Our Duty Toward Personal Enemies, part two; Rom. 12:17-21

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.

Be at peace with all men.

This is a conditional command. We are to make every effort to have peaceful relations with everyone, even our enemies. But it does take both sides to agree to peace. “By definition, a peaceful relationship cannot be one-sided. Our responsibility is to make sure that our side of the relationship is right, that our inner desire is genuinely to be at peace with everyone,” (MacArthur commentary on Romans II). Some people will not make peace with you even though you do everything in your power to effect it. That’s why Paul says, if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

We should, Mac continues, go to great lengths to “build peaceful bridges to those who hate us and harm us,” (Mac p. 202). We must wipe the slate clean in our own hearts of past wrongs and grudges because that is what God through Jesus Christ has done for us. God will not hold the believer’s sins against him. Can we do any less for our fellow man without defiling ourselves, holding a root of bitterness in our heart, and weakening our relationship with the Savior?

Looking at the balance, William Barclay notes that we cannot be at peace with those who would have us abandon our godly principles: “We are to live at peace with all men. But Paul adds two qualifications. (a) He says, ‘if it be possible.’ There may come a time when the claims of courtesy have to submit to the claims of principle. Christianity is not an easy-going tolerance which will accept anything and shut its eyes to everything. There may come a time when some battle has to be fought, and when it does, the Christian will not shirk it.” (William Barclay, commentary on Romans)

“Peaceableness and a life so ordered as to render us beloved by all, is no common gift in a Christian. If we desire to attain this, we must not only be endued with perfect uprightness, but also with very courteous and kind manners, which may not only conciliate the just and the good, but produce also a favorable impression on the hearts of the ungodly.

“But here two cautions must be stated: We are not to seek to be in such esteem as to refuse to undergo the hatred of any for Christ, whenever it may be necessary. And indeed we see that there are some who, though they render themselves amicable to all by the sweetness of their manners and peaceableness of their minds, are yet hated even by their nearest connections on account of the gospel. The second caution is, — that courteousness should not degenerate into compliance, so as to lead us to flatter the vices of men for the sake of preserving peace.

“Since then it cannot always be, that we can have peace with all men, he has annexed two particulars by way of exception, If it be possible, and, as far as you can. But we are to conclude from what piety and love require, that we are not to violate peace, except when constrained by either of these two things. For we ought, for the sake of cherishing peace, to bear many things, to pardon offenses, and kindly to remit the full rigor of the law; and yet in such a way, that we may be prepared, whenever necessity requires, to fight courageously: for it is impossible that the soldiers of Christ should have perpetual peace with the world, whose prince is Satan,” (John Calvin’s commentary on the Bible).

“Paul here realizes that all men will not permit us to have peace with them. Some men will refuse reconciliation, others will refuse to depart from their sins, others will refuse to forgive. This verse does suggest hard work in trying to bring about peace. Not a peace-talker, or a peace-wisher, or peaceable, but a peace-maker (Matthew 5:9; 1 Peter 3:11),” (Mark Dunagan’s commentary on the Bible).

Never Avenge Yourself

These last two characteristics are reiterations. Paul once more denounces evil for evil, saying to all believers that we are never to take our own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. We are not judges over other people. Scripture tells us there is only one judge, and that is God. We are to leave room for the wrath of God. This is nothing new. Going back to Deut. 32:35 Paul quotes the Mosaic law, reminding his readers that it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (cf. 2 Sam. 22:48; Nah. 1:2; Heb. 10:30). God’s divine wrath and judgement will come upon all the unrepentant ungodly and wicked in due time (Col. 3:6; Jude). But Jesus did not come to judge but to save sinners, and we believers need to give full attention to the same God-given mission.

Calvin says, “The precept; then is, — that we are not to revenge nor seek to revenge injuries done to us. The manner is added, a place is to be given to wrath. To give place to wrath, is to commit to the Lord the right of judging, which they take away from him who attempt revenge. Hence, as it is not lawful to usurp the office of God, it is not lawful to revenge; for we thus anticipate the judgment of God, who will have this office reserved for Himself. He at the same time intimates, that they shall have God as their defender, who patiently wait for his help; but that those who anticipate him leave no place for the help of God.”

“Christians need to realize that when someone is sinning, the wrath of God is already on the move. (2 Peter 2:3their judgement from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep). We tend to be vindictive, when we forget or never have grasped how bad hell is. If we really realized what the unrepentant will face, we would make every effort to save them and not desire their destruction. Bitterness, spite, vindictiveness are attitudes that creep into my life, when I have forgotten the horrible fate that my enemy stands daily in danger of, with only the thin thread of life keeping him/her from it. (Jude 1:22-23). (Mark Dunagan commentary on the Bible)

Overcome evil with good

Now it is one thing to withhold ourselves from returning evil for evil. But challenging as that may be, the Lord requires further that we overcome evil with good. Yet, as Mac comments, this was the obligation of godly people even under the Old Covenant. Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22: 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.

Take positive action! If your enemy has a need, meet it if you can, seeking to show the love and mercy of Jesus Christ for unbelievers. True agape love is the greatest force in the universe. When poured through our lives it is unbelievably magnetic and powerful.

“The phrase heap burning coals upon his head referred to an ancient Egyptian custom. When a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition, he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt. The point here is that, when we love our enemy and genuinely seek to meet his needs, we shame him for his hatred.” (Mac commentary on Romans vol. II) This is powerful righteous living!

There are two applications here. First, we must not be overcome by the evil others might do to us. Second, and more important, we must not let ourselves be overcome by our own evil responses. The Lord is glorified not by what is done to us, but in how we handle it. If our faith, hope, and love remain intact, God gets the glory, others cannot help but witness such a powerful testimony, and the believer maintains the peace God gives to His obedient children. Mac teaches, “Our own evil is infinitely more detrimental to us than is the evil done to us by others,” (Mac p. 203). We must not let a root of bitterness spring up in our heart.

Beloved, at its core, any challenge we face, no matter how big, shows, by how we handle it, how much or how little we trust God. Abraham trusted God, and it was account to him for righteousness. When our enemies mock us, spit on us, ridicule us, or even render physical harm to us, as they did to our Lord, what will our response be? As always, Jesus sets the example:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.…, (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Next time, Lord willing, we begin with a new chapter! Whew! Bet you thought we’d never get there. I hope you are as excited as I am! Until then, God bless all with His manifold mercies and great love…mike.

P.S. May our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and families of those who were hurt or killed in Manchester, England by the senseless terrorism of godless people. I have great sorrow for these victims. I hope it is clear according to Scripture how to treat the enemies of humanity who perpetrated this and other horrific acts. What will your heart do?

Our Duty to Personal Enemies; Rom. 12:17-21

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.


Our Duty to All People; part one; Romans 12:14

Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation, (12:14-16).

We will deal in this study with verse 14. We as believers, with the love of Jesus flowing through our spiritual veins, are to bless those who persecute [us]; bless and curse not. As a stone dropped into a still pool creates ever widening ripples, our influence of caring now widens even to the whole world (see John 3:16).

But to actually call down blessing on those who are actively persecuting us is a tall order, not prepared for the faint of heart or wobbling faith. We must be strong in the Lord and the power of His might if we are to have success here.

“The obedient Christian not only must resist hating and retaliating against those who harm him but is commanded to take the additional step of blessing them,” (John MacArthur commentary on Romans, vol. 2, p. 195).

“Bless them which persecute you,…. It is the lot of God’s people in this world to be persecuted by the men of it, in some shape or another, either by words or deeds; either by reviling and reproaching them, and speaking all manner of evil of them; or by hindering them the free exercise of religious worship, by confiscation of their goods, imprisonment of their persons, by violently torturing their bodies, and taking away their lives; under all which circumstances they are taught to bless them; that is, to pray for them, that God would show them their evil, give repentance to them, and the remission of their sins; which is the order Christ gave to his disciples, Matthew 5:44; and encouraged to an observance of, by his own example, Luke 23:34; and has been followed herein by his disciples and apostles, Acts 7:60 1 Corinthians 4:12. Moreover, by “blessing” may be meant, giving them good words, mild and soft answers, “not rendering evil for evil, railing for railing”, 1 Peter 3:9; but, on the contrary, blessing in imitation of Christ, who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again”, 1 Peter 2:23, “bless”,

“and curse not: to have a mouth full of cursing and bitterness, Romans 3:14, is the character of an unregenerate man, and what by no means suits one who names the name of Christ; for blessing and cursing to proceed out of the same mouth, is as absurd and unnatural, as if it should be supposed that a fountain should send forth sweet water and bitter, or salt and fresh, James 3:10. The imprecations upon wicked men, used by David and other good men, are no contradictions to this rule; since they were made under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, and were predictions of God’s vengeance, which in righteous judgment should fall on them, and are not to be drawn into an example by us,” (Gill commentary on Romans).

Of course, this is the very commandment of the Lord: I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Matt. 5:44). This is agape love, the quality of devotion Paul describes in verse 9.

Jesus gives His people further direction in Luke 6:29-30: Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone wo asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back, (Luke 6:29-30).

Jesus goes on with His challenge: If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same, (vv. 32-33).

“This level of loving is impossible for any who are not “all in” for Christ. Call down blessings on your persecutors–blessings, not curses” (NEB) (Luke 6:28; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). “To curse does not mean to use ordinary profanity; it is a call for calamity to befall a person.” (Whiteside p. 253) Pray for their salvation, instead of their damnation! We don”t need to “call down curses” upon the enemies of Christ, for their own sins already condemn them. Evil is coming upon our persecutors, there is no need to call it down. (Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Our desire should be for the salvation of all. (1 Timothy 2:4; Acts 26:29)

“bless”-i.e. pray for them (Matthew 5:44)

“Don’t tell me we can’t live that way. Tell me we don’t; tell me we won’t; but don’t tell me we can’t…Rees cuts to the bone when he parodies: ‘I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep..just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don”t want enough of him to make me love a black man…I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God please.’” (McGuiggan p. 371) (Mark Dunagan, Commentary on the Bible).

William Barclay notes the following: “Paul offers a series of rules and principles wherewith to govern our relationships with our fellow men.

“(i) The Christian must meet persecution with a prayer for those who persecute him. Long ago Plato had said that the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil; and it is always evil to hate. When the Christian is hurt, and insulted, and maltreated, he has the example of his Master before him, for He, upon his Cross, prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him.

“There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed. Stephen died praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60). Among those who killed him was a young man named Saul, who afterwards became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the slave of Christ. There can be no doubt that the death scene of Stephen was one of the things that turned Paul to Christ. As Augustine said: “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Many a persecutor has become a follower of the faith he once sought to destroy, because he has seen how a Christian can forgive,” (Barclay Commentary on Romans).

Our supreme example of blessing our persecutors is, as noted above, Jesus Christ Himself. As He lay dying in horrible torment on a cruel wooden cross His thoughts and concerns, as always, were for others. He prayed blessings on the very men who were murdering Him! Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, (Luke 23:34). Incredible! Agape love in its purest form.

For you have been called for this purpose, Peter wrote many years later, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously, (1 Peter 2:21-23).

The key is there; do you see it? We are to [keep] entrusting [ourselves] to Him who judges righteously. One day God will judge and punish the guilty and work justice for his sons and daughters. If we firmly resolve in our minds and hearts that He will set everything right, our faith not shaken, we can and will follow our Lord’s example, even when surrounded by enemies out for our blood! For us this is not the end, but just the beginning.

Bless and do not curse them.

In 14b Paul wants to make sure we are clear that “true blessing of those who persecute us is comprehensive and permanent. Not only are we to bless them, we are not at all or ever to curse them,” (Mac). MacArthur continues with these observations:

“Because of the general tone of religious freedom in modern western society, physical or political persecution for one’s Christian faith is rare. Our temptations to curse are more likely to be in reaction to hostility that does no life-threatening harm but causes us inconvenience or embarrassment. Some studies have indicated that much high blood pressure and other anxiety-related disease is caused not by serious, long-term problems and life-threatening pressures but by persistent attitudes of resentment and hostility that eat at people who habitually react negatively to unpleasant situations and people. It is often a host of ‘little foxes’ that do the most damage in our spiritual and emotional ‘vineyards’ (Song of Sol. 2:15),” (Mac p. 196-197).

Until next time, blessings to all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, who is the Christ…mike.