God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5)
These verses offer a wonderful picture of the kind of Christian community that is possible. After all, God’s love has been poured into our hearts, so why not? Paul suggests that it is entirely possible for a local church to think, act and live according to the pattern that he outlines: humble, considerate, joyful, prayerful, passionate, righteous, hospitable, peaceful, forgiving – and the rest. This is the kind of faith community that anybody with sense would want to join. Paul is being idealistic, but is he being too optimistic?
There are few passages that capture so essentially what it means to live in a Christian way. Paul does not often refer in detail to the life and ministry of Jesus, presumably because when he writes he is responding to specific issues that have been raised. He also takes it for granted that his readers know the basic narratives of Jesus’ life. Yet here he could be spelling out the very shape of Jesus’ life as the one who absorbed and overcame evil rather than perpetuating it. Returning good for evil takes us very close to the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). To be Christ-like is surely to exhibit the qualities that are listed here – and every Christian wishes to be like Christ.
I sometimes wonder how the world would be if everybody were a Christian. I would like to think that all would be well and the world would be different. I certainly believe it would be better, but not yet at its best. Human beings are perennially disagreeable and manage to create conflict wherever they go. In a Christian world this trait might simply be intensified in relation to matters theological. Evidently we still have to work out our salvation in relation to each other, let alone the watching world.