The Gospel Is for Relationships (Romans 12:14-16)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
This list of gospel-transformed characteristics in chapter 12 takes on a new angle. Relationships. Though relationships have been in view since verse 9, they are now pushed to the forefront of these marks that characterize the people of Jesus.
We can pinpoint four relational categories that he mentions here: response, empathy, harmony, and association. There is so much to be said about each one, but let’s look at them briefly and then get to why it all matters.
Four Relational Categories
Response. Paul first mentions what we do in response to how others treat us. More specifically, this is how we should respond when others harm us. This is the relational movement between us when circumstances are broken. When we are persecuted, when we suffer by the hands of another, the way of Jesus is to bless, not curse. This doesn’t mean congratulate or praise. We should hate evil, including the evil acted toward us (Psalm 97:10). The point here is not to retaliate, but to love. To take up the concern of another, even when that person persecutes you. This is so counter-intuitive. It is so out of this world. Really. It takes supernatural power and a deep recognition that vengeance is God’s (cf. Romans 12:19).
Empathy. The next category addresses the emotional level of relationships, whether that means joy or sorrow. God’s people are called to be aware of the emotional complexity of human beings — how we can be joyful and sorrowful. And then we enter into that emotional experience for the sake of love. We rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep.
Harmony. This is a beautiful, straightforward characteristic of God’s people. Live in harmony with one another. It doesn’t mean agree with everything that others think, but live peaceably. Don’t provoke others and don’t be easily provoked.
Association. The word used here is used two other times in the New Testament, in Galatians 2:13 and 2 Peter 3:17. In both those cases it means to be carried away with false teaching. It’s the idea of association, but even more than that. We are not stingy with our relational energy. Paul says that Christians are caught up in the lives of the lowly. This doesn’t mean arms’ distance, but actually involved in their everyday.
And lastly, Paul tells us “Never be wise in your own sight.” Literally, “don’t become wise with your own self.” It is fascinating that we get this word in the context of relationships. It makes sense. To be wise in our own mind — to be wise with your self — is anti-relational. It is self-consumed. It is a refusal to submit yourself to the input of others. The people of Jesus are characterized by not being like this.
Why It All Matters
All of these characteristics matter because relationships matter. And relationships matter because they prove to be the primary arena where the glory of the gospel shines. The gospel is for relationships, after all. Jesus died and was raised and ascended, first, for our relationship with God, and then next for our relationship with others. This is seen in the two greatest commandments to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:37–40).
All of us live in relation to others. Some of these relationships are more joyful than others, but they all, at times, can be difficult. Why, though? Why can relationships become so complicated?
Let this text in Romans 12 lead us to take a step back. Let us consider that every relationship in our lives, rain or shine, good or rocky, is a relationship where the gospel is meant to shine. What God has done in Christ is beaming forth, waiting to be unleashed to pervade how we respond to others, how we empathize, how we live in harmony, and who we associate with.