WALKING IN LOVE
Repay no one evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 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.
Last week, we studied about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those weep. Today we are going to study about another significant truth related to walking in love with our brethren, that is– how to deal with evil meted out to us.
NOEVIL FOR EVIL
The first part of Paul’s instruction is crisp – repay no one evil for evil. It has a negative as well as positive element. He tells us point bank that we must not indulge in evil as repayment for the evil dished out to us. He says that even if we can’t be magnanimous and start behaving lovingly, we must at least refrain from doing evil.
Since mankind is fallen and ridden with sin, it is only natural to want vengeance. Look at little children. If somebody pushes them down, they will get back on their feet and push the other person down. I remember an incident in my school many years ago. The teacher hadn’t arrived yet and so the class had become unruly. Once of the bullies was the monitor. He was trying to order the students to behave. Unfortunately for him, another teacher walked into the class and without even enquiring about what was happening, beat up this boy. The teacher had wrongly assumed that this boy was causing trouble. The boy got furious. He turned around and started beating up the teacher. It took many other teachers to hurry in and control him. Soon the police and the boy’s parents arrived. To all of our surprise, instead of scolding his son for such an unruly conduct, his father almost applauded him. He not only didn’t admonish the son, but told him that he should have beaten the teacher some more! We were all stunned! What terrible parenting! But that’s how this sinful world operates.
Moving beyond abstaining from payback to repaying with good comes only as a result of our new birth and our mind being renewed by the Word of God.
Many people wrongly assume that Paul’s teachings were not in line with Jesus’. On the contrary, Paul’s teaching was always based on the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings. Now it was not only Paul that exhorted us to avoid repaying evil for evil, but so did Jesus and Peter.
For example – on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that if a man strikes us on one cheek, we must show the other cheek also. That’s the basic premise of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12. Here’s another example. 1 Peter 2:21, 22 says,‘that he has left us an example, so that we may follow his footsteps, who committed no sin, norwas deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, did not revile in return when he suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’.We see Jesus being mocked and reviled even though he had done nothing wrong. But instead of retaliating, He committed Himself to God and suffered it for our sake. Therefore, we see that non-retaliation is at the core of Christian teaching.
However, many non-Christians misunderstand this Christ-like attitude and ridicule us. A man named Thomas Payne said in the 18th century that Christians have the spirit of a spaniel. A spaniel is a little dog that has no hunting spirit and is always bowing to his master’s wishes. There are many others who belittle Christians as flabby, sentimental people with no virility.
Is there any truth in that statement? Let’s examine.
TAKE THOUGHTFOR GOOD THINGS
Romans 12:17 in the King James Version says ‘provide good things in the sight of all men’. The Greek word for ‘provide’ that is used here means ‘to take thought in advance or take thought for’. Let’s see what it implies in the context of repaying evil with evil. It means that we must provide in our thinking a place for a good, honest, honorable and godly way to react in the sight of all men.
The reason for such provision is that our instinctive reaction is to pay evil back for evil. So the Bible teaches us that when someone hurts us, instead of retaliating, let us have a different kind of attitude and thinking. More often than not, our instinct would be to feel hurt and think that injustice has been done to us. It becomes a ‘Me’ issue. The Bible however teaches us to take the focus away from ourselves and to turn it to God. Let us remember that we are the children of God. We are born again members of His family and are living testimonies of His Gospel.
Let us explore some more about the good things that the Bible asks us to provide. There are two words from which good is translated in the New Testament. One is a word which talks about the intrinsic, inherent good. The other word talks about external goodness or an inside goodness which is manifested.It is this second meaning of the word ‘good’ that Paul is referring to. So he says that when someone harms us, we must think about how we are going to express our response or reaction. What we say or act will be seen by the world around us. People will see not just us but who we are in Christ and what we claim to be as a child of God. Our response should therefore be such that it is God honoring and God glorifying. Our actions must edify and build our brethren up in their Christian faith. Or else, we might unwittingly cause them to stumble in their faith journey. Let us stop acting individualistically. Let us rather keep the larger picture in mind and honor God and the Gospel.
Let us look at a couple of Biblical passages that emphasize this truth.
- 1 Thessalonians chapter 5:22 says, ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil’. If our actions appear to be evil then we must refrain from dong it. Or else it will bring dishonor to God, the church and the message of the Gospel.
- Romans 12:9 says, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil and cleave to that which is good’. Here, the Bible tells us to abhor, hate and reject evil.
- 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 says, ‘avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us – providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men’.Paul had collected money from the churches for the poorer believers. He says that he wants to be above reproach in the way he administered this gift. He didn’t want to be blamed either by God or by man for the way the money was distributed.
- Matthew 5:16 says, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven’. All our actions are on display before mankind. Those actions must shine before men in such a way that it glorifies God.
- Matthew 5:38 says,‘You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Let me pause and explain this context. During those days, man behaved barbarically. The world was full of evil and wickedness so much so that at one point God had to send a flood and destroy the unbearably wicked world. He even reduced man’s lifespan from 900 years to just 120 years. Therefore, in that background, God provided strict measures of instant retaliation to control the wickedness.
But that was not the way God wanted man to live. That’s why Jesus continues to say in Matthew 5:38 that, ‘You have heard that it was said, eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth but I tell you not to resist an evil person but whoever slaps you at your right cheek, turn the other to him also’. God’s will is that we must be so changed and transformed that we do not pay evil with evil. Instead He wants to respond to evil with good. It’s possible now because we have been transformed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore now:-
- If slaps us on one cheek, we can turn to him also the other.
- If anyone wants to sue us and take away our tunic, we can give him our cloak too
- If someone compels us to go one mile, we can go with him two miles. Back in those days, the arrogant Roman soldiers would force minority people like the Jews and slaves to carry their luggage. So Jesus was saying that if instead of grumbling, they willingly carried the luggage beyond the contracted period, the soldier would be dumbfounded by that response and regret forcing them to carry his luggage. That’s the kind of response Jesus wants us to have.
- Matthew 5:42-48 says, ‘give to him who asks you and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away. You have heard that it was said – you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you and what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethrenonly, what do you do more than others?Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’.God is gracious and generous. He does not hold back His provisions – like the sunshine, rain, water, crops – from even evil people. Similarly, He wants us to extend love and mercy to both the good and evil people around us. We need to mirror our perfect Heavenly Father even in this.
So when an opportunity arises where we are treated in an evil manner, let us respond in a good way. Let us reflect on the transformative message of the Gospel and honor our Lord in our reaction.
THE MAKING OF PAUL
I would like to now point our attention to one story in the Bible that truly reflects the effect of repaying good for evil.
The book of Acts tells us about the first martyr of the Christian church – Stephen. He was stoned and killed because he preached about Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sins and who rose again giving mankind hope and new life. But the Jews were furious with Stephen and plotted to stone him. The Bible says that Paul was there and consented to this scheme. This Pharisee who took great pride in observing God’s commandments and following every law meticulously was so wicked that he agreed to the killing of an innocent man. But as he watched the murder, in all likelihood he must have been impacted. Because, there stood Stephen with a shining facebeing stoned yet praying for God’s mercy on his murderers. Certainly, Paul must have been struck by this man’s righteousness! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. And here was a man who displayed a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of Pharisee. For example – a Pharisee believed in lovingone’s neighbor, but hating their enemy. Or taking an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. But here was this Christian who demonstrated a different attitude even while he was being killed. He models Jesus and cries out – ‘Father, do not lay this against their charge’. I am certain that this must have left a deep mark on Paul’s life and contributed in his conversion. Soon after, he went from being a Christian persecutor to one who preached Christ, started churches and appointed pastors. As a result of which the Gospel reached Asia, Asia minor, Europe and soon spread to the entire world.
So let us be careful to have the right, godly reaction. It might just be the spark that creates an impact and changes the world.
Moving on, let us now look at the second part of today’s study. Romans 12:18 say,‘If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men’. There are two qualifications here – ‘if it’s possible’ and ‘as much as it depends on you’. Many people don’t read this verse in its entirety. They assume that if we can we must try to live peaceably with all men. But what it really says is that even when others make life difficult for us or shut their doors at us, we must still attempt to live at peace with them. Now if the other person makes it absolutely impossible, then we can’t do anything about it. But we should not be the ones throwing in the towel on a particular relationship.
Now there are two major kinds of people. One group is the bunch that we saw in verse 17. They will pay back evil for evil. Then there are some others who are exactly the opposite. They want peace at any cost, so much so that they are even willing to forsake truth. But James 3:17 says, ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.’ Purity or truth is more important than peace. As Christians, we must always stand up for the truth. Like we saw last week, in Galatians 2, Paul stood up for truth. He had to rebuke Peter’s hypocrisy publicly when he pretentiously distanced himself from Gentiles in the presence of Jews. It was not right, so even though Peter was a senior apostle, Paul called him out! But the same Paul in Acts 21 went to Jerusalem and behaved in a different manner there. There were many complaints against him that he was teaching people against the Jewish faith. Actually that wasn’t true. Paul had only stood against people who insisted that circumcision was important for a Gentile after becoming a Christian. Paul taught that it was the heart that needed to be circumcised and nothing else. So while he was in Jerusalem, the elders requested him to observe some Jewish rituals so that it would show the early church that he wasn’t creating any discord and that he was appreciative of the Jewish laws. Even though it didn’t really mean much to him, he still agreed to comply with it. His aim was not to fight over non-essential truths but to try and be at peace where it was possible.
ESSENTIAL TRUTHS AND NEGOTIABLE VIEWPOINTS
There are some truths that are absolute and essential. There are other truths that we can sometimes compromise on. They may not be a non-negotiable. That’s what Paul did. Even though he believed that the Christian faith was different from the Jewish rituals, he was still willing to compromise and observe some of those rituals to maintain peace.
Let me share a personal example in this regard. When I first started out as a church, many staunch Pentecostals had a problem with me. They thought I encouraged people to wear jewelry. The thing is that neither at that time nor now do I have any doctrine on jewelry. It’s a personal preference. I wouldn’t either condemn or applaud people for wearing or abstaining from wearing jewelry. Of course in those days, many new believers would come to me and ask for a clarification. I told them that it was up to them to decide what they wanted to do. All that I maintained was that one’s jewelry choice wouldn’t affect their salvation. So during one of those early years, I remember that my parents were still against wearing jewelry. So even though I had a ring, when I visited my father, I would remove it from my finger. I wasn’t being hypocritical. I didn’t want to force them into accepting something that was not a deal breaker. I waited patiently and the day did come when they were fine with me wearing the ring. So as much as was possible, I learned to accommodate all kinds of people and to be at peace with them. If seeing me wear jewelry affected them from speaking to me freely, then I would take care to ensure that I didn’t flaunt it in front of them.
Finally, there might be people who are different from us ideologically. We may not agree with each other completely in Bible truths, but we should try to be accommodating of each other. We must be patient with them and trust that God can bring them around one day. If they have a need, we should help them. Meanwhile, it is our duty to strive to walk in love with them. We must avoid quarreling with them and look for ways to get along with them and promote peace.