But Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Once again we are confronted by a totally countercultural way of doing things in that doing good to one’s enemy will ultimately result in judgement and justice. This is surely one of the hardest things to do for it goes against our sinful nature.
But the true Christian, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit , is someone who us called to do this and is able to do it. This is indeed a powerful mark of one who is walking in step with the Spirit.
There are two possible ways of understanding these verses.
- Paul is teaching that the Christian is to do good to people so that they will feel ashamed and repent.
- In the OT “burning coals” (see Proverbs25.21-22) always represent punishment so an alternative understanding is that Christians are to do good to wrongdoers, recognising that God will punish them on the last day if they refuse to repent.
Overcoming evil with good will ordinarily include acts of kindness towards evildoers, but it may sometimes also include the “good” of the civil government stopping evil through the use of superior force (military or police) as Paul explains in Romans 13.3-4
(Source ESV Study Bible Notes on Romans 12.20-21)
Either way we cannot escape the fact that the true Christian is to do good to all.
Paul drives this home in Galatians 6.10
‘Let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.’
That can be difficult at times, but how much more challenging to ‘love our enemies’ Matthew 5.43-48 but that is the way we are called to live.
I am not a Christian because of what I have done or what I do, for my salvation is all of Christ. But what I do indicates my standing as a believer – one who is in Christ.
What Paul writes here, as we come to the end of this section we have been thinking about over the past weeks, is of course primarily directed to individual Christians and not national conflicts as we continue to see unfolding in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That conflict however, presents us with the challenge of working out our true Christian response to any situation be it personal and local or national/international and totally outside our control.
We cannot ignore the hard parts of God’s Word and so must grapple with how we apply them in such situations and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
Let us pray this day and every day, that the marks of a true Christian that Paul outlines in this passage may be seen in us in our daily walk before the world.