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  • Jill Henry

Overcome Evil with Good (Romans 12:20-21)

To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." ²¹Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:20-21

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good? Is that really what that verse says? Indeed, it does! Wow, that’s not how our sinful hearts feel when someone has wronged us or done something mean to us, is it?

I remember very well how, as a child, whenever one of my sisters did something to me that I deemed was mean, I would immediately retaliate; I wanted to pay them back. I also remember quite well how my response toward my sisters did not help anything. It never resolved the situation and I was disciplined right along with my sisters—even if one of them started it!

Now, I must confess that my sisters were not the only ones who did something wrong when we were kids, I was mean to them plenty of times!

The thing about conflict is that we can’t avoid it. Unfortunately, it’s a part of life because we all are sinful. Children or adults, it doesn’t matter; if there are two or more people together, there’s always potential for conflict.

The good news is that the Bible not only gives us clear instruction on how to deal with conflict, but we can also find fitting examples in the Bible of those who handled conflict well—and not so well. Let’s examine both kinds of examples in the same story.

We all know the scene: Jesus had retreated to a familiar garden with his disciples when Judas, a few soldiers, and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees came to arrest Him. After it was clear that these men were only there for Jesus of Nazareth and moved in to bind him, Simon Peter drew the sword he was carrying and struck Malchus, one of the high priest’s men, cutting off his right ear. Naturally, Simon Peter’s immediate reaction was to protect and defend Jesus. But Jesus rebuked Simon Peter and told him to put away his sword. There Jesus stood, betrayed by Judas who was once a member of His inner circle. Jesus did not resist arrest. He knew the cup the Father had set before Him, and He accepted it. By not resisting His arrest, by commanding Peter to put away his sword, by healing Malchus’ ear, Jesus peacefully diffused an intense and hostile situation.

Jesus was and is the Prince of Peace. The way Jesus brought peace to His own arrest, which would ultimately lead to his torture and death, causes me to think about the words of exhortation to us in Hebrews 12:14, "strive for peace with everyone." This exhortation ties right back to our Fighter Verse in Romans 12. Jesus overcame evil with good in that garden.

One extremely hurtful situation I experienced as an adult occurred when I was falsely accused of something at a former job. The thing that hurt most was that the people whom I trusted at work did not believe me. My human flesh so badly wanted to defend myself and my reputation. But, there were two things I remembered in that trying situation. First, I remembered the words in Romans 12, to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Second, I recalled something my pastor had said about our responsibility to trust and obey God, no matter what, and He will take care of our reputation. By God’s grace, I did not resist those in authority over me, nor did I point a finger toward those who were wronging me with their false accusations; instead, I worked for peace by quietly walking away from the conflict and accepting the consequences that should have been given to someone else.

In the months following that situation, someone shared with me how they had more respect for me now because of the way I handled myself during the conflict. I was concerned that the false accusations would cause people to think badly about me, but instead, God turned the situation for good as I was able to show His character through my response. God protected my reputation and it left a greater impact for His glory.

When you’re dealing with a difficult and hurtful situation, when you have been wronged by someone, remember Romans 12:20-21. God will give you the grace and strength to feed your “enemy” if he’s hungry. God will give you the grace and strength to give your “enemy” a drink if she is thirsty. And God will give you the grace and strength to overcome the evil done to you with good—for your good, your enemy’s good, and for God’s glory!


For Reflection

  1. Read Genesis chapters 37, 45, and 50:15-21. How did Joseph live out Romans 12:20-21 toward his brothers?

  2. Has someone ever hurt you so much that you felt like they were your enemy? How did you respond to him or her? Is your relationship broken or has it been restored?

  3. Have you ever hurt someone? If you’re like me, I’m guessing you have. Did you ask for forgiveness and do your best, by God’s grace, to reconcile with those you’ve hurt? Is there anyone in your life that you’ve offended but haven’t reconciled with yet? If so, stop right now to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you grace to go make things right with that person.


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