Romans 12:17-21

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

September 1, 1999


Paul has moved through his doctrinal section in Romans and now has moved on to the practical side of things.  Heís been telling the church in Rome how they are a "body", and like a body, they are each an individual part of it, with each part having a unique and different function. Itís when we all learn to do our "part", that the church is healthy.

We now move into a section where talks about our obligations to each other, both the things we ought to be doing as well as the attitudes we need to have with each other.

:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil.

evil Ė kakos Ė of a bad nature; base, wrong, wicked; troublesome, injurious, destructive

recompense Ė apodidomi Ė to deliver; to pay off, discharge what is due; to "pay back"


Donít get even.

There used to be a bumper sticker that said, "I donít get mad, I just get even". Thatís NOT what weíre supposed to do.

You see it in your kids when one child hurts another, and then the second one hits back.


Jackís mother ran into the bedroom when she heard him scream and found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girlís grip and said comfortingly to Jack, "There, there. She didnít mean it. She doesnít know that hurts." Mom was barely out of the room when the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she said, "What happened?" "She knows now, little Jack explained.

Jesus said,

(Mat 5:38-41 KJV) Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: {39} But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. {40} And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. {41} And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Hereís an examples of what NOT to do:


There was a story about a truck driver who dropped in at an all-night restaurant in Broken Bow, Nebraska. The waitress had just served him when three swaggering, leather-jacketed motorcyclistsóof the Hellís Angels typeóentered and rushed up to him, apparently spoiling for a fight. One grabbed the hamburger off his plate; another took a handful of his French fries; and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. The trucker did not respond as one might expect. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she returned, one of the cyclists said to her, "Well, heís not much of a man, is he?" She replied, "I canít answer as to that, but heís not much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles out in the parking lot."

Thatís what weíre NOT supposed to do.

:17 Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

provide Ė pronoeo Ė to perceive before, foresee; to provide, think of beforehand; to take thought for, care for a thing

honest Ė kalos Ė beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable

in the sight Ė enopion Ė in the presence of, before

(Rom 12:17 NIV) Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

(Rom 12:17 NLT) Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.


A good reputation.

I think there are times when we can abuse this principle and become more concerned about what others think about us than being concerned about what God thinks about us.

There are times we can do nothing about what others think of our "reputation". We canít be going around trying to defend ourselves to everybody. But our overall, general reputation is based on what others see in your life when they get up close.

Godís desire is that we are concerned both about what God thinks of us and about what others think of us:

2 Corinthians 8:21 Providing for honest things (same phrase as used here), not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

There is a sense in which it is important that people see that we are walking uprightly before God. Jesus said:

(Mat 5:16 KJV) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

A "good reputation" is very important to the ministry of the church. It was one of the qualifications of an elder (1Tim. 3:7), it was one of the qualifications to be a church busboy (deacon Ė Acts 6:3), it was also a qualification for those older widows who wanted the church to support them financially (1Tim. 5:9-10).

How do I get a "good reputation"?

Faithfulness and Love.

(Prov 3:3-4 NLT) Never let loyalty and kindness get away from you! Wear them like a necklace; write them deep within your heart. {4} Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will gain a good reputation.

Do you consistently live for the Lord, or only a little here and a little there? Do you genuinely and sincerely love people?

Solomon said that a good reputation was more valuable than great riches.

(Prov 22:1 KJV) A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

Itís worth it.

:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

possible Ė dunatos Ė able, powerful, mighty, strong; to be able (to do something)

as much as lieth in you Ė literally, "the things out of you"

live peaceably Ė eireneuo Ė to make peace; to cultivate or keep peace, harmony; to be at peace, live in peace


Do your part for peace.

There are going to be people who just wonít get along with you, there will be people who have just made up their minds that they donít like you, there will be people who just think differently and look at things differently than you do.

Youíre just not going to be able to have peace with everybody.

But it should never be that we were the ones responsible for "disturbing the peace" or keeping the war going.

Be the first to break a standoff.

I think one of the ways we can follow this instruction is by being the first to step forward and apologize for our part of an argument. Iím not saying that we need to apologize for something we havenít done, but usually in most arguments, both people have some fault. Donít say to yourself, "Iím not going to say "Iím sorry" until she says sheís sorry!"


Know your limits.

Warning: This doesn't mean we should do things just to "keep the peace".

I think there are some of us who take an admonition like this and use it to make sure we never "rock the boat" in certain relationships. We let other people walk all over us and do damage to us and to others because weíre afraid to stand up to them.

There is a time to take a stand. There is a time to speak the truth.

Peter on the day of Pentecost:

(Acts 2:22-23 KJV) Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: {23} Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

(Acts 2:36-37 KJV) Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. {37} Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Do these sound like "peaceable" things?

Stephen on trial before the Sanhedrin:

(Acts 7:51 KJV) Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

Peter and Stephenís words donít exactly sound "peaceable", yet they were the truth. Both Peter and Stephen spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They both said exactly what God wanted them to say.

:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

avenge Ė ekdikeo Ė to vindicate one's right, do one justice; to protect, defend, one person from another; to avenge a thing; to punish a person for a thing

dearly beloved Ė agapetos Ė beloved, esteemed, dear, favorite, worthy of love

vengeance Ė ekdikesis (a form of "avenge" above) Ė a revenging, vengeance, punishment

repay Ė antapodidomi Ė in a good sense, to repay, requite; in a bad sense, penalty and vengeance


Revenge leads to problems.

Weíre often too impatient to wait for God to act, so we take matters into our own hands.

(Prov 25:8-10 KJV) Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. {9} Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: {10} Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.

In other words, if you react too quickly to pick a fight with someone, you just may end up being ashamed at the fact that youíre the one who has it all wrong. Youíll get a reputation for being a hot head.

Getting revenge will often come back to bite you.


The "War Cry" carried a story about a tenant farmer who had worked hard for many years to improve the production of the land. Then something happened that caused him to become very bitter. When it was time to renew his lease, the owner told him he was going to sell the farm to his son who was getting married. The tenant made several generous offers to buy it himself, hoping the manís decision would be reversed. But it was all in vain. As the day drew near for the farmer to vacate his home, his weeks of angry brooding finally got the best of him. He gathered seeds from some of the most pesky and noxious weeds he could find. Then he spent many hours scattering them on the clean, fertile soil of the farm, along with a lot of trash and stones he had collected. To his dismay, the very next morning the owner informed him that plans for his sonís wedding had fallen through, and therefore he would be happy to renew the lease. He couldnít understand why the farmer exclaimed in agonizing tones, "Oh, Lord, what a fool Iíve been!"


Vengeance is Godís job, not yours.

Itís not that revenge is wrong. Itís that revenge is Godís job, not ours.

:20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

coals Ė anthrax Ė a burning or live coal

heap Ė soreuo Ė to heap together, to heap up; to overwhelm one with a heap of anything; metaph. to load one with the consciousness of many sins

Paul is quoting from:

(Prov 25:21-22 KJV) If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: {22} For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

The Arabians call things that cause very acute mental pain "burning coals of the heart" and "fire of the liver".

The idea is that when you return an evil deed with a good one, that good deed has the ability to remind the person of just how wicked theyíve been to you.


When the first missionaries came to Alberta, Canada, they were opposed by a young Cree Indian chief named Maskepetoon. But eventually he responded to the gospel and accepted Christ. Shortly afterward, a member of the Blackfoot tribe who hated Maskepetoon killed his father. The chief rode into the murdererís village and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man he said, "You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes."

In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, "My son, now you have killed me." The hate in his heart had been erased by Maskepetoonís forgiveness and kindness.


Loving your enemy

There is something about this verse that makes us uncomfortable. And the issue is in what Jesus instructed us:

(Mat 5:43-48 KJV) Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. {44} But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; {45} That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? {47} And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? {48} Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Do you want your enemy to repent and know Godís kindness and forgiveness? Or do you want to see them roast slowly over a spit in hell? Sometimes there is actually a very fine line between hating and loving your enemy.

David and the Psalms.

In our daily Quiet Times, we have just started reading through the book of Psalms. Many of Davidís Psalms were written because of problems he was having with his "enemies". The words "enemy" or "enemies" appear over a hundred times (106) in the book of Psalms! And thatís just where this one specific word appears. When you expand the search to include the word "wicked", there are 186 verses!

And donít think that David was talking in "spiritual" terms, as if he were only referring to Satan and his demons. He was talking about real people who were out to destroy him.

And just how did David write about his "enemies" in the Psalms?

(Psa 5:10-11 KJV) Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee. {11} But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

(Psa 6:10 KJV) Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

(Psa 10:15 KJV) Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.

(Psa 58:6 KJV) Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.

These are difficult passages in the light of "loving our enemies" arenít they? But keep in mind, it was Davidís son, Solomon who wrote what Paul is quoting here in verse 20. Itís not a matter of a "New Testament versus Old Testament" thing.

Even though David was at times fearful and at other times just plain angry with his enemies, David also learned to put the whole mess into Godís hands.

The best example of this was when his boss, Saul, went crazy on David. Saul had become insanely jealous over Davidís military successes and began to make attempts on Davidís life. When David confronted Saul, Saul would apologize, but it was not a "true repentance". Saul kept pursuing David. David had two opportunities to kill Saul, but he didnít take the opportunity. Instead, he put the whole mess into Godís hands. Eventually God used the Philistines to have Saul killed.

David was in a horrible place with Saul. Here was Saul, the king of Israel, Godís people, committing a horrible sin. Through David, Saul was given several chances to repent, but he never did. Because David put the whole mess into Godís hands, God took care of Saul. David didnít have to be the "bad guy".

How do I put this all together?

1. I think thereís a place for being upset with someone who is your "enemy".

2. I donít think God has a problem with you asking Him to "get them". The problem isnít in you asking, the problem is in whether you try to take matters into your own hand and do something about it.

3. God wants you to put the whole mess in His hands and let Him take care of it instead of you getting your little fingers into the problem and making things worse.

4. God wants you to be concerned for the other person that they might repent and not have to deal with the consequences of their sin.

:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

overcome Ė nikao Ė to conquer; to carry off the victory, come off victorious

Donít let evil be a conqueror over you, but instead you should overcome evil by means of good.

Kill them with kindness.

This kind of goes back to verse 17:

(Rom 12:17 KJV) Recompense to no man evil for evil.

When someone treats you in an "evil" way, how do you respond back?


Fighting words

Often our arguments with each other get WAY out of hand because we only add fuel to the fire. The other person may have very well said something cruel to you, but that doesnít mean you have to respond with a cruel word. Do you want to resolve the argument, or just get even?

(Prov 15:1 KJV) A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.