Recent events in Dallas have been a reminder that prejudice is a very real part of the human existence. I was trying to remember a culture or nation in Scripture that lived in harmony with the rest of the world and finally decided that such a nation didn’t exist. I did find a passage that spoke to the issues of racism and prejudice in Romans, chapter 12. Paul wrote, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:16–18).
Everyone is going to read that passage a little differently, based on his or her personal perspective. But objectively, what does that passage say to us today?
— Live in harmony. Harmony doesn’t mean we look the same, sound the same, or enjoy the same things. An orchestra is a perfect illustration of the American culture. We have flutes and tubas. We have oboes and trumpets. We have drums, saxophones, French horns, and the occasional, but important, cymbal. If orchestra members were left to make whatever music they felt was “right” or “best,” the result would probably just sound like a lot of noise. On the other hand, with a great conductor who leads them to conform in harmony, the music is divine. America needs to submit all our different talents and ideas to the same Conductor if we ever hope to turn chaos into music. Every instrument is important, but each musician understands he only plays a part.
— Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. That whole phrase seems to carry prejudice or bias. But, can Scripture be flawed? No . . . God’s word is always perfect. Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11). Human history has proven all of Jesus’ words to be true. Who are the lowly? Who are the poor? Who might those people be in the future? Any of us, at any time, could be included in a group labeled “lowly.” The real point of that verse is: Do we think we deserve more than someone else and are we, therefore, haughty? Do we associate with people we consider different? Do we spend time working to understand their needs, their struggles, their joys and their hurts? Do we care? Or do we all suffer from an overactive sense of self-importance? Is the deep taproot of racism just old-fashioned, deadly pride? Satan has exploited that common, human weakness since the Garden. How many cultures and nations have been brought to war and brought to ruin, simply because they were convinced they were better, stronger, smarter, or more important than others?
— Never be wise in your own sight. These words are personal. Gypsy Smith was an evangelist in the early 1900’s. He preached a sermon that has been re-preached ever since. He told people that revival would only occur if each person drew a circle around their own self and prayed until everything in that circle was right with God. I think Gypsy Smith provided the best solution for racism. If we think we are wise, or right, in our own sight we have excluded the wisdom of God from our lives. God doesn’t think like we do, and he doesn’t view others like we do. “Our own sight” is biased and blinded by our limited thinking. What if we drew a circle around ourselves and prayed until we could see things from God’s perspective? If we change the way we think, we will change the way we act. God’s word says to never be wise in your own sight. We are never going to get it right until we obey that command.
— Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Everyone sins (Romans 3:23). Everyone wants justice, vengeance, or some other form of human equality. There will always be sin and there will always be people who live without honor. But what if all of God’s people take time to think, then choose to do what is honorable? Scripture says other people will know we are Christians if we have love for each other (John 13:35). That is our calling, but is that our commitment?
— If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. The most difficult part of this passage is obeying this verse. Read it carefully and realize that peace is going to be an effort that it isn’t possible to legislate or enforce. Peace in any culture depends on the choices each person will make. Can God depend on you?
I’ve shed tears over the news stories, and my heart was broken for the families involved. I’ve been angry at the injustice and defensive about the truth. I’ve watched as some in the church gathered to pray and march; and I’ve watched as some in the church gathered for other reasons. I don’t know what should be done, what laws should be passed, what discipline should be given, and what changes will be made. The only thing I do know is that I can do better. I can draw a circle around my life and pray until everything inside that circle is right with God and aligned with his thinking. So far as it depends on me, I want to live peaceably with all.
Help us Lord, to commit ourselves to your calling. Help us to live honorable lives in the sight of all. Most especially Lord, help us to turn our eyes to you so you can lead us to live in harmony. We love you Lord and you deserve our best. May we depend on you, so that you can depend on us. Amen.
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