When it comes to how we live, we tend to either be like thermometers or thermostats. In no ambiguous terms, the New Testament informs us that we should be similar to the latter and not the former.
As we all know, thermometers react to their environment. They do this by internally responding to how hot or cool their surroundings are. Thermometers announce to the world in no uncertain terms what the temperature is around them.
On the other hand, thermostats seek to regulate the temperatures around them to be what they should be. While they too are aware of their environment, they are set to an ideal temperature. Is it getting too hot? The thermostat will turn on the air conditioner.
When someone mistreats us, our natural inclination can be to simply react by lashing out. When someone cuts us off in traffic, perhaps suddenly our blood pressure resembles a thermometer peaked to explode as the attitude, “I’ll teach him” takes over.
Rather than merely reacting to our environment and perpetuating the work of the evil one, Jesus counseled a different way, the way of the thermostat. We know his words well.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two“ (Matthew 5:38-41).
In fact, Jesus pointed out that if our character fails to seek to regulate our environment toward good, how are we different from the rest of society? “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?“ (Matthew 5:46,47).
Paul would echo Jesus’ teachings when he taught that we should not allow the evil done to us to overcome us, but rather we should overcome that evil with good (Romans 12:21). This would require blessing those who persecute us, giving our enemy drink and food, and not repaying anyone evil for evil (Romans 12:14,17,20).
God’s people are to make a difference for God in the world, a difference that brings a blessing and orientates our environment toward wholesomeness, love and peace. By keeping our eyes on this goal, we are less likely to be thermometers and more likely to God’s thermostats.