17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Many of us know someone who takes everything as a personal affront. A rude interaction in line at Wawa becomes a topic of conversation for days. A perceived slight at at family gathering becomes a grudge to be nurtured over a period of years.
“If possible,” Paul says, “live at peace with all people.” Maybe someone who approaches life with a chip on their shoulder would reply: “it’s not possible.”
True, it’s not possible to be best friends with everyone. To think that is to overestimate both our own appeal to others and imply that somewhere along the line we’d be willing to fake liking someone we don’t really care for.
But you can live at peace, even when someone wants to go to war with you, by simply choosing not to participate. You don’t need to one-up anyone. You don’t need to pay back slight for slight or injury for injury. You don’t even need to tell your side of the story to justify yourself. Let it go.
In fact, the genuinely Christian thing to do is to find ways to bless that person rather than curse them. This is hard. It’s hard because we internally resist it, and our internal resistance often makes it feel inauthentic. What’s more, sometimes inauthentic kindness can actually damage the relationship even more.
In this passage, Paul is suggesting extreme kindness as a means to modify an enemy’s behavior. It’s almost weaponizing kindness to shame someone into acting differently. That can be useful in extreme circumstances, especially when the battle is playing out publicly. But in the garden-variety cold war between people, maybe the only real way is small, baby steps of kindness…things we can do without feeling like we’re faking it (too much). Have you tried just saying “good morning?” If not, maybe start there!
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
What would your relationship with Jesus be like if he held onto times you have slighted or ignored him?
If there is someone in your life that you are at odds with, pray for direction about a small step of kindness you might be able to take today.