Vol. IX — No. 6 February 11, 1968
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
In Christ Jesus, who died to save us when we were His enemies and who exhorts us to follow His example and love our enemies, Fellow Redeemed:
We are this morning considering the final portion of the twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. St. Paul is still unfolding the implications of his initial exhortation that we and all believers should be presenting our bodies unto the Lord daily as living sacrifices. With each additional individual exhortation Paul demonstrates the necessity of our being transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we are to live daily as Paul with apostolic authority instructs us that we are to live, then we need an entirely new way of looking at things and evaluating them. In the section that we considered last week we examined just how we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices as members of the Body of Christ. That we are to do by using each gift given us in the measure that it has been given to us in the interest of and For the benefit of all other members of the Body of Christ. The spiritual atmosphere in which we are to be exercising our God-given gifts is that of love and humility.
Among the love exhortations that Paul lists was this one: “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” Our Lord Jesus Christ did not escape being cursed and persecuted during His life here on earth. In His infancy Herod attempted to murder Him. when He preached His first sermon in His home town, the townsmen tried to push Him off a cliff. The religious leaders of the people took a stand against Him, kept spying on Him during His ministry, judged and condemned Him and succeeded in pressuring Pilate until he pronounced the death sentence upon our Lord. Then when He hung upon the cross, they stood beneath and cursed Him. If this treatment was heaped upon the Head of the Church, can the Body—the Church—expect anything better. No, for did not the Head say to the Body, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”?
As individual members of the Body of Christ we can expect persecution and cursing at sometime or another and in some way or another. That is the cross that the Lord has laid upon His followers. In this final section of the chapter Paul tells us how we are to sacrifice our bodies daily to the Lord over against each and every enemy of the Body of Christ. We can summarize Paul’s exhortation as follows:
“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” Not tit for tat, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No, don’t repay any enemy for an evil that he has done you with an evil against him. That is sacrificing yourself as a member of the Body of Christ over against all enemies of the Body of Christ.
St. Paul is urging every child of God to pattern himself after the heart and action of our Savior. He had elaborated upon that in a preceding chapter when he set forth how the heart and action of God the Father and His Son achieved our salvation. “When we were yet without strength—spiritual strength of any kind or degree—Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s an amazing thing! A mother will sacrifice her life for her child, a soldier for his buddy, but who will arise to offer his life for some dreg of society. Christ did that. We are the dregs of society, the ungodly, for whom Christ died. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Father loved us when all we could do was rebel against His commandments. He proved that love for us by sending His Son to die for us. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” Can you imagine our government sending our young men to die for our enemies, the North Koreans or the North Vietnamese? Yet God sent His Son and His Son accepted the commission to come and die for us when we were His enemies.
This action of our God is the basis, yea the enabling Force behind Paul’s exhortation, “Pay back no one evil for evil.” There are people still listed as members of this congregation who by their prolonged absence from public worship and by their withdrawal of support in all forms are demonstrating themselves to be indifferent to and enemies of the Truth. There are many in the community who may hate you and curse you for withdrawing from your former congregations in witness to the Truth. Let none of us repay evil with evil, cursing with cursing, mud-slinging with mud-slinging, character assassination with character assassination. No, not that! “Provide things honest—taking thought for things excellent—in the sight of all men.” That is the way we are to conduct ourselves over against any and every opponent.
Paul’s exhortations grow in intensity. He began with not repaying evil for evil. Next he exhorts us to sacrifice ourselves over against our enemies—
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” This exhortation re-echoes the beatitude of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers: For they shall be called the children of God.” But notice that Paul sets a limit to our peace-making efforts: “as much as lieth in you.” That indicates that circumstances may arise which make it impossible For us to keep the peace.
If we examine the ministry of our Lord, we can understand what such circumstances are. Jesus was the Prince of Peace, yet wherever He went He caused divisions. It was of the very nature of His message to cause divisions—some for and some against Him. When the Jews condemned Him before Pilate, they accused Him of stirring up the people. There was an element of truth in that accusation, for the message of the Lord did stir up the hearts of the hearers—to opposition or to acceptance. Every teaching and preaching of the Lord was an attack of the Truth into the territory of the captain of all lies, the devil. Satan defends his territory and counterattacks. This brings with it the destruction of peace. Our Lord emphasized this characteristic of the Gospel when He sent out His disciples with the words, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Matt. l0:34-36.
We are to suffer evil, bear abuse, submit to personal insult and injury without retaliation. In so doing we live as peacemakers. But we dare not cease to testify to the Truth or compromise the Truth just to keep peace within the family or among the relatives and friends. If we refrain from testifying to the Truth or if we water the Truth down to make it palatable to the prejudices of enemies of the Truth, then we make ourselves guilty of denying our Lord. That is too high a price for peace! In humility and in love we must at all times take our stand along side of the Truth. If relations become strained in the family because of that or if we lose a friend, that is part of the cross of Christ. Scripture knows of no peace at any price. The exhortation is, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
What if we are wronged by enemies of the Body of Christ? In such a case we are to sacrifice ourselves bodily—
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.” Paul was well acquainted with the flesh and its power to influence also members of the Body of Christ. He knew that when children of God are abused, insulted, slandered, discriminated against, subjected to bodily and property injury and even threatened in life, that they would tend to become very angry. He knew that such anger naturally finds release in vengeance. We are that way by nature. We have a breaking point. Some people react more quickly, tend to strike back faster. That is why the exhortation is so necessary, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.”
Here again our Lord left us the perfect example St. Peter held that example up before his readers in these words: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” I Peter 2:23. Never was there any man more unjustly mistreated. Never was there any man who had greater power to avenge Himself. But our Lord didn’t take vengeance into His own hands. He committed Himself to the Judge of all flesh.
We all suffer injury. If we suffer injury or persecution of any kind for the Truth’s sake, we are blessed of the Lord. But none of us ever will suffer the injustice that our Lord experienced here on earth. He didn’t take vengeance into His own hands. Neither are we! There is an old saying, “The mills of God’s justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” When the Body suffers, the Head knows and He feels. When anyone injures a child of God, God takes note of that. In His own time and in His own way He takes care of the matter. We are to place those matters in His hands and never take them in our own hands.
The first three exhortations pointed towards a negative response over against our enemies. We are not to pay back the evil they do us. If at all possible, we are not to do anything to disturb the Peace. It wrong, we are not to take vengeance into our own hands. Now comes the positive—what we are to do. We are to demonstrate that we are sacrificing ourselves unto the Lord over against our enemies—
“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; it he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t pay back evil with evil. Ho, pay back evil with good! It’s easy to do nice things for people we love and respect. But the children of the world do that too. We are to seek every opportunity to do good to those who have made themselves our enemies.
“In so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” If one would have a platter with live coals on his head, it won’t take long before he would strive and that violently to get out from under those live coals. That is the effect that doing good may have upon an enemy. Think of King Saul! Again and again he set out to kill David, who had done him no harm, but only good. when David on more than one occasion had the opportunity to kill Saul, he didn’t. He re-paid the evil of Saul by sparing his life. He thereby heaped coals of tire on Saul’s head. Saul experienced shame and even repentance—if but for a short time.
If we strike out against our enemies, we confirm them in their enmity against us and against the Truth of our Lord. It we take every opportunity to do them good, we may make them so uncomfortable that they will want to get out from under the fiery coals. They may be won as friends and, if God will, as friends and confessors of the Truth.
What a program Paul has outlined for us. He sums it all up in the final verse of the chapter: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Don’t let evil get you down. Don’t let evil wear you down and make you evil also. Overcome each and every evil with good. That’s a big assignment. We can never undertake it with success alone. That is why our Lord has gone before us. He has done what He asks us to do. And with His doing He has prepared for us the necessary strength to follow in His Footsteps. Let us be on our way! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.