Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This verse really underscores the importance of the Scriptures and the critical role they play in our lives. Their absence is debilitating while their presence is empowering. By absence, I mean that we have a casual approach to the Scriptures and the role they play in our lives. By ‘presence’ I mean that we embrace the Scriptures; learn them and apply them. They develop the framework through which we view life. They are the basis for us defining what is good and evil.
How do we resist being overcome by evil if we don’t recognize the evil that surrounds us? While much evil is obvious, there is much that is not. Likewise we must learn to recognize good. The problem is twofold: the society around us at times is clueless as to good and evil; and the Church is greatly affected by the fact that our culture has so infiltrated the church. This results in the problem that Isaiah identified in 5:20 where he pronounces a warning:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
We must recognize that this is going on all around us now and the Scriptures enable us to address it. In Hebrews 5:13-14 we see the reality of this problem and the vital role God’s Word has:
13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
The Lord wants our lives to glorify Him. We are able to do that by living lives that are not overcome by evil, rather we overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
There are probably people in our lives that we wouldn’t mind seeing burning coals heaped on their head. But the overall context of the verses we have been looking at really speaks to our attitudes and actions toward those who wouldn’t make our friends list. Paul has been writing about being a people whose love is sincere. This includes blessing those who persecute us; to bless and not curse; and not repaying anyone evil for evil
This is the Kingdom of God way of life – just the opposite of how our old natures want to respond. The Message states this verse this way, “Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.” Jesus takes it even further. He tells us to, “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He asks what credit is it to us if we only love those who love us; if we only do good to those who do good to us; if we only lend to those from whom we expect repayment? Our heavenly Father is kind to the ungrateful and wicked and He expects us to be merciful just as He is. (Luke 6:27-36)
There are two examples given in Exodus 23:4-5 that flesh out this reality in a practical, helpful way. “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” Think of it this way. If we’re driving down the road and see someone who is nasty to us with a flat tire and in need of help, we stop and help them. Or if they are taken ill and we have the opportunity to help with meals or assist them in some way, we do it.
But let’s add a twist. We must be careful not to assume that our kindness will produce an immediate change in them. That is for the Lord to do. How do we respond if the person we help then continues to be nasty – and then we encounter him needing help on the road again? Do we drive by and say, “You deserve it! I’m not going to help you!” Or do we stop again, because we have forgiven them and this is another opportunity from the Lord to bless them (and us)? Maybe an angel did in the tire because he knew we were coming and wanted to see what we would do.
Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Have you ever noted the perverse delight we experience when we are able to get even with someone who’s done us wrong? And have you noticed how we can be preoccupied or even consumed by negative thoughts of someone who’s wronged us when they seem to get away with it? I call that negative meditation. I think it’s accurate to say that none of this is redemptive.
Getting even! Tit-for-tat! Giving them what they deserve! In some cultures of the world such thoughts and values lead to the shedding of blood and the taking of lives. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters face this each day because they have rejected the faith of their culture and became Christian. Our problem isn’t that we want to kill someone, but it’s more in the idea of successfully “doing unto them as they did to us” – but in an appropriate way.
The fruit of such thoughts and actions are deadly and forbidden. Today’s verse tells us don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” This is like the Lord saying to us, “Don’t play in the minefield!” Jesus taught us, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) This truth applies – always. It means we act and respond to all circumstances and provocations in a way consistent with God’s word. But in the heat of a moment or in the stinging aftermath of being hurt how do we get there?
I find that the priceless key for me is forgiveness. It is the escape hatch from this path of revenge and getting even. Forgiveness is a decision of our will and is not dependent upon our feelings. It’s like cracking open an egg. Once done, it’s done! We cannot undue it. Then we seek the Lord’s help in dealing with our anger, bitterness, frustration, etc… Think of Jesus forgiving from the cross. Think of Stephen forgiving while he is being stoned to death. Think of glorifying God when we are negatively treated. Remember that Jesus taught us to, “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:38)
The Bible teaches that a man will reap what he sows. That principle is true for everyone. When someone sows unrighteousness, the Lord wants us to recognize that He is the one in charge of determining what they reap – and when. When unrighteousness happens to us, let our prayer be for God to grant repentance and mercy to the one doing it.
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
When I read this verse I think of the many wonderful things the Bible has to say about peace, and peacemakers. I think of Jesus – He is the Prince of Peace. In the midst of turbulence and strife we can be filled with peace because we have learned to trust in Him. In Isaiah 26: 3 it says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
Have you noticed that we can share the peace we have with others? It’s like the widow’s pot of oil in the Old Testament – there is a never ending supply. We must understand the powerful impact God wants us to have in the lives of those around us, particularly when they are upset and stressed out. Our faith and trust in the Lord make us immune to their lack of peace – their nervousness and anxiety. The words we speak, and the manner in which the Spirit leads us to do it can have such a redemptive impact. In Proverbs 25:11 it says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” In fact our destiny is to be peacemakers. Remember in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt 5:9)
The more we walk in God’s ways – meaning bringing our lives into conformity with His word – the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the greater the blessing we will be to all around us. When we are faithful to Him, we won’t rise to provocation or insist on having our way. We acknowledge when we are wrong and others are right. We apologize and ask for forgiveness. We are other oriented. Instead of contributing to the anxiety and unrest, making bad situations worse, He will use us to defuse the unrest and turn the situations in a redemptive direction. He will use our righteous responses (meaning doing things His way) to positively impact the situations we find ourselves in.
The themes our lives are to involve love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. These qualities are so evident in the verses of Romans 12:9-21 that we have been looking at over recent weeks. It’s like peace is the fruit or guest that comes when the other three are present. Psalm 85:10 presents such a beautiful picture of what God does in us when we love Him: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
Romans 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
Back during the depression my father worked in a bank. One of his memories was that the tellers at the bank he worked at were not trained to spot counterfeits by looking at examples of counterfeit currency. The focus was upon learning what the genuine bills looked like. They became so familiar with the real that when they were flipping through the bills, a variant would stand out no matter how small or subtle the difference was.
Taking a look at today’s verse, consider evil and wrong (the opposite of right) as counterfeits. We can spend our time focusing on what not to do, but that raises the question of how do we know whether an action or attitude is evil or wrong. It makes a whole lot more sense to focus on learning what is right.
What is the right way to respond when evil is done to us or those we love? How do we determine what is right when in the midst of turbulent circumstances? Let’s consider another illustration that we can relate to. Why do pilots get trained and licensed to fly on instruments? The reality of flying is that all manner of weather is encountered. We’ve all heard the stories of pilots in flight simulators who fly them ‘into the ground’ because they lose their bearings. Their instincts are telling them they’re doing fine, but the instruments indicate they are headed for disaster. Pilots must trust their instruments when they are flying in adverse conditions.
These two illustrations present a unique picture for us. God’s Word is the ultimate and absolute source of defining what is right. It contains the principles and instructions that provide the basis for recognizing what is right in every situation. The Holy Spirit in essence becomes our ‘instrument panel’. He communicates to us the insights and understandings needed to safely navigate every situation – no matter how difficult or confusing. We learn His voice. He brings to mind appropriate understandings of God’s word that apply to the situations at hand. We learn to trust Him, not our instincts, public opinion or what seems right. We look to Him. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, but by doing this we become increasingly aware of our dependence upon God. The more we look to Him and live out His ways, the more right choices we will make.
Romans 12:16 Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. (The Message)
Have you noticed that Jesus could relate well to anyone? Tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, – everyone that the Pharisees had an attitude about. What an example Jesus is for us. The Pharisees, on the other hand, appear to be a strong example for us on how not to relate to others. They put people into categories and were consumed with pride and arrogance. Their blindness to this condition caused them to miss the miracle-working Messiah who was right in front of them.
Unfortunately, there are cultural tendencies that we live with that encourage us to look down upon people that are members of various groups. This can lead us to be proud or arrogant about groups we might belong to. If we have experienced such condescension or discrimination, we know first hand how refreshing it is to have relationships where this negative baggage is not present; where we are treated as people of worth. Living out today’s verse is imperative for us, in all the circumstances of our lives: church, work, daily interactions, family and friends.
This verse triggers such wonderful memories of the Christian college where I worked in Franklin, Tennessee (Williamson Christian College). We experienced the blessing of having an incredible mix of students from about 18 different countries. We had home grown Americans, immigrants, refugees and foreign students. Although the majority of the students were Christian, there were any number of other religions represented including Hindu, Islam and Buddhist. We had the honor of serving them all – helping and enabling them to pursue their education.
Our college and curriculum were Christ-centered and the students all understood that. What an opportunity for us to live out our faith! It was reflected in how we as staff got along with and served one another. It was revealed in the quality of relationships that faculty and staff and students had with each other. Students were not required to become Christian to attend, but they knew they were going to be exposed to the Christian faith; both in terms of teaching and in the overall experience they had there. What an opportunity for us to demonstrate the Christian faith to be the real thing!
Note: Here is the website of this wonderful college: http://www.williamsoncc.edu
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
The Amplified Bible adds a bit of understanding to this verse, ”Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].” Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child, whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman, who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy just said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
I can sure relate to that little boy. There are times when friends or co-workers are suffering a loss or are in a very painful situation and I just want to be near them – and ‘help them cry’. Unfortunately, we can become paralyzed because we don’t know what to say. This can lead to saying or doing nothing out of fear of being embarrassed or causing more hurt. The Lord wants us to move forward, not hold back. It’s helpful to recognize the value in quiet presence. Often it’s not what we say, but the thoughtfulness of being there – our presence, a gentle touch, a compassionate smile. Sometimes a simple phone call to friends who are in mourning can mean a great deal. We briefly tell them we love them; are praying for them and just wanted them to know we cared. If ever there was a time when, “It’s the thought that counts,” applied, it’s in times of mourning.
The other side of the coin is rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. One of the wonderful attributes we can develop is that of having vicarious pleasure when wonderful things happen to people we care about. This is the opposite of jealousy. Dear friends of ours have had their home on the market and it just sold. At the same time they found a wonderful home that they are buying. What a time to rejoice with them! Part of the rejoicing will mean we get to help them move. That is part of our rejoicing with them!
Hopefully we are making a priority of building lasting relationships. It’s so important that we are close enough to those around us so we know what is going on. Friends – particularly Christian friends – are so wonderful to have when it comes to sharing the highs and lows of life. That’s what friends are for – we get to be there for each other.