Living harmoniously by faith in God looks like blessing our enemies. It looks like sympathizing with other people, in good times and bad times. It looks like unity, not elevating ourselves. Living only for ourselves is contrary to God’s design for our lives, we were made to live in harmony with others.
Paul is not prescribing a new law or to-do list to lead to righteousness. He’s describing what living by faith looks like. When we walk in the newness of life through the resurrection power of Jesus, our character changes. Our sin nature tells us to look out for ourselves, to take from others. When someone attacks us, our natural instinct is to engage in conflict to defend ourselves and attack them back. Here Paul is saying to bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Don’t wish harm on them. Living by faith looks like blessing our enemies.
How do we bless enemies? It depends. That can look like confronting our enemy with truth, as Paul has done in this letter. But although Paul confronts his detractors with truth, his motive is to protect the Roman believers as well as goad his enemies to repentance, to their great benefit. It is clear from Paul’s letters that he would have greatly rejoiced had his enemies reconciled with him; he had their best interest at heart as he was chiding them. It is our job to do our part to seek resolution, but not at the expense of the truth.
Loving our enemies may also look like turning the other cheek. We should always contend for the truth and for the benefit of others, but as a general principle not defend ourselves. In his letter to the Romans, Paul defends his ministry, and his authority, and the gospel. He does not really defend himself. We should look to ourselves to see that we are blameless. When attacked, if we follow our sinful nature we are led back into fighting and death, but to live as God designed us looks like living righteously (correctly, in harmony with God’s will), and this can be accomplished by blessing our enemies and trusting God’s sovereignty. Our job is to pursue peace with one another, to the extent it depends upon us.
Rejoice with those who rejoice. If they’re celebrating, we should celebrate too. But if someone is in mourning, we should sympathize and share in their sorrow, weep with those who weep. With either emotion, we are sharing; in the case of joy, we elevate the person’s joy by reciprocating it, and in the case of weeping, we alleviate sorrow when we share the burden of grief in another. The point here is to meet people where they are. We shouldn’t insist they meet us where we are, we should be of the same mind toward one another..
Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly: There should be no social hierarchy in the church; social status only matters to men, not God. He is a God who made kings out of shepherds and brought emperors to their knees. Paul’s consistent warning is against haughtiness, arrogance, pride. He just finished discouraging Gentile believers from feeling haughty since God showed mercy on them and allowed the Jews to fall away (Romans 11:18-24). Do not be wise in your own estimation, arrogance is contrary to faith; if we lie to ourselves to think we are better than we are, then we are listening to ourselves in preference to God. We are creating a false reality. It’s a lie our sin nature tells us and it always leads back into sinful living and death (Romans 6:20, 21).
Throughout his letter to the Romans, Paul encourages a life of faith and humility, because through faith we can live as God designed us, by humbly trusting in Him.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
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