“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Most of us would probably say evil is multiplying every day in our American society and it is getting increasingly difficult not to be overcome by it. Most of us could probably make the case that in our lifetime, we have seen law and order deteriorate, disregard for life accelerate, civility disintegrate, rudeness proliferate, anger and hatred boiling over. But while evil can be kept in check with various societal boundaries and safeguards, these never last. The wickedness of man has been there ever since the fall into sin. Think about it: How long did it take for the first recorded murder to happen? Our first parents’ firstborn son murdered his younger brother!
We thank our Lord for giving us governing authorities who keep evil in check and keep us from descending into anarchism. Evil has always weighed heavily upon the children of God. Sadly, because we are sinners, our natural way of responding to being overcome by evil is to respond in kind. Read Romans 12:9-21 and consider how difficult it is to respond to evil differently in various circumstances.
When Christians are being persecuted for confessing Jesus as Savior, we are called upon in His Sermon on the Mount to respond by turning the other cheek and counting such persecution as a blessing (Matthew 5:10-12; 39). But just as the government has the right and expectation to bear the sword to punish the evildoer, so even a Christian can defend him or herself against criminal behavior.
But in common ordinary life, when we experience evil from our fellow sinners in our homes, workplaces, schools, gymnasiums, athletic fields, traffic, in long lines, even churches, here is where we are called upon to heed the Apostle’s words to overcome evil with good.
You have probably heard of Christian family members of a horrific murder victim speak out publicly that they forgive the murderer. When I have heard of these loving responses in the face of such evil, I marvel and ask myself if I would have such a gracious and merciful attitude.
Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (4:32). That last expression is not law, or in other words, “you better do as God did for you in Jesus.” Rather, it is our motivation to overcome evil with good. God did this for us even when we were still His enemies (Romans 5:6-11) with the result that our interactions with others, even our enemies, will naturally reflect the love we receive daily from our gracious Lord.
Overcoming evil with good in our lives has the prospect of requiring great patience. By responding to evil with the love of Christ, we naturally put ourselves in a vulnerable position, inviting the perpetrator to trample us underfoot. But in truth, while requiring long suffering, it affords the opportunity to bear witness to the love of God in Christ for all our neighbors.
We speak of this often when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgiven those who trespass against us.” This is the power of Christ Jesus on full display in the lives of His disciples. Thanks be to our gracious Lord who is so longsuffering with us despite the evil we produce on a daily basis. Instead of being overcome by the evil around us and even in us, we get to show kindness and goodness in return for Jesus’ sake.
President Glenn Obenberger