“So Far As It Depends On You”

Paul is choosing his words carefully here. He knows that what he’s about to say is going to be a hard-sell.
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
It’s a strange statement when compared to the broader passage of scripture from Romans 12. Paul sounds like a preacher who is firing on all cylinders with powerful precision. Listen: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
There is a cadence to his message for the church in Rome. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” And, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
And then he hits a speed bump.
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
Something has thrown Paul off his game. His typically terse, powerful prose has been tripped up by two strangely placed qualifiers. The content of his statement about living harmoniously with others is consistent with his broader message of encouraging a community that is grounded in Christ-like love and deference for one another. In truth, Paul should have simply stated, “Live peaceably with all.”
But he didn’t. Instead, Paul inserts two awkwardly placed statements. Did you catch them? They are: “If it is possible,” and, “So far as it depends on you.”
Why does Paul begin to tiptoe here? Why does he pause and squint before stating his admonition?
Paul wants the church to live in peace. But he knows that will be harder than it sounds.
“If it is possible…”
It is possible to live in peace together, but a community defined by shalom—peace, wholeness-- requires intentionality. Peace doesn’t just happen, and it’s certainly not simply the absence of conflict. Paul was wise to parse his words carefully.
In our context, and in my experience, the element within our churches that has the power to be the most contentious and divisive centers on the work of the church. It is our common work together, side-by-side and hand in hand, that provides the setting for disagreement and conflict. And why should we be surprised? Like any family system, we’re going to see things differently from one another. Furthermore, we’re going to have different solutions to the challenges that we face. Add to that our different personalities, our vastly different life experiences and circumstances, and it’s a surprise that we don’t fuss at one another more often! Much of the conflict that arises out of the work of the church centers on misunderstandings and miscommunications, oversights and mis-dealings. In the sports world, we call these, ‘unforced errors.’
And sometimes, we just flat-out mess up. We forget to show up when we said that we would. We make the wrong recommendation. We say the wrong thing. We fail to provide a quality offering of our time and energy. We miss the mark.
When these inevitable (yes, inevitable, as in, ‘they will happen’ to us all) moments arise, it is imperative that we own up to them, apologize with sincerity to the person most-impacted by our mistake(s), and then trust the mercy they extend to us.
Also, “If it is possible,” means practicing the spiritual discipline of giving one another the benefit of the doubt. This discipline works from the presumption that each of us is working for good. When we trust that, then much of our conflict can be nipped in the bud.
“So far as it depends on you…”

Living peaceably with one another does depend on us. We have a role to play in the health of our community. And the best way for us to contribute to the health and wholeness of our families, our workplaces and our church is to know ourselves. For when we don’t know our gifts, predilections, shadow-sides and ‘favorite’ sins, then we do great damage to the people we love most.
I have found that the Enneagram—an ancient Christian tool to understand both our personalities and our sins—to be an effective tool to help me better understand myself and others. As Richard Rohr has described it, “The Enneagram can help us to purify our self-perception, to become unsparingly honest toward ourselves, and to discern better and better when we are hearing only our inner voices and impressions and are prisoners of our prejudices—and when we are capable of being open to what is new.”
On Sunday afternoon, June 4 at 4:30 PM in our newly renovated chapel, we will be meeting to begin a summer-long journey of self-discovery. I hope you will choose to join us—you simply have to show up to our first meeting to get onboard. We will be offering childcare (please let our office know by Wednesday, May 31). Our initial meeting will be an introduction and orientation to the Enneagram. The following three meetings (on three Sunday afternoons at the same time: June 25, July 9 and August 6) will be a time of further exploration of the nine different types, or personalities, that exist. Ultimately, throughout the course of this summer, we will learn more about ourselves and about others. For when we better understand one another, we can ultimately become more gracious with ourselves and the people around us. Love, for ourselves and for others, is our goal.
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
It is possible. And it does depend upon both you and me.