If the gospel is good news for the whole world, what’s it like to live the gospel? Surely it’s the best life we could possibly have?
That’s true in the long term. Life under Jesus’ kingship is indeed the best life earth could ever know. There will be no more selfishness when the poor inherit the kingdom, no more abuse of power when the meek inherit the earth.
But in the short term, it’s not quite so simple. Can we live selflessly while people take advantage of us? What happens if we live powerlessly in the face of abusive powers? Won’t we get crucified?
That’s the question Paul addresses in Romans 12. Romans 1–11 is a brilliant summary of the gospel: how the good news of Jesus’ kingship recreates humanity as good-news people with the power of the Spirit. Chapter 12 starts with “Therefore” — how good-news people respond to God (12:1-2), live for community (12:3-8), love each other (12:9-13), and change the world (12:14-21).
There’s a raw honesty in those final verses. We will be hurt by living as good-news people in a world where others don’t. People will take advantage of us. We’ll get ripped off in business. Our families will get hurt. How are we supposed to react when people hold a gun at our heads? Do we just let evil people get away with it, or should we fight to get justice?
That’s the struggle. Sin isn’t harmless. Ever since Abel, godly people have suffered at the hands of evil. This is the way of life in a world where might makes right. So what on earth will happen if godly people don’t fight back, don’t take revenge, don’t fight for justice?
Think seriously about what happened to our Lord and Master when he took the powerless path. Are you sure you want to follow a crucified man as the path to peace for the world?
Do you believe the good news? Are you ready to be good-news people in the present world? Will evil overcome us? Or will the way of powerlessness — the way of the cross — overcome evil?
Romans 12 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)
We’re called to an alternative lifestyle: genuine love instead of selfishness (12:9), devoted to and honouring each other instead of shaming and rejecting (12:10), sustaining our energy because our lifestyle is service to King Jesus (12:11), joyful because this is the path to the restored world (our hope), patiently enduring the current pain, and presenting injustices to the king instead of seeking revenge (12:12). We share our lives and goods with those who recognize King Jesus, and we open our homes up to those who don’t yet recognize King Jesus so they can experience life under his kingship (12:13).
How will evil people ever know God’s goodness if we react to hurt with hurt (12:14) rather than empathy (12:15)? Only a kingdom vision will inspire you to give support to your enemies and leave matters of justice to God (12:17-20).
The gospel of the kingdom calls us to stand up and live his vision now. In the cross-hairs. The way Jesus did.
What others are saying
Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 779:
In the immediate context of the citation from Proverbs [in Romans 12:20], for which this verse provides such an effective rhetorical climax, treating enemies as fellow humans who require basic necessities is the path to overcoming enmity. …
Given the beleaguered and marginalized circumstances of the Roman believers, it is no exaggeration to name this verse “the bravest statement in the world.”
[previous: Living in hope (Rom. 12:11-13)]
2 thoughts on “Living in the cross-hairs”
Hi mate. In Romans 12:20 it reads do not be overcome by evil, but over come evil with good.
Does this actually mean do not let evil take over us (in war or defending ourselves or family, for instance when we are being attacked?) but overcome evil with good. So if we stand up against a foe who is attacking us evil, couldn’t we say we are standing up for good? Regards Terry Dorrington
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Jesus is our example for how we stand against evil. He certainly spoke up for people who were being rejected. He confronted the temple leaders. But he refused to use evil (violence) to defeat evil. That’s what got him killed.
In this context, Romans 12:17 forbids us defending against evil (violence, abuse, …) with evil (violence, abuse, …).
Verse 19 prohibits us getting justice through revenge (responding to violence with violence).
Verse 20 won’t even allow us to let our enemy die through inaction: we’re called to support and supply our enemy as the mechanism for ending the enmity.
“Do not be overcome with evil” cannot mean “Don’t allow yourself to be crucified.” It must mean, “Overcome evil with good.”
What do you think?