Overcome Evil With Good- Rom 12
Again, we have amazing readings this week. Moses encounters God in the burning bush and commissions Moses to lead the charge as God saves the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. And God shared the Divine name with Moses- “I AM That I AM” (or "I AM who I AM")- he is the self-existent being.
And in our Gospel reading Jesus reveals to his disciples that part of his being the messiah involves him being rejected by the leadership, suffering at their hands, and being killed. Peter pulls Jesus aside and scolds him for his misunderstanding of the role of the messiah. He plays the role of Satan, tempting Jesus away from his path.
Today I want to look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, again. Paul gives guidance for living the Christian life. This section almost sounds like a list of proverbs, and there is a lot of wisdom there for living the Christian life.
This section starts in a way that seems to state the obvious.
“Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good”.
They are simple words, but usually we don’t need to be told what the good is, or what the evil is. We know them (even if maybe at times we pretend we don’t at times). We need to be encouraged to chase after good and resist evil, more than we need to be instructed to know what good is. So, Paul simply encourages us to do what we know to be good, and resist what we know to be evil.
Stop doing whatever is causing destruction in your life, or whatever you are doing that is making the lives of others harder around you. … I know it is easier said than done, ask God for help, ask others to help you. Pick one thing- the easiest thing- stop doing the easiest bad thing you can. Then move to the next, and the next. Eventually you can move on to doing something good. Choose a small thing- a small, good thing. Something that will make the world just slightly better. And commit yourself to do it. Then choose another, and another. …
Concern about evil and good bookend this section-
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
… Often what we lack is the zeal, the commitment, to commit ourselves to resisting evil and hold onto good. We grow weary and we slip into doing what we know to be wrong, and avoiding what we know to be good.
Paul also begins by instructing us to not be hypocritical in our love. In our day “love” has come to mean a warm feeling towards someone. Feelings are hard things to manufacture. In Paul’s day it was an action more than a feeling. You loved someone if you acted for the good of the beloved. In older translations they used the word “charity” instead of “love”, which seems to have more of an action attached to it. You can show charity to someone you don’t necessarily like. … And sometimes when you act lovingly towards someone, those warm feelings follow.
Love draws us into humility. In our love for one another, competition and jealousy dissipate as we seek to outdo each other in honouring one another. Our love unifies us as we lift each other up. Our love unites us as we rejoice with one another and weep with one another. This love leads us to live in harmony with one another, not thinking we are too good to interact with some, rather, we see each other as children of God and equally made in God’s image- a brother or sister in Christ. And that profound reality overshadows any other parts of that person’s life- the way they dress, the money they make, or any the odd mannerisms they might have.
And this love spills out from our fellowship towards the people around us as we show hospitality to strangers. We read in Hebrews 13:2,
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
We live in a reality that includes aspects we can’t see. Our interactions with other human beings isn’t merely an interaction with another sophisticated primate, who is attached to this tribe or that tribe. What stands before us, when we encounter a stranger is someone who images God- it is one who Christ has died to save- it may be one who God has sent to us to remove the scales from our eyes like Ananias did for Paul. And how dare we mistreat an angel, or the image of God, or one for whom Christ died, or one who may have come to open our eyes as a messenger of God?
The love of the community spills out, even on enemies. Paul exhorts us to bless those who persecute us, rather than curse them. He teaches us to not repay evil for evil, and to not take vengeance. On the contrary,
"if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink”.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
There may be a time for vengeance, but that is not up to us. God sees it all and justice will eventually come to each of us, but it is not our place (as individuals) to execute that judgement or that punishment. Instead we are called to become the kind of people that Jesus describes in Matthew 5-
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt 5:43-47).
… This is a high calling indeed. For most of us it is intimidating, but it is where we are aiming if we are Christians.
There are many Christians who have been inspired and transformed by these teachings. For example, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached these words in the midst of violence and turmoil in his day. This is from a sermon entitled “loving your enemies”-
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non co-operation with evil is … a moral obligation. … Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” (Strength to Love, p 40).I can barely read that without tearing up. It is a beauty that shows the heart and teaching of Jesus, who forgave his enemies from the cross. …
Winning the enemy is what I think is meant by Paul’s statement,
“for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
King desired to win his enemies by his community's ability to love and suffer until the hate of the enemy has been exhausted. In that moment the enemy has been destroyed and a new brother or sister has been born into the world.
Christ calls us to join him in overcoming evil with good. Yes, it is a difficult battle, but to overcome evil with evil leaves us and our children living in a world with more evil. The way of Christ calls us to see reality in a deeper way than the news headlines would have us believe. The way of Christ is the way to true peace. The way out of our own slavery to sin is not the way that is obvious according to human wisdom. Human wisdom doesn’t consider burning bushes as answers to slavery. And human wisdom doesn’t consider dead messiahs as ways to salvation, but God’s ways are higher than our ways (Is 55:8-9). Amen.