Romans 12:17-21

Thursday Evening Bible Study

March 12, 2009


The chapter began with the transition from doctrine into practice.  The doctrine Paul ended the previous section was God’s mercy – how does that translate practically into our lives?

(Rom 12:2 NKJV)  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

What does the real Christian look like?

Take it one step further, what does it look like to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind?

That’s what Paul has been talking about – what a real Christian looks like.

:17  Repay no one evil for evil.

repayapodidomi (“from” + “to give”) – to deliver, to give away for one’s own profit what is one’s own; to pay off; a debt, wages; pay back

Jesus said,

(Mat 5:38-39 NKJV)  "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' {39} "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

In the Law of Moses the command is “eye for eye”.  How is it that Jesus seems to change the Law?

He doesn’t change the Law as far as government is concerned, He changes the Law as far as what we personally take into our own hands.
It is right and appropriate for government to punish those who break the Law.
It is NOT right for you to take the government’s responsibility and punish people.



There used to be a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t get mad, get even”.  That’s NOT what we’re supposed to do.
You see it in your kids when one child hurts another, and then the second one hits back.
Jack’s 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 girl’s grip and said comfortingly to Jack, “There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t 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.
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 motorcyclists—of the Hell’s Angels type—entered 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, he’s not much of a man, is he?”  She replied, “I can’t answer as to that, but he’s not much of a truck driver.  He just ran over three motorcycles out in the parking lot.”
That’s what we’re NOT supposed to do.

:17 Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

have regard forpronoeo – to perceive before, foresee; to provide, think of beforehand; to take thought for, care for a thing

good thingskalos – beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable

(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.

There seem to be two possible ideas here.


A good reputation.

It is important that Christians maintain a good reputation.
When it came to Paul taking up an offering for the poor in Jerusalem, he was careful to put protections in place to maintain his reputation of honor.
(2 Cor 8:21 NLT)  We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to know we are honorable.
It is important that people see that we are walking uprightly before God.  Jesus said:
(Mat 5:16 NKJV)  "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
How do I get a “good reputation”?
Mercy and Truth. 

(Prov 3:3-4 NKJV)  Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, {4} And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man.

Showing people mercy and living consistently in the truth lead to the proper reputation.


Showing respect

Sometimes as Christians we remove what little chances we have to share the love of Christ with others because of our strict legalistic views on life.
Some of us dread the holidays when we will be forced to spend time with our unbelieving family members.  And I imagine that more than a few of them know we dread spending time with them.
Sometimes we can come across as quite judgmental about others – their views on politics, social issues of the day.  But what do you expect from someone who doesn’t know the love of Christ?
A person doesn’t need to change their political party before God loves them.  They simply need to know the grace of Jesus.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, she was quite astounded with the fact that He talked with her:
(John 4:5-9 NKJV)  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. {6} Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. {7} A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." {8} For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. {9} Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus ended up having a wonderful conversation with this gal about who the Messiah was.  And before Jesus left, this woman had come to believe in Him.
But Jesus didn’t ask her to stop being a Samaritan before He’d talk to her.  She was blown away that He would give her the respect of talking to her.

:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

live peaceablyeireneuo – to make peace; to cultivate or keep peace, harmony

is possibledunatos – able, powerful, mighty, strong; to be able (to do something)

It is not always possible.


Keeping the peace

Jesus said,
(Mat 5:9 NKJV)  Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Believers ought to be known for keeping the peace, not rocking the boat.
You can’t do it all the time – some people are going to make trouble no matter what.

Sometimes the things that people want you to do to maintain the peace are just not right – and you have to stand up.

But for the most part, we ought to be the first ones to say “I’m sorry”.
Some of us have a hard time with our pride being the first to say “I’m sorry”.  Get over it.
A fellow named Greg put together a mini high school reunion when he went back to Indiana to visit his parents. He hadn’t seen many of his classmates in over 17 years. Needless to say, they had a riot reliving their glory days and finding out what was currently going on in everyone’s life.
As the night was winding down, Greg noticed that his friend Debbie was getting teary-eyed, and he couldn’t help but ask what was going on. Through tears she said, “It’s sad that there are some things you just can’t forget.”
Certain that something spiritual was going on, Greg pressed Debbie about what she meant. Finally she told him. In the second grade—27 years ago!—a girl named Karen had started the “Debbie Haters Club.” Debbie had never gotten over the pain of that, and she had never forgiven Karen.
Knowing that Karen was at the reunion that night, Greg told Debbie she should talk to her. Debbie refused, but Greg insisted. In fact, Greg ended up orchestrating the effort toward reconciliation! When Karen was collecting her coat to leave the party, Greg pulled her aside into a separate room, and asked her to wait for him to return. Then Greg went to get Debbie. When both women were together in the room, Greg stepped out of the room and stood guard outside the door. Greg couldn’t hear a word that passed between them, but he didn’t need to. As they both left, he could see the freedom on their faces—a freedom that only comes with reconciliation.
Bill White, Paramount, California

:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

avengeekdikeo – to do justice; to avenge a thing; to punish a person for a thing

wrathorge – anger, punishment

This is most likely speaking of God’s wrath, but it might also include the punishment that the state might bring.

Vengeanceekdikesis – a revenging, vengeance, punishment

This is the noun form of “avenge” earlier in the verse.

I will repayantapodidomi – in a good sense, to repay, requite; in a bad sense, penalty and vengeance

This is a more intense form of “repay” that was used in verse 17.

It is written …

(Deu 32:35 NKJV)  Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.'


We love revenge

You have to admit it; sometimes we live to take revenge.
Revenge of the Ducks
Some of our favorite movies are all about revenge.  The innocent people are being terrorized by bad guys.  The lone drifter shows up and takes revenge. Or sometimes it’s just the lone guy that gets picked on, and he gets back. We especially love it when the bad guys “get it”.
Rambo – First Blood II, 1985, “Murdock I’m coming to get you”
Dirty Harry – Sudden Impact, 1983, “Go ahead, make my day”
Sometimes it’s not something as plain as the poor little orphans being taken advantage of.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of somebody doing something to hurt your feelings.

And you want to get even.

Three Stooges pie fight


Revenge is God’s job

Don’t you hate it when someone does your job for you?
Vengeance is God’s responsibility, not ours.
When we do revenge, we usually just get ourselves into trouble.
There’s an old 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 man’s 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 son’s wedding had fallen through, and therefore he would be happy to renew the lease.  He couldn’t understand why the farmer exclaimed in agonizing tones, “Oh, Lord, what a fool I’ve been!”
What if God is patient towards your enemy?
(2 Pet 3:9 NKJV)  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God is willing to wait for a person to turn to Him.

(Rom 2:4 NKJV)  Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

There will be a day if that person does not repent, that they will pay for their sins.  But what if God is willing to wait and in the meantime be kind to them?

But when we step in and take vengeance ourselves, we mess things up.

:20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."

feedpsomizo – to feed by putting a bit or crumb (of food) into the mouth; of infants, young animals etc.

coalsanthrax – a burning or live coal

Paul is quoting from:       

(Prov 25:21-22 NKJV)  If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; {22} For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.

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 they’ve 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 murderer’s 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 Maskepetoon’s 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 5:43-44 NKJV)  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} "But I say to 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,

Do you want your enemy to repent and know God’s kindness and forgiveness?  Or do you want to see them roast slowly over a spit in hell?

Taking vengeance is not the way to see them repent.

:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

overcomenikao (“nike”) – to conquer; to carry off the victory, come off victorious

Don’t let evil be a conqueror over you, but instead you should conquer evil by means of good.

Kill them with kindness.

This kind of goes back to verse 17:

(Rom 12:17 NKJV)  Repay no one evil for evil…

But it goes a step further.  Instead of just telling you what NOT to do (giving them evil), now Paul tells you what TO do – doing good.


Fighting words

One way of doing this practically is by the way we talk to people.
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 doesn’t mean you have to respond with a cruel word.  Do you want to resolve the argument, or just get even?
(Prov 15:1 NKJV)  A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Former Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Fame third baseman Wade Boggs used to hate going to Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees they never gave him that much trouble but because of a fan. That’s right: one fan.
The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. It’s hard to imagine one fan getting under a player’s skin, but apparently this guy had the recipe.
One day before the game, as Boggs was warming up, the fan began his typical routine, yelling, “Boggs, you stink” and variations on that theme. Boggs decided he’d had enough. He walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands with his friends, and said, “Hey fella, are you the guy who’s always yelling at me?” The man said, “Yeah, it’s me. What are you going to do about it?”
Wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his pre-game routine.
The man never yelled at Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wade’s biggest fans at Yankee Stadium.
Steve May,