February 23-25, 2019
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Romans 12:14-21 (EHV)
“ON OVERCOMING EVIL”
1. Leave room for God.
2. Learn love from God.
Romans 12:14-21 (EHV) “Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who are rejoicing; weep with those who are weeping. 16Have the same respect for one another. Do not be arrogant, but associate with the humble. Do not think too highly of yourselves. 17Do not pay anyone back evil for evil. Focus on those things that everyone considers noble. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, maintain peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20But: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For by doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Someone once said that if you look for the one who is acting or speaking most obviously differently than all the others in that particular Bible story or parable then you will see the one who most closely represents God. You’ve seen some good examples of that today, haven’t you? There is Joseph so graciously forgiving his brothers who sold him as a slave, able to do that because he knew his loving God was at work. Then in the Gospel lesson there is Jesus commanding what seems to be impossible! Turn the other cheek. Give to those who would steal. And then Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome on overcoming evil with good. And they had plenty of evil to deal with. The Roman government was not being kind to Christians. Businesses and property were seized. Christians were being blamed for everything that was wrong in Rome. Their fellow citizens wallowed in moral filth. Graft, greed and corruption were expected qualities in government leaders. They needed to know how to deal with evil.
So do we. Osama bin Laden may be dead but the evil of Islamic fundamentalism continues. Someone else picks up the torch. Nationally haters draw lines on the left and the right. It’s almost the norm now to carry out character assassinations. Closer to home we still have on our minds the kidnapping of Jamie Closs and murder of her parents. The murder of Officer Rittner and others. Dealers push drugs that have destroyed countless families. Then think of your own lives. Who has mistreated you or your family member? What hurts have been done? Those are evil. How do you deal with it? God tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
First let’s acknowledge something. Evil is evil. It is of the Devil. And when we hear about evil being done to others, when it happens to us we should be upset. It should anger us. It should do that because sin angers God. He tells us in the Bible right before our text to “hate what is evil.” Evil deserve punishment. Evildoers deserve and have earned for themselves punishment and for us to want justice to be done and evil to be punished is good and right and pleasing to God who determines what is right and wrong and has Himself set up that evil is to be punished. Now if we could stop right there, if we could hate what is evil and want it punished we would be alright.
But there is a problem. Part of us doesn’t want to stop. Part of us is evil. We may not like to hear it but the sinful nature that lives in other people and is the root cause of the evil they do also lives in you and me. And it wars against God. It starts when the evildoer appears to be getting away with, escaping justice. It builds when the authorities God established take too long or punishment appears too light. It explodes when the hurt is closest to you. Do you think any of the relatives of Jamie Closs have been thinking, “Just give me 15 minutes alone with that creep, just 15 minutes.” What would you think if your daughter was taken? If this is too soon for our law enforcement personnel I apologize. But one phrase that struck a chord with me from Milwaukee Police Chief Morales news conference is “remarkable restraint.” He said the officers showed remarkable restraint in taking Fricke into custody. Let’s think about that. Your friend and teammate is gunned down and the perp just drops his weapon. I have brothers. I’ve been on all kinds of teams none of which I’m sure compares to the camaraderie of the teams of those who serve and I know what I would be thinking.
And yet our God who loves us warns us that if we give in to our sinful nature desires we will be overcome by evil. He gives us what we need to resist. “Do not think too highly of yourselves. 17Do not pay anyone back evil for evil. Focus on those things that everyone considers noble. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, maintain peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” says the Lord.” God gives us a promise. Vengeance is mine. I will repay. God takes care of justice. There is no getting away with it. God’s time. God’s way. Through the authorities He established or on His own. He gives us a warning. Do not think too highly of yourselves. When we take matters into our own hands, when we repay evil for evil, we are arrogantly taking God’s place. We are telling Him that either we think we can do a better job at justice than He can or that we don’t trust Him to do what He promised. There is a better way. Leave room for God. Officer Rittner’s teammates did that when they showed “remarkable restraint.” You can too. Leave room for God.
And learn love from God. And remember that love is going to be different and unexpected in its nature. Any human being is capable of showing a certain kind of love. You heard Jesus acknowledge that in the Gospel reading. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? To be sure, even the sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even the sinners do the same thing. 34If you lend to those from whom you expect to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even the sinners lend to sinners in order to be paid back in full.” Loving those who love you, friends and family, is normal. Almost everyone does that. Doing good to someone who can do you a favor in return is Standard Operating Procedure in Washington. Quid pro quo I believe the call it.
But God’s love is different. It has an unexpected quality to it. “Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who are rejoicing; weep with those who are weeping. 16Have the same respect for one another. Do not be arrogant, but associate with the humble. 20But: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For by doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” God’s love is shown to the underserving. It is shown to His enemies and those who hate Him. It asks God to do good for those who hurt us not bad things. It not only feels sorry for someone else’s pain but is happy for their success and if you think that is easy I want you to think of how you felt the last time someone else’s kid got the award or spot on the team or start that you thought your kid should get. Did you rejoice with them? Many have tried to figure out the etymology of the heaping burning coals of fire on someone’s head. Nobody really knows. But the meaning in context is clear. The goal is not to make someone feel so ashamed or embarrassed that now you feel good because they have paid in some way. The goal is that their shame may lead them to repentance. That’s what God’s love is always all about. Leading people to repentance and faith in Jesus so they are saved for heaven. It’s what makes the angels in heaven rejoice. It’s why God punished innocent Jesus instead of guilty sinners. God overcame evil with good. It’s why we want to learn love from God too.
Think of Jesus on the cross. “Father, forgive them,” he prayed. That’s Jesus. He’s perfect. But what about his follower Stephen who prayed much the same for those who stoned him to death? I don’t watch a lot of movies but when younger I enjoyed the spoof movies. Some of you may remember a spook movie called Young Frankenstein. There’s a part in there where the Dr is trying to figure out why his Frankenstein creation was acting so unexpectedly and he asks his helper whose brain he used. “Someone named Abby,” the helper responds. “Abby who?” asks the dr. “Abby normal” is the answer. That’s a spoof. In truth inside each of you has been placed a new creation that is abnormal in the sense that it wants to follow Jesus and be unexpectedly different in the face of evil overcoming it with good. The new man or woman, that Christ dwelling in you, connects you to Him and enables you to follow Him. Let’s do that right now. I want you to think of someone you are mad at, angry with or who has hurt you. Now let’s spend some moments praying for them. Amen.