Romans 12:17-21 – CHILDREN OF GOD AND DEALING WITH EVIL
You and I were born into a world of evil, and as long as we remain on the earth, we will continue to live in that kind of world. In our everyday activities, whether we want to or not, we witness the reality of evildoers. In some cases, we may even be on the receiving end of their wickedness.
In Romans 12:17-21, there are some fundamental principles about how Christians should handle the evil that they meet or have dumped in their laps. First, consider what the passage says:
(17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord. (20) Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Repay no one evil for evil (17) – That is God’s message for Christians that are mistreated. The way of the animal kingdom is to fight back, sometimes to the death. The way of small children is to hit, kick, or bite back. The way of worldly people is to “fight fire with fire.” The general thinking is, “I am just giving him a dose of his own medicine.” When our Lord was reviled, He did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). Yes, it is so tempting to yell back at the yeller, speak hateful words right back at the hateful, and try to find a way to bully the bullies, but God does not want His children to stoop to the level of recompensing evil for evil.
As much as possible, live peaceably with evildoers (18) – In order for people to get along, all of the parties involved must seek to obtain and maintain peace. Our obligation is to do all within our power to live in a peaceful fashion with all men, including evildoers. Sometimes, though, it does not work out because the other fellow just has no interest in being peaceable, as it is written, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:7). Contrary to what many suppose, taking the approach that tries to be a person of peace is not the way of weakness or cowardice. It is the way of imitating the Son of God, whose life was the epitome of strength and courage.
Do not avenge yourselves (19) – When we have been wronged, there may be a voice within us that cries out, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” That message is in the Bible alright, but it was instruction that God gave to the Israelites under the old covenant. Plus, those words never did give a person the sanction to take matters into his own hands in the form of a lynching mob. Instead, judges were to make diligent inquiry, then they were the ones that were authorized to deal with the lawbreakers in an “eye-for-an-eye” fashion (Deuteronomy 19:18-21). Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). Going right on into the beginning of the next chapter of Romans, we see that, at least in some cases, matters can be settled by appealing to civil authorities, who act as avengers on those that do evil (13:3,4).
Treat even those that are enemies with human decency (20) – Sometimes we become so frustrated, so agitated, so angry, that our emotions take over and get the best of us. Before you know it, we are out of control, acting and talking in a rage, making fools of ourselves and bringing reproach on the Cause of the One that we claim to serve. We know that Jesus said that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). While we might be inclined to think, “Okay, I’ll try, but only from a distance,” the Holy Spirit guided Paul to say that we should provide food and drink to enemies that stand in need of such (Romans 12:20). That is simply showing what we call “human decency.” The Master said that even sinners are nice to people that are nice to them. Christians must live on a higher plain (Luke 6:31-35).
Do not be overcome by evil (21) – We are in a spiritual war. We must hold our ground in the fight against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-13). We must not give in or give up in the battle to save our own souls, save our families, and save our nation. It bums us out to see such widespread evil in all of its diverse forms, but let us not forget that He Who is in us is greater than he that is in the world! (1 John 4:4).
Overcome evil with good (21) – This charge reminds us that we must not be passive. We must not sit back and wish for somebody somewhere to do something to help turn things around. Soldiers of the Christ, arise and put your armor on! Live a life of godliness and good works (Matthew 5:16). Teach others the good and right way (1 Samuel 12:23). If we constantly will make an effort to please the Lord in all that we do, then great things can happen! There will always be evil in the world, but we can overcome it by doing that which is good.
Obviously, our Lord wants us to think and act on a higher plain than the world does. Romans 12:17-21 gives clear instructions about how we need to conduct ourselves in the face of evil or mistreatment. It does not matter how other people respond in the face of such: what God says to do is right, period. May He help us to apply these practical teachings in our lives.
— Roger D. Campbell
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