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Romans (Series 2)

In The World

Romans 12:14-21

Lesson audio

In our previous session we saw Paul’s prescription for how the church should get along with itself. Now we shall see his advice for the Christian in the world but not of the world. First we shall see his general advice; then the method of dealing with evil. Finally, we take up the question of revenge.

Romans 12:14-21 NIV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (16) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[3] Do not be conceited. (17) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. (18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (19) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[4]says the Lord. (20) On the contrary:

"If your 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."[5] (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Getting along with the world

May I point out one thing first? Paul spins his words out in terms of what you should do much more than what you should not do. It reflects the fact that we easily accept a prohibition; active service is more tasking.

Rejoice with those who rejoice

We must remember that the usual method of writing in these days places the most important point first. We can see that in this statement. How? It is easy to weep with those who weep; who among us has not put an arm around a friend at a funeral? Such an action warms the heart.

But rejoicing with those who rejoice is harder than that. How so? Consider that we are rejoicing at someone else’s success. If they are in any way a competitor to us, there is the temptation to envy. Take your mind back to the days when “good sportsmanship” was still in vogue; the measure of a sportsman (one who was a “good sport about it”) was the sincerity with which he congratulated the victor. That same spirit should be in the Christian in dealing with someone else’s success.

Be of like mind; live in harmony

Surely here is an antidote to pride. We are not to restrict ourselves to our own social class, but to move as Christians among all people, taking no thought for status or station. This does not mean denying who we are; it means acknowledging who Christ is. Consider:

  • In Christ there is no distinction between rich and poor. These are but parts we are assigned to play on the stage of this life. Therefore regard poverty and wealth as facts, not judgments.
  • We are not to rely on our own wisdom; rather, we are to seek counsel in all things. This is an antidote to pride. How much more so, then, if we seek counsel among those whom our society tells us are inferior?
Live at peace

In the peaceful life the typical Christian lets his light shine. Most of us are not going to be evangelists or preachers. But our example can be clear, at least. If your life is filled with anger and constant disputes, who will see the love of Christ in you?

Indeed, James takes this a bit further:

James 3:13 NIV Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Do you see it? Wisdom, which comes from God, directs you to do things in humility – and humility in your actions brings peace in your part of the world.

Paul adds two caveats:

  • “If it is possible.” Sometimes it’s just not possible to live at peace with those around you. You may need to be prepared for trouble while working to avoid it.
  • “As far as it is within you.” Each of us is at a slightly different stage of the journey; each of us started at a different point. Sometimes you don’t have the maturity to handle the situation. If it’s beyond you, seek help. But remember that God knows you’re not perfect yet. (Judge not).

What about evil?

All this sounds well and good – but the immediate reaction to “love thy neighbor” is “you don’t know my neighbor.” The fact is that evil exists; since it does, it is reasonable to expect that the Christian will encounter it. It’s easy to live at peace with the peaceable; what about the evil?

Suffering for Christ

It is not much preached in the pulpit these days – it’s really not seeker-friendly – but the plain fact is that the true Christian will suffer for Christ. It is an inevitable result of the existence of evil – and the Evil One. It is wise to pray to avoid this, but it will come in some measure.

We must recognize its blessing, therefore. Out of our suffering for Christ comes our growth as Christians. It is not the only way we grow, but it is an essential way. The fact is that as we suffer for Christ we should recognize that we are being honored – Satan thinks enough of us to apply his usual techniques. So the question is not whether or not we should suffer; the question is, what do we do about it?

Be careful to do what’s right

Note, please, that instruction to “be careful.” This takes thought and planning. Good enough just isn’t. Our suffering is an opportunity to be an example to others – an example we may never get to be otherwise.

That makes it an opportunity for evangelism as well. When you are suffering others will want to know what’s going on inside your brain – and they will ask. Be ready with an answer.

The one thing we must really be careful of is that we give no opportunity for slander. It is better that we are overly cautious about doing the right things so that those around us do not see the world’s way but Christ’s way, and therefore have nothing but good to say about the church.

Imitation of Christ

There is a simple principle in this: the imitation of Christ. Paul puts it this way:

1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

We should see evil as a chance to follow Christ more closely. Therefore we must understand his method of dealing with it. Specifically:

Matthew 5:44-48 NIV But I tell you: Love your enemies[9] and pray for those who persecute you, (45) 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. (46) If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The only sinners at whom Christ was ever angry were those who led the people away from the truth of God. For the rest, he set the standard shown above. Go, and do likewise.

Vengeance is mine

Of course, if you give evil the chance to work on your mind, and that evil comes from one person or group, your mind soon turns to vengeance. We must now deal with this.

Stealing from God

Look at it this way: God says vengeance is his. Therefore, if you take vengeance, you are stealing from him. So why is it that we do it?

  • We fail to believe in his providence. Since his usual method does not involve lightning strikes from a clear blue sky, we think he does nothing. It is not so.
  • We forget his omniscience and omnipotence. Yes he does know what’s happened to you and he can do something about it. We need to “leave room” for this.
  • We often don’t have the faith to believe that he will recompense them.
  • Finally, it requires courage to do this. Fear God; dread naught. Even the thought that somehow your enemy will get away with it.
Bless them

We are not designed to sit still. If we are to overcome the sin of anger we must have something to replace it. Our Lord prescribes it: we are to bless them.

Some variants of modern Christian life minimize the devotional life. Bible study is no longer encouraged; times of prayer and meditation are no longer mentioned from the pulpit. But it is the devotional life which permits this reaction. If you have no time alone with Christ you cannot hear what he whispers; if you cannot hear his whispers you cannot shout them from the housetops. It is in the devotional life that you get the strength to do this.

This is strength indeed – to be able to say that when my enemy did evil to me, I was able to repay him with goodness.

Overcome evil with good

There is the secret: do not overcome evil with evil; overcome evil with good. The supreme example of this is Christ at the Cross. The evil was great; an innocent man was being executed. Out of that came our salvation.

When you do such a thing, it is a personal victory, coals on your enemy’s head. More than that, it is a triumph of your Christian growth, for in so doing you become more like Christ. Indeed, you will look back upon such things and see them as the blessing they are:

Matthew 5:11-12 NIV "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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