Unity In Times of Disagreement
Today we will reach the end of our study of Romans 12. This is our seventh study in this incredibly practical chapter. Romans 1-11 is known for its rich doctrinal teaching, its unparalleled theology. All of our study of Romans 1-11 finds its day-to-day expression in Romans 12. Theology, purely for the sake of knowledge, is nothing more than knowledge, but theology applied to day-to-day living leads to a transformed life.
Last week we took a look at how we are to relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This week Paul turns our attention to those who persecute us–our enemies, our adversaries, the antagonists who oppose us. Paul, rather than encouraging us to lash out at, avoid, or simply refuse to retaliate against them, urges us to bless our enemies. Let’s read our Scripture and we will begin.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21 NIV)
When Paul penned these words he was no doubt thinking about those who opposed the followers of Jesus because of their faith. The Roman Empire, under the leadership of Nero, would grow increasingly antagonistic over the next few years until, in 64 A.D. when Rome burned, Christians became his sole focus. Nero would take Christians, cover them in pitch, impale them on long poles, and light them on fire to illuminate his gardens. He brought Christians into the Coliseum, wrapped them in animal skins, and then turned hungry lions loose to devour them. Many believe that the man who wrote Romans, the Apostle Paul, was beheaded under Nero. Eusebius, known as the father of church history, says that Simon Peter was crucified under Nero.
With the tension rising between Church and State how would Paul counsel the followers of Jesus to react? How should the Body of Christ respond to such relentless attacks? Should they put bumper stickers on their chariots mocking Nero? Would it be beneficial to write articles for The Roman Inquirer about how Nero might be the anti-christ? Would Paul encourage them to plan a rally to denounce the government, the pagan morality of the citizens, and all of those who opposed the cause of Christ? Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14 NIV) Where did Paul come up with advice like this? Why would Paul encourage those whose lives were threatened to bless those who wanted to kill them? How could the followers of Jesus bless rather than plan to retaliate against their persecutors? The answer to those questions is found not in reason or logic, but in Jesus.
Jesus was very familiar with persecution. Not only did Jesus experience incessant persecution from government and religious leaders in His day, but He spoke about those who were persecuted as well. Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:10-16.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-16 NIV)
Jesus says that we are blessed when we are persecuted. When people insult us, persecute us, and say things about us that aren’t true simply because we are His–we are blessed. It sure doesn’t feel like a blessing when we are in the cross-hairs of an antagonist does it? Yet, Jesus says we are blessed.
The word, “blessed” has different meanings in Scripture. The Greek word, “eulogeo” when used in the context of our blessing God means that we ascribe to Him the praise and honor that He is due. When it is used in the context of God blessing us it means that He bestows blessings, His favor, upon us. When “bless” is used in the context of Romans 12:14, as in our blessing our persecutors, it means that we ask God to bless them, we pray for them, we refuse to speak negatively about them, we work for their good, and we desire their well-being.
Jesus, while He was hanging on the cross, a cross that His enemies relished, asked the Father to forgive them, rather than destroy them. (Luke 23:34) In Matthew 5:44-48, Jesus said,
44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48 NIV)
What He taught in the Sermon on the Mount, He lived on Mt. Calvary as He hung on the cross. Jesus didn’t merely teach, He lived out His lessons for us to follow in His steps.
What is the normal reaction of people when someone treats them badly, slanders their name, or intends to harm them? The normal reaction is to lash out, strike back, isn’t it? The normal reaction is to plot out how we will get back at them isn’t it? These are normal reactions, but we are not normal people my friends. Don’t you remember Matthew 5? Jesus said that we are the “salt of the earth,” we are the “light of the world.” Jesus said if we love only those who love us and welcome those who are our brothers and sisters then we are not doing anything different than the pagans do. We are more than that–we are the light of the world!
Are you convinced? That’s a tough agenda to tackle isn’t it? You better believe it is! Being a follower of Jesus isn’t for wimps! It is for radicals! Even if you are convinced that we are to love those who can’t stand us, those who think our faith is evidence that we are nuts, backwoods, hillbilly, unsophisticates then you have to wonder how you are supposed to pull it off. That’s the $1,000,000.00 question isn’t it? And the answer is–you can’t. Plain and simple. It is impossible for us to genuinely love and work for the betterment of those who persecute us, those who desire our ruin. But what is impossible with us is more than possible with God and His Spirit who works within us.
Paul gives us some good basic principles for what we should be praying about regarding our behavior towards those who oppose us. Paul gives us eight life principles that we can seek to live out and that we can pray for God to develop in our lives on a daily basis. These eight lessons comprise the blessing that we are to be to those who oppose us. I want to forewarn you. We are only going to get started today. We will take a look at the first of four lessons in our study for this morning. Let’s take a look at them.
First of all, we can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
When there is someone who has given you grief and then they fall on hard times you want to give it a Tiger Woods fist pump and scream out, “Yes!” don’t you? You want to shove a finger in their face and say, “You are just reaping what you’ve sown buddy!” When someone has given you grief and they hit it big, something good happens in their life, then you get steamed don’t you? You can’t believe it. It makes you mad.
Paul says that we are to mourn with our enemies when they go through difficult times. I can remember going to the County Jail one time to visit a young man who had sat in my office several months earlier. He had talked to his mother and me like we were ignorant. He was arrogant, condescending, and angry. His buddies were gang members here in the neighborhood and he was defending them to the death. When we tried to share God’s Word with him he wasn’t interested in the least. He thought it was all stupid and he didn’t mind telling us.
When he was arrested I went to see him. He was shocked that I would come. He was in solitary confinement for this crime, but they let him out for our visit. He couldn’t believe that I had come. I hugged him, prayed for him, and he knew that my heart was broken for him and his family. I left the jail with a different relationship with him than I had when he sat in my office several months earlier. I could have said, “I told you so.” I could have, but I didn’t because that was not what he needed. Jesus says that we are to mourn with those who mourn.
Secondly, we are to live in harmony with one another.
Literally, the sentence reads, “Be of the same mind towards one another.” Paul says that we should be easy to get along with. We should not try to stir things up. We shouldn’t be looking for things to oppose or criticize about those who oppose us. The Church in America, and especially those of us who call ourselves Evangelical Christians desperately need to hear this.
I have no problem understanding how unbelievers in our society see us as arrogant and self-righteous. It seems like Christians are always boycotting this-or-that, launching some new campaign to oppose this group or that group, or complaining about some ill that ails our society. Why, we even turn against our own if they don’t believe exactly like we believe. Paul says that we are to have the same mind towards one another. What is it that sets you and me apart from all of those that we like to hammer in our society? Our character, our integrity, our morality or ethics? I don’t think so. I think the distinction is our Savior and Him alone. Have we forgotten what we are apart from Jesus? We need to remember.
Thirdly, we are not to be proud, but we are to associate with those who hold no position in society, those who are forgotten and considered as unimportant.
We are not to be like those who “jockey” for position in society by trying to establish relationships with the rich, powerful, and popular who can benefit us. We are to be people who love all people, especially those who can do nothing for us. James warned us.
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? 8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:2-9 NIV)
You may wonder what associating with the outcasts, poor, and marginalized has to do with blessing our adversaries? Many unbelievers in our society think the Church is only interested in money and drawing in the influential. It is difficult for unbelievers to lob their accusations against us when we are among those who are scorned by the rest of society. Let me give you an example. There is a people group in our society that almost unanimously tenses up when the words “Church, Bible, or Christians” is mentioned. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m talking about gays and lesbians.
For years these people have heard things coming out of the Church that has led them to believe that homosexuals are hated by God and us. Several years ago many preachers were proudly proclaiming that AIDS is God’s judgment on homosexuals. If you want to visit Westboro Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas on the internet then you would have to go to www.godhatesfags.com. Is it any wonder why we have left the impression we have on these folks? Is there any wonder why they clinch their jaw when they hear the words “fundamentalist, evangelical, or Bible Church?”
Stop and think with me for a minute. The Bible says that homosexuality is sin. Right? The Bible also says that lying is sin, greed is sin, getting drunk is sin, adultery is sin, gossip is sin, and the list goes on and on and on. Yet, liars don’t become agitated when the Bible is mentioned. Most people who call themselves Christians are greedy. Adulterers are even members of churches. I’ve known some gossips to practice their craft in the church building. These “sinners” don’t have such a negative response about the Church. Why do gays and lesbians flare up with such animosity and hostility? Could it be because of the way we have responded to them?
Several years ago there was a gay man who attended this church. He had AIDS and I would go and visit him in his home when he got to where he couldn’t attend church any longer. We had lots of conversations about life, the Lord, our sin, and the wonders of God’s grace. He knew where I stood on the issue of homosexuality, but he also knew I loved him and wanted God’s best for him. Before he died he asked me if his funeral could be at Britton Christian Church? I said that we would be honored.
He was a huge Democrat, loved Bill and Hillary Clinton, and had pictures of himself with high profile Democratic politicians in his home. On the day of his funeral former Gov. David Walters was one of the speakers along with me and a successful businessman here in Oklahoma City. The three of us met before the service to go over the order together. When the service began the sanctuary was full of Troy’s friends. I shared about Troy’s life, I shared the Word of God, and we all shared in the loss of our friend together.
Following the service, after everyone had filed out of the sanctuary and headed to the Waterford where Troy had planned a reception for his friends, the businessman came up to me. He said, “I want to apologize to you.” He said, “When I heard Troy’s funeral was going to be held at a church I assumed I knew the kind of church it would be and I assumed what kind of pastor you would be. I was wrong and I want to apologize.” I pray that there were other minds and hearts changed that day.
Fourth, we are to never repay evil with evil.
Never? Never! Now, don’t let that lead you to believe that those who do evil will not be held accountable for their actions. They are accountable for their actions and we will see God’s plan for those who harm others, but we are not to repay evil for evil. This insistence from the Apostle Paul is found in Jesus and also in the Hebrew Bible. In Proverbs 20:22 we read,
22 Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22 NIV)
Isn’t that interesting? Proverbs was written over 2600 years ago and yet those words, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” could have rolled off of any of our tongues during the past week. What’s God’s counsel to us? Don’t do it! “Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you.” In Proverbs 24:28-29 we read,
28 Do not testify against your neighbor without cause, or use your lips to deceive. 29 Do not say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did.” (Proverbs 24:28-29 NIV)
Don’t talk about “pay back,” pray about how you might bless those who persecute you. Jesus said,
27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28 NIV)
It is almost like we are hard-wired to get back at those who persecute us or try to harm us in any way. We don’t have to be taught how to do this. Just go in the nursery and watch a small child take another child’s toy. What will he or she do? They’ll go at it like two Ultimate Fighters! Striking back is normal, but remember–we are not normal. Let me close our study today by telling you a story that happened right here in Oklahoma.
Johnny Lee Clary thought that racism and bigotry were to be worn as a badge of honor. His dad committed suicide, his mother abandoned him, and he felt all alone in the world until he found a place to belong. The problem was that the group that opened their arms to the alienated 14 year old was the Ku Klux Klan. He soaked up the teachings of David Duke and participated in KKK events. His passion caused him to rise through the ranks of the Klan and eventually become the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the most feared element of the Klan in history. Johnny appeared on television talk shows along with Tom Metzger, the founder of the White Aryan Resistance, spewing his hatred towards other races.
Wade Watts was born September 23rd, 1919, in Kiamichi, Oklahoma. His family moved to Canada for a short time before they moved back to Eufaula, OK. During Wade’s younger years he witnessed racism firsthand and it shaped who he would become as a man. Wade became a close friend of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He joined the N.A.A.C.P when he was 17 years old, became a pastor in his early 30’s, and marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama in 1965.
Wade and his wife, Betty Jean, lost their firstborn in a hospital in Ada, OK. It was the dead of winter and the nursery in the hospital was segregated. The heat was piped into the “white nursery.” Wade and Betty Jean’s baby was in the “black nursery.” As a result the baby froze to death.
Wade Watts and Johnny Lee Clary’s paths would intersect in 1979. Wade was the leader of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP. Johnny Lee Clary was the Grand Dragon of the Oklahoma KKK. The two met in a debate that was broadcast across the country through an Oklahoma City radio station. When the two men came out to debate Wade reached out his hand to shake Johnny’s, but Johnny knew that according to the Klan “rule book” to touch a non-white person was to pollute one’s self. Wade shook his hand any way and said, “Hi Johnny. Jesus loves you and I love you.” Johnny Lee Clary called Wade every name in the book, but Wade said, “Johnny, there is nothing that you can do to stop me from loving you.”
After the debate Johnny decided to do everything in his power to get Wade. He would call him on the phone and threaten him, he and other Klansmen showed up at Wade’s house in their hoods and robes, they burned a cross in his yard, and even burned the church that Wade pastored. Each time Johnny attempted to get at Wade he got the same response. Wade would remind Johnny that Jesus loved him and he did as well.
Johnny called Wade after he and his buddies burned Wade’s church. Johnny sought to disguise his voice and said, “Hey boy. You don’t know me but we know you and we’re coming for you.” Wade said, “Hi Johnny. I’m going to pray for you.” And then he prayed, “Lord Jesus forgive Johnny for being so stupid.”
One time Johnny and about 30 of his buddies surrounded Wade at a restaurant in McAlester. Wade was getting ready to eat some chicken when Johnny said, “You better think about what you are doing boy because whatever you do next to that chicken we are going to do to you.” Wade picked up the chicken and kissed it. Everyone in the restaurant broke out in laughter except for Johnny.
Johnny’s life began to spin out of control. There was infighting in the Klan, he had suffered from two divorces, found out his girlfriend was an informant for the FBI, and eventually Johnny left the Klan. Johnny began to experience extreme guilt over the violence and hatred that he had lived for so long. He was on the verge of taking his own life one night when he cried out to God. God heard his cry.
Over the next few years Johnny contacted Wade and the two of them became friends. Johnny became a minister and he and Wade preached together in Tulsa at ORU’s Mabee Center. They appeared together on the Phil Donahue Show and The Geraldo Rivera Show. Wade was interviewed on television one time and he said,
I always wanted to leave this old world, knowing that I left it a better place than I found it; but to have been a help in converting Johnny Lee Clary over to Christianity, the right kind of Christianity, not the Ku Klux Klan type, but the RIGHT kind of Christianity, well, that’s one of the best jobs I ever done in my life.
Wade went home to be with the Lord on December 13, 1998. At his passing Johnny Lee Clary said,
Rev. Watts was like a father to me. I am grateful for all the years I had with him, and for all the wisdom and knowledge he passed on to me. He told me that he was passing me his mantle. I do not feel worthy to take it up; however, if he thought that much of me to invest all those years of time and wisdom into me, then I owe it to the memory of him to fight racism and continue his works. Wade and I always called one another “Old Partner”. I will miss him for the rest of my life, and will never forget him. Because I serve Jesus as my Lord and Master, I will see Wade again. So it’s not goodbye, but it’s just “So Long For Now, Old Partner!” (Rev. Johnny Lee Clary)
Did you hear that? “The Rev. Johnny Lee Clary.” How do you explain that? What can soften a racist’s heart? What can turn a “cross burner” into a “cross proclaimer?” It wasn’t Pastor Wade Watts’ brute strength or sensitivity training that changed the heart of Johnny Lee Clary. It was the love of Jesus. The relentless love of Jesus. Just as Jesus changed Johnny’s heart towards those he saw as his enemies so He can change your heart this very morning if you will only let Him in. Won’t you let Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 27, 2014