“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)
As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important. A loving person, Paul says, does not repay evil for evil.
So, What Do We DO?
As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, Paul echoes what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV).
For a guy who never followed Jesus while he was alive, Paul was incredibly familiar with what Jesus said! (Ever wonder how that happened?) His advice about revenge provides an alternative to offense that most of us rarely consider.
We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts.
In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”.
Trust The One Who is Trustworthy
God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you? I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment.
Bringing It Home
My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving. It’s still a thorn in my side, although I think I have made some progress, (which means: I don’t take revenge by purposely cut them off, and I certainly don’t make unnecessary hand signals, or run them off the road) but I haven’t really lived in peace while driving. At the risk of being a hypocrite, I’ll say I am still trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…)
I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. I’m making a commitment here to try to be a more charitable and peaceful driver. SO… what’s YOUR application of Romans 12? What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.
Here’s to those who don’t get mad, but wait for God to act;
The Lord says we can trust Him to avenge us. That’s a fact!
Do not repay your enemy with evil. God has said
That treating him with kindness will heap coals upon his head.
Paul says in Romans twelve that we leave room for God’s wrath,
And it is far more powerful than mine, if I do the math…
I just don’t need to take revenge like Satan thinks I should:
Let God be God, and we will overcome the bad, with good.
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