Good Is Greater Than Evil
Good morning! Please grab your Bibles with me and turn to Romans chapter 12.
We will be also spending quite a bit of time in Matthew chapter 5, if you want to put your finger there as a bookmark
Now, as usual, if you do not have a Bible, or if you do not own a Bible, please take one-off the back table as our gift to you.
Now, we have been going line by line, verse by verse through Paul’s letter to the early churches in Rome, and, believe it or not, we are over ¾ of the way through it. I think we can all agree that Paul has had some hard truths to share with that church, some hard truths for us today to hear as well.
And I don’t know about you, but I tend to respond one of two ways when I hear something like that. Of the two, hopefully I respond with the first I will share with you. I hear it, I don’t want to hear it, so I reject it. Or I justify why I’m not doing it, or I lash out at it, claiming its wrong. But in the end, I knows it’s the truth and hopefully I make any changes that need to be made.
But there’s another way that I might react, a way that occurs much to often. A way that I think is much more in line with, unfortunately, how the typical American churchgoers responds. You hear the truth, you affirm your belief that this is, in fact the truth, and you continue on in life with no change, no adhering to that truth, and no acknowledgment that you are not adhering to the truth.
As we move into the section of scripture we are going to read this morning, I ask that you look inside yourself and don’t respond with the second one I mentioned. This passage, I think, requires a lot of introspection and soul-searching. Because this is one of the passages that directs us the most against what our natural human sinful instincts are. It is some of, if not the hardest commands tat are found in the New Testament, commands we are required, as followers of Christ to follow.
So, with your curiosities piqued, let’s go ahead and read this weeks passage. Paul is writing in Romans chapter 12, and we will read verses 14-21. I will be reading out of the English Standard Version and I encourage you to follow along in your Bibles.
Romans 12:14-21, Paul writes:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Well, that’s super easy to follow, right? One of the first things that is interesting to me when I read this passage is that it sounds so much like Jesus. Paul is borrowing heavily from Jesus teachings in this passage. Now, to be sure, all of Paul’s words that we have in scripture are inspired and inerrant. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and as we see in John 1, Jesus is the Word. So all the words that Paul has written in scripture are the words of Jesus.
But Paul will be the first to mention at times, that during Jesus physical, earthly ministry, we don’t have a record of him having addressed everything that we would want him to, or everything that the other New Testament writers make mention of.
But this passage here is heavily influenced by Jesus words during his earthly ministry, namely the Sermon on the Mount. The first couple of verses that Paul writes here, for example, sound an awful like an abbreviated version of the Beatitudes. Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:3-12:
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Paul starts by saying, Bless those who persecute you. Jesus made it clear, that if we follow him, we will face opposition, we will face hate and we will face persecution. And the natural way of responding to that is to fight back. To treat those who are persecuting us as evil. To use the same standard in who we act towards them as they use in how they treat us.
But we are not called to the same standard. I said this recently as well. To clarify, the standard by which God will judge us is the same across the board, for each and every single human being. God’s holiness is the standard by which we will be judged. But the World has one standard of behaviour, one standard of right and wrong, one standard of morality, and the Bible has another standard. Our responsibility is to strive to live up to the bibles standard.
And so, we do not answer persecution with persecution, but instead, we bless those who persecute us. We treat them better than they treat us. Dr Martin Luther JR has a famous saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_101472)
And so, we are to bless, to love, to think of others as higher than ourselves and we respond to their mistreatment of us. Ah, but we are Americans and Americans have rights. Its my right to retaliate, its my right to fight back. Its my right! Oswald Chambers summarizes one key aspect of the Christian life. He says, The only right a Christian has is the right to give up his rights.
Wow. Thats hard to hear. Thats even harder to do. Now, I am tempted to put in some qualifiers here. Well, except for this situation, or except for this person. And some of those qualifiers may even exist, if you think so, we can talk later. But, as I was preparing to do that, I realized that Paul doesn’t put any qualifiers on that statement. And I reread the Beatitudes, and Jesus doesn’t put any qualifiers on his statements. And so, were I to put any qualifiers on this, I would be taking away from the words of Paul and Jesus.
So, no qualifiers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. We take to scripture and we look at the examples of Jesus as the Sanhedrin, as Herod and as Pilate put him on trial and sentenced him to death. Jesus had a lot of right sin that situation. Those were not, strictly speaking, legal trials. Jesus could have pointed that out, could have defended himself in the trials, refuted the charges. And yet, he didnt. He gave up his rights in that situation. Even more of an example, Jesus gave up his divine rights, as God, when he came down, born as a human baby.
Paul as well, often set aside his rights when, after his conversion by Jesus, he himself was being persecuted by the Romans and Jews. Pauls was often preaching the Gospel to the guards and Jailers, to the judges, to the governors and rulers who were to decide on his fate. But he set aside actual legal defenses to serve what ever punishment would be put in front of him.
Peter and john do the same thing in Acts chapter 4. They were submitting to the punishment of the council they were brought before. Now, this is an important distinction. This is an important part as we move forward and more and more about biblical actions and biblical beliefs become, not only frowned upon, not only unpopular, but as certain things will become illegal.
Peter and John set aside some of their rights, and they submit themselves to the punishment, but they also are very clear that they will continue to do what God told them to do, to speak on what they have seen. (Acts 4:13-22) We are actually going to look more at things like that in the next section of scripture.
But, instead of being a curse to those who persecute us, we are to be blessings. Peter writes, in 1 Peter 3:9: Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
In a way, Peters verse there helps draw what Paul said and what Jesus said even closer together. And, I think, the biggest aspect of this, the biggest motivation for doing blessing those who persecute you is because our reward is not of this world, but is in the next. Our blessing, our reward is in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus even blesses Paul, who he confronted for persecuting him. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9) And Jesus then brings Paul into clear knowledge that Jesus was exactly who the early church was claiming him to be, The Son of God, the Forgiver of Sins, the Messiah and Savior. The ultimate blessing.
Paul says next that we are to have sympathy, empathy and compassion. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. We are to share in each others victories. We encourage others to do and be better. We celebrate the wins in their lives. We take pleasure in their highs and build each other up. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:26, of the body of Christ, If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Right now, we all are grieving with Cindy and Randy and their family as we mourn OUR loss, as Gerri is now at home, at peace, fully healthy with Jesus. We grieve as a family. They know they are not alone, but that we are here with them. The same happens on the other end of the spectrum.
Hope and I feel from you all, our church family, the rejoicing in upcoming birth of Malachi. When one of us suffers, we all suffer together. One one of us rejoices, we all rejoice together.
Jesus, again, if we read the Beatitudes, we see he says two things, both, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. And he also says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
And so, if you are morning, if you are suffering, if you are struggling, Jesus says, that followers of christ will be comforted. Jesus is our comforter. And he tells us followers to follow his lead as comforters. Comforter those who mourn. And those who are merciful, those who comfort, those who have empathy, sympathy, and compassion will receive mercy.
Here’s how this happens. The things that Paul is talking about, the things that he is saying should be evident in a Christians life, are not our natural, instinctual normal abilities and nature.
And so it takes the change of heart, mind and soul that comes by grace alone through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ is the one and only who can change our bondage to sin, who can break our sin nature and the Holy Spirit comes in and changes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is the continual work of sanctification in us that allows us to reject what the world, and what our nature is telling us and it grows in us a new nature that helps us to set aside our rights, to bless those who persecute us, to rejoice with those who rejoice, no matter what we think of them, and to mourn with those who mourn, no matter what we think. It is what allows us to do the rest of what we are going to look at this morning, because we can’t and wont do it on our own, but only through the strength and love of Jesus Christ.
And Paul tells us, in verse 16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. This harkens back to what Paul said in this very same chapter, in verse 3, For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment,
Conflict comes when we each think of ourselves as better, or more important or having a higher status than each other, than those around us. When many of us have that conceit, we clash, because only we can be right. But when we think of ourselves as better than us, when we are not haughty, then we know that others can be right too, that others can have other lives, opinions, and gifts. They can do things differently than we do. And that s ok. They are not automatically trying to be better than or more important than us. Where there would otherwise be conflict and anger, now, we can let it slide. Love covers a multitude of sin. (1 Peter 4:8)
RC Sproul says that “One manifestation of this will be an absence of conceit and pride in worldly position.” I think of the letter that James wrote. Much of it deals with not treating people different ly because of perceived status or wealth. Not to treat some as better than others. And not to exclude or assume, not to look down on others because of anything.
That includes how they treat us. Verses 17-21, Paul tells us, Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In Essence, this is how we react as Christians, to a non-Christian world. We don’t respond to others the same we they respond to us. We dont repay evil with evil, but we overcome evil with good.
Again, looking back at Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Paul is simplifying and summarizing what Jesus said, so to truly understand wha the passage is telling us, we need to dig into what Jesus said, so that’s where the main focus of the rest of the sermon will be.
Right off the bat, Jesus acknowledges that a common saying that the Jews had heard was from the Torah, from the Old Testament Scriptures. Most of our Bibles will have the references there, showing Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20 & Deuteronomy 19:21 as where this statement is made.
But instead of looking at the context and the true meaning, The Jews made this a literal statement about karma. What you do to me, I’ll do right back to you. It reminds of a quote from a TV show, if any of you have seen Firefly, where the Captain of the ship tells the stowaway, “If someone tries to kill you, you kill them right back.”
That sounds real good doesn’t it? That sounds fair, that sounds like justice will be done. But here’s the problem. This line of thinking, this interpretation makes our behavior, our morals and our ethics very situational. It means that we can justify whatever behavior we want because the other person or other side did something first. It’s the theological version of the playground argument, “He started it!”
We see this every day in our own lives, but we don’t want to recognize it there. We see it every day in politics. Both sides. How often do we see someone taken to task for something stupid, something wrong or something evil. That persons party comes to their defense, not arguing what they did was right, but that the others side’s guy did the same thing, or something similar and the other side wasn’t bothered by it then. And while we do see the hypocrisy there on the other side, we don’t see our own hypocrisy of we had an issue with it when the other sides person did, but we don’t have an issue when our guy does it. Our behavior and our ethics and morals change based on whether it suits us or not.
And Jesus is going to point out that is missing the original point of the text and the whole of what God has taught us by a long mile. The original intent of the text is not individual retaliation, not modes of procedure in person to person conflict. Its not for if Me and one of you have an issue. But instead, if you go read those original verses in context, its about the civil justice system, administered by the government or leadership of the community or country. And the point of that text, quite simply is that the punishment should fit the crime. This is a mandate to not have excessive penalties for crimes committed or for personal retribution to pay a role in the punishment being administered.
RC Sproul writes, “Jesus opposition to the misuse of this verse involved, not the abrogation of the principle of equivalence, but a call to temper it’s application in light of the love commandment, in the interests of the Kingdom, and in the knowledge of Gods coming wrath.”
Each time this phrasing happens in the Old Testament, it is used in a legal context. It is used for the justice system and we need to remember that. We are not to seek personal retribution in place of or on top of what the legal system will bring. And, within the legal system, we are not to promote, or to enact different penalties for different groups of people; this means different social classes, this means different races and this means different nationalities, just to name a few that we see happen in today’s world. We are imperfect people, running imperfect social systems and giving imperfect justice.
God is a perfect God and he gives perfect justice. Scripture says that is we see injustices happen, first, we try to right them, but second, we rest in the knowledge that His perfect justice, will be administered, in his time. Thats what Paul is saying here.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Jesus goes on to give a couple examples that the people of those days would have clearly understood but may need a bit of context thrown in. To start, Jesus acknowledges that people with power will not always be fair to you. And there will always be someone with more power than you. They will unfairly exert power over you. At the time, Roman soldiers could come and grab, basically anyone they wanted and tell them to carry their gear, and the like for a mile so the soldier didn’t have to wear himself out doing it. We know that in the American Colonies, British soldiers could make any one give them quarter, house them for a time and feed them, just by showing up. That’s why we have our 3rd Amendment in the Bill of rights, was to prevent these abuses of power.
But, even in those situations, where you do have to go along with what someone says, say at work, is unfairly divvying up the assignments, or at school, if the teacher is giving you more work than the others, Jesus says there is still a way you can respond, that is obeying when you need to obey, but also takes away the power of the person ordering you around. Gladly do more. Go above and beyond.
People with power or influence, whether or not they are trying to use it wrong, but especially if they are, they can make you follow an order, especially if its not you doing something against Gods laws, but they can never make you do just enough. They can never prevent you from going above and beyond. It not only kills them with love and kindness but it takes the power out of their hands as well, and shows your strength and your freedom.
Then Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
So, a couple of immediate things on this statement. First, While some of the things that Jesus is telling them that they heard wrong are misunderstandings of things found in scriptures, this is one where this statement is not found in scripture. Nor, if read in context, is anything that can be misconstrued as that.
But it was. It was a misunderstanding, possibly purposefully, at least at first, of who is my neighbor. The Jewish people thought that it was only those in the Abrahamic covenant, circumcised Jews. The ones who had the most open view, thought that it pertained to all of Israel, but no further. It was a very limited view. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but Jesus makes it quite clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our definition of neighbor is not to be limited.
But it sounds so inviting, doesn’t it? Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy. It just makes sense. It’s easy to see, to feel and to understand. It’s what we all want to do. There is nothing else that makes sense to do except hate your enemies. Its hard enough sometimes to love those close to us. Why should we have to do it to those that hate us, fear us, sin against us, those that don’t love us? We deserve to be able to hate those people. And we limit our definition of neighbor is limited because its easier to live life with a limited definition. It limits who we have to love.
Jesus says NO. We don’t get to take the easy way out. We don’t get to live the easy life, our best life now. We don’t get to hate our enemies. We don’t get to just feel animosity to those who hate us. But we are to love our enemies. Whether or not they love us. And we are to pray for those who persecute us. That’s the definition of the hard way. That is Jesus raising the bar well above, both what we thought it was and what we are comfortable living.
What’s interesting is that Jesus uses a little bit of continuity here when we tells us why we are to live by this higher standard. He says so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Now, remember back to the Beatitudes. Remember the 7th one? Verse 9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
This is not optional, this is a necessary result of being called a child of God. And if we are saved, if we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our LORD, as our Savior, if we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, then we are told that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Again, that’s Paul’s big point here in this section of Romans, that these are signs and evidences of our salvation.
But, again, we don’t get to take the easy road. Jesus continues on by making sure that we understand that he is raising the bar. He wants us to have no mistake that we are expected to be better, to live up to a higher standard. He says its easy to love those who love us. Everyone does that.
Jesus picks maybe the two groups of people who the Jews had the lowest opinion of. Tax Collectors, Jewish people who have turned on their people, went to work for the Romans to raise money for the Roman Army to continue to occupy and oppress the Jewish people. They were not well liked. And then also the Gentiles. Those who were not a part of the covenant Jewish people. Those who did not know God.
Jesus picked those two groups and said that if all you do is love those who love you and hate those who hate you, you are no better than those who you have such a poor opinion of. Your no better than those who you look down on.
He has raised the bar. The standard that God has is perfection. What the scriptures do, what Jesus does, what we are to do is to show, both, the impossible standard that is to live up to, and the wholly undeserved grace that is poured out on all who believe and follow Christ.
And how we treat others is one of the ways that we show that. We show the love of Christ by the way we love others. The parallel, the correlation is clear. The way we treat others is not dependent on how they treat us. Just as, the way that God treats us, the love that he shows us, the grace he pours out in us is not dependent on how we treat him. Because if it were, we would all be in hell. Not destined for hell, but upon our first sin, we would be immediately sent there. We are in constant rebellion against Gods sovereign reign over his creation. God says, I love you anyway, here is grace.
The choice we have to make is whether we settle for common grace, and often if we choose this, we will raise the things that God has graced us with, we will raise them up as idols. We can settle for common grace or we can accept his true loving, sacrificial saving grace. And when we choose that path, Gods saving grace, we need to remember that it was while we were unlovable, while we were yet sinners, that Christ dies for us.