Encourage peace within the family.
To live in harmony with other people is to seek to live at peace rather than engage in regular fighting. What a joy it would be to have a home at peace, filled with children living in harmony with one another! It’s not a rare occurrence for the peace of a weekday morning to be broken with the sounds of frustration as our boys struggle to deal with each other as they go about getting ready for school. Sometimes it seems that the very idea of harmony in the home with kids is a foolish pipe dream.
Yet, Paul in Romans 12:16-18 seems to suggest otherwise. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” While in this passage, Paul is not directly addressing family life when he talks about harmony, but in context, we cannot isolate this admonition from what takes place in our homes.
The English Standard Version places the heading “Marks of the True Christian” at the beginning of this particular section of Paul’s letter to the Romans. While headings in our Bibles are not themselves a proper part of inspired Scripture, there is good reason to take to heart the use of this heading to frame the content of Romans 12:9-21. Paul is laying out what we should be able to see in the lives of faithful Christians. Now before any of us start feeling guilty about how we might not measure up to this standard, keep in mind that this is recorded as a part of the same book in which Paul writes about his own ongoing struggles with sin in chapter 7. So, when we just like Paul do not do the things of God that we want to do (see Romans 7:15-20), we can know that we are in good company in our struggle.
Yet, it remains true as well that we are called to strive through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit toward exhibiting the marks of the true Christian as noted in Romans 12, which includes living in harmony with one another. Living in harmony within the family begins as a habit of the heart. Paul notes in Romans 12:17 that we are not to repay evil with evil. If your house is like mine this is where the wheels fall off in our quest for harmony. One slight begets another and so on and so forth until all kinds of mayhem are breaking loose. I can’t count how many times my wife and I have tried to slow down the escalation of bickering going back and forth only to be paid absolutely no heed.
This struggle is a fundamental matter of the heart. When Paul instructs us “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink’” (Romans 12:20) he is instructing us to act out of love rather than hate, out of trust rather than distrust. When we have a love for one another in our hearts and a trust in the well-meaning intentions of those in our lives, we are far slower to react, seeking vengeance, which Paul warned against in the prior verse (v. 19). When we help our children to have a heart set to a default of love and trust, harmony more naturally follows.
You may have noticed the qualified way in which this potential harmony has been described. That is in recognition of the natural development realities that our children are still in the process of learning to think of others as well as themselves, let alone of thinking from the perspective of others in their assessment of the actions of their siblings. Our task as parents is to walk alongside our children and they struggle to gain that perspective and experiment with what it means to view the actions of others from their point of view rather than from their one perspective only. This takes time and much simple reflection to learn this skill, but this reflection must begin by working on the heart. Before our children are able to accurately assess the actions of others from the perspective of those other individuals, they must learn the heart skills of love and trust in order to be able to see those actions, not as inherent assaults on their person, but to think the best of their siblings and other family members as they would hope to have done on their behalf.