Today's snippet from the second Paul book:
Interspersed in Paul’s comments about how believers should relate to each other are comments on how they should relate to those outside the church. What Paul says in Romans 12:18 is some of the best advice you could get on the subject: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The problem of course is that it is not always possible to live at peace with others. If someone else wants to pick a fight, then you simply cannot live at peace with them. It should be possible for you as a believer to live at peace with anyone through the power of the Holy Spirit. But because others often do not feel the same, sometimes we just have to walk away, or endure, or perhaps even go to war.
This last comment is a matter of debate among Christians. In our human mind, it seems impossible to picture a world where war or self-defense is not a necessary evil in some cases. Can I not shoot an intruder intent on killing or raping my spouse or children? Can a nation under attack not fight back or can a nation not come to the aid of another country in dire need? Common sense tells us that fighting in these cases is a lamentable but virtuous thing to do.
At the same time, the biblical case is not nearly as strong as some imagine. Jesus’ teaching in particular leans toward the pacifist—do not fight back—and some of the things Paul says in Romans 12 sound a lot like some of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). For example, Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:14-15). This verse covers several elements in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. “Blessed are those who mourn” (5:4). “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (5:10, 12). Jesus goes on to say, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (5:39).
Some thus suggest that Paul is alluding to Jesus’ teaching when he says not to curse those who persecute you. Paul goes on to say, “Do not repay evil for evil” (12:17). You are not to get revenge for the bad things people do to you (12:19). Rather, Paul says to let God take care of it. “Leave room for God’s wrath,” Paul says. God is the one that gets to avenge wrongdoing. It is his to repay (12:20). We, by contrast, are to feed our enemy when he or she is hungry. We are to give drink to our enemy when he or she is thirsty. We are to “overcome evil with good,” while to respond to evil in kind is to be overcome by evil (12:21).