Sermon on Romans 12:14–21
Text: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 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. 20 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.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” There are various times in people’s lives that they might turn to this verse. They may be facing a medical problem and it looks like recovery will be difficult. They may be facing the loss in their lives, and they know that going on will be hard. There are many times in our lives when these words will bring comfort and encouragement. This morning as we study God’s Word, we are going to see that God also gives us strength to do things that might seem to be difficult for our human nature to do, if not impossible. Yet, with his help, we can do them. GOD’S GRACE GIVES US STRENGTH 1. To Be There For Other People, 2. To Practice Humility, and 3. To Bless Our Enemies.
Before we look at how we can do these things, let’s look at our motivation for doing them. Paul begins this chapter of Romans by writing, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” Before he gives any instructions on Christian living, he points us to the reason that we want to. It is “in view of God’s mercy.” Paul points us to the mercy that God has shown to us by rescuing us from our sins. You and I, by nature, do not deserve God’s mercy. That is because we are born into this world as lost and condemned sinners. That would have been enough to have us spend our eternity apart from God’s love in hell. Then, you add in all the sins that we commit every single day. As we will focus our attention on our relationship with the people around us in our sermon, think of how many times that we sin against them. We say things that hurt them. We don’t help people when we could. For these, and all other sins, we deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath. However, God had mercy on us. Instead of writing us off, he did what was necessary so that we could be with him for all eternity. He sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. Jesus came on a divine rescue mission, beginning with the perfect life that he lived in our place. He, then, sacrificed that perfect life on a cross to pay for all our sins. His blood has washed us clean. By his resurrection, he assures us that we are forgiven and that a place in heaven is waiting for us. He made this yours that day that you were brought to faith. You have been given all of this without any effort on your part. Normally, if someone does something nice for you, you want to show your appreciation. At the very least, you say thank you. If that is the case with earthly things, how much more so with eternal things. In view of God’s mercy, we want to say thank you with our lives. In this chapter of Romans, Paul shows us several ways that we can do so.
Let’s start with one that Paul mentions that may seem to be the easiest. We read in verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” This sounds simple enough and easy to do. However, have you ever found yourself being envious of someone when they had something good happen in their lives and wonder why it wasn’t you instead? As we will see in many of the things that we will talk about this morning, we are by nature selfish and only want what’s best for us. Rather, in view of God’s mercy, let us rejoice with those who rejoice. If something good is happening in another person’s life, let’s rejoice. It doesn’t just have to be big things either, such as a marriage or job promotion. We can rejoice when someone’s child gets a good grade on their homework, especially if it is a subject that they have been struggling with. We can rejoice with them if they make it through a planting or harvesting season with no major breakdowns. The number of things that we can rejoice with those who rejoice is endless.
Paul goes on to write, “Mourn with those who mourn.” (Verse 15) Behind the word “mourn” is the idea of weeping. People usually don’t weep over small things. Usually something has had a major negative impact on their lives. We are encouraged to mourn with them. This goes beyond crying with them, though that might happen. There are so many ways that we can show that we care about them and what they’re going through, such as a hug, a note of encouragement, providing a meal, etc. Sometimes what that person may need is a sympathetic ear. They don’t expect you to have the answers to what they’re going through. They just need someone to talk to. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” At times this may seem to be a daunting task, but as we remember the grace that God has shown to us, we want to be there for the people around us.
Then, Paul gets to something that may be more difficult for us to do. He writes in verse 16, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” This verse deals with how God wants us to treat other people. Our sinful nature likes to puff itself up, thinking that, in some way or another, we are better than someone else. The world around us promotes this type of thinking. It tells us that we are the most important person that there is. There is nothing wrong with a good self-esteem viewed from a Christian perspective, namely that we are the beloved children of God through faith in Jesus. That is where we find our worth, not in putting ourselves over someone else. The world judges people according to their nationality, wealth, ability, or education. We want to see all people as people that God loved so dearly that he sent his Son to be their Savior, too. God wants us to associate with all people, regardless of their position in life. One way that this could be done is the way that we make our fellow church members feel. Do we make everyone feel welcome at worship? Do they feel equally wanted to serve in various ways in the congregation? Do they ever feel like a third wheel at a potluck? What can we do to show that they are just as important as everyone else? God gives us the strength through his grace to make others feel important.
We also take note of the words of verse 18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Because we live in a sinful world filled with sinners, including you and me, there will be conflicts, at times. That’s why Paul wrote, “If it’s possible.” You can’t make everyone live at peace with you. What are we to do? “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We do our absolute best to be peaceable with everyone. This goes back to the idea of humility that Paul noted in verse 16. If I am always fighting with everyone else, then I am saying that my way, my ideas, my feelings are more important than those of anyone else. It may seem difficult to put others ahead of ourselves, but, strengthened by the grace of God that he showed to us, we want to do just that.
This brings us to what might seem to be the most difficult thing for us to do, at least according to our sinful nature. Paul writes in verse 17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” He repeats this though in verse 19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends.” Why might this one be seemingly the most difficult of things we are talking about this morning? Just think for a moment. What is your normal first response when someone does something mean to you? What is your first instinct if someone says something mean to you? Isn’t it that you would like to pay back the action or words in like kind? Revenge is something that the world calls sweet, but it is not a biblical perspective. A Christian repaying evil for evil is a sorry witness to the world. It is saying that we are the most important people in the world. This is not to say that we become the doormat of everyone. Where we must, we will defend ourselves. However, if my main reason for doing so is to get even with someone for the wrong they did to me, then, I am doing the exact opposite of what God wants.
How can we get the strength to not repay evil for evil? Again, remember what God has done for us. He has shown his amazing love to us. If anyone would ever have had the right to repay evil with evil, it would be God. Look at all the ways that we have done and continue to do evil toward him. Rather than repaying us with evil, he forgives us and only wants the best for us. There is our motivation for doing so. We also have the example of Jesus. Think about when he was being nailed to the cross, sentenced to death, despite being innocent of any crime. If that had been you, how would you have reacted to those soldiers who were nailing you to the cross? Would you have wished evil on them for the evil that they were doing to you? Yet, listen to the example of Jesus. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Instead of cursing them, he prayed that his Father would forgive them. He blessed them rather than curing them.
There is another danger as we read the entire verse, “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.” (Verse 19) The danger is that I wait, almost with a giddy anticipation, for God to avenge the wrongs that were done to me. I hope that I’m around to see them get theirs. Isn’t that a form of my wanting to repay evil with evil? Again, out of thankfulness for all that God has done for me, I don’t want to take revenge. If, and when, that person receives punishment from God, I will leave that up to God. Instead, I want to follow what I find in verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Peter put it this way in his first epistle, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
Ultimately, the entire thought of this entire section of the Scriptures is that I want to live with the people around me in such a way that gives thanks to God for all that he has done for me. With his help, I want to follow what Paul wrote in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It’s not always gong to be easy. In fact, sometimes will seem nearly impossible. I have my sinful nature that’s telling me to only think about myself. The world around us lends its voice in an almost deafening call to be self-seeking. How thankful we are that God has given us every motivation to live for him. Again, remember how Paul began this section of his letter: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” With that in mind, we can say, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Amen.
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