Romans 12:14-21 Overcoming Evil With Good!
Bible Background: Romans 12 starts the practical application of Paul’s letter, where he has emphasized how those (Jew and Gentile) justified by faith, are to live as a community in Christ. These words and instructions were written for the body of Christ-to be an expression of unity. They also help us BE the body of Christ, seeking to share peace and reconciliation with the world.
Digging Deeper: 1. When we do share the belief that all are made in the image of God, and that all are equal in God’s sight, then we also commit to the challenge of living in community! Anybody who has spent much time around the Christian church knows that denominations and congregations sometimes don’t get along very well. One-time close friends can seem like enemies. ELCA, LCMS, and WELS Lutherans share most of the same teachings and heritage, and yet we’re miles apart in many ways. Sometimes things can get ugly, as when there was basically a civil war between conservatives and moderates in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the 1970s. Paul’s instructions are written for people like us!
2. v.14 “Bless those who persecute you” is a line from Jesus’ play-book (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5). That’s right up there in difficulty with “Love your enemies!”
3. v.15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This is a way Christians can share with everyone, even and maybe especially with non-Christian neighbors. v. 16 “Live in harmony with one another…associate with the lowly” is also a reminder that we don’t wall ourselves off, in a cozy little corner. The Greek is roughly the equivalent of “walk alongside others. Sympathize with them. Think like them.”
4. v.17 “Do not repay evil for evil”. How’s that for counter-cultural? In an election year, the rule for candidates is “to hit back, fast, and hard” to any slam. We see where that gets us. Christians have a duty to take the high moral road, and to uphold standards for “what is noble and right in the sight of all.” The world is watching us! Will outsiders notice anything different about us who claim to belong to Christ?
5. v.18 St. Paul is also realistic: “So far as it is possible….live peaceably with all.” He knew that wouldn’t be easy or even an option sometimes. That doesn’t mean we can skip doing our part of living peaceably with others!
6. v.19 In regards to seeking vengeance, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, leaving that up to God. That would be one way of not repaying evil with evil.
7. v.20 is taken from Proverbs 25:21-22, and is an interesting approach to ‘overcoming evil with good’. While doing the right thing (showing human kindness and even generosity to one’s enemies) is important on its own, this may be the thing that touches and changes an enemy’s heart. “Heaping burning coals on their heads” is not our way of getting ‘even’, but it might serve to shame someone in a good way, so that they see things differently.
8. v.21 “Overcome evil with good”, sums up this section. In a way, it sums up the ‘theology of the cross’, pointing to how God ultimately overcomes the evil done to Christ and done to others, by absorbing that evil into God’s own heart, and by demonstrating-in the resurrection-that love and the power of God are stronger than death.
How will we allow the Spirit to use us to overcome evil with good in these tumultuous times we are living in?