Intro: Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
- I recently read about a Bible class teacher who was teaching a class of 13 year old girls. This was the verse being discussed, so he asked the girls, after reading the verse, “What would you do if you found out your best friend was trying to steal your boyfriend. One of the more vocal young ladies said that she would punch her friend in the nose. So he read the passage and made the application. This time the young lady reluctantly allowed that she would have to pray for her unfaithful friend. So he asked her, “And what would you pray for her?” The answer, “That she gets run over by a beer truck.”
- That, of course, was not the right answer. Jesus’ teaching is reflected often in the writings of the apostles. Consider Peter’s first epistle1 Pet. 3:8-9 – “Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing”
- When Jesus was on the cross, looking down upon His enemies, He prayed for them. His request said nothing about being hit by a truck. He prayed for their forgiveness.
I. Trusting God for Mercy. Both justice and mercy are character traits of God. This morning we studied about God’s Justice. Vengeance (justice) belongs to Him and He will repay all evil. He will make it right. But in contrast to absolute justice (getting what we deserve) stands the mercy of God. God is also a God of mercy (giving us better than we deserve). Justice and Mercy represent how God has reacted and will react to evil. Paul calls upon us to react to evil with mercy and justice. But we must seek both of these in our lives by relying upon God, not ourselves.
A. Consider the rest of Paul’s statement in Romans 12:19-21 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. These verses carry us further than we may be willing to go. “Okay, I will not seek revenge. I will just let it go and keep my distance from my enemies.” That is not enough. Rom 12:20 – 20 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.
1. God is calling for active goodwill instead of revenge. God is calling for mercy. How can I do that? How can God ask me to do that?
2. God has provided for the mercy He requires of us. The command is a call for us to trust in God. Just as He has provided for justice, He has also provided for mercy. How?
a. Matthew 18 – Peter struggled with mercy… How often must I forgive my brother? 7 times? Jesus’ answer went further than Peter ever expected. 70 x 7 – There is no limit. In another place Jesus said 7 times in a single day! How could Jesus require that?
b. The parable that followed in Matthew 18 makes it clear. Matt 18:24-33 – 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ The man who owed 10,000 talents (15 million) had every reason to forgive the man who only owed him 100 denarii (15 dollars). He simply needed to trust in what had been given to him. He could fearlessly forgive the debt because it had worked out for him. I can feed my enemies because God fed me when I was His enemy.
1) Note: we need to notice that nothing in Jesus’ statements or the parable itself call for unconditional forgiveness of the transgressor. There is a popular sentiment that says true Christians forgive everybody all the time unconditionally. Is this what Jesus teaches? Jesus said, If your brother sins, rebuke him; if he repents forgive him (Luke 17:3). The two imperatives (“rebuke” and “forgive”) are conditional. I may not rebuke my brother for a sin he has not committed; nor may I forgive him of a sin of which he refuses to repent.
3. “For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” – What does this mean? This is a rather disputed phrase in the text. Whatever it means it seems obvious that Paul is presenting it as a result and goal of not seeking revenge and doing good things for my enemies. If I give them something to eat and something to drink instead of seeking retribution from them I will “heap coals of fire on their head.” Coals on the head is an emblem of pain. But what kind of pain.
a. The O.T. usage of this picture seems to suggest a reference to God’s punishment of the sinner. The Psalmist uses these words to describe his request that God would avenge him and punish his enemies. Certainly this fits our context. Paul may simply be saying, “Do you have an enemy? Do him good. This is the only vengeance, the only coals of fire, allowed to a Christian.”
b. Others suggest that this phrase refers to the pain inflicted on the evil person through his guilty conscience. If you retaliate you will simply escalate his evil. But if you do him good, you may awaken him to his wrong and bring him to repentance. I believe this is the best understanding of the phrase.
1) This interpretation points us toward an ultimate desire or objective – the evil person is changed and his evil is forgiven. The evil is overcome with good. This is what God wants. 2 Peter 3:9– “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This is the why to much of what God asks me to do:
i. The wife is commanded to stay with an unbelieving husband and live in submissiveness toward him. Why? (won without the word)
ii. The Christian who is stronger in faith should give up a liberty in order to protect the conscience of his weaker brother? Why?
iii. The church is to Withdraw fellowship from a rebellious brother (deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh) Why?
III. Overcoming Evil with Good. ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:21) This admonition is profound. It is describes for us the work of God and the end result of sacrificial living.
A. This last phrase takes me back to the beginning of these admonitions. Romans 12:1- 1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. What is the value of a sacrifice? Throughout the scriptures, the call to sacrifice was a call to trust in the promises of God.
1. Abraham was asked to offer his only son on an altar. How could he do that? He had to trust God to make it turn out all right – to give value to his sacrifice.
2. The Jewish sinner was commanded to offer the first & best animal of his flock. How could he do that? (“That is the future of my sustenance”). He had to trust in God.
3. And then in the N.T., when believers were persecuted and mistreated, and tempted to retaliate, God called for submission. Their submission was their sacrifice – as sacrifice of their own bodies to God. How could they do it? By trusting in God to vindicate them.
4. I don’t know if Stephen could have thrown the rock back at his accusers. He may not have had the opportunity. But I do know that he did not have to do what he did in response to their evil. He did not have to pray for their forgiveness and seek their salvation. But he did. That was his sacrifice. He could do that because he was trusting in God to make it right.
5. How could Jesus do that? (Have you ever asked that question as you contemplated the suffering he endured?) Someone said “it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on the cross it was His love for me.”
6. He was able to do that because he trusted in His Father to make it right. 1 Peter 2:21-24 – 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us,* leaving us* an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;* 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.
Conclusion: Jesus overcame evil (ALL EVIL) with Good (THE HIGHEST GOOD). Paul says that through the cross Jesus disarmed the forces of evil and triumphed over them IT. (Col. 2:15)