Text: Romans 12:17-21 6/3/2018
Main Point: Christians are like Christ; they love and do good to their enemies.
Our theme of love in difficult places continues today. We must love those who do us harm. Man, that is hard. And why is that? Why is it so hard to love and serve and do good to our enemies? What is the biggest hinderance to our love for our persecutors? I want us to consider that the biggest hinderance to loving our enemies is our forgetfulness. Oh, we remember the wrongs done to us and against us; we keep bringing offenses up every chance we get. No, we don’t forget our hurts. We Christians forget that we were God’s enemies, living in hatred of him, yet the Father gave the Son to reconcile us to himself. We forget that we were God’s enemies, rejecting him and hating his ways, yet the Father and Son gave the Spirit to renew our hearts to love what we once thought unlovable. We forget our unworthiness. The biggest hinderance to loving our neighbors is not the wrong done to us but forgetting the good Christ has done for us. In our eyes, the evil of our enemies is often bigger than the good of our Savior. People are big, and God is small.
So in his kindness, Jesus warns us that our righteousness, the working out of our faith, must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 5:43-48). One area of concern is the way we respond to those who do us wrong. The way you respond to evil reveals a great deal about the reality of your salvation. The scribes and Pharisees were content to love their neighbors and hate their enemies. And we understand that loving those people who love us is not evidence of the Holy Spirit; unbelievers love those who love them. Greeting people who are like us, rejoicing with people who are like us, and weeping with people who are like us, are things done by all people regardless of religion or location. Christianity is different. Christians are people who love their enemies and therefore do good to their enemies.
Today, Jesus wants to put his gracious and restoring finger in the festering wound of our anger. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will convict each of us concerning anger, bitterness, resentment, and revenge. Drawing these into the light, our desire is to put these deeds of the flesh to death so that love and good can grow in their places. May God grants us repentance and faith so that we put off our old ways of anger and put on the new way of the love of Christ.
Read Romans 12:14-21
- Make a plan and work the plan
My faithful and long-suffering wife has taught me many things. One thing she has taught me is to make a plan. The first thing she does when entering a hotel room is make an escape plan in case of an emergency. When in a public meeting, event, or concert, it is important to think ahead and have a plan in case of an emergency. Verse 17 commands the same thing regarding evil.
- Plan to do what is good
Without a plan to do good, you will likely do what is evil. No one drifts toward the good. Verse 17 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” The repeated references to the Christian’s mind and thinking have surprised me in this chapter. We renew our minds so that we can think about the will of God (v2). We think about ourselves with sober thinking (v3). Verse 16 calls us to be of one mind, don’t think highly of ourselves, and don’t be wise in our own thinking. Add onto those, think about what all men would consider to be a good response to evil. When correcting one of your children, give thought to what all of them will think. When correcting an employee, give thought to what all of your employees will think. When addressing an evil in your neighborhood, give thought to what all your neighbors will think. When seeking to overcome the evil of abortion, it is crucial to plan what is good for those who have received abortions, the nurses and doctors involved in performing abortions, and the children who will need families when abortion becomes illegal. Just making abortion illegal is not a good option; redemption requires so much more.
Look at God. How did our Triune God address our sin? He delivered Christ up according to his predetermined plan (Acts 2:23). God gave thought to what is good in the sight of all. The righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus was God’s plan to do good in response to evil. Let’s start our plan with this
- Covenant with yourself to not repay evil with evil
Job made a covenant with his eyes to only look at that which is good. This covenant ruled out lust (Job 31:1). Job made a covenant with his eyes not to gaze upon a virgin. Romans 12:17 calls us to make a covenant with our minds; only plan and pursue that which is good. Repay no one evil for evil. Commit that when yelled at, you will not yell in return, but will instead graciously call your opponent to a more controlled and fruitful conversation. I often tell my children, “I’m not going to argue with you.” Repaying harsh word for harsh word, or insult for insult, only causes more harm. Take that evil weapon out of your arsenal and vow not to bring it to the fight. Ok, the first step in the plan is to covenant with yourself not to repay evil with evil. The next step is to realize you need help.
- Doing good is a community project
1 Thessalonians 5:15 says, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” As Christians, we are weak. Look around this room. Do you see these people? We are a people whose natural reaction when wronged, is to repay with a greater wrong. I should not be surprised when my wife repays my evil with evil. I should not be shocked when my children or neighbors respond to my wrong with their own batch of wrong.
Listen to 1 Thessalonians 5:15 again, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” That is very similar to Romans 12:17. We are a people who need to be watching after one another, encouraging one another to do what is good for all. Part of your job, as a church member, is to see to it that I don’t wrong my neighbors. Your job is to see to it that no one repays anyone evil for evil. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Correct your brothers and sisters. Encourage your brothers and sisters.
- Plan to be a peace maker
Look at verse 18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Live peaceably with all has two qualifications. “If possible,” because sometimes your enemy will not allow peace. And, “as far as it depends on you,” you do everything you can to make peace. But even after all of that, some people will continue to seek to do you wrong. You cannot overcome every evil with good. You cannot win every enemy. But you should do everything in your power to make peace.
Let’s run through a scenario. It’s the end of the month and the grocery budget is gone. It’s been a hard week, so you decide to help your wife by going to the store to buy pizzas and ice cream for a movie night. It will be great. Everyone will love it. You bust in the door with pizzas, ice cream, and a movie. The kids are pumped but the wife is fuming. Now, you have done evil. You broke your promise to keep the budget. You put your wife in a hard spot making her be the bad guy. She now has a choice to repay your evil with evil (pout, scream, insult you, throw things, there are a lot of options). Or, she can repay your evil with good. Wrong has been done and should be corrected with gentleness. She calls you to the back bedroom and calmly discusses the budget and plan. You repent and make a plan to sell something online to make up the difference. Battle won! Planning to do good is like reading a choose your own adventure book.
Let’s replay that but this time imagine that you buy the pizza, she blows up on you, and you respond with even more evil. You yell at her. She repays your evil with evil and you repay her evil with more evil. It’s classic escalation of evil. Stop! Plan how to do what is honorable. Evil is snowballing down a hill heading right for your family. One of the best things you can do is make a plan for calling a time-out. Between husband and wife, decide on a signal one of you can use, and both of you will honor, in order to stop the snowball of evil. Call a time-out, cool-down, then come together calmly to decide on a solution. Now be careful, calling a time-out is not an escape. Calling a time-out is a commitment to come together soon and work it out. Make a plan and work the plan. And
- Bring God to bear on your pain
Are you able to take your bitterness, resentment, and anger captive to Christ? Have you taken the step of Christian maturity that allows you to consider what God has to say about your hurt, or are you just angry? Let’s take that step together today.
- Remember that God has promised perfect vengeance
Look at verse 19. What does it say? “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Beloved, you have been hurt deeply. Beloved, you have been wounded repeatedly. Especially in your hurt, remember that you are chosen, holy, and loved. You have a heavenly Father and a church family. You are not alone, and you must not retaliate.
Too many marriages fall victim to revenge killings. Too many parents and youth are torn apart by revenge killings. You say something painful then I’ll one up you. You do something painful then I’ll one up you. You hurt my family then I’ll hurt your family. We must walk by faith and not by revenge. How do we do that? We do good theology. We know God according to His Word. And what has God promised? God will get vengeance. God will repay.
Paul is quoting from the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32, after the 40 years of wandering and before the people of God enter the Promised Land. Remember church, God will take care of you and take care of every evil done against you.
Concerning vengeance, timing is everything. Peter tells us that some people get tired of waiting on Jesus because he seems too slow. Paul is talking about some people getting tired of waiting on justice because God’s vengeance seems to slow. What happens next? If God can’t be trusted to pay back the wrong, then I must take matters into my own hands. Don’t do it! Never avenge yourselves. Trust God to give perfect justice. Don’t pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes. He will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor 4:5). We must believe, on that day each one will receive his condemnation from God. Look at evil from God’s perspective. He will deal with that evil and he will deal with it perfectly.
- Don’t climb into God’s chariot of wrath
Leave room for wrath. O Worship the King.
O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
Romans 2:5 says your enemy is storing up wrath for herself for the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. She is going to get hers. Leave room for God’s wrath to do its perfect work. The chariot of wrath is coming.
If you are an unbeliever here today, if you are not trusting in Christ’s work to swallow all of God’s wrath stored up against you then tremble. If you are outside of Christ, if you are not trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection, then you are storing up an awful mountain of wrath that will be poured out on you in the day of judgment. Repent while it is still today. Repent while it is the day of God’s kindness. Hide in the cross of Christ. Do not climb into the chariot of God’s wrath. Practically,
- Do good. Don’t gloat
Will you fill the role of good Samaritan and loving neighbor when it’s your enemy bleeding out in the ditch? Your enemy that stole from you, that slandered you, that hurt you, is getting his just desserts. He’s hungry. She’s thirsty. Your enemy is in need. What is your calling? Do you do your end zone dance celebrating the fact that the one who hurt you is now experiencing hurt? What’s your calling? If your enemy is hungry, feed her; if she is thirsty, give her something to drink. Christian compassion calls us to give what is needed regardless of the worthiness of the person.
Children, it is such a temptation to gloat when you get something your brother or sister wants. Maybe you get to go somewhere your sister is thirsty to go. Maybe you receive a treat that your brother is hungry to eat. Do you gloat, taunt, or rejoice in the fact that your enemy will remain hungry and thirsty while you have plenty? Do you give? This is the call to generosity.
And look at the result of generosity. Look at the end of verse 20, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” We already saw in verse 14 that our goal is to bless and not curse. Our calling is to do good not evil. Increasing someone’s pain in judgment, turning up the heat in hell, is not a good and honorable goal. Think even further back. Why is God kind to us? Does God want to turn up the heat in hell? Is that why he’s kind to his enemies? No, Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.”
We don’t serve people today so that we can slap them on judgment day. We provide for our enemies so that we can heap kindness on them that leads to repentance. This plays out in the lives of King Saul and David. After Saul has repeatedly done evil to David and David has repeatedly returned evil with good, Saul says, “You have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.” (1 Sam 24:17). There is repentance! Our goal is not simply to feed our enemies. Our goal is to lead our enemies to repentance. On the way,
- Prepare for evil to come after you
Look at 12:21. We are commanded to not be overcome by evil. Nike is the Greek work and we translated it as overcome, victory, or conquer. Evil is actively trying to conquer you. The world is trying to make you conform and if you don’t conform, well, you’ll just have to be conquered. Don’t let that happen!
The most common way we are overcome by evil is when we give in and repay evil with evil. Your spouse complains about something you do, so you complain about something your spouse does. Your coworker sabotages your work, so you sabotage her work. Your neighbor parks on your grass, so you park on his grass. Your brother calls you a name, so you call him a name. On and on we go as we give into the crashing waves of overwhelming evil.
Make a plan! When we wake every morning, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to rule over us. When our children wake every morning, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to rule over our children. Look around this room, we are all equals here, each one of us has sin that is close to destroying us. If we could personify that sin and show its strength and hideous face it would terrify us and call us to battle. The orcs are at the castle walls, some have infiltrated our defenses, prepare now to not succumb. How?
- Prepare to go after evil with good
Romans 12, turning the other cheek, these are not calls to passivity. Verse 21 does not say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but be passive doing nothing until you die or Jesus returns.” No, what does verse 21 say? Overcome evil with good. We don’t overcome evil with evil. That only makes more evil. We don’t fight fire with fire. That only makes more fire. The way to overcome evil is by doing good. This is positive and active. The way to overcome evil is by doing that which is honorable. The way to overcome evil is to strive to make peace. Come back next week and we’ll see that one way to overcome evil is by calling the police.
Today, notice that we are not given the options of retaliation or passivity. We are called to actively address evil by doing good. We are called to believe, rehearse, and walk in step with the gospel. Remember, you were once an enemy of God but now, because of Christ, you are seated at his table a beloved daughter or son. What is it going to take to reconcile with your spouse, your parent, your child, your neighbor, your coworker? You make the plan. You make the first move. You do what is good. Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called children of God.