How Can We Overcome Evil With Good?
In October of 2011, as I do each year, I was preparing the contents for our church's Spiritual Life Journal for the next year. Each year we produce a beautiful and extremely helpful tool for all of our members that we call a Spiritual Life Journal. The contents of this great tool are a daily Bible reading calendar, to help folks read through the entire Bible in one year. Also included in the journal is a weekly church Bible memory verse calendar, a weekly personal church attendance calendar, a prayer list section and a section for folks to write down sermon and devotional quotes. This annual great tool has helped our church members greatly over the past decade.
This past weekend the church memory verse for the week of December 16th- 23rd was Romans 12:21 "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." How could I have ever known that 62 weeks later that on this same week a troubled, young, 20 year old man, who had an almost hypnotic involvement in violent video games and who was involved in the dark and demonic world of Goth would enter a public school and kill 26 people, 20 of which were precious little children, before killing himself? If there was ever a time that Romans 12:21 needed to be put into practice it is this sad and confusing week.
Let me take you back in history to the Jewish nation during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ day there was a feeling in Israel that things were not the way they were supposed to be. In fact, things had not been the way people thought they should be for around 400 years. Israel was supposed to be on top of the world, the head and not the tail. After all, they were God’s chosen people. Yet, except for the time around the Maccabean revolt in 165 BC, the Jews had been dominated by one gentile nation after another. First, there were the Babylonians then the Persians and the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Syrians, and now the Romans.
In 63 BC the conquering Roman general Pompey marched into Jerusalem. His first stop was the Jew’s most sacred building, the temple. He walked straight into the second court which was forbidden to gentiles and into the Holiest of Holies which was forbidden to all but the High Priest. He stood there and laughed at Israel’s God. This was a harbinger of things to come for the people of Israel. When the Romans came, they brought with them high taxes, paganism, and an almost unimagined brutality. The burden and humiliation Rome placed upon the common man made life virtually unbearable.
Into this chaotic world Jesus came with his astonishing words. He said that when someone strikes you across the cheek, turn the other one. This was an obvious reference to Rome, because that was the way Roman soldiers treated people. He said that when someone made you carry their pack one mile, carry it two. This was also a reference to Rome, for a Roman soldier had the right to conscript anyone to carry his pack for one mile. He said the way to deal with your enemies is to love them and forgive them. In light of the world of first century Israel, these words become all the more astonishing. Jesus’teachings must have been troubling back then, and they still are today. Jesus came to enact a new covenant. This new covenant would change everything including the way we look at our enemies.
The new covenant has its basis in grace. In the new covenant the idea is "You get the opposite of what you deserve." Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners and still God's enemies (Romans 5:8, 12). He took the wrath we deserved and gave us the blessings He deserved (Ephesians 1:3) My friend, the new covenant compels us to give to others what we have been given. We are to give others and even our enemies the opposite of what they deserve, a blessing and not a curse.
The Bible says in, Romans 12:12-18 “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. 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.”
Listen to the verse right before Romans 12:21. Verse 20 says, “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.”
We are to receive grace, but we are to also give it. We are to walk in the way Jesus walked. It is the world’s way to give back what we are given. If someone hates us, we hate them back. If someone hurts us, we pay back in kind. Yet, when we do that, our enemies defeat us. We don’t win a victory, but we lose. We become the very thing that we hate.
If we become just like our enemies, they have won. The victory is in not becoming like them in an attempt to defeat them, but to overcome evil with good. Jesus said when a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack one mile, carry it two. The way you triumph in that situation is not to hate the Roman soldier but to show astounding generosity instead. Could you imagine how a Roman soldier who received such kindness would feel? He would have a hard time hating the one who served him.
In the kingdom of God the way to be free from our enemies is not to destroy them or repay in kind. It is to forgive them. An unforgiven enemy will always have a hold on us in some way or another. If we forgive, we are free.
“Success Is Not Measured By The Heights One Attains, But By The Obstacles One Overcomes In Its Attainment.”
Booker T, Washington
“We Are In Bondage To That Which Overcomes Us.”
Neal A. Maxwell