48. Romans 12:18
If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. —Romans 12:18
In 1757 Benjamin Franklin sailed for England aboard a ship that joined a fleet of nearly one hundred others. From the deck Franklin noticed that the water behind most of the ships was churning and agitated; but two ships had calm wakes, as though gliding through the sea. Asking the captain about it, he received this reply: “Oh, everyone knows that. The cooks on those two ships have just thrown their greasy water overboard.”
Franklin spent years pondering this phenomenon. He even designed a walking cane with a hollow center that he filled with oil. When at a lake or river, he’d amaze his friends with a little parlor trick. No matter how choppy the water, when he poured his oil onto the surface, it became more calm. The calmness would spread out and cover a wide area.
Franklin’s discovery was the object of much inquiry. People wanted to know why a thin layer of oil could create such calm on the waters. The answer is simple. Ripples and waves are caused by the friction between air and water. When a gust of wind blows over a body of water, the air grabs at the water and lifts it up. When the surface of the water is coated with oil, the friction is reduced, and the wind cannot easily get hold of the water.
What oil is to water, grace and graciousness are to our relationships. People tend to rub one another the wrong way. The friction between our personalities creates ripples of disharmony. But when we pour the oil of grace onto the water, it has a way of calming the seas. If we’re gracious to people—we don’t get mad easily; we don’t stay mad long; we don’t take offense or let a root of bitterness spring up—if we forgive easily and assume the best in others, and if we learn to smile through the day, we’ll have a much happier life. So will the people around us!
In ten words Romans 12:18 sums up the essence of good relationships. The main clause is found in the last five words: live at peace with everyone. But it opens with two helpful caveats: (1) if possible, and (2) on your part. That tells us that sometimes, despite our best efforts, we’ll have broken friendships, rocky relationships, and even hostile enemies. Even the author of these words, the apostle Paul, had a falling out with Barnabas, a disagreement with Peter, and a conflict with Alexander the Coppersmith, among others. But the list of his friendships in Romans 16 shows us that he surely kept his own advice: If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.
To remember the reference, think of 12:18 as the opposite of 1812. When we think of 1812, we think of war; when we think of 1218, we think of living at peace.
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