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Ipoh Garden Baptist Church, English Section, 26April2009

Overcoming Evil

Romans 12: 14 - 21 RSV

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. v21


The epitome of today's passage can be found in the very last verse:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with Good.

What is this thing called good? How can it be used to overcome evil around us? How can we use this thing called Good to overcome that thing called evil? Can good overcome evil after all? Isn't it a lost cause, in the first place, if we try to do good in response to others doing evil?

This morning, I'd like to talk about three aspects of Good that the apostle Paul describes here, and I'll try to explain how these three aspects of Good can be employed to address evil around us.

(1) Overcome evil with Good Hearts (verses 14 and 15)

A Heart of Blessings
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. v14

The Gospel of Matthew records for us the occasion when the Pharisees accused the Lord of casting out demons by power of Beelzebub, the Prince of Demon. The Lord Jesus what was in their heart, and in response to this malicious slanderous accusation, the Lord gave a long sermon that included the well-known verse, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." Matt. 12:34

Similarly, we are warned by the apostle James, in James 3: 9ff, that the tongue we use to praise our Lord and Father should not and be used at all to curse men. James used the illustration of a spring of water which cannot give both fresh water as well as salt water, and that of fig trees which cannot bear olives, nor can grapevines bear figs.

Likewise, dear Christians, it is with a good heart, full of God's blessings that we can bless those who hate us and persecute us.

A Heart of Compassion
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. v15

In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Lord Jesus is often described as having compassion on people around him. For example, in Matt 9:36, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Also, in Mark 8: 34, he told his disciples, "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat." And in Luke 7:13, at the gates of a town called Nain, the Lord came across the funeral of the only son of a widowed woman, "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, Do not weep." The NIV uses the words, "his heart went out to her".

Likewise, the apostles in the NT teach us also to be compassionate people. Like our Lord Jesus, our hearts are to be full of compassion, and should go out to others, rejoice with them and weep with them. Paul wrote in Colossians 3: 12, "Put on then, as Gods chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . ." Similarly, the Hebrew Christians were commended in Heb 10:34, "For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one."

Thus, in this morning's scripture passage, it is clear to us that the first step to overcome evil around us is by having Good Hearts in us, hearts full of Blessings, and hearts full of Compassion. As our Lord has taught, it is out of the fullness of our hearts that our mouth can speak. A heart full of blessing will result in lips full of blessing. And like our Lord, we can reach out and weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, when we have hearts of compassion.

(2) Overcome evil with Good Minds (verses 16 - 20)

We make up our minds to be Humble.
. . . do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, never be conceited. v16

One of the most common connotations of the word "humble" in NT Greek is that of being lower than others. For example, in Philippians 2: 3, the apostle Paul wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves". One of the Greek words used to describe humility in the NT is, "tapeinophrosune" which literally means, "a low mind".

In verse 16 this morning, the apostle Paul reminds us of such humility, that Christians must be willing to befriend humble people, the lowly, those who have little to show off, people who have nothing to be proud of.

Old Chinese saying, "The Properous staying in deep in the jungles have visitors from afar, but the Poor who stay by the road-side are not even noticed."

Recently, a long lost Christian brother, Leonard, got in touch with me by email.

Brothers and Sisters, today I commend to you an effective way of dealing with the evil pride. It is to adopt a humble mind. A mind that is low. Within our Christian community, we make up our minds to be humble, to consider others always better than ourselves.

We make up our minds to be Restrained.
Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble . . . v17
If possible . . . live peaceably with all v18

Incident of neighbour's grandson who fought back when a much taller boy angered him - he punched the tall boy so hard on the chin that the tall boy cried!

It seemed to me that day, that repaying evil for evil was in-born in that child. That neighbour's grandson was born with it. He didn't have to be taught how to do it. He didn't attend lectures on Retaliation 101. He just did it naturally. He was on auto-pilot.

I think we grow up with this autopilot in our minds. We'd like to repay evil for evil, if we're given a chance. But Romans 12: 17 and 18 this morning tells us to restrain ourselves. Let's stop using that autopilot, and switch over to manual control. Let's make up our mind to be restrained in the face of evil.

We make up our minds to wait Patiently.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; v19
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord . . . v20 (Deut 32:35)

Another old Chinese saying, "A gentleman's revenge can come in eight or ten years".

There is only one isolated record in the NT when the apostle Paul mentioned in his writings about an enemy who harmed him badly. This person was Alexander the metalworker. In 2 Tim 4:14, the apostle alerted Timothy about Alexander. He said that Alexander had done him a great deal of harm and that Timothy should be on guard against him, because he strongly opposed their preaching of the gospel of Christ. Yet the apostle Paul did not plot any revenge against Alexander. Instead, Paul wrote, "The Lord will repay him for what he has done". This same apostle Paul today is telling us, not to avenge ourselves, not even after 8 or 10 years, but to leave it to the Lord's wrath. "The Lord will repay" must be our maxim in life when dealing with people like Alexander the metal worker.

(3) Overcome evil with Good Deeds (verse 21)

if your enemy is hungry, feed him; v20
you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:22)

OK then, we say, We shall somehow convince ourselves, against all our natural instincts, to overcome evil by inculcating good heart and good minds. We shall learn not to be proud. We shall restrain ourselves from our autopilot of retaliation. And, with some determination, we shall even give up the idea of sweet revenge!

But if one day, if one chance in ten thousand, that day should come when I see my enemy suffer, if that evil person were to be so badly inflicted that he should despair for food and water. "Ha, Ha! What satisfaction", we would like to say to ourselves, "Heavens have eyes!", the traditional Chinese would say. And we're tempted to rejoice at our enemy's suffering, to savour the delight of his downfall! After all, we did nothing to make him suffer. Ah it must be the wrath of God!

Indeed, it is always easier to hurt our enemies than to help our enemies. But, I'm afraid that I must end this morning's message on yet one more demanding teaching of the apostle, "Help your enemy", he seems to be telling us here. Feed him if he's hungry. Give him water. Don't let him die.

Verse 20, quoting from Proverbs 25:22, tells us that by doing so, We are actually heaping coals of fire on the head of our enemy. Most bible scholars would interpret this expression, "coals of fire" to refer to the painful regret of a guilty conscience. A bible commentary which I read many years ago, interprets it to mean a feeling of being greatly ashamed of oneself. (Another disappointment for us again? How we wish it were really literally coals of fire burning that rascal's head . . .)

And the Lord will reward you.