Article 3 ~ October 2009
Nowhere in the writings of St Paul is there more rational, sensible and sensitive thinking on Christian, and other, attitudes on human relations than in Romans 12: 10-21. With its sentiments expressed in words and phrases with charity and precision, memorable and still applicable, beginning with "Be kindly affectioned one to another: in honour preferring one another not slothful in business . . . serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation . . . given to hospitality", and ending "If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him to drink . . . Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good."
Principles to be Applied
It was said of a preacher that in his sermons he stated the obvious and then spent time explaining it. One could be excused for feeling that anything added to this passage, by way of interpretation or explanation, would be superfluous, for it speaks so clearly, for itself. There is value, though, in meditating on sentiments so clearly stated by Paul, at his most inspired, putting words to thoughts.
The practical application of these Pauline posed Christian principles would have far-reaching consequences. Paul makes a strong plea for that quality of forgiveness which Jesus exemplified in His speech and conduct; that humility which the early Christians, and the first Christian Martyrs, literalised in their reaction to misunderstanding, violence and persecution.
The evangelising quality and value of this kind of conduct has its illustration in the effect of Stephen's martyrdom on the once grossly intolerant Saul of Tarsus. St. Augustine explained it, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen."
To be happy with the happy, and sad with the sad, is to share in the common crises experiences of our fellows. Happiness and grief, gain and loss, are of the warp and woof of life. It comes easier to share joy than sorrow. Many a man in trouble has found that his convivial friends are only dependable when the going is good. Friendship is proved in adversity. Shared tears bind people together as shared laughs never can. And yet, apparent contradiction, it is often easier to say sympathetic words to someone in the dumps than to congratulate the fellow who is scaling the heights.
Envy is a sin which prevents us from being big enough to appreciate the quality and ability of another person. "He is a poor man who can't appreciate another man's brains, or brawn." Envy is the attendant of the empty mind. "There is not a passion so firmly rooted in the human heart than envy." (Sheridan) Here is a proverb, "He that would live clear of envy must lay his finger on his mouth, and keep his hand out of the ink-pot."
We are to live in harmony with one another. Good relations among Christians can be elusive.
Church tensions are the cause of division and separation. "See how those Christians hate one another" was someone's indictment of some who claimed loyalty to Christ but showed little of his spirit. Nothing is more destructful of Christianity than the antagonisms of Christians.
The most unChrist-like attitudes and actions are sometimes found where lip loyalty to Him is given with noisy enthusiasm or belligerency of the tongue, without depth of spiritual sensitivity and sympathy. The faith which shows in high quality Christian living is not always where it is to be expected.
Pride is the vice of the foot. Nothing is more persistent and pernicious than the sin of pride. The early Church was where master and slave sat down together.
Any form of egotism is to be excluded, whether of an estimate of oneself, that would lead to lack of respect from one's fellows, or any kind of self-seeking that leads to the anti-social vices like contempt for them. "If a proud man could only see how small a vacancy his death would leave, he would think less of the place he occupies in his lifetime."
Our Christianity should be winsome, forgiving, winning; never hard, unbending, repelling.
Revenge not for Men
We are to live in peace with all men, conditionally, "if possible; and so far as you can." Principle must never give way to courtesy. Tolerance can be weakness. Peace is the masterpiece of reason.
Revenge is not to be considered. It is not for us. It is the prerogative of God. Vengeance can break people, kindness can make them.
We are being reminded continually that violence begets violence. There is no solution to our "Northern Ireland Problem" in violent reciprocation. The lawkeeper must not degrade himself to the level of the lawbreaker. Booker Washington, the great black scholar and statesman, who knew about degradation said, "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." The way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
We are saying no more here than that we must do one thing, help our people to see the sense of the Christian attitude to life, and to help them to take God seriously and to meet His demands on them courageously. We need real Christianity to be like Christ!