This month my reflections will centre on the Romans reading, given it is so rich with content and worth more detailed attention. Through the pen of Paul, this passage forms part of the Holy Spirit’s unfolding of the implications of the glorious powerful gospel (see Romans 12:1-2 ‘In view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…’). The final verse, 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’, could almost act like a summary principle for the whole passage. It also immediately brings to my mind the great prayer of Jesus in John 17 and in particular verse 15, ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’ Both Jesus and the Spirit intercede on behalf of Christians, so we can almost certainly be sure that Jesus and the Spirit are praying the contents of Romans 12:9-21 into our lives. This reflects the will of God for us as we live in a fallen, sinful society, which is broken and corrupted at its very core.
The passage seems to seamlessly move from providing godly guidance for the internal life of the community of faith as well as its external engagement with those who are outside faith in Christ. This of course makes perfect sense, for Christians ought not to divide their life into sacred and secular partitions. The ‘other-person centred love’ we exercise within the life of the community of faith (12:9-13) needs also to be mirrored in our relationships with those who are not yet Christians (12:14-21).
It is clearly strategic for effective gospel ministry that believers demonstrate an attractive caring concern for each other, reflecting something of the graces of the gospel: sincere love and goodness (12:9); mutual devotion and honour (12:10); generosity and hospitality (12:13). With its myriad of ups and downs, Christians face life with a different set of values than unbelievers. Christians know the sovereign Lord has everything in His control, therefore we are to never lack in zeal for the things of God. We maintain our spiritual energy as we serve the Lord in any and all circumstances. Despite the challenges of normal life and opposition to our faith, we can remain joyful in hope, patient and prayerful (12:11-12). The gospel, ‘God’s mercy’(12:1) is to tangibly shape how we live together in Christ and also how we respond to the hardships which life may throw at us. We show the world a better divine gospel way to approach life.
This of course doesn’t change when we engage with those still outside of the faith community, even those who stand opposed to us and may physically or emotionally choose to intimidate us (12:14, 17, 19-21). Christians are never to forget they were once themselves enemies of Christ and needed God’s grace. Therefore, we ought to treat everyone equally, bless not curse our enemies, celebrate and mourn with them according to the turn of events in their life and not repay evil with evil (12:14-17). There is a concern to live in harmony and at peace with all people, while recognizing not everyone will respond in kind (12:16, 18). Christians know that God will ultimately bring justice and we can leave that to Him and His timing (12:19). Indeed rather than retaliate, Christians move forward with Gospel grace, providing for the needs of their enemies so that they might cause them to change their stance. That is, Christians overcome evil with good (12:20-21). In my view, by quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Paul reflects what Peter teaches in 1 Peter 2:11-12 ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’The open living out of our faith exercising gospel graces may lead some of those who oppose us to personal trust in Jesus, whereby they glorify God. Could there be a more dramatic demonstration of evil being overcome by good?
My dear sisters and brothers, may we ensure that both inside and outside the church fellowship, all our relationships are marked by a commitment to fulfill Romans 12:21‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’.