simply don’t like us. We are called to glorify Christ with our behavior toward others, so if offense is to come, let it come through our message and not our manner (1 Peter 3:13–17).

As we strive, in reliance on the Spirit, to be at peace with others, we glorify the Prince of Peace and let our light shine before a watching world that desperately needs the peace that He brings (Matt. 5:16).

Dealing with Shattered Dreams

Holding the Line

Keep Reading Brave New World

From the November 2023 Issue
Nov 2023 Issue