In Romans 12:9-21 Paul drills down on the words of Christ found in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” and in Luke 6:22, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. Paul does this for the church in Rome that is fragmenting: The Christians with a Jewish background are fighting those with a Gentile background, not to mention constant debate over the way they were to treat the non-believers surrounding them. It is so bad that Brutus no longer comes to the Sunday service so that he will not run into Crispus. Secundus is so angry at both of them that he no longer comes to church at all. Pomponia hired an off duty Centurion to keep pagans from cutting across her yard to get to their temple.
They all said that God is love. They said that they were forgiven and that they would forgive as Christ forgave them. Well, at least until someone crossed them! Then love and forgiveness gave way to what they really believed; self and revenge. Let’s be honest, we have all been there.
In that moment we sound like super heroes from a comic book with words like “The evildoers must be stopped. Justice must prevail. I must correct this wrong!” From super hero, we turn into a very confused theologian. “God is a God of justice and I am His, so I am His instrument for justice. And somewhere in the Bible it says ‘an eye for an eye’ so I must blacken the enemy’s eye. This is going to be great!”
I remember being at a friend’s child’s birthday many years ago. The little boy, on the verge of speech, was the center of his parent’s world. You might think that he was spoiled, but that was not the case because he had not yet discovered how to use love for his own ends. I am sure that he thought everyone was loved the same way that he was. He certainly seemed to love everyone around him.
Anthony, the birthday boy was entertaining all the guests with smiles, giggles and his wonderfully wobbling steps. That came to an abrupt end when Carl, a typical little boy, had enough of this and pushed his way through the crowd. He pushed Anthony down, hoping to remove him from center stage. Anthony hit the floor, and let out a scream. His mother scooped him up and held him until he stopped crying. The first thing that he did when she put him down was to wobble over to Carl. He knew that Carl caused the problem, but he did not understand why. Anthony did not know what to do about someone who was not loving toward him, so he did what he always did. He hugged Carl and held on to him. I was speechless.
I just wanted him to defend himself and punch Carl. After all, if he did not stop this now, it would be like this the rest of his life, from the classroom to the boardroom. He might as well invite bullies to pick on him, I thought.
According to God’s word, Anthony was right and I was wrong. “Never pay back evil for evil to any- one. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” My heart wanted to bring more violence to the room, but Anthony’s heart brought peace. God’s word to the Romans is so difficult! “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”
This is such a hard test of our trust in God and His word. Before the eyes of the world, it is embarrassing not to fight back. We know that God is our judge and not the world, but the judgment of the world is so very present and very loud. Who will we live to please? We must understand as Anthony did that the greater enemy is not the one that pushes us down, it is the one that lives inside us and demands that we push back. Satan is not satisfied with inflicting pain on only one in the room, he wants them all. He wants a response that glorifies him.
God says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” The instant you curse them, you join them, no matter how good it may feel at the moment, it is still a moral failure. The only way to conquer evil is to take it and disarm it. You overcome it with good.
What does this “good” look like? Paul says this, “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but over- come evil with good.” I must admit that when I am angry at my enemy, my favorite part of the verse is “HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD” but it does not mean what I want it to mean at that moment.
Martin Luther taught that this meant that those who receive good as a response to their evil “burn against themselves,” once they have realized what and Who is lacking in their life. The first half of the verse is ours to carry out and the second half is the Holy Spirit’s to carry out.
This is very difficult, but if you repay evil for evil, all you have is a whole lot of evil. We know that is not good!
We are to act as God calls us to act and as Christ acted.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21
Remember the example, Christ took evil and repaid it with good, He took blame and repaid it with pardon, He took death and repaid it with life, He took sin and repaid it with grace.