“Overcome Evil with Good”
Romans 12: 9-21
September 3rd, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of our scripture lesson, as recorded in the 12th chapter of Romans, verses 9 thru 21.”
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 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; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
“Let us allow the Spirit of God to work with our hearts as we discern the meaning of this passage in our lives today.”
In the first verse of our lesson, the Apostle Paul proclaims a wonderful yet perplexing oxymoron for us to grapple with today! “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;” /Romans 12: 9/ At first blush this seems to be a simply wonderful doctrine to live by! Yet, this appears to be contradictory to what he tells us to do in verse seventeen. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” /Romans 12:17/ First he tells us to hate evil – then he tells us not to repay evil with evil! How are we to hate, loathe and be repulsed by something, which is evil, but not indulge ourselves by returning it back upon itself!? It sure is easy to hate what is evil. We read about it in the newspapers. We see it on the nightly news. Television dramatizes it for us and makes it into a series for the whole season! Evil is the sinfulness, the immoral and criminal actions of wickedness, which have been plaguing humankind since the beginning! How can we, mere mortals, ‘not’ refund and pay back ‘what has been put upon us’ – in like manner!
It is our responsibilities, as followers of Jesus, to give this apostle named Paul, an opportunity to explain himself. For if we simple look to his words with this ‘attitude’, we will also find ourselves tied into the knots of hatred and evil… destroying everything Christ has worked so hard to impress upon us! We must be careful to not fall into this easily laid trap of words which could cause us, in carelessness, to believe for a moment that Paul would have us back in the Old Testament as written in the ancient Torah of Israel. Which tells us that one must repay evil with evil. “An eye for an eye, it is written!” In the King James Version of the Bible, in the Book of Exodus, chapter twenty-one, “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” /Exodus 21:23-25/ Clearly, there are some within our own society, even some who seek to do what is right and follow the same doctrines that you and I follow, have fallen prey to this wrong understanding of Paul’s words! Paul, a disciple of Christ, was not saying this to us! Just the opposite! He said hate evil, but do not repay evil with evil! Yes, this is in direct opposition to what is written within the old writings of Exodus! But it conforms completely with the teachings of Jesus!
The Apostle Paul was preaching to the church in Rome that they were ‘yes’ to ‘dislike’ and even ‘loath’ the evil oppression they were under, because of and for their love of Christ. Yet, he was also warning them not to get caught up, ‘in this snare’ which would only ‘drag them down’ into the gutter of evil, with those who would put it upon them! Very, very different mindset than what was written before Christ re-adjusted the focus of these old doctrines. Jesus lifted-up the importance of loving God completely but also to love our neighbors as ourselves. A totally different attitude of ‘how’ to view the old rules of the Torah!
The Reverend Doctor Alan Brehm, of the Hickman Presbyterian Church, in Nebraska, puts forth in his teachings: “Only when we embrace those who do evil in our world with genuine love can we hope to respond to what they do in a way that will bring real change – responding to violence with forgiveness, responding to hatred with compassion, responding to hostility with peace.” /Alan Brehm/ Look again to the words of Paul: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” /Romans 12: 1/ “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” /Romans 12:17a/ Pastor Brehm has the right attitude, the approach to this subject that we all would be wise to consider. We, you and I, we must approach this topic as disciples of Christ, following the teachings of Jesus. If we allow our opinions to be swayed by our human hatred for those evil forces which are at work within our own society and beyond, then we shall no longer represent the positions and teachings of Jesus! This is not about politics, this is about Christianity and all it stands for!
I think we all long for the same destinations, the same goals and objectives. It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, our ethnic backgrounds, rich or poor, gay or straight, we all seek after the common threads of our humanness. We want to be treated fairly, have a good school for our children, and an equal opportunity for jobs. We all want to be able to purse life, liberty and happiness. Sound familiar? “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the Declaration says have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect.” /Wikepedia/ That begins the list, a list that we all carry or ascribe to in one manner or another. We all struggle with our own humanness and our mortal destinies. We all are programed with different biases and understandings of the world based on the environment and culture we were brought up in and in which we now reside. That’s a fact, whether we like it or not. This is basic. How we reach our objectives and aims in life is a whole different matter. When Paul started writing it seems he was trying to teach the church, and we know that church is synonymous with ‘we the people’. He was teaching about how to live as Christians in a world that was not in sync with our beliefs and doctrines.
Let’s take-a-look at this writing of Paul’s, from this Christian point of view. In so doing let us approach this conversation from where we are today.
Our goals, our destinations are not the primary concerns we need to address nor concentrate on today. First and foremost, we must stay focused on our journeys. In so doing, we shall realize it is in the ‘journey’ itself which is of upmost importance! Ultimately, life is not about the arrival at our goals and objectives – it is, however, all about how we get there, how we conduct ourselves and how we live ‘life’ on ‘life’s’ terms along the way! It will take a lot of hard work, patience, tolerance and an attitude about life which may be out-of-step with the people, the institutions and communities or even the culture where we live, which we are a part of. That’s the hard part. Or, at least, at times, it appears to be. The Apostle Paul’s writings are often striving to assist people, help churches; they are teachings about how to live within the settings which we, which they find themselves in.
Let us listen once more to Paul’s words, words which clearly are meant to teach us ways and attitudes for living which shall help us to interact with others around us with integrity, grace and some degree of decency and hope. “Let love be genuine; hate what is (cruel, mean and even revolting), hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor (and respect). Do not lag (or delay) in (passion and enthusiasm), be (dedicated and committed) in spirit, help(ing) and assist(ing) God… in the work which is to be done. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere (and continue) in prayer. Contribute (give) to the needs of (those who work for the good of the church within this community); extend hospitality to strangers. /Romans 12: 9-13/ This does not sound like a teaching of vengeance or repaying wrong with wrong. It is a formula for promoting the good which was seen within the man Jesus, as he walked amongst the people and taught his understanding of God’s love and kindness; combined with an attitude of forgiveness, recovery, and help; and the freedom which only God can give us through grace and mercy.
You and me, we can be difficult at times. You know that and so do the people around us. Yet, we are, as members of the “Christian” Body of Christ, we are meant to do as Jesus did. Love others unconditionally, forgive our enemies. What did he say when he was dying upon the cross? Was it not “forgive them for they know not what they do.” /Luke 23:34/ One theologians tells us how “The tricky part is that the Body of Christ includes an awful lot of people who are every bit as difficult as we are.” /Sarah Dylan Breuer/ So, there it is, we are not saints either. Sad, isn’t it? We raise up the Saints that came before, just as Christ rose from death. Yet, we find out this awful truth: if we are like the Saints, then they too were not perfect! Remember how Jesus stopped the crowd from stoning to death the woman accused of adultery? “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” /John 8:7/ So what do we do when we realize someone, within our own community, has withheld the truth and out of omission has caused you or another pain? Or out of insensitivity to the feelings of another, said something hurtful about them to others. Paul clearly tells us the answer. “Do not repay anyone (wrong for wrong) evil for evil, but take thought (meditate and think first) for what is noble (honorable, self-sacrificing and principled) in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably (calmly and agreeably) with all.” /Romans 12:17-18/ In other words, Paul is telling us to “take it up a notch” and give back good even when what we receive is bad. Jesus taught us to forgive others, give someone a second chance, rather than condemn them for their humanness, which resides in us all!
Our destiny and our fate will collide somewhere in the future. But the future is not ours to live. That which is yet to come belongs to the winds of the Spirit. Our journeys remain in today, no matter how many todays it takes. Focus on this and the teachings of love, forgiveness and kindness. These are the teachings which lead to the desires of the true follower of Jesus and his early disciples – like the Apostle Paul. And the Psalmist said unto them: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever.” /Psalm 23:6/