48. Romans 12:17-21
Don’t be overcome by evil
Paul has discussed the gifts of the Spirit and the responsibilities of a Christ-follower within the body of Christ. He ends this section by explaining how believers are to respond to evil.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” he says plainly in verse 17. This is not the only place the Bible instructs us not to take revenge. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, 'I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord and he will deliver you.” Four chapters later Solomon repeats he instruction, “Do not say, 'I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did” (Proverbs 24:29)
These two verses clearly say that pay-back is not a wise or godly method of dealing with transgression against us. These verses do not merely forbid revenge, however; they give us the promises that we are not left as helpless victims: God will deliver us from the evil done to us.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave instructions regarding our proper response to evil people, and it cuts across the grain of our natural instincts. Don’t resist an evil person, He said. If he hits you, turn the other cheek. If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to give him assistance by carrying his burden for a mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks to borrow from you. (See Matthew 5:39-42).
In the context of Jewish society during Roman times, Jesus was addressing common problems his audience would have understood. First, the command not to resist an evil person is probably referring to a court of law. Second, the instruction to turn the other cheek when someone hits one uses a Greek verb meaning “slaps you with the back of the hand”. Jesus is referring to an insult, not to an act of violence. According to the footnotes in the NIV Study Bible on verse 39, Jesus is essentially saying, “It’s better to be insulted twice than to take the matter to court.” Probably much like today, Ancient Near East Society was very litigious.
Jesus was teaching that we don’t have to respond in anger or defensiveness to insults from ungodly or evil people. When we are secure in our identity as sons and daughters of God, the insults of angry or insecure people cannot change who we are or affect our true worth. Responding in kind merely engenders more anger, and nothing redemptive happens.
Jesus continues by instructing his audience to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. He says that we are to love our enemies “that [we] may be sons of [our] Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:44-45).
With this further instruction, Jesus makes it clear that our response to evil is not to be one of superior aloofness, a pious withdrawal from either response or responsibility. We are to love for our enemies and pray for those who persecute us! With this command Jesus cleanly removes our “right” to hold a grudge, nurse our anger, or even to move into denial and pretend the person can’t touch our lives. On the contrary, we are to lay our anger and hurt feelings before the Lord Jesus and pray for those who are acting in ignorance, deception, and evil.
Jesus is not commanding that we engage in ongoing personal interaction with an evil person, but He is telling us that He asks us to pray for those who come into our lives, and when a difficult, jealous, angry, or destructive person touches us, we are to pray for their salvation and ask God to show us how to love them for Him. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean being vulnerable to someone who would continue to hurt us, but it means asking God to give us great wisdom and to pray for their healing and salvation. We can ask God to deal with them, because He has promised to administer justice, and we can ask Him to help us appropriately love them for Him.
This sort of ongoing care for the evil one’s ultimate salvation is the behavior of God, and when we allow Him to help us love and pray for our enemies appropriately, we reflect His characteristics in a dark world.
Paul also instructed the Thessalonians that nobody was to pay back wrong for wrong. Instead, they were always to “try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Th 5:15).
In this verse Paul is demonstrating that a Christ-followers first duty is to treat his brothers and sisters in Christ with respect and forgiveness. Then he is to react to those in the world with His love and forgiveness as well.
Peter as well wrote, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pe 3:9).
Both Paul and Peter reflected Jesus’ teaching. Those who love and honor the Lord Jesus give their emotional responses to Him, inviting Him to mediate their reactions to those who hurt them. When we are alive in Christ, we have a new option not available to those who are still dead in their sins: we can choose to surrender the moment to God. He is asking us to respond to others through the Spirit who lives in us instead of through our natural flesh. If we trust Jesus with the insults we receive, He can effect His work in the other person’s life through our humility and surrender to Him. If our first response is to yield to the Holy Spirit when we are wronged, our response will be truthful and constructive instead of a self-protecting response from our “flesh”. We can choose to let the Holy Spirit direct us instead of simply lashing back with more destructive emotion.
Live at peace
Verse 17 concludes by admonishing Christ-followers to “do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” This command is related to verse18 where Paul asks his readers to live at peace with everyone “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you.” This instruction is not an admonition to “keep the peace” whatever it takes. Paul of all people lived his life with a commitment to the Lord Jesus which elicited anger wherever he went. Rather, this command is a call to live with respect and with care not to give the gospel a bad name because of arrogance or because of giving in to the temptation to misuse others.
One of the requirements for church overseers/elders is that they have a good reputation with those outside the church so they do not fall into disgrace or reproach and thus find themselves in the devil’s trap (1 Timothy 3:7). Satan is like a prowling lion, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting and vulnerable. When a person has a dispute with another person, especially an unbeliever, our own self-protective behavior or even shady practices will bring disrepute onto not only ourselves but our Lord whom we represent.
When Paul was collecting the Corinthians’ offering for the church in Jerusalem, he took great pains to avoid any possibility of criticism or distrust regarding how he handled the money. In 2 Corinthians 8:17-21 he explains that Titus and another brother will be coming to Corinth with another brother who is “praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. Furthermore, the churches chose Titus to accompany those who carried the offering from Corinth to Jerusalem where Paul would administer for the Lord’s glory. He took those precautions to be sure reputable men whom the churches respected actually oversaw the transport of the money because he wanted “to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, no only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”
It is important to the credibility of the gospel and of those who preach and teach that they are above reproach in the way they handle people’s gifts of support and the operation of their ministries. They must be moral and ethical, and they must live lives of submission to the Lord Jesus.
Further, Paul instructed his protégé´ Timothy that the Lord’s servants must not quarrel. They must be kind to everyone, “able to teach, not resentful.” They are to “gently instruct” those who oppose them in the hope that they will repent and come to a “knowledge of the truth”, coming to their senses and escaping “from the trap of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). God is the only one who can change the heart of a stubborn, resentful, angry person. As the Lord’s servants we cannot hope to defend ourselves or change the destructive accusations of those who oppose us. We are to submit to the Lord Jesus, allowing His wisdom and love and clarity to hold our hearts in peace and enable us to respond with love and truth and unwavering commitment to honor Jesus.
We are to be “self-controlled and alert,” resisting the devil, “standing firm in the faith,” and God Himself will restore us and make us “strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:8-11).
Our commitment to Jesus demands that we learn to live in submission to Him, allowing Him to deal with our enemies. We are to love good, hate evil, but pray for our enemies. Our submitting to Christ means that He deals with evil, and we live at peace as far as it is possible on our end of the situations. God is faithful. Our commitment to integrity and justice are statements about the Lord Jesus whose name we bear. Our message and witness will be unreliable if we are not consistent and transparent in our dealings with each other and with those outside the church.
There is a difference between being a “peacemaker” and a “peacekeeper”. For example, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Again in Mark 9:50 He said, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
The text in Mark sheds light on the text in Matthew. Jesus compares the value of salt to make food palatable to a believer who is at peace with others. He is not comparing “salt” with “peace”; rather, He is comparing the effects of salt with living at peace. Peace is not a natural human condition. Rather, living in peace is a result of living in Christ. Romans 15:e3, for instance, says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Again in 15:33 Paul says, “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Peace comes only from God who gives us His peace. It is not “compliance”, where someone who hates conflict submerges his or her true feelings in order to avoid confrontation or disagreement. Such “peace-keeping” avoids truth and reality. True living in peace requires living by the Holy Spirit and facing what is real.
In Romans 14:19 Paul also says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” He continues with his famous passage about not destroying the work of God by what we eat or drink or do. Paul is asking Christ-followers to place the spiritual growth and health of weaker believers above their own “right” to indulge in foods others might consider unclean. Personal freedom takes second place to guarding the integrity of truth and the gospel in the understanding of a new believer.
A peacekeeper manages to avoid conflict between people. A peacemaker actually brings about reconciliation between people at odds. Keeping peace is superficial; making peace resolves differences. Jesus made peace between fallen humanity and God by resolving the problem of sin. Without the deep resolution of what was “broken”, there could have been no peace between God and man.
Among believers as well, peace is only possible when we don’t ignore deep differences but rather approach what is true with the transforming insight and power of the Holy Spirit. James says, “but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18).
Peace is part of the fruit of the spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). It does not submerge differences but brings true reconciliation into conflict. It enables the believer to carry the pain of dissonance and problems without spilling frustration into one’s relationships. It gives the dissonance and pain to the Lord Jesus, asking Him to guard one’s heart and heal it, instead of making the other “pay” or to force them to suffer by becoming angry or by blaming.
Living at peace with everyone means that we find Jesus to be all we need. We allow Him to be our strength and stabilizer instead of bringing our fear and shame into our relationships, causing those around us to “carry our pain” by spilling anger or helplessness onto them. It means we submit to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to hold our own heart at peace instead of trying to get those around us give us relief.
As we allow Jesus to be our strength and resolution, we become able to live at peace with those around us, not merely to “keep the peace”. We bring our own peace and comfort into volatile or disagreeable situations instead of our frustration. True peace is only possible as we are submitting to the Holy Spirit.
Paul gives an interesting statement and command in verse19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”
Many people shrink from the idea of God’s wrath, picturing Him instead as an eternally benign Being who would never actually hurt a sinner but rather would allow them simply to pull away from Him and create their own demise. This view of God, however, reflects ignorance of the fact that true mercy can only exist in the presence of absolutely justice. If there is no wrath to be avoided, mercy is a moot point. If evil is not punishable, victims have no hope of justice. Ultimately, if God does not exercise revenge or wrath on evil, His grace and mercy are only fictions designed to placate guilty consciences. Without wrath and justice, there is no true mercy or grace.
As God’s children, we are to allow Him to be our Vindicator and to defend His own honor by defending us, His children, when we are wronged.
Leviticus 19:17 says, “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
“Do not say, 'I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you,” Proverbs 20:22 advises. Proverbs has other advice on this subject as well. “Do not testify against your neighbor without cause, or use your lips to deceive, Do not say, 'I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did’” (Proverbs 24:28-29).
The Bible is clear in its insistence that as God’s people, we have no room to take revenge or to “pay back” those who wrong us. We are to frankly address the issue when someone wrongs us; if we don’t, we share in his sin. But we are not to take revenge. We must not allow ourselves to be sinned against and nurse quiet resentment, finally reacting against them with pent-up anger. We are not to plot harm or retaliation against those who hurt us.
God has given us His word that He will take care of people’s evil in a just manner. In Deuteronomy 32:39-43 God says of Himself that he puts to death and brings to life; He has wounded, and He will heal. No one can deliver anyone out of His hand. He promises that when his hand grasps is flashing sword in judgment, He will “take vengeance on [His] adversaries and repay those who hate [Him].” “Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.”
Earlier in Deuteronomy 32 God says of those who are His enemies and the enemies of His people, “Have I not kept this in reserve and sealed it in my vaults? It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”
In an early foreshadowing of the mystery of the gospel going to Gentiles, God said in Deuteronomy 32:21-22 regarding disobedient Israel, “They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundation so of the mountains.”
God expressed His anger at Israel’s disobedience and spoke of the coming mystery of the Gentiles being brought to the Lord. He also states that His wrath will eventually destroy the earth and all that is in it.
Early in the history of God’s interaction with mankind, the patriarch Joseph spoke one sentence to his treacherous but repentant brothers. When they came to Egypt for food and discovered that Joseph—the brother whom they had sold into slavery decades before—was the ruler who supplied their need, they were terrified. “We are your slaves,” they cried as they threw themselves down in front of him.
Then Joseph uttered the immortal words that summarized God’s complete sovereignty, even over evil: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”(Genesis 50:18-20).
God wastes nothing, and He redeems everything we submit to Him.
David also demonstrated this same trust in God’s justice and sovereignty. When he and his Abishai encountered the wicked Saul sleeping vulnerable in a cave, Abishai wanted to kill him. But David stopped him. “Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” he asked. “As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.” (See 1 Samuel 26:9-11.) David knew he could trust God for vengeance on his enemy—even when the enemy was the most powerful political leader in the country, and David was the already-anointed heir to the throne.
In his psalms David said, “O Lord, the God who avenges, O God, who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve” (Psalm 94:1-2). Jeremiah also told Israel that the Lord declared He would defend their cause and avenge them. Babylon, their captor, would be a “heap of ruins…a place where no one lives” (Jeremiah 51:36-37).
Paul also develops the certainty of God’s wrath upon unrepentant sin. What He can and will do is far more effective than any retaliation we could invent. Romans 1 explains that already, even before the coming “day of the Lord”, God’s wrath is being poured out on those who suppress the knowledge of God by their wickedness. He gives them over to their sinful desires, their shameful lusts, and finally to their depraved minds, allowing them to become “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.” (See Romans 1:18-30.) Their debasement and compulsive sins bring on them the wrath of God. These obsessive sins are no longer titillating; they are consuming and destructive.
Romans 3:25-26 describes God’s ultimate promise of justice. He presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement “to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
God does not ask us to “forgive and forget”. On the contrary, when we have been transgressed against, we are remember in order to protect ourselves from further harm, but we are to give up our right to get even. Only God can bear the burden of vengeance. Only God is both just and merciful, and only He can deliver what He knows is the just punishment for unrepentant sin. He has promised, and He will keep His promise.
Coals of fire
Not only does Paul remind us not to take revenge on those who wrong us but to leave them to God, but he goes a step further and commands us to do good to our enemies. If they have needs, we are to provide them. In doing this, he says, we will heap “burning coals on [their] heads”.
Paul is echoing a phrase found in both Psalms and Proverbs when he refers to “coals of fire”. Proverbs 25:20-22 says, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.”
Additionally, Psalm 140:7-10 says this: “O Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle—do not grant the wicked their desires, O Lord; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud. Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.”
These two texts use the “burning coals” metaphor in different ways—but they anticipate similar outcomes. In the Proverbs text, Solomon is instructing the reader not to be insensitive to people’s suffering, attempting to ignore their pain by forcing them to participate in songs and “cheerfulness”. Further, we’re not just to be sensitive to those we love or to those we don’t actually know who are suffering. We are to offer our enemies food if they’re hungry and water if they’re thirsty.
We can begin to understand the “burning coals” idea by looking at Psalm 140:7-10 in which David pleads that God will not grant his enemies their desires. Rather, he asks God to “let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.”
This text holds images of the suffering connected with hell, with the burning shame and “just desserts” God has promised to administer to unrepentant evil according to His justice and mercy. This deep shame and destruction of pride is the essential goal of the “coals of fire” caused by seeing and responding to our enemies’ needs. While David is calling for God to destroy his evil enemies, the Solomon’s proverb is not prescribing final destruction of the enemies. Rather, he is suggesting a way the enemy may be redeemed.
Solomon is suggesting that the enemy may be disarmed by having his victim respond to his need instead of to his demands. Being taken off-guard by kindness instead of revenge may induce burning shame and legitimate guilt in the heart of someone who has been destructive and cruel. This legitimate shame and guilt would be necessary for the person to come to repentance, and Paul picks up on this spiritual insight in this part of his letter to the Romans.
Other passages reinforce this idea. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Exodus 23:4-5 commands, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”
Jesus Himself instructed, “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[fn8] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies[fn9] and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45). Further, in Luke 6:27-31 Jesus said, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone take your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The point Paul is making in Romans 12:20 is the same point God has made to His people for millennia: refusing to respond to anger and cruelty with more anger and cruelty is the only effective way to avoid being destroyed by one’s enemies. At any rate, our own retaliation cannot remedy the damage done by an enemy. It only pulls us into his sphere of force and self-centeredness.
God does not ask us to “forgive and forget”. He asks us to remember what has happened to us so we can protect ourselves from further danger, but He asks us to give up our right to get even. He asks us to leave vengeance to Him. Our job is to be willing to see the enemy with God’s eyes, to minister to their needs. The love of God that can cut through the cruel or narcissistic demands of our enemy is the only force powerful enough to bring a sinner to repentance. Our willingness to return good for evil—without being a victim but rather owning our identity children of God filled with His authority—may pierce the heart of an evil person and cause them to acknowledge their great guilt.
Do not be overcome by evil
Giving God the right to take care of vengeance does not mean that we set aside caution and discernment. Giving up our “right” to get even with an offender does not mean we ignore their transgression, especially if there has been no repentance, nor does it mean that our relationships with those people are necessarily restored. For example, if someone you know has molested a child you know, giving up your anger and allowing God to take care of vengeance does not mean you then allow that person to baby-sit your own child.
Proverbs 28;5 says, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.” In other words, those who know the Lord Jesus understand that He does not allow sin to go unpunished. Neither should we make ourselves vulnerable to being sinned against by knowingly putting ourselves in vulnerable positions.
Paul warned the Ephesians not to allow anyone to deceive them with empty words, “for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:6-7). Paul continues in this passage by saying that Christ-followers should not only avoid partnering with deceitful people, but they must actively expose evil. “For you were once darkness,” he writes, “but now you are light in the Lord…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:8-14).
A Christ-followers, we are obligated to protect others from being sucked into evil and deception. Paul is not advocating gossip in this passage, but he is saying that those who have been born again have the light of the Lord in them , and this light exposes the darkness of evil.
John 3:19-21 explains how we can recognize people who are repentant as compared to people who continue to arbor and hide their sin. “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
In other words, when people are repentant for their sin and are seeking to live truthfully and honestly, they will allow their sin to be exposed and will admit their guilt. They will repent to the appropriate parties and will allow people to see God’s healing and forgiveness of him.
When people professing Christ engage in sinful and immoral behavior, we are not to associate with them. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul instructs that we are not to associate with the sexually immoral, the greedy, swindlers, idolaters, slanderers, or drunkards who claim to be part of Christ’s body. He makes it clear that he is not instructing us to avoid associating with people of the world. That would be impossible! Rather, when people claim to be Christians but live immoral lives, we are to cease associating with them, and they are to be expelled from among the fellowship of believers.
We are expected to make these judgments, Paul tells us, because we have the mind of Christ. We learn spiritual truth and reality from the Holy Spirit. When we have the Holy Spirit, we are to make judgments about all things—but we are “not subject to any man’s judgment” (1 Corinthians 2:11-16).
God gives us spiritual insight so we can grow in truth and become rooted in reality. He asks us to discern between good and evil and to protect the body of Christ from those who pose a Christ-followers but actually are predators and agents of deception.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 not to be yoked together with unbelievers. “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their god, and they will be my people.’ 'Therefore come out from them and be separate, Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ 'I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’”
Paul also says, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
God asks us to leave vengeance up to Him. We are to release to Him our anger and outrage as sin and injustice done to us. We are not, however, asked to forget what was done. We are to remember and protect ourselves. We are to remove persistent sinners from our fellowships, and we are not to enter close relationships with people who persist in sin. We are, rather, to trust God to take care of evil and to place His peace and forgiveness in our hearts, trusting Him to be both just and merciful and to keep us safe.
God is asking you to be willing to know the ways in which you avoid the truth in your life. He wants you to become aware of the submerged resentments and feelings of shame and woundedness that twist your ability to know what is real and to be grounded in truth.
The resentments we harbor make us vulnerable to Satan’s deceptions. We tend to become cynical or angry when we keep unresolved resentment deep in our hearts, and these spill over into our lives and onto people who don’t actually deserve our caustic attitudes. Likewise, the pain we ignore, hoping not to feel it and wanting just to “go on”, makes us vulnerable to other’s manipulation or unhealthy attachments. We become brittle and emotionally aloof even from those we love.
When we are born of the Spirit, for the first time we become able to know and submit our hidden emotions and pains to the Lord Jesus. Carrying the weight of anger and shame and guilt will destroy us eventually. God asks us to allow Him to shine the light of truth into the unresolved, dark places of our hearts. As we become willing to know, God heals us.
The Lord Jesus is asking you to trust Him. Ask Him to help you know what you need to know, to understand what you need to understand, and to be willing to change and grow in the ways God knows you need to change and grow. Ask Him to plant you firmly in truth and to root you deeply in reality. Thank Him for forgiving you and bringing you to life, and thank Him for taking the responsibility onto Himself to avenge the wrongs done to you.
Ask God to show you what circumstances and unhealed relationships and memories you need to release to Him. Whenever we release an unhealed relationship, we feel fear and loss, but God will not leave you as you face the truth. He will reveal Himself to you in new ways, and He Himself will fill your heart with love and peace that could never be there as long as you clung to the pain, unwilling to let it go. The only hope for resolution in these instances is to risk admitting the truth about them and to allow God to have that part of our hearts, being willing for Him to remove our unhealthy attachments and to replace them with Himself.
Ask God to teach you to trust Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through His word and to teach you to live in submission to His will and to His love. Ask Him to glorify Himself in and through you and to redeem the pain and anger that you have carried in your heart. Let Him love you with the deep assurance of His presence and His care.
He is faithful; He will heal your heart and take the burden of your pain. He will be both just and merciful to you, and He will protect you and avenge you as His child. The blood of Jesus has purchased you, and the sins and wounds of the past no longer define you.
Praise God for making you His and for making you the righteousness of Christ by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice! (2 Cor 5:21)
Live at peace
Do not take revenge
Do not be overcome by evil
Paul ends this section of his letter to the Romans by discussing a Christ-follower’s proper response to human evil. Even when people intentionally mistreat a child of God, he or she must not claim the “right” to get even.
1. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” Paul says. Where else does God give us this command? (see Proverbs 20:22; 24:29; Matthew 5:39-42; 44-45; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9)
2. Since we serve the Lord Jesus, not men, why does Paul admonish, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”? (see also 2 Corinthians 8:17-21; 1 Timothy 3:1, 7; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:8-11)
3. How do we “live at peace with everyone”? What is the difference between a “peacemaker” and a “peace-keeper”? (see Romans 14:19-21; Matthew 5:9; Mark 9:50; James 3:17-18)
4. Why are we not to “take revenge” on people who wrong us? (see Leviticus 19:17-18; Proverbs 20:22; 24:28-29)
5. What does the Bible say about God’s claiming vengeance as His own and His faithfulness to “repay”? How do we reconcile this concept with a God of love and mercy? (see Deuteronomy 32:21-22; 31-35; 39-43; Genesis 50:18-20; 1 Samuel 26:9-11; Psalm 94:1-2; Jeremiah 51:36-37; Romans 1:18-19; 22-24; 25-26; 28-30; 3:25-26.)
6. To complete his point about giving up our right to get even with those who abuse us, allowing God to deal with them, Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22: “If you 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.” What does it mean to “heap burning coals on his head,” and what is the desired outcome of this activity? (see Proverbs 25:20-22; 15; 15:1; Psalm 140; 8-10; Exodus 23:4-5; Matthew 5:43-45; Luke 6:27-31)
7. What is the difference between giving God the right to get even for someone’s sin against you and allowing someone to sin against you by ignoring or denying that it is a transgression? (see Proverbs 28:5; Ephesians 5:6-7; 8-14; John 3:19-21; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2:11-16; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1
8. What unresolved situation in your life is God nudging you to submit to Him, releasing your “right” to get even?
9. In what circumstances are you vulnerable to be “overcome by evil”?
10. What circumstances are in your life in which God wants to overcome evil with good?
11. Ask God to show you what areas of your life He wishes you to submit to Him for healing. Ask Him to make you willing to know the truth and to recognize it in your life. Ask Him to show you what you need to know, to understand what you need to understand, and to change in the ways He wants you to change. Ask God to plant you in truth and root you in reality and to glorify Himself through the entanglements that have pulled you away from integrity toward deception and compromise.
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