Live Peaceably

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Today we wrap up our short study on Romans 12 together. Lord willing we will be back in Philippians next week. God challenges us in verses 17-21 in some very unique ways. In fact, we can look at these verses together and we can draw a line. A line which divides two ways we can go. On the one side we can say, “This is not possible, it is not possible to live this way in this world.” On the other side we can say, “Okay, in God’s strength and by His power, I will choose to live out these verses.” There is no option left which says, “I can do this on my own.” To try and live out verses 17-21 in our own strength, in our own way, is utter foolishness, and will lead to certain failure. Without Christ not only will we fail to live them out, we will also probably even lack the will to try.

Our hope as Christians is not in our own strength, but in the gospel of grace. A grace of God that has saved us and a sustaining grace that leads us to live out His word. It is painful to see people even attempt to live out these truths in their own strength. It would be like someone encouraging me to be a concert pianist or a professional decorator. It’s just not going to happen. God would have to start over with me, recreate me, my mind, to be able to do that sort of thing. It wouldn’t happen apart from divine interaction that would change the whole bent of who I am – my mind, personality, skills, and even desires would have to change. I would have to be recreated, I think, to do those things. Praise God, He does recreate us, in order that we can live out His commands. Apart from that recreation we would be hopeless. The Bible would be like a rule book that is impossible to follow, apart from a recreated heart. But in Him, in Christ, we are new, we have hope that we can live for Him, we can live in His ways, with His strength and might!

So, if you have been created anew in Christ, this is for you. If you have not been recreated, if you do not belong to God by faith in Christ, you have to take care of that first. By faith go to Him, repent, believe, receive Him, and then you too can live anew by His grace.

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Scripture goes on at the end of Romans 13 even to say that we are to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ. We can try to live these things on our own, or we can put on Christ to live. Here is how we as new creations are to live for Him…

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

There’s a lot there for us. If you’re a young child, the one statement that may get your attention is the burning coals on the head. When I was a kid I used to perk up when I heard that, I wanted to know what that was. But a dominant theme in these verses is that we are to live peaceably with those who may be our enemies, as far as it depends on us. I mean, there is a lot around that in this passage, but that seems to be at the center of this teaching, these verses. 

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

As Paul makes that statement he just prior in verse 17 said, “repay no one evil for evil and give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all.” He is primarily talking about people who may be treating us badly. People who are actively treating us with evil intent. This could be someone who is smearing your name with lies. Someone who has decided to cut you out of their life. Someone, perhaps, who is trying to destroy your family or your business. This could be someone who is simply determined to try and make your life miserable. Maybe it is someone who knows you well, this person knows exactly what to do to get to you emotionally, and would love to bring you to your knees. We’re talking about people who want to do evil toward us. Someone who wants to harm you. Maybe someone who really gives no thought to harm you, but they are simply so selfish in their desires that you are just collateral damage as they simply live to please themselves. In other words, you are not the center of their life or intent, you are simply in the way, and you are reaping consequences for their behavior, but they don’t care, or maybe they are blind to it.

God says, through Paul, what to do about this. What do we do when we have people like these in our lives? We pay them back. When people are evil toward us, making our lives hard, treating us badly, we pay them back. Isn’t that what we do? What do we pay them back with? With what is honorable (verse 17). We pay them back with food if they are hungry, with water if they are thirsty (verse 20). We pay them back with kindness, with good (verse 21), and never with what is evil.

If we pay others who have treated us wrongly, I mean actively pay them back with good, that means we are not, we cannot be passive when others treat us badly. That shouldn’t be an option for us. We cannot simply ignore them or treat them as if they do not exist. If possible, we are to do good to them, and to give thought to do what is honorable. 

If you come to me and tell me of how badly someone is treating you, and after we have talked and I have acknowledged your pain and suffering, and have agreed with you that you were treated badly with what appeared to be evil intent, after that I may say, “Okay, now in the power of the Spirit of God and for His glory, go now and do your part regarding peace. Do good to that person, be kind, give thought to what is honorable, pay them back with good.” What would you think of that? And what would you do?

Many times I have heard, and I have said myself, “Well, whatever I do, it won’t help.” It’s an excuse for inactivity. Have you ever thought that or said that when in a conflict? When we say that we must ask ourselves, what do we mean by ‘good,’ that it it won’t do any good? I think when we say that we are possibly revealing our goal. Our goal may be that the other person come around to a peaceful place with us, that there is true and complete reconciliation. That is not actually the goal, it shouldn’t be the goal. The Scripture says…

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18)

We cannot unilaterally bring peace to a relationship. If the good that we want or would like to see is a reconciled relationship, then we may be sorely disappointed. The goal here is not peace, but our aim should be to do our part in the peace process. That is what God is telling us to do. That is success. That is pleasing to God. If that is what we want, that is to please God, then it will help if we approach others with good when they have mistreated us. Good will be accomplished, the good goal of pleasing God. But it may not result in a relationship of peace. That is not possible without the cooperation of both parties. Our aim is to treat others in love and kindness.

I visited the AT&T store twice in the last week trying to take care of some phone issues. Both times there were some really angry customers there. It was pretty ugly. Both times someone was severely, verbally attacking one of the employees there. It was embarrassing to watch. The employee, James, is a Christian brother. I didn’t know him before my first visit there, but I got to know him a little bit. I got to watch him being really taken to task by some angry people, and it wasn’t for anything he had done personally. He handled it beautifully. He was calm, a servant, humble, gentle, he did what was honorable, returned good for evil. James did his part to live peaceably, and it was a joy to watch the Spirit of God at work in him. Even though James did what he could to live peaceably, peace was not achieved. The others did not want peace. But God was pleased.

Some may say, “But you don’t know what I have to put up with. If you only knew how badly so and so treats me, you wouldn’t be asking me to be kind in return.” You’ve heard that, I’ve heard that, and maybe we have all said that even. Here is where we need a strong example. We need to see how our Lord handled such things. Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler from Mark 10? A familiar story, but I want to read it and point out something that I think may be helpful for us this morning.

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

This man was a sinner. He claimed to have kept all the laws that Jesus had mentioned here, perfectly. Does anyone here believe that this man had kept all of these rules perfectly? No. Especially after you read the Sermon on the Mount, and its exposition of these commands. This man failed to recognize himself as a sinner. But he was a sinner. If he was a sinner, who had he primarily sinned against? God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Right? This man, from his childhood, had continually and repeatedly sinned against Jesus Christ. And now he comes to Jesus, the very one whom he regularly sins against in life, and Jesus meets him face to face, presumedly for the first time. Here is this terrible sinner, coming to Jesus, whom he regularly sins against, claiming no sin. And now they meet. Talk about enemies.

If someone in your life daily, continually, even purposefully sins against you, what might you call them? An enemy! And yet, what do we read? This man asks his question, makes his claim standing before the One whom he has so often offended, and we read, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him” Jesus loved this man.

In fact, as Jesus walked on this earth, He was only surrounded by people who were actively and repeatedly sinning against Him. Not just sinning, not just sinning against other people, but every sin was against Him. What was that like? Even His closest friends were sinning against Him all of the time! How would the gospels read if Jesus had spent His time on this earth repaying everyone evil for evil? They’d be pretty short gospel books in that case.

I mean, even with the Pharisees, when we hear some harsh words of truth from Jesus, even with them He showed incredible restraint and mercy. I don’t know if we can in any way grasp the goodness of our Savior, and His kindness, until we recognize the sinfulness of those He came to serve. I don’t know if we can begin to grasp the goodness of our Savior until we recognize the sinfulness of our own hearts, those He came to save. And we will never treat others good who do us evil until we see both the goodness of our Lord and our own unworthiness to receive it.

Who are we to return evil for evil? It is not our place.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

We are not to, as individuals, punish other people. We don’t have to put ourselves in that sort of role. That is not our place. I’m speaking in a general sense, I’m not talking about the government, whom God has given a right to punish. That is a part of society of government, God gives government that role. But individually, we do not punish our friends or neighbors when they sin against us. That is God’s place, and He is more than capable of doing that. 

No sin goes unpunished. For the non-Christians, they will pay for their sins. For the Christian, our punishment was taken by Christ. God takes care of that balance; that is His thing, not ours. Our duty is to love. Our duty is to return good for evil. Our duty is to give those who are hungry or thirsty what they need to survive. God can take care of vengeance.

20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

Like I said, I have always been fascinated and really unsure about verse twenty, the whole “heaping burning coals on one’s head” thing. That sounds rather strange to us, doesn’t it? I mean you could read it as something like, “Okay, I’ll be kind, I’ll give to people what they need, but then at least I get to put burning coals on their head in the end!” That sounds vengeful, doesn’t it? That sounds painful, like we get to inflict some pain on that person who is hurting us. It can’t be read that way, that would make no sense at all. God wouldn’t say, “Be kind and loving,” and then, “Hurt them.” It has to mean something else. But what does Paul mean by this? He is quoting from Proverbs 25:21-22, which says…

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)

This may sound odd to us, but it seems to mean this: when we give kindness to those who are our enemies, God can use that to bring a person to true remorse and repentance. The unmerited kindness to those who have done evil may force the sinner to really think about his own acts of evil, and he may then experience the pain that so often accompanies true repentance. Maybe like as fire melts metal, so kindness can melt the hard heart of a person who is doing evil. 

John MacArthur mentions an ancient Egyptian custom where a person who wanted to demonstrate public contrition or repentance would carry on his head a pan of burning coals. This was done to represent the burning pain of shame and guilt that he has now become aware of. It could be that our kindness and love toward those who are treating us badly can bring them to an understanding of their own guilt and shame before God, leading to true repentance. Kindness may be the very thing that God may use to lead a person to repentance. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

This whole passage really leaves no place for us to be passive when others treat us badly. It calls us to be active, to actively seek to do good to our enemies. 

In closing, let me suggest a few things that may be helpful for us:

  1. When facing a conflict with another person, any conflict, ask yourself, “What can I do in this situation that will clearly benefit the other person?”
  2. When tempted to walk away from a hard relationship, commit instead to go toward that person, not away, toward them with kindness.
  3. Study the life of Christ from the gospels and see how he treats people around Him, all of whom where actively sinning against Him.
  4. Commit to going to any person in your life to do what you can to live peaceably with them.
  5. Where you have returned evil for evil, with your words or deeds, commit to repent of that and ask forgiveness from whomever that was directed toward.
  6. Take the time to praise and thank God for returning good to you, even as you have so often sinned against Him.

 
As we live out these verses, we are truly putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, living as newly created beings for His glory.

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)