We sing it every Christmas. Peace on the earth and goodwill to men. Yet, we bicker and fight and cast blame and curse our neighbors. We are slow to listen and quick to speak. Unfortunately, many who consider themselves spiritually mature have ill will toward others even though that is in direct opposition to Christ and His work. Look to Romans 12. After Paul explains the doctrine of salvation in Chapters 1-11, beginning with the birth of Christ in Chapter 1, he applies the gospel to the way Christians live.
Therefore, since God has had mercy on us in Christ, Paul urges Christians to present their bodies as living and holy sacrifices by God’s mercy. He wants Christians to live lives that are acceptable to God as a spiritual act of worship, no longer being conformed to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is through the renewing of our minds that we may prove the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. In verse 3, Paul begins with humility. Don’t think more highly of self than you ought. We are each to exercise our gifts according to the measure of faith given to us. Love is to be without hypocrisy. We are to be devoted to one another, giving preference to one another in honor. We are to contribute to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. We are to bless those who persecute us, no curse. We are to sympathize with others, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. We are to respect what is right in the sight of all people, living at peace with all men. Goodwill to men.
I want to take these imperatives, what Paul commands in light of the love of Christ in the incarnation and in light of the gospel, and observe them together. When someone else is rejoicing, we rejoice with him. When someone else is weeping, we weep with him. We resolve to be of the same mind as others, sympathizing with them instead of being haughty. We associate with the lowly, not considering our own depth or breadth of knowledge to make us better than anyone else. There is something to be said about sympathy and empathy, here. What we see commanded of Christians is sympathy, not empathy. Empathy is impossible and outright insulting to those trying to be empathized with. True empathy would be feeling what another person feels, truly “walking in his shoes.” We can’t do that because we cannot know how another person feels. When we claim to know or feel it too, we trivialize their feelings or circumstances. Instead, Christians are encouraged to have sympathy, to try to understand and care without trivializing or mocking another’s feeling unintentionally. Sympathy is more sincere than empathy. Empathy places the one empathizing at the center; it is selfishness and entitlement because it takes ownership of another’s feelings. Sympathy considers others first and respects their feelings as their own. Because of the monergistic work of God, we also choose not to be a people of revenge. You’ve heard that two negatives don’t make a positive. That’s true. We cannot solve problems by contributing to them. Since we are not entitled, we don’t have to seek revenge or restitution. The seeking of restitution is as ungodly as it gets because we have not considered others to be more important than ourselves. Further, we care about others’ wants and needs, considering what is right in the eyes of all people. Life is not about us taking every advantage we can. It is about loving God and loving people—for the whole Law is summed up in these two commands. God promises justice. We can trust Him. We have the freedom to speak truth in love. Along these same lines of thinking, Paul exhorts the unincorporated in Rome to feed their enemies and give them drinks. Overcome evil with good. This is how the battle is won—not by being loud or condemning others, but by loving our enemies.
This being said in the Scriptures, I want to appeal to you as someone who has, in my life, spoken quickly and listened slowly. I want to appeal to you as a man who, instead of humbling himself to put others first, has had to be humbled by God. Christ’s Christmas promise, to reign over an ever expanding kingdom with no end to its increase or of peace (cf. Isaiah 9), is fulfilled in the church. It is fulfilled as people learn to obey Christ in all things, including having goodwill toward men. If God has expressed His goodwill toward us in Christ, how can we not express our goodwill toward others in Christ? Did He not come to save the world rather than condemn it or destroy it? He did. He came to save the world. Yet, so many who claim to be His are condemning, cursing, and destroying the world. Do we no know the Christ whose birth we celebrate?
It is the way of the world to be overcome by evil, to overreact, to speak meaningless words, and to speak harshly or quickly without taking the time to listen. We are no longer to be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let love be without hypocrisy. Have goodwill toward people.
Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν· 2 καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
3 Λέγω γὰρ διὰ τῆς χάριτος τῆς δοθείσης μοι παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν μὴ ὑπερφρονεῖν παρʼ ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν, ἀλλὰ φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν, ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ θεὸς ἐμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως. 4 καθάπερ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι πολλὰ μέλη ἔχομεν, τὰ δὲ μέλη πάντα οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχει πρᾶξιν, 5 οὕτως οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν ἐν Χριστῷ, τὸ δὲ καθʼ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη. 6 ἔχοντες δὲ χαρίσματα κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν διάφορα, εἴτε προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, 7 εἴτε διακονίαν ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ, εἴτε ὁ διδάσκων ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ, 8 εἴτε ὁ παρακαλῶν ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει, ὁ μεταδιδοὺς ἐν ἁπλότητι, ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ, ὁ ἐλεῶν ἐν ἱλαρότητι.
9 Ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος. ἀποστυγοῦντες τὸ πονηρόν, κολλώμενοι τῷ ἀγαθῷ· 10 τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ εἰς ἀλλήλους φιλόστοργοι, τῇ τιμῇ ἀλλήλους προηγούμενοι, 11 τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί, τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες, τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες, 12 τῇ ἐλπίδι χαίροντες, τῇ θλίψει ὑπομένοντες, τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτεροῦντες, 13 ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων κοινωνοῦντες, τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες. 14 εὐλογεῖτε τοὺς διώκοντας, εὐλογεῖτε καὶ μὴ καταρᾶσθε. 15 χαίρειν μετὰ χαιρόντων, κλαίειν μετὰ κλαιόντων. 16 τὸ αὐτὸ εἰς ἀλλήλους φρονοῦντες, μὴ τὰ ὑψηλὰ φρονοῦντες ἀλλὰ τοῖς ταπεινοῖς συναπαγόμενοι. μὴ γίνεσθε φρόνιμοι παρʼ ἑαυτοῖς. 17 μηδενὶ κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἀποδιδόντες· προνοούμενοι καλὰ ἐνώπιον πάντων ἀνθρώπων· 18 εἰ δυνατόν, τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν μετὰ πάντων ἀνθρώπων εἰρηνεύοντες· 19 μὴ ἑαυτοὺς ἐκδικοῦντες, ἀγαπητοί, ἀλλὰ δότε τόπον τῇ ὀργῇ, γέγραπται γάρ· Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις, ἐγὼ ἀνταποδώσω, λέγει κύριος. 20 ἀλλὰ ἐὰν πεινᾷ ὁ ἐχθρός σου, ψώμιζε αὐτόν· ἐὰν διψᾷ, πότιζε αὐτόν· τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύσεις ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ. 21 μὴ νικῶ ὑπὸ τοῦ κακοῦ, ἀλλὰ νίκα ἐν τῷ ἀγαθῷ τὸ κακόν.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 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. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.