The Lord’s Supper of Communion
Part 5 (conclusion) continued from August 19th
THE CHRISTIAN AND HIS FELLOW MEN
Bless those who persecute you; bless them and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Keep your thoughts from pride; and never refuse to be associated with humble people. Don’t become conceitedly wise in your own estimation. Never return evil for evil. Take thought to make your conduct fair for all to see. If it is possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all men. Beloved, do not seek to revenge yourself on others; leave such vengeance to The Wrath, for it stands written: “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, if your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him drink. If you do this you will heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul offers a series of rules and principles wherewith to govern our relationships with our fellow men.
(i) The Christian must meet persecution with a prayer for those who persecute him. Long ago Plato had said that the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil; and it is always evil to hate. When the Christian is hurt, and insulted, and maltreated, he has the example of his Master before him, for he, upon his Cross, prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him.
There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed. Stephen died praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60). Among those who killed him was a young man named Saul, who afterwards became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the slave of Christ. There can be no doubt that the death scene of Stephen was one of the things that turned Paul to Christ. As Augustine said: “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.” Many a persecutor has become a follower of the faith he once sought to destroy, because he has seen how a Christian can forgive.
(ii) We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. There are few bonds like that of a common sorrow. A writer tells of the saying of an American negro woman. A lady in
The bond of tears is the strongest of all. And yet it is much easier to weep with those who weep than it is to rejoice with those who rejoice. Long ago Chrysostom wrote on this passage: “It requires more of a high Christian temper to rejoice with them that do rejoice than to weep with them that weep. For this nature itself fulfils perfectly; and there is none so hard-hearted as not to weep over him that is in calamity; but the other requires a very noble soul, so as not only to keep from envying, but even to feel pleasure with the person who is in esteem.” It is, indeed, more difficult to congratulate another on his success, especially if his success involves disappointment to us, than it is to sympathize with his sorrow and his loss. It is only when self is dead that we can take as much joy in the success of others as in our own.
(iii) We are to live in harmony with one another. It was Nelson who, after one of his great victories, sent back a despatch in which he gave us the reason for it: “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” It is a band of brothers that any Christian Church should be. Leighton once wrote: “The mode of Church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and good will are indispensable.” When strife enters into any Christian society, the hope of doing any good work is gone.
(iv) We are to avoid all pride and snobbishness. We have always to remember that the standards by which the world judges a man are not necessarily the standards by which God judges him. Saintliness has nothing to do with rank, or wealth, or birth. Dr James Black in his own vivid way described a scene in an early Christian congregation. A notable convert has been made, and the great man comes to his first Church service. He enters the room where the service is being held. The Christian leader points to a place. “Will you sit there please?” “But,” says the man, “I cannot sit there, for that would be to sit beside my slave.” “Will you sit there please?” repeats the leader. “But,” says the man, “surely not beside my slave.” “Will you sit there please?” repeats the leader once again. And the man at last crosses the room, sits beside his slave, and gives him the kiss of peace. That is what Christianity did; and that is what it alone could do in the
(v) We are to make our conduct fair for all to see. Paul was well aware that Christian conduct must not only be good; it must also look good. So-called Christianity can be presented in the hardest and most unlovely way; but real Christianity is something which is fair for all to see.
(vi) We are to live at peace with all men. But Paul adds two qualifications. (a) He says, if it be possible. There may come a time when the claims of courtesy have to submit to the claims of principle. Christianity is not an easy-going tolerance which will accept anything and shut its eyes to everything. There may come a time when some battle has to be fought, and when it does, the Christian will not shirk it. (b) He says, as far as you can. Paul knew very well that it is easier for some to live at peace than for others. He knew that one man can be compelled to control as much temper in an hour as another man in a lifetime. We would do well to remember that goodness is a great deal easier for some than for others; that will keep us alike from criticism and from discouragement.
(vii) We are to keep ourselves from all thought of talking revenge. Paul gives three reasons for that. (a) Vengeance does not belong to us but to God. In the last analysis no human being has a right to judge any other; only God can do that. (b) To treat a man with kindness rather than vengeance is the way to move him. Vengeance may break his spirit; but kindness will break his heart. “If we are kind to our enemies,” says Paul, “it will heap coals of fire on their heads.” That means, not that it will store up further punishment for them, but that it will move them to burning shame. (c) To stoop to vengeance is to be ourselves conquered by evil. Evil can never be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred it is only increased; but if it is met with love, an antidote for the poison is found. As Booker Washington said: “I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him.” The only real way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
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