Meditations on Practical Christianity

Romans 12:17‑18  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Verse 17. " Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men." The apostle, having enjoined the christian duties of the brotherhood, now forbids the smallest indulgence in a contrary spirit towards any one. Nothing is more natural to man than to return evil for evil. It has been observed that those of the most indolent and passive dispositions may be aroused to the strongest feelings of revenge, under the sense of injuries, real or supposed. This is the old nature, not the new: law, not grace: the first, not the last Adam. But, whose are we? Whom do we follow? Which is it, law or grace? The Christian is called to be a witness, not of the first, but of the second man; not of law, but of grace. He is to be the witness of grace for His absent Lord in this selfish, self-seeking world. If he falls from the exercise of this christian virtue, he may be ensnared by the enemy to show a spirit of revenge and retaliation.
How lovely, how heavenly, are the ways of grace! but oh! think, meditate, my soul, on the offensive, contemptible ways of wretched self. Seek, Ο seek, to be like Him, " who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed."' (1 Pet. 2:23, 2423Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:23‑24).) Did He bear my sins in His own body on the tree? Did He die for me and put them all away? And shall I, who have been freely forgiven ten thousand talents, unmercifully insist on the last farthing being paid of the hundred pence owing to me by my fellow-servant? Could anything be more unseemly in the eyes of Heaven? But surely, thou wilt say, none who know Christ could ever cherish this spirit. None who are walking in the light and the joy of His presence; but if we are not living in the enjoyment of this grace ourselves, we shall be but poor witnesses of it to others. Nothing short of living, abiding, daily communion with the blessed Lord and His grace, will keep us above the temptations of making everything minister to the aggrandizement of self.
If professing Christians were to be tried by this test—returning good for evil, acting in grace—how many who have assumed that fair name would be found to have no real claim to it. But forget not, my soul, the word on which thou art meditating: "Recompense to no man"—no man, whatever he may be—"evil for evil." And remember also, that thou canst not belong in this world and engaged in its affairs, without having this grace brought into exercise. The golden rule, "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you/é is much too equitable, much too heavenly, in its character, for this world. Nevertheless, the Christian must walk so as to please Christ and to be a true witness of His Spirit, if he should suffer earthly loss.
" Provide things honest in the sight of all men" The critics tell us that our translation of this verse is not very happy, as it suggests an idea foreign to the meaning of the Greek. Paul does not mean to direct us to make provision for ourselves or families in an honest manner, which is probably the sense commonly attached to the passage by the English reader; but to act in such a manner as to command the confidence and good opinion of men. In this view, the connection of this with the preceding member of the verse is obvious." We must not recompense evil for evil, but act in such a way as to commend ourselves to the consciences of all men." That transparency of character and conduct in providing things good or comely, which raises the Christian far above the idea of suspicion, seems to be the true sense of this interesting clause. We may have heard Christians say when spoken to about something that seemed rather crooked, "Well, I have a good conscience myself on that point, and I don't care what anyone else thinks of me." But this spirit is entirely contrary to the spirit of the precept before us, which literally means, " above suspicion before all men." And this agrees with the word of the apostle to the Thessalonians: "Abstain from all appearance of evil." The very opposite of the artifice so often used in order to gain our object. It is not enough that we abstain from what we know to be wrong, but we ought to avoid everything that would be a ground of just suspicion. Thus Paul wished others to be associated with him in the distribution of the alms of the church, "having regard to what was right, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." 2 Cor. 8:20, 2120Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: 21Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. (2 Corinthians 8:20‑21).
How wonderful, we may well exclaim, is the wisdom, the fullness, and the minuteness of scripture! What phase, what intricacy, what secrecy, what subtlety of character, does it not lay bare in the open light of heaven! It is easy being a Christian in the church; even a negative one, if quiet and peaceable, may pass muster well; but oh! how difficult it is to be a true Christian in the world, and in all the activities of practical life! Oh, to be above all just ground of suspicion even by the unbelieving, suspicious world! Lord, help! Keep us near to thyself; keep us looking at every word and acting in the light of thy presence; may our prayer be constantly ascending; may thy grace be constantly descending; maintain us thus in communion that we may be strengthened day by day. Preserve thy many children, Ο Lord, from the ten thousand snares by which they are surrounded; may they not do their work to be seen of men, but may they be careful in all their ways to avoid that which would bring a reproach upon thy holy name. And if at any time they may be falsely accused, may they have grace to commit themselves to thee, Lord, who judgest righteously.
Verse 18. " If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." All who know what human nature is, what the affairs of life are, know the difficulty of living at peace with all men. The apostle acknowledges the difficulty and limits the injunction by saying, " If it be possible." But the precept is plain and the duty most important; and the believer, notwithstanding the difficulty, is to do all in his power to live at peace with all men. " As much as lieth in you"—as to what is of you, as far as depends on you, live in the spirit of peace with all. The Christian is called, not only to preserve peace, but to be a peace-maker; and a blessing of peculiar honor and dignity belongs to all such. " Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God." To recompense evil for evil necessarily leads to contention and strife, while peace is the happy fruit of a forgiving disposition.
But her, again, my soul, thou must weigh up things. Consider, I pray thee, that from the wickedness of those by whom thou art surrounded, this may sometimes be impossible; but let nothing fail on thy part; ever guard against giving any occasion to anyone to complain of thee. Living near to God is the surest way of living in peace with men; for when a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Avoid the snare of courting the favor and the praise of men, for this will surely lead thee to unfaithfulness in thy testimony. Some, in this way, may think themselves possessed of the spirit of peace; but it is rather a spirit of selfish in differed se to the claims of Christ, and the salvation of our neighbors.
Much as thou art to seek after peace and pursue it, neither truth nor principle must be sacrificed to maintain it, either with the world or with Christians. The love of popularity is a great snare to many; even a Peter might be drawn aside for a moment by it; but Paul could not have peace on such terms. (Gal. 2) The great apostle, much as he loved peace and desired it, knew very little of it during the whole period of his life, because of his faithfulness. But though he had little outward peace, he was kept in perfect peace with God, because his mind was stayed on Him. May we all know this solid, lasting peace with God, which the world neither can give nor take away.