Romans 12:17-21

A Radically Different Life.

Romans 12:17-21

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. – Romans 12:20 NLT

Paul continues to offer his readers practical application of the theological truths he has unpacked for the last 11 chapters. This is where-the-rubber-meets-the-road kind of stuff. He is giving them everyday applications of what it means to live in freedom from sin, forgiven, justified, filled with the Spirit and as a recipient of God’s marvelous grace. Our vertical relationship with God, restored by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, must be matched by a change in our horizontal relationships – including the ones we have with believers and unbelievers. And what Paul lays out is a radically different version of life on this planet than what most of us know or experience.

First, he tells us to refrain from responding to wrong with more wrong. “Never pay back evil with more evil” (Romans 12:17 NLT). But isn’t that they normal human response. It’s almost a reflex action. We inherently react to anything done to us that we consider harmful or hurtful with more of the same. It’s a natural human defense mechanism. “You hurt me and I’ll hurt you!” But Paul reminds us that life for the Christian is to be different – radically so. Rather than respond to evil with more evil, we are to “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17b NIV). Our concern should be for our witness, not revenge. Elsewhere, Paul tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5 NLT). In fact, we are to go out of our way to live in harmony and peace with all men. This does not mean that we are to seek peace at all costs or to refrain from having convictions when it comes to the truth of God and the integrity of the Word of God. There will be occasions where we must stand up for what we know to be right, and that will result in conflict. But overall, we are to pursue a life of harmony and peace with all men – whether they are believers or not.

At the end of the day, revenge is to be left up to God. Our job is not to seek revenge or to demand justice for all the wrongs done to us. No, Paul reminds us that our ministry is one of reconciliation. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). Our job is to call people back to God. Rather than revenge, we are to seek reconciliation, restoration and redemption. How do we even remotely begin to do that? Paul gives us a glimpse at the answer. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:19-20 NLT). What a radically different approach to conflict resolution than what the world offers. Instead of responding in hate, we are to express love. Rather than seeking to get even, we are to give sacrificially. While this method of dealing with enemies may appear to be a bit naive and unrealistic, it’s intention is to bring shame and conviction on those whose intent it is to harm us. Rather than justify their hatred for us, we convict them by responding in a way that does not fit with their perception or expectation of us. Jesus said very similar words in His sermon on the mount. “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:27-31 NLT). This is the “Golden Rule.” It is a picture of life lived according to God’s standard and not the world’s.

We have been called to a different kind of life, marked by a different set of standards. Paul closes this chapter with the words, “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21 NLT). Rather than give in to the temptation to respond to evil with more evil, and fulfill the expectations of our enemy and meet the standards of this fallen world, we are to react with sacrificial, selfless love. But isn’t that impossible? Only if we attempt to do it in our own strength. But God has given us His Spirit and His Word to empower and equip us with all that we need to live radically different lives in a world that desperately needs a dose of reconciliation.

Father, this is hard stuff to read. And it’s even harder to live out in real life. But I know You have given us all that we need to live in a way that is pleasing to You. We have the power to live radically different lives. Continue to change us and motivate us to live radical, revolutionary lives. Help us live like Christ lived. Help us love like Christ loved. Help us sacrifice like He did. All for Your glory and, ultimately, the good of man. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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