Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is the fourth and final part of my continuing series about the message contained within Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” Last week, we looked at how we must love even in adversity and how we should remain humble and show humility. This week we will look at the final verses of this passage (Romans 12:17-21; the underlined verses above). This final section tells us how we must not sink to evil’s level by being a vigilante for God and taking revenge upon those who caused us harm. Instead, we must overcome evil by doing good to those who harm us.
In Romans 12:17, Paul wrote that Christians must not repay evil for evil. He expands on that idea to clarify what he is saying. Those who follow Christ are commanded never to seek vengeance themselves, to never “get even.” Whether the hurt comes from fellow believers or unbelievers, revenge is simply not an option for us. Paul gives us a reason for this command. After instructing us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we might expect something similar. Instead, Paul writes that we should refuse to take revenge because God is the ultimate judge in the universe.
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine.” The whole verse says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.” A desire for justice for ourselves and those we care about is not entirely wrong. Paul simply wants us to trust God’s timing and power to deliver justice as He sees fit.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, this is called karma, which is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. Karma means action, work, or deed. The term also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect, often descriptively called the principle of karma, wherein intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect): good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and bad rebirths. Some might question my example of Hinduism and Buddhism to explain something in Christianity, but I believe in spirituality as well as Christianity. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, wrote in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are: “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”
Even in Christianity, there is a rebirth. Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” In Romans 14:10, Paul tells us, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” On the Day of Judgement, we will all be judged on how we treated others in this life. In Matthew 25:31-36, Jesus says:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
For those who have mistreated their fellow man, Jesus tells them their fate in Matthew 25: 41-46:
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
If we live with good intent and good deeds, then on the Day of Judgement, we will be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21) However, if we live a life of evil intent and evil deeds, God will tell us, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23)
It’s not always easy to behave like a Christian at all times. Matthew 7:13-14 tells us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I believe though it is our intent that is most important. Some may claim their intent is with good intentions, but if they do not show God’s love in their intent, they are using God’s name under false pretenses. We must feel it in our hearts, minds, and souls and let our intent shine to others. Matthew 5:14 tells us, we “are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:16 tells us to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”