That returning evil for evil looks like rough and ready justice, I have confessed, but then is any man prepared to follow out for himself and in his own case this rule of justice? Is he prepared to stand before God and receive evil for his evil? “He shall have justice without mercy that shows no mercy.”
Is he willing to stand before God on the same terms as he would have the offending one stand before himself? No, our best and, indeed, our only hope must lie in the mercy of God who freely forgives offenses!
We’ve come quite a ways in the last few months, as I have worked my way towards this goal. I want to again thank my good brother Ed Romine for helping me to select the sermons that made up the bulk of this series. I started this series after I felt a conviction that the subject of unity in the church was a crucial one to discuss. My conviction has not changed since I began, though my reasons and my thoughts have broadened considerably since then.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to conclude this series. For a while I thought that it would wind up in a long conclusion of my own where I would take each point and tie them all together in painstaking detail, driving home a final grand point about the need for unity and the foundation of that unity in Christ and in His gospel. But it seems to me that the book of Romans as a whole, and especially chapter 12, serve as a marvelous display of what I’m trying to say.
So I won’t belabor this with long paragraphs, but I want simply to point to what Paul accomplishes in his text. He begins in chapter one by pointing to man’s need for God’s grace. He demonstrates man’s innate sinfulness and the fact that everyone, whether gentile or Jew, needs to trust to the sacrifice of Christ alone as the basis of their salvation and of their relationship with God as a beloved child.
…[T]he merciful Christian is not one who shuts anybody out. He is not one who thinks anyone beneath his notice. He would be glad if he could bring to Jesus the most fallen and the most depraved! And those dear brothers and sisters who are the most completely occupied in this holy work we honor, for the lower they have to go, the greater is their honor, in the sight of God, in being permitted thus to rake the very kennels of sin to find jewels for Christ, for surely, the brightest gems in His crown will come out of the darkest and foulest places where they have been lost! “Blessed are the merciful” who care for the fallen, for those that have gone astray—“for they shall obtain mercy.” – Charles Spurgeon
We’re drawing near the end of this series, and I found this one of the most blessing and convicting sermons to read through. The truth is that each Christian, when we desire to sit under any instruction, must turn the light of truth on his own heart first. We cannot be sitting in pride towards others while hiding our own sins under a rock–the only way we can hope to bring the truth of the deadliness of sin and the true life in Jesus to another, is if we put off all arrogance, all self-aggrandizement and conceit, and humble ourselves before the throne.
In doing this we follow the path of Jesus. We follow after Him when we turn to God and confess our sins, trusting His promise of forgiveness and cleansing. We follow after Him when we listen to and obey God’s Word. We follow after Him when we hear of someone who is hurting, and we give compassionately to serve them and heal them. We follow after Him when we give without fear of loss, when we cry out in faith to God for provision, when we endure frustration and fear and insult for the sake of giving glory to Jesus. And we follow after Jesus when we live a life in prayer, because we know our weaknesses and faults and continue to pray to our Father for exactly what we should pray to Him for: for the strength and will to continue to live in that state of mercy towards others.
The Christian faith is no stranger to controversy, and certainly this age has served both to improve communication as well as to provide ample opportunities to inflame disagreements. I am tempted to tie this comment to the most recent controversies over social justice but the truth is, this applies to all disagreements and controversies: brethren, show mercy to each other.
Hot and angry battles over important matters are understandable, but I have seen people anathematizing others quite literally over this issue. I’ve seen people say things that are honestly shocking to me, about brothers in the faith, implying such that says if one does not take up their rhetoric and position that they are not worthy to be called Christians. I’m really trying hard here to not call out individuals because this is not a single-issue thing either–I’ve seen it happen in similar ways over all kinds of issues the church engages the world on, everything from taxation to abortion to traffic stops.
Now I don’t want to give the impression that I’m saying, “Don’t disagree, don’t have passionate and well-considered positions on important issues.” Nor am I trying to say “Side A is well-considered and Side B is just stupid and reactionary.” What I am saying is, let’s not engage this issue the way the world is. And in saying that I can tell you that I have certainly had to keep myself in check and walk away when I would have engaged on this or other things in angry and un-Christlike ways. And to be sure, I have been guilty of this many times.
I sincerely hope that we can see public and open discussion on this and other issues within the body in a way that gives glory to Christ. That may mean that folks step out from behind their podcasts and Twitter accounts and do something literally in some kind of open forum–but why shouldn’t we want that? And certainly that may still not mean that we come to agreement, but at least we can see a bold reminder of the fact that whether you believe that the concept of social justice has a place within the church or whether you believe it is a danger to the gospel–the position that I take, for the record–we can be reminded that we are all brothers and sisters bought by the blood of Christ.
Engage with your opponent with the object of showing love and mercy. Let us bear fruit in keeping with repentance towards each other, and I think in this case it means each one of us beginning any discussion by taking a look at ourselves, being reminded of the mercy the Lord has shown us faithfully in keeping His promises to His children, and showing that same mercy to our own brethren. Pray for the one you disagree with, talk with him in seeking peace not in some humanistic sense but in the sense that demonstrates that we have been granted peace of an eternal and immeasurably greater sense with God. Do it for the sake of the name of Christ, and let truth not be forgotten but rather let it be sought in a spirit of love.