Living in Harmony
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Paul began Romans 12 by saying that believers must present themselves to God as living sacrifices. We must not be conformed to the world in which we live, but seek to have our minds transformed by God’s grace. This transformed mind leads a person to a host of practical applications in life: thinking of one’s self properly, practicing sincere love, hating what is evil, clinging to what is good, and more. In the midst of these practical applications, we find the admonition to “live in harmony with one another.”
A popular song a few years ago asked the question: “Why can’t we all be colorblind?” At first glance, that seems like a very good question. It would seem to be reasonable and sensible that, if we were all colorblind, the problem of racial discrimination and prejudice could be eliminated. It all sounds so simple.
But is colorblindness toward the races what we really need? After due consideration, the answer seems more appropriately to be, “No!” Colorblindness would rob a person of their cultural identity. That is not something people should be forced to deny, no matter what color, for the sake of “racial reconciliation.” While some may not be proud of their heritage, most people are—and rightly so.
John Cheng, a historian and assistant professor at George Mason University, says on the Public Broadcasting System Web site, “I hope we’re never ready for a ‘colorblind’ society. I don’t like the expression because it sets the wrong terms for discussion when it comes to issues of race, equality, and social justice. To me, ‘blind’ means not being able to see things, and wanting to be ‘blind’ to color or race seems to mean wanting to ignore race or pretend its social and historical effects don’t exist . . . These various shades of ‘color’ must all be kept in perspective, none at the expense of the other, if we want to address seriously the question of how to be an equitable society today. There may not be a solution, but if there is one, it will almost certainly be difficult, and it will require effort, awareness, and responsibility. We can not afford to be ‘colorblind.’ We need to develop our ability to see ‘color’ for what is, has been, and will be, so we’re prepared to deal with its consequences” (http://www.pbs.org/race).
What can be done to promote more harmonious relationships among all races?
- Racial reconciliation requires the acknowledgment that differences do exist.
- Reconciliation must be based on reality—a reality that does not bury its head in the sand in an attempt to ignore the differences.
- Each racial group has its own culture and identity that must be recognized and accepted.
- Paul often addressed the friction that was caused by differences in the early church:
- 1 Cor. 1:10-17
- 1 Cor. 6:1-8
- Eph. 4:1-6
- Phil. 4:1-3
- First Corinthians 13 was written by Paul as a corrective for the strife within the church at Corinth.
- The principles in 1 Corinthians 13 apply to racial reconciliation.
- Racial reconciliation requires unity—not union.
- Union refers to “something formed by uniting two or more things; combination . . . a number of persons, states, etc., joined or associated together for some common purpose” (http://www.infoplease.com online dictionary).
- Unity refers to “the state of being one; oneness; a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one; oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement” (http://www.infoplease.com online dictionary) (WS1 and WS2).
- Union may be achieved by man’s efforts.
- Unity is achieved by God’s grace (WS3, WS4 and OS5).
- Racial reconciliation requires effort.
- There is no verb in the original language, but the context (v. 9-16) shows activity (hate, cling, honor, share, bless, etc.).
- The context also shows that those activities are based on a state-of-being [be devoted, be joyful, (be) patient, (be) faithful, never be lacking].
- Reconciliation must begin with a work of God in a person’s life .
- Once begun, reconciliation must be maintained by us .
- Reconciliation is not maintained by words, but by actions (OS1 and OS2).
- In Ephesians 4:3, Paul addressed the idea of unity and called for action.
- Reconciliation requires a changed heart.
- When the heart is changed, people are changed (WS6 and WS7).
- When people are changed, relationships are changed (CC1, CC2, CC3, CC4, OS3, and OS4).
- When relationships are changed, the body of Christ thrives .
- Change is not without risk (OS1, paragraph 4 and OS2).
Racial reconciliation will never be achieved by asking anyone, including ourselves, to become blind to our heritage. We must not expect another person to become a carbon copy of us in order to gain acceptance. Not only would that be impossible, it would be foolish since none of us is perfect in any capacity. Outward appearances fail to convey the most important part of people—the heart. Yet, when God looks upon us, He sees directly into the core of our being, in spite of our physical features and ethnic backgrounds (1 Sam. 16:7). True, biblical acceptance means that we take the other person for who and what they are and build a relationship that respects our differences.
Those best able to do that are Christians who have “the love of God . . . shed abroad in our hearts” (Rom. 5:5, KJV). God, who reconciled us to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, KJV), is the author of reconciliation. We must extend that reconciliation to others by being reconciled to them (Matt. 5:24). The only real hope of racial reconciliation is Christians taking seriously the work of God in our hearts and allowing Him to bring us together in an attitude of love and acceptance.
What Can One Person Do?
- If you work with people of another ethnic group, ask them to share some of the main things about their culture with you. Seek to gain an understanding of their culture. Then share some things about your culture with them so they can learn to appreciate your culture.
- Arrange for a pulpit exchange with a church of another ethnic group.
- Invite people from other ethnic groups to your home for fellowship. Seek to develop relationships with them.
- Ask your church to participate in a joint worship service with a church of another ethnic group in your community. Explore ways fellowships of different races and ethnicities can work together to serve others in Christ’s name.
Other Helpful Scriptures
Bible verses about Racial Reconciliation:
Genesis 3:20; Deuteronomy 10:17; Malachi 2:10; Luke 10:29-37; John 4:7-10; Acts 10:28; Acts 10:34; Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-22; Colossians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:1-9
Word Studies (WS)
WS1 — same — from the particle au [perhaps akin to the base of Greek 109 (aer) through the idea of a baffling wind] (backward); the reflexive pronoun self, used (alone or in the compound Greek 1438 [heautou]) of the third person, and (with the properly personal pronoun) of the other persons :- her, it (self), one, the other, (mine) own, said, ([self], the) same, (him, my, thy) self, [your] selves, she, that, their (s), them (selves), there (at, by, in, into, of, on, with), they, (these) things, this (man), those, together, very, which. Compare Greek 848 (hautou). [James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.)—Greek #846]
WS2 — same — denotes ‘the same’ when preceded by the article, and either with a noun following, e.g., Mark 14:39; Phil. 1:30; 1 Cor. 12:4, or without, e.g., Matt. 5:46,47; Rom. 12:1; Phil. 2:2; 3:1; Heb. 1:12; 13:8. It is thus to be distinguished from uses as a personal and a reflexive pronoun. [W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), 317]
WS3 — another — Genitive plural from Greek 243 _ reduplication; _one another :- each other, mutual, one another, (the other), (them-, your-) selves, (selves) together [sometimes with Greek 3326 _ or Greek 4314 (pros)]. [James Strong, _Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.)—Greek #240]
WS4 — another — expresses a numerical difference and denotes another of the same sort [W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. I (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), 60]
WS5 — mind — from Greek 5424 ; to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience) :- set the affection on, (be) care (ful), (be like, + be of one, + be of the same, + let this) mind (-ed), regard, savour, think. [James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.)—Greek #5426]
WS6 — mind — To set one’s mind on; to set one’s thoughts on; to have one’s mind controlled. It means mind; to set and focus one’s mind constantly upon heavenly things, not upon earthly things. [“Mind On, Set,” Practical Word Studies in the New Testament (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 5 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)]
WS7 — mind — denotes what one has in the mind, the thought . . . or an object of thought. [W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), 69]
Commentary Citations (CC)
CC1 — “We are to live in harmony with one another. It was Nelson who, after one of his great victories, sent back a dispatch 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.” [William Barclary, Romans. Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 169]
CC2 — “Christians should be able to empathize with others, both believers and unbelievers. Paul commanded, Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Related to this is the next command, Live in harmony with one another (lit., “having the same attitude toward one another”; cf. Rom. 15:5; Phil. 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8). Being in harmony with other Christians is basic to being able to empathize with them. [Bible Knowledge Commentary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 5 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)]
CC3 — “The professed love of Christians to each other should be sincere, free from deceit, and unmeaning and deceitful compliments. Depending on Divine grace, they must detest and dread all evil, and love and delight in whatever is kind and useful. We must not only do that which is good, but we must cleave to it. All our duty towards one another is summed up in one word, love. This denotes the love of parents to their children; which is more tender and natural than any other; unforced, unconstrained. And love to God and man, with zeal for the gospel, will make the wise Christian diligent in all his wordly business, and in gaining superior skill. God must be served with the spirit, under the influences of the Holy Spirit. He is honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope. He is served, not only by working for him, but by sitting still quietly, when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God’s sake, is true piety. Those that rejoice in hope, are likely to be patient in tribulation. We should not be cold in the duty of prayer, nor soon weary of it. Not only must there be kindness to friends and brethren, but Christians must not harbour anger against enemies. It is but mock love, which rests in words of kindness, while our brethren need real supplies, and it is in our power to furnish them. Be ready to entertain those who do good: as there is occasion, we must welcome strangers. Bless, and curse not. It means thorough good will; not, bless them when at prayer, and curse them at other times; but bless them always, and curse not at all. True Christian love will make us take part in the sorrows and joys of each other. Labour as much as you can to agree in the same spiritual truths; and when you come short of that, yet agree in affection. Look upon worldly pomp and dignity with holy contempt. Do not mind it; be not in love with it. Be reconciled to the place God in his providence puts you in, whatever it be. Nothing is below us, but sin. We shall never find in our hearts to condescend to others, while we indulge conceit of ourselves; therefore that must be mortified. [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Concise (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 5 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)]
CC4 — “A climate of love is absolutely basic to the church of Jesus Christ. Without such caring, and reaching out to touch one another’s lives, the church will fall tragically short of God’s intended experience of His ‘good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12:2).” [“A Righteous, Loving Church,” #128, Teacher’s Commentary (Austin, TX: WORDSearch 5 Electronic version, WORDSearch Corp., 2004)]
Other Sources (OS)
OS1 — “The Bible says that in order to make friends, one must himself be friendly (Proverbs 18:24 KJV). Thus, the Bible seems to imply that if we want to make a friend, we must demonstrate friendliness. This principle requires us to initiate efforts to make friends, which means we do not wait for people to come to us. Notice that the Bible doesn’t refer to the color of the skin of those people to whom we are to show ourselves friendly.
“The first obstacle to fulfilling this principle is that it requires us to make the first move. The problem with this is that almost none of us will do it. The reason is that most Christians have bought into the American mind-set of being comfortable. Trying to make friends with people will definitely move us out of our ‘comfort zones.’
“The second obstacle to taking the first step in making friends is that it requires faith. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us, even though we are Christians, do not like living by faith. We struggle with living by faith because living by faith means we are not in control, and we are not sure exactly what God may ask us to do. But we do know that whatever God asks us to do won’t be easy.
“The third problem we have with showing ourselves friendly is that we fear people will reject us. People may think we are strange or even call us names. An attempt at initiating relationships with people may even affect our reputation in the business world, at church, or in the evangelical community within which we work, which could negatively affect our earning potential.”
[Clarence Shuler, Winning the Race to Unity (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 208]
OS2 — “If you chose to be part of the solution and get involved, you can expect misunderstanding and conflict. But if we decide to be reconcilers, we have to take risks. We must use our sphere of influence to open doors of opportunity for others who don’t naturally have that access . . . When we take risks and cross barriers into areas where society is not comfortable, it doesn’t always work out; it sometimes blows up. That’s why it’s called a risk.”
[Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein, Breaking Down Walls (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 239]
OS3 — “Stronger than all these images playing through my mind was another powerful, soul-stirring, body-shaking scene—and that was the image of the Son of God dying on the cross of Calvary. I saw Him bruised and battered, His back torn apart by the brutal whipping He had endured, His hands and feet pierced through with huge spikes and blood running down His face from a crown of thorns that had been pushed down onto His head by a blood-thirsty group of Roman soldiers. I saw Christ as He felt so alone and abandoned that He cried out, ‘My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?’ Yet Christ looked at those who had treated Him cruelly and prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
“The Holy Spirit would not let that image leave me. He seemed to be whispering to me again and again, ‘John, you’ve got to love them.
“‘But I don’t want to love them! Look what they’ve done to me.’
“There was that image of Christ: ‘Father, forgive them . . .’ I simply could not get it to leave me alone.
“‘How can I love them, Lord?’
“‘Let Me love them through you.’
“And that is exactly what happened. The love of God began to take away from my soul every bit of anger and hatred. The only way I can describe it is to tell you that I was overwhelmed by the love of God. And as His love and joy coursed through my spirit and soul, I knew there was no way I could keep that love from overflowing to the people around me. White people, black people, any other kind of people, it did not matter. God loved them all and so did I.”
[John Perkins and Thomas A. Tarrants III, He’s My Brother (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1994), 132]
OS4 — “Certainly it is unrealistic for Christians to pretend there are no differences among them. There is no group in the world so gloriously heterogeneous as the church. Its genius is that it is made up of different kinds of people. In the true church of Christ the rich and poor are to gather on the same footing, without distinction and certainly without favor. Jews or Gentiles, men or women, black, red, white or yellow—it is to make no difference. This, admittedly, is not the way the church has always been, but this is the way the church was meant to be and can be. The church crosses all the boundaries which men erect and all natural distinctions as well, and gathers all peoples, without exception, into one body.”
[Ray C. Stedman, Body Life (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1972), 23]
OS5 — “But also in the apostle’s exhortation a second fact is visible. Beneath all the differences among the early Christians there is also the fact of a basic unity. The apostle does not tell these Christians to strive to produce unity, but to maintain what is already there. The church is never told to create unity. There is a unity that is already there by virtue of the very existence of the church. There is no need to create it, in fact, men are incapable of producing the unity that is essential to the life of the church. It can be produced only by the Spirit of God; but once produced, it is the responsibility of Christians to maintain it.”
[Ray C. Stedman, Body Life (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1972), 24]
OS6 — “A body is formed by the extension of one original cell which grows until it becomes a mature body in which every cell shares the original life. That is the secret of a body—all parts of it share life together . . . It is the sharing of life that makes a body different from an organization. An organization derives power from the association of individuals, but a body derives its power from the sharing of life.”
[Ray C. Stedman, Body Life (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1972), 25]