Lesson 17: Overcome Evil with Good
Topic: Topical Passage: Romans 12:14-21
Peacemakers, Lesson 17:
Overcome Evil with Good
[Note: This lesson is adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). For more information, see Peacemaker® Ministries (https://pm.training).]
This is the final lesson in our Peacemakers series. I hope it’s been helpful! Lord-willing, we’ll take some time at the end of this lesson for testimonies about how God has used this series in your life, so as I’m teaching, think about what you might share.
I’d like to begin by reviewing the entire series. So I’m going to show some slides to remind you of what we learned in each lesson. Hopefully this will spark some memories for those testimonies later.
- In Lesson 1, we discussed various responses to conflict, and we considered this diagram. Do you remember that? We talked about the “peace-fakers,” who run from conflict (over here in the blue) and the “peace-breakers,” who attack the other person (represented by these responses in the red). How many of you tend toward these escape responses? How many of you, your default is more to attack? We all tend to go one way or the other. But instead, we need to focus on these peacemaking responses that we’ve discussed throughout our series. So that’s lesson #1.
- In Lesson 2, we discussed some various causes of conflict, whether misunderstanding; differences in values, expectations, interests, or opinions; limited resources; or sin. We also said that instead of viewing conflict as either good or bad, we should view it as an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be more like Christ.
- In Lesson 3, we talked about the command, “Pursue peace with all people.” You must pursue peace because peace matters to God, because you cannot have peace in your heart without peace with God and peace with others, and because our witness as Christians depends on it.
- Lesson 4 was called, “Get the Log out of Your Eye.” We went to Matthew 7 and talked about the attitude of a critic. Step 1 in dealing with conflict is to get rid of your proud, unloving, critical spirit. And by doing, you may solve 90% of your problems, because humility unlocks the ability to be reasonable, to overlook minor offenses, and to view the other person in a positive light. We also talked in this lesson about when and when not to overlook an offense.
- In Lesson 5, we discussed how idols of the heart relate to conflict. An idol is anything that we set our heart on, that motivates us, that masters and rules us, or that we trust, fear, or serve. (You might remember my Christmas light illustration.) And idols lead to conflict as we follow a certain progression: “I desire,” “I demand,” “I judge,” and finally, “I punish.” So we must repent and replace our heart idols with the one and only living God. That was lesson 5.
- Lesson 6 was about confession. Do you remember the story about the pastor and his wife who stood up and confessed their sins in front of the church, and how that brought about restoration and healing? Then we talked about how to confess our sins effectively, doing things like avoiding the words “if” and “but,” being specific, acknowledging the hurt, accepting the consequences, and asking for forgiveness. And we said that when we confess our sins, people often respond in kind and confess their sins, as well.
- In Lessons 7-9, we talked about confrontation under the heading, “Go and Restore.” We talked about why we should confront, when to confront, and how to confront effectively. We discussed Matthew 18, Luke 17, the example of David and Absalom, and various wisdom principles throughout the Scriptures. We also talked about principles of effective listening.
- In Lessons 10-11, we discussed the next step if your efforts at personal peacemaking fail. The Bible says, “Take one or two with you.” Sande called these people “reconcilers.” We talked about who qualifies as a reconciler and how to go about involving them. Also, we discussed what reconcilers are supposed to do: they are to listen, mediate, advise, and if necessary, arbitrate. Also, they may end up acting as witnesses if the issue ever goes to church discipline. And we discussed the church discipline process, as well.
- Lesson 12 was an appendix on whether it is ever acceptable for a Christian to sue, and lessons 13-15 were all about forgiveness. We talked about what forgiveness is not and what it is, about how God forgives us (think the parable of the debtors), and about what to do if you’re struggling to forgive (think Corrie ten Boom).
- Then, three weeks ago, we went over lesson 16, which was about how to deal with material issues using cooperative negotiation and the PAUSE method. Remember, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” And there was that barking dog illustration.
So now that we’ve covered all that, you’re all perfect peacemakers and you’ll never struggle with conflict ever again, right? (Wrong!) But now you know what to do! And as long as you follow these specific steps, all of your conflicts will be resolved, right? (Again, wrong!) Why? Because people are sinners, so even if you do everything right, sometimes they won’t respond. So what then? Please turn to Romans 12:14-21. We’ll be primarily in this passage and then in 1 Peter this morning (Romans 12:14-21).
When people refuse to be reconciled with us, our natural inclination is either to strike back or to walk away. But according to this, as well as other passages, we don’t have that option. What is our primary weapon for overcoming evil, according to this passage? (good; “Overcome evil with good.”)
Does that seem like a wimpy answer? Does it seem naïve? I want you to consider the example of Jesus. Let me ask you a question: Is Jesus a conqueror? (Yes!) Did He defeat any enemies? (Yes He did!) Now there’s an aspect of that victory that is “not yet,” but the New Testament is also clear that Satan was defeated at the cross! And not only Satan, but sin and death! How did Jesus do it? He suffered and died on a cross.
I’d also call your attention to the example of the early church. When you think about the rapid growth and success of the gospel in the first three and a half centuries A.D., it is staggering! At the Last Supper, Christianity consisted primarily of Jesus and His twelve disciples (who, by the way, were mostly uneducated). But by the middle of the fourth century, the early church had conquered not only Judaism, but the mighty Roman Empire! Emperor after emperor sought to crush the early church through vicious persecution, only to see it thrive and flourish even more–until in 380, Christianity became the official state religion! How did they do it? Did they form an army and attack Rome? No! They preached, they prayed, they wrote, and they did good to all men, even to their persecutors.
So let’s talk briefly about some specific ways to overcome evil with good.
1. Bless and Don’t Curse (v. 14; 1 Pet 3:9-10).
Is it ever hard for you to control your tongue? It’s especially difficult when someone has used their tongue against you, isn’t it? Our natural instinct is to fight fire with fire. But in doing so, we only make the problem worse.
The book of Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Have you ever witnessed that? Have you seen someone calm a situation with gentle words? Have you witnessed the opposite effect?
My mentor during my seminary years was our Christian school administrator. Did you know that sometimes there’s conflict at Christian schools? Parents get mad at the teacher, teacher gets mad at the kids, teachers are mad at each other–it’s regrettable, but it happens. My mentor would say that Spirit-filled people touch a situation like that and make it better. Fleshly people touch a situation like that and make it worse. And difference lies primarily with how we use our tongues. It’s all about what you say and how you say it! Christians are not to return insult for insult.
But notice that it goes deeper than that. We are supposed to bless those who curse us. What does that mean? It means that you are praying down blessings on your persecutors; and in order to do that, you have to love them. By the way, can you think of someone who did that? Of course, Jesus, who prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We also might think of Stephen, who prayed, “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Pray for God to transform your heart, so that you can pray like that.
2. Seek Godly Counsel.
This one’s not necessarily in the two main passages we’re considering, but it’s still worth mentioning.
The Bible talks often about the importance of surrounding yourself with God-fearing people. And that’s especially important when you’re struggling through significant conflict.
First, you need friends who encourage you to persist in righteousness, even though it doesn’t seem to be “working.” And don’t settle for friends who just tell you what you want to hear! Look for people who are willing to challenge you! Sometimes you’ll get into unbiblical ways of thinking. Other times, your perception of the situation will become distorted. That’s why you need people to correct you and bring you back to reality!
Also, besides that, you may need counsel from wise, experienced Christians on how to handle specific situations.
3. Persist in Righteousness and Refuse Revenge (v. 17).
The Greek word translated “have regard for” means to prepare. The idea is, “Prepare to do what is good in the sight of all men.” This same concept shows up again in 1 Peter (1 Peter 2:12, 15; 3:15-16).
So the expectation of Peter and Paul according to these passages is that when Christians persist in doing what is right, they will often be vindicated, even by unbelievers. When you just constantly do good, and refuse to be drawn into an argument, and forgive, and bless, and give respect–reasonable people are going to admit, “She’s right, and he’s wrong.” In fact, Peter and Paul expect that even the person you’re in conflict with will have to admit that you’re right! Peter says, “The goal is that your persecutors will glorify God on the day of visitation! There’s some debate about that phrase, but the idea seems to be that they will repent and be saved!
The same concept shows up in Romans 12 (Rom 12:19-20). You may have heard debate about what the “coals of fire” stand for. We won’t get into the various views; I’ll just say this: but the best interpretation is that they stand for the shame produced in your enemies when you repay good for evil.
When you do that, you’ve pulled the rug out from under them, so to speak. They have no ground to stand on–no good reason to go on being mad you–which means that they have to face their own ugly sin. That’s unpleasant… but it’s also the best thing that could ever happen to them.
Can you think of a Bible character who shamed his enemy with good works? How about David? God gave him two opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to do so. The first time, Saul was relieving himself in a cave. David happened to be hiding in that same cave–so close to Saul that he cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.
The second time, David and Abishai snuck into Saul’s camp while he and his men were sleeping, and David took the spear and jug of water that were laying by Saul’s head. Abishai said, “Please, let me kill him!” But David said “No.” He said, “As the LORD lives, the LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed….”
You see, Abishai thought that God’s will for David in that situation was for him to rid himself of his enemy. But in reality, God’s will was for David to vindicate himself and set an example for posterity. Because of these two situations, any reasonable person would clearly see that David was in the right and Saul was in the wrong. Even Saul himself was forced to admit that (1 Sam 24:16-22)!
Unfortunately, in Saul’s case, his repentance was short-lived. But his prediction came true. David became king, and Israel was established in his hand. David’s prediction came true, as well. One day, Saul went out to battle and never returned. You see, God avenged David, so David didn’t not need to avenge himself. And he didn’t have to live with a guilty conscience, either, because he had done what was right.
So no matter how badly the other person has treated you, keep doing right, and never seek revenge! Don’t think about it, don’t dream about it… don’t let even a whiff of it into your soul! Instead, leave it to God to repay.
4. Recognize your limits (v. 18).
This is a very important verse, because it teaches two important truths. Number one, you must do everything in your power to pursue peace. Don’t give peacemaking a half-hearted effort! Give it 110%!
But this verse also teaches that you are limited in your ability to resolve the situation. Even if you do give 110%, sometimes it won’t work out. Notice it says, “as much as it depends on you.” In other words, you can’t force the other person to do what’s right. If you have honored God and given it your full effort, that’s enough. You are not required to continue actively seeking resolution.
Now you should keep praying for the other person, and you should take every opportunity to do good to him, according to these verses. Also, if circumstances change, and another opportunity presents itself… by all means, pursue peace! But in the meantime, don’t worry about it. You haven’t failed; you’ve done what’s right. So someone is else is mad at you… you can’t control that! You did everything you could do. And it’s probably unwise to waste time, energy, and resources trying to force the issue. Because the fact is, you can’t control the other person! So just give it to God and move on.
Again, some people would say that those responses sound weak or passive. But Paul refuses to be read that way (v. 21)! If you give in to vengeance, you will become what you are fighting, and evil will prevail.
It’s interesting how even unsaved people pick up on this. I’m thinking of the Star Wars movies where sometimes a bad guy will tempt a good guy to “pick up that lightsaber and strike me down.” Why would the bad guy say that? Because he knows that if the good guy succumbs to anger, he will become a bad guy, and evil will prevail. So Paul says, “Don’t let that happen!”
Instead, do what? (Overcome evil with good.) When you “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” in obedience to Christ, it is not a matter of rolling over and playing dead. You are utilizing one of the most powerful weapons at your disposal. Paul is not telling you to surrender; he’s urging you to fight evil with the only weapon that can ultimately destroy it: goodness.