Monday, June 06, 2011

Living in Peace

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

18 εἰ δυνατὸν τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν, μετὰ πάντων ἀνθρώπων εἰρηνεύοντες·

We've turned the corner from theology to praxis. This happens in all of Paul's letters. At some point he stops describing who God is and then explains what we should do with this knowledge. Not coincidentally, that's also how a good sermon should go. It's important to get this straight lest we slip into legalism. If one were to preach anything in Romans 12-16 without first addressing the material in Romans 1-11 then he may as well be a self-help guru rather than a preacher. The glib seminary explanation for this is that you must preach the indicatives before the imperatives.

This verse is one that has intrigued me for a while and now that I look at it in Greek it intrigues me a bit more. There are no verbs in this verse. The first phrase εἰ δυνατὸν τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν could be very woodenly translated something like, "If power from you," which should be smoothed out to, "If there is power from you." The ESV translation above captures this well, but it is still interesting to see what they had to work with. The second half has the participle εἰρηνεύοντες.This is a present active nominative participle. Basically, it means "living in a state of peace." According to Wallace, this imperatival use of the participle is quite rare and most of the occurrences are in Romans 12 and 1 Peter. It is important that the participle have no connection to a finite verb, which is the case here.

This explains how we get our English translation. But what to do with it? I have found that this verse can be quite burdensome or liberating depending on how we look at it. It is burdensome in that we are expected to do what we can to make peace. We are to do everything in our power to live in peace with everyone.

However, it is liberating in that once we do what we can then the rest is between that person and the Lord. This means that we cannot force someone to forgive us and live peaceably us. We cannot force the contentious person to treat us well no matter how nice we are. This is vitally important as we can get caught up in our own efforts. We need to do our part and then trust God in His sovereignty. 

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