Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, (12:17-21).
We will consider verse 17 today. In this last chapter section Paul brings into focus with laser-like precision one of the paramount functions and attributes of agape love, to overcome evil with good. In this twelfth chapter of his great epistle the apostle has continually challenged believers to think, speak, and act outside the box of normal human relations. By virtue of our new birth and the indwelling Holy Spirit and Word of God we are to relate to other people on a supernatural level with divine love flowing through and spilling out of us at every turn.
The climax to this new holy thinking comes in verses 17-21. It is one thing to truly love family, friends and even strangers. It is yet another to love our enemies with our thoughts and words and, practically, with our actions. But this is what the Lord calls us to do, because that is exactly what He did and how He lived.
First, we are to never, under any circumstances, no matter how deserving we think they may be, pay back evil for evil to anyone. This includes even our worst enemies, who may be hell-bent on our destruction. Scripture demands that we bless them and not curse them, and certainly never be moved to an act of revenge.
John MacArthur advises this: “The Old Testament law of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24; cf. Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) pertained to civil justice, not personal revenge. Not only that, but its major purpose was to prevent the severity of the offense. In other words, someone guilty of destroying another person’s eye could not be punished with any greater penalty than that of forfeiting one of his own eyes,” (Mac p. 201).
When we soon get into chapter 13 we will read Paul’s teaching that civil authority is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil, (Rom. 13:4).
Mac says further, “But that very authority, which not only is divinely permitted but divinely mandated for civil government, is divinely forbidden for personal purposes,” (p. 201). We will talk more of civil authority under God and the responsibility and obligation of citizens to uphold that authority when we study the next chapter. The subject is certainly profoundly relevant for our times in view of how disgracefully so many malcontents are treating our American president and our Constitution.
Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to see that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men, (1 Thess. 5:15). Peter echoes the same truth with this: To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing, (1 Peter 3:8-9).
Always respect what is right (v. 17b).
We must cultivate a deep inner respect for what is right in the sight of all men. So many lost people only respect what is right to them alone. They have their own value system or no values at all! Morality has become in this fallen world very subjective and inward. But there is a code of ethics written on the heart of all men by God Himself. It is objective truth. We innately know right from wrong. It is our bad choices running contrary to this knowledge that illustrate our lost and wretched condition before salvation. God calls this out in Romans chapter one:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them…so that they are without excuse, (Rom. 1:18-20).
Therefore, we must cultivate respect for others as creations of God after His own image, as human beings with all the inalienable rights of life and liberty and justice, and as brothers and sisters in Christ for those who are members of His body. If we have this respect for others we are much less likely to be vindictive or seek revenge when we have been wronged.
Mac teaches, “Kalos (right) refers to that which is intrinsically good, proper, and honest. It also carries the idea of being visibly, obviously right, as emphasized in its being fitting and proper in the sight of all men. Paul is not speaking of hidden feelings but of outwardly expressed goodness. Our forgiving, gracious behavior toward our enemies should commend us to them and to others who witness that behavior. It will also adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect, (Titus 2:10).
Lord willing we will continue next time with our study of the believer’s response to personal enemies. Don’t be discouraged. The Lord is faithful and able to help us change inwardly toward even our most vicious detractors. And He is changing us for good every day: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit, (2 Corinthians 3:18)…blessings to all…mike.