In Romans 12 Paul gets very practical about our relationships with other believers AND even with non-believers – especially with difficult people.  And the basis for all of those relationships, Paul says, is LOVE.

When followers of Christ begin to really love each other the way God wants them, the world will be attracted to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And that’s because people are looking for love. So, the all-consuming question becomes: “How do I love people like God wants me to?” That’s what Romans 12:9-21 is about – loving people God’s way. And this passage is so simple it’s almost embarrassing!

There are two major questions addressed here.

First (vs. 9-16): “How Do I love my fellow believers in Christ?” Paul’s saying we need to learn to love each other. And there are eight things we can do to grow a loving church in those first 8 verses. Then in the second half of the passage (vs. 17-21) Paul answers the question: “How do I love unbelievers?” – in particular people who oppose me and who are my enemies. How do I deal with people who hate me for my faith in God?

In my last blog, I addressed how to love our fellow believers in Christ. In this blog, we’re going to see what Paul says about loving unbelievers. Paul switches to dealing with unbelievers. In verse 17-21 he uses the words “anyone” and “all men” and “enemy.”

Now he’s not just talking about the family of God, but how to relate to everybody – both inside and outside of the church. How do you relate to people who hurt you and wrong you? This passage is talking about these difficult people. It says: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:17-21

Remember that Lifeway Research study of unchurched people I quoted in my last blog? It also found that 44% of unchurched surveyed say Christians “get on my nerves.” It seems the knife cuts both ways.

This passage is talking about personal relationships, not national relationships.  Person to person relationships is what this passage is all about. This is not about making national foreign policy.  It is not saying that the United States should fund all the enemies that are trying to overthrow our government.  It’s not saying you roll over and play dead, that you do not defend yourself when somebody threatens your life with a gun — this verse is not talking about that.  There are many passages in Scripture that deal with national issues and the concept of a just war.  It’s talked about very frankly in the Old Testament when Israel was commanded to go in and possess a land and to do battle and to defend themselves as a nation. This passage is not talking about relationships between nations. It’s talking about how I relate to the people I work with, and the people I live with every day.

Paul gives four principles in dealing with difficult people and the enemies who are attacking you:


1. Counteract your NATURAL INSTINCTS. 17a “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Again, our natural instinct is to strike back. Paul says: “Stifle it!”

I remember hearing of some officers during the Korean War who rented a house for themselves and hired a Korean houseboy to work for them.  He was a cheerful, happy guy and they were young and had a lot of fun playing tricks on him.  They would nail his shoes to the floor and put water over the door in a bucket so that when he pushed it open the water would fall on him.  They played all kinds of tricks on him, but he always took them in such a good humor, that they finally began to be ashamed of themselves. They called him in one day and said, “We’ve been doing all these mean things to you and you have taken it so beautifully.  We want to apologize to you and tell you we’re never going to do these things to you anymore.”  The young Korean boy said, “You mean no more nail shoes to floor?  You mean no more water on door?”  They said, “No more.”  He thought for a minute and then with a big smile on his face he said, “OK then, I no more spit in soup.”

The moral of that story is it is possible to take silent revenge! It doesn’t have to be overt.  God says don’t even do that.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.


2. Put yourself in your ENEMIE’S PLACE. v. 17b & 18 says: “…Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. “

Paul gives us a nice little “guilt reliever” here — “so far as it depends on you…”  There are some people you’re not going to be able to live at peace with.  They’re not going to let you live at peace with them.  But as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody. The secret to counteracting your natural instincts is to try and see things from your enemy’s point of view.  When you find somebody who’s being obnoxious and attacking and hurting others it’s because they themselves are hurting. Remember: “Hurt people hurt people.” Understanding that helps you be a bit more sympathetic. Look behind their anger and see why they’re hurting.  Paul’s counsel is: “Look for and support what good you can find in that difficult person’s life. See things from their perspective and as much as possible, live at peace with everyone.”

3. Leave all REVENGE to GOD. Vs. 19-20: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD.’ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

But why leave revenge to God, when we can do such a good job ourselves? I’ll give you two reasons: 1)  Revenge is a worthless emotion.  Revenge saps your strength. Looking back at something that’s happened rather than looking to the future is a time waster.  Many people can’t get on with the present because they’re still reacting to the past.  Some boyfriend or girlfriend that hurt them, some parent that hurt them, some former spouse that hurt them. They’re still reacting to the past so vengefully, that they can’t get on with the future.  That’s a waste of time and energy. 2)  Vengeance is God’s specialty.  God is the only One who has the entire picture clearly in His sights. He is the only One able to execute perfect vengeance. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay. You can count on it!” Who would you rather have getting even for you?  You or God?  Who has more resources in His power? You or God?  If we take matters into our own hands, God lets us.  But then He limits Himself in taking vengeance.  We can try and teach the offender a lesson, or we can let God teach him a lesson.  If you let God defend you, you’re in good hands!  God says, “Don’t worry. I will take matters into My hands.”

What does it mean “in doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it? “Burn him good, Lord!”  We like this.  We think of blisters all over their head.  But there’s a lot of speculation about what this means.  The late Ray Stedman, for instance, thinks it has something to do with not having matches in New Testament times.  When you wanted to share a fire, you borrowed somebody’s coals.  You’d put them in a jar and carry them to your place in typical oriental fashion – on your head.  Stedman thinks you give somebody something that is beneficial to them and it does them good.  You’re helping them out by giving them grace and leaving them in God’s hands. Other Bible teachers, like John McArthur and Chuck Swindoll, think this refers to the shame of guilt that people feel when you have done good for them and they have continually done bad to you.  It starts to get to them, to eat at them, because they say “I’m being so bad to that person and all they ever do is return good.”  They start to feel the heat of shame and guilt.  How do you hate somebody like that?

4. Turn your enemy into a FRIEND. v. 16: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

 If you do these things, then eventually your enemy will be won over or God will deal with them. Either way you have overcome evil with good. A visitor came late to church and asked one of the ushers “Is the Bible study done?”  The usher said, “It’s been taught, but it is yet to be done.”  The Bible study has been taught today, but it is yet to be done. The Bible says be doers of the word.

Would you review this word in Romans 12 to yourself today or sometime this week and then make them a matter of prayer & action?

“Lord, we relate to being hurt by unbelievers and believers. Help us not to follow our natural instincts, not to strike back. Instead help us put ourselves in their shoes and realize that ‘hurt people do hurt people.’ Help us find ways we can do good in return for evil.  Lord, teach us to leave all the revenge with You, to let You be our defense.  Father, we thank You for the practicality of Your Word.  It has spoken to us — each of us in a different area.  Your Word is like a sword pierce unto the dividing asunder even the soul and spirit and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  It reveals our motives.  Help us to practice this word today and every day of our lives.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”




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