If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
I. LIVE PEACEABLY WHEN POSSIBLE. All that disturbance of man's peace which springs from our lower nature we are bound everywhere to restrain. Let me mention some provocatives from which we may and should abstain.
1. Offensive language. Many that have great power of speech do not feel that God's law is to regulate the use of their tongues. There are Christian heads of families who shoot across the table from day to day words which stir up the worst feelings which men can have. Many and many a household has no chimney which carries away the smoke of these conflicts, and the smoke falls down, leaving harm where it rests. As much as lieth in your tongue, then, live peaceably with your wife, your children, your servants, and your fellow-men.
2. Provoking carriage. A man can look as well as speak speech. A nod of the head, a lifting up of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulder, the whole manner, is as powerful as speech. We have no right to be provoking in our attitudes.
3. An unconscious, and still more, an intended, insolent conduct of pride toward men. Frequently the very presence of a man who is filled with a spirit of self-importance is an insult. The duty of humility is not simply a duty of the closet.
4. Selfishness. The ten thousand jealousies and envies which are current in business circles arise from inconsiderate selfishness.
5. The untrained disposition of jocosity. I mean all forms of teasing, jesting, irony, sarcasm, wit, which are indulged in at another's expense, and which are not "convenient." Ordinarily, this is practised where the victim has no power of resistance. You often see persons pulling little children's hair, saying things that stir up little children's feelings; exposing things that they do not want to have known, in order to see the flush on their cheeks; or creating a laugh at their expense. Saying disagreeable things in a calm and ironical way is inexcusable There is a teasing which is pleasant, and causes nobody suffering; but teasing for the sake of making other people uncomfortable is fiendish.
6. The habit of contradiction and argument. We know what it is to be a "bully." We see men boasting of their strength, and saying provoking things in the hope of getting into a quarrel with their fellow-men. There are men who may be called logical bullies. If you say anything, they dispute it. Argument leads to disputation speedily, and disputation to quarrelling, and quarrelling to ill-will.
7. Scandalmongering. There are men who have an intuition for discovering faults in others. They see them as quick as lightning; and they tell of them wherever they go. There are men who are vampires, feeding on their fellow-men in this way. And the amount of ill-will that is created in a neighbourhood by tale-bearers is astounding. The only excuse which men give for thus reporting things that are evil in regard to others is that they are true. But you have no right to report anything evil of a man, even if it is true, unless you have a benevolent purpose. Every man has his train of infelicities. But as they sprung from him they ought not to be carried far away from him. A scandal-monger is like one who carries contraband goods; and the partaker is as bad as the thief.
8. Indiscreet frankness. Telling men unpleasant truths about themselves, telling them what other people have said about them — this is generally unwise. Blurting out the truth about people into their faces is impolite. There is an impression that if a man has a truth he should let it fly, hit where it may. A doctor might as well scatter his drugs through the community, as a man tell all he knows about people indiscriminately. Truth, being a medicine, instead of being thrown about heedlessly, and with brutal barbarity, is to be administered with care and discretion.
9. Indiscreet urgency in religious teaching. There are many religious persons who go about with an incisiveness and pertinacity which annoy and vex people, and introduce an element of disquiet by which more harm than good is done.
II. THERE ARE TIMES IN WHICH YOU CANNOT LIVE PEACEABLY.
1. There are cases in which, when you are commanded by the law to do evil, you will be obliged to resist, and make great disturbance. And there are a great many other cases where, in your business relations and social connections, you will be placed in circumstances in which the interest of others pushes you toward the commission of evil, but in which you must not do it. A river complains to the rock on its bank of the noise which it is making. Why does the rock make the noise? Because it will not budge, and the water will. So that it is the water, and not the rock, that makes the noise. The rock stood there, and had a right to stand there; and if the water would beat against it and make a noise, it was not the rock's fault. The man who is free from wickedness is accused by wicked men of making all the turmoil and excitement, but he does not. You recollect that when the tyrant had vexed and annoyed Israel through years of misrule, and the prophet had attempted to see that the laws were obeyed, and that the welfare of the people was maintained, the king said to him, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?"
2. Christian virtue sometimes stands in the way of men's pleasure. Sometimes it happens that an individual is solicited to taste wine which conscientiously he cannot touch, and he stirs up great resistance by refusing.
3. Those who are called to teach unwelcome truths must make up their minds not to live peaceably. No man can preach the truth faithfully without offending men. Our Master could not do it. The apostles could not.
4. You cannot attempt to oppose men's worldly interests for the sake of public morality, for the reformation of the community, for the purification of the ballot, without rousing up an immense amount of anger. But somebody must do these things. No Christian man has a right to see the city in which he lives go down like Sodom and Gomorrah and put out no hand or voice to save it. Christian men are bound to be "lights" and "salt."
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.