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Overcome Evil with Good

Romans 12:14-21 - Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Every time we turn around it seems there’s a new battle against Christians and Christianity. In our schools, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods and even on our own front yards, we’re told that our faith cannot be displayed in any form. We may sometimes feel discouraged, outnumbered, and threatened. However, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave us some guidelines for how we can (and should) display our faith every day–and in ways “the opposition” cannot attack!

Background

Romans 12:14-21 speaks of how believers can live in an antagonistic society and present Jesus Christ to people who are opposed to the Christian faith. When Paul wrote this letter, hostility towards Christians in Rome was increasing. With this in mind, he gave instructions to the Christians in 1st century Rome–-and to us today--on how relate to unbelievers.

Teaching Points

1. Don't bad-mouth people.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...” (v14). In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you...” Think of Stephen’s words as he was being martyred for his faith: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Stephen’s prayer of forgiveness became a link in the apostle Paul’s salvation! As a former persecutor of Christians himself, Paul had experience on both sides of the confrontation (Acts 9:1). Notice that he didn’t offer “inside info” on how to get back at people who are persecuting Christians, but rather he instructed us to bless those who oppose us.

2. Do identify with people's feelings.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another” (v15). This may be difficult at times, especially when it seems that the unbelievers in our lives are enjoying more of the success and good times while we're enduring more of the trials! But ultimately we’ll all experience many of the same problems and joys in life, so we should make an effort to identify with others along the way, in good times and bad. If we relate to them and listen to their point of view (even if it doesn’t quite match our Christian perspective) we can gain their friendship and earn the right to be heard later in the relationship.

3. Don't think of yourself as better than other people.

“Associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion" (v16). Do we value and care for people who are poor, disabled, hungry, or ill? Do we respect the viewpoints of people from different races or beliefs? The phrase, “do not be wise in your own opinion” means “don’t be conceited!” From protest movements to online blogs and comments, it’s clear that many people these days think their opinion is the only opinion – and they tend to ridicule and despise anyone who doesn't agree with them. Let’s not follow that pattern. God’s opinions are what really count, but we should present them respectfully. A “holier than thou” attitude will offend most unbelievers more than anything else!

4. Don't try to get back at people.

“Do not repay evil for evil” (v17). Sadly, we’ve all witnessed feuds based on nothing more than hurtful words and retaliatory actions. The parties involved are often consumed with bitterness, when the vicious cycle could have been turned around with one sincere act of kindness (see v21). Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

5. Do avoid suspicion.

“Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (v17). We should do everything we can to avoid even the suspicion of wrong-doing. We might think it doesn’t matter how our actions appear to others as long as we "feel right before the Lord." Well, the Bible teaches that appearances do matter. In our neighborhoods, it’s important to maintain our homes and property with care. In the workplace, we should be very careful about "borrowing" company property or using company time for personal reasons. Just as we would be shocked to see one of our church leaders “cheating the system,” so non-believers will think the same of us if we similarly cut corners or bend the rules at our jobs.

Practical Application

Your kindness will have an effect!

“Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (v21). This verse sums it all up. To overcome doesn’t mean to just avoid or sidestep evil--it means to conquer or defeat evil! Are we being defeated by our negative thoughts or actions, or are we conquering them with positive, Christ-like attitudes and actions? These directives may not be easy to follow, especially when we encounter opposition. However, we can look at how our Lord responded to those who attacked Him, and display our faith by following His example.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Let’s think of creative and memorable ways we can reach out to unbelievers--especially those who may not be friendly to us. Buy a cup of coffee for a difficult co-worker; clean up an area of the yard that bothers a neighbor; send a card or an encouraging email; bring dinner to their homes in times of grief or illness. More often than not, their response to the love of Christ shining through us will be amazing and rewarding. Our kindness will have an effect!
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