If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
–Romans 12:18

In Romans 12, Paul said if you are a Christian, you will have a radically different response to wrongdoing than the world does. He gave us a step-by-step process for dealing with enemies.

When you are mistreated, step number one is to identify with your enemy. Try to empathize with him or her. Step number two when you are mistreated is to refuse to retaliate. Romans 12:17 says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” That goes against our natural grain, doesn’t it? When somebody takes a swing at us, we swing back. But Paul said, don’t do it.

Why are we not to retaliate? Paul gave us two reasons. First, retaliation is not right. “Respect what is right in the sight of all men” (12:17). In America, we are a nation of laws, not of men. We do not allow for vigilantism. If somebody harms your family, you can’t go after them with a shotgun and take justice into your own hands. That was also true in Paul’s day. Rome was a nation of laws. You had to turn the offense over to the government. Paul was saying, “If pagans in Rome understand this principle, shouldn’t Christians understand it as well?” Do not retaliate.

Second, retaliation is not smart. It can backfire on you very quickly. I remember in one episode of the TV comedy show “Amos and Andy,” Amos asked his friend Andy, “What are you wearing around your neck?” Andy said, “That is a bottle of nitroglycerin.” Amos said, “Why would you wear a bottle of nitroglycerin around your neck?” Andy said, “I have a friend who pokes me in the chest every time he talks to me, and it drives me crazy. I put this nitroglycerin around my neck so the next time he pokes me, he will get his finger blown off.” Well, his finger is not all that would get blown off! It is the same way with retaliation. Retaliation has a way of blowing up in your own face when you try to engage in it. Sometimes the only way to break the cycle of anger and violence is to return good for evil instead of evil for evil. Refuse to retaliate.

If you are at odds with your enemy, then focus on your responsibility. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiving somebody is an action we take by ourselves to let go of a hurt. But reconciliation depends on the other person. Some relationships will not be reconciled. That is what Paul alluded to in verse 18. He said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Paul recognized you can only do what you can do. If your enemy is 95 percent responsible for the breach in the relationship, then you concentrate on making your 5 percent right. When you have done that, you will have a clear conscience, knowing that neither God nor any other person can accuse you of a wrong you have not attempted to make right. You can look everybody in the eye, including your enemy, knowing you did your part in trying to make that relationship right.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Living With Your Enemy” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.