There is a lot of pressure on Christians to get along with everyone. The banner of love is, and should be, waived high as one of the central Christian ethos. Not only are we to love others, but we are even called to help different parties come together. Jesus even says in His Sermon on the Mount that God’s children are called to be peacemakers. Our standard, therefore, not only becomes loving everyone but also helping others get along with each other.
I found this task very hard through the years. There are many people who are very hard to love, get along with, and to make peace with. There are people whom, no matter how hard you try, seem like they do not want reconciliation, but our Christian ethos continues to push toward making peace with these people. So my question is, “As a Christian, do I have to get along with everyone?”
If you grew up with my way of thinking, the answer would be yes. Let me state that there is a difference between the command to love everyone, and the command to get along with everyone. The command to love everyone is concrete. Love is an action, where I can show love to someone no matter what my relationship with that person is. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus even tells us to love our enemies. So, if love extends toward a person who is against us, does ill will to us, maligns us, harms us, and hates us, we can not do anything different than react in love.
Loving someone and getting along with someone is different. How so? Love involves my action toward another. Getting along with someone involves myself and another individual. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (ESV).” When it comes to getting along with others, or living peaceably with others, the apostle Paul gives us an out.
Let’s unpack a couple of words here. The word “if” found in the verse has the idea of uncertainty. It is stating that there could be two different options, which are conditional to at least one or more things. The second word we need to focus on is “possible.” This word itself means “able to be done.” That being said, within its context, it is connected to the word “if” meaning that there is uncertainty of whether or not something is plausible.
Both “if” and “if possible” have contingencies. What is it dependent on? The contingency is the behavior of the other person. How is the other person acting in the situation? Do you have a friend, coworker, neighbor, family member that you are having issues with? Why is this relationship not working?
If the relationship is not working because of you, you do not have a basis for ending the relationship. The phrase, “so far as it depends on you,” reveals that if the problem can be fixed by you, you need to do it. If the issue of not having peace between you and someone else is because of you, you need to bring peace to that relationship. There is an exception clause here though. The exception is that if you have attempted to be peaceable, and the other person refuses peace, then it is not on your shoulders if the relationship lacks peace.
In many ways this is very freeing. Why? Because some of us have spent an exhaustive amount of time, energy, and money attempting to bring peace between us and another individual or group. We have done so to no avail, and with no progress.
Now remember, this does not free you from giving love to that person. What it frees you from is bearing the weight of making things right with that person. It releases the weight of responsibility of fixing the relationship if the other person refuses to fix it and redeem it. It lifts a huge weight of being accountable to God to have made things right with that person.
Now, we need to make sure that we don’t throw out all Christian ethics and have an unbalanced ethos. If you have attempted to mend a relationship and the person will have nothing to do with it, it doesn’t mean that you are free forever from them. If down the road they repent and want to make amends, we need to offer forgiveness.
This also doesn’t mean that we give some lame attempt at fixing things, and then feel free of responsibility. We don’t have some multi-year relationship which is damaged, send one little text message which goes unresponded to, and wash our hands. In many ways, we pursue people as Jesus pursued us and give love to others, even when they don’t deserve it.
The follow up question is this, “how can I live free of someone who refuses to make peace with me?” This is a deep question, and should not be taken lightly. Much prayer, Bible study, and Christian counsel with others should take place. It’s always good to have another Christian’s opinion, because there are times when we feel justified in something, and then find out that we are really the offending party.
I would say, while we don’t make that person our enemy, we can just avoid conflict with them. Now, the multitude of situations that could come up regarding this question would determine how you would avoid someone. Again, refer to the last paragraph. There are different steps depending on the conversation. If it is with someone else at church, Matthew 18 could be studied. In a marriage, there is much more which needs to be discussed and prayed about.
But when it comes to someone else that is not able to live peaceably with me, and I have done my part, I attempt to avoid interaction with them. I am not saying that you should give a cold shoulder to someone. That is not sharing love. What I am saying is that we do not go out of our way to be around that person, or maybe we even decline spending time with them if we know that it is only going to end in a way that would make the relationship worse.
Do you have someone whom you seem not to be able to live peaceably with? What have you done to try to mend the relationship? Is the relationship to the point where you can no longer be around someone without problems? I hope you will consider the idea that while it is your responsibility to attempt to mend a relationship and show love to others, if it is not in your control to fix it, you may need to avoid that relationship. There is no need to feel guilty for doing so. Your peace may depend on it.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.