12:14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.
12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people.
12:19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
12:20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head.
It may seem strange that I’ve picked today’s verses so selectively. But I’ve done it this way because I want to group together common themes to make my reflections more focused.
Today we’re talking about how we treat our enemies. Something deep within us wants to hate our enemies. The world says the same thing, “get even,” after all that’s fair, right? Even common sense would tell us to dish out what others dish to you.
I think as Americans living in the “land of the free” with “rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” we have inherited an especially destructive value that says “I should always get what I deserve.” It encourages us to claim our rights, to not let others get the upper hand, and that to admit wrongdoing is weakness. Our obsession with frivilous lawsuits is a direct reflection of this value.
Jesus, however, introduced a new way of looking at enemies. He shifted the paradigm 180 degrees. He said we are to love those who hate us, pray for those who persecute us, and to NOT return evil for evil. Paul, in today’s passage, reitterates these radical principles.
We are to love our enemies because it reflects the character of God. It is the quite simply the only right thing to do if we intend to be like Jesus. Thankfully he treats us with this kind of love or we’d all be in hell getting what we deserve right now. He offered to be killed for us, his enemies. Even if loving our enemies would result in being killed by them (as many persecuted Christians experience,) we would be right to act in such a way. We will reap heavenly rewards for our obedience in this area.
But the beauty I’ve discovered in our culture is that this kind of lifestyle usually benefits us in this life as well. I do a lot of counselling and I’ve learned that if these principles were followed by just one of the warring parties there would be a lot less alienation between people. One person who “blesses,” who “doesn’t curse,” who “doesn’t repay,” who “doesn’t avange”, and who “feeds and gives drinks” to their enemies can diffuse almost every bomb of relational disharmony. Most of my counselling time could be eliminated entirely if people would simply live this way!
And on the rare occasions when it doesn’t produce harmony due to the other person’s stubborness, the situation can still be left in God’s capable hands. He will bring justice and vindication and rewards to you — in His timing.
Our job is simply to love our enemies. That’s what obedience to Christ and trusting Him involves. As hard as it may be, it’s always the right thing to do. When practiced, this is one of the most powerful displays of Christ in the life of a believer.
(*For this summer, I’ve divided up Romans 12-16 into daily readings and have committed to daily journaling my reflections about each to correspond with Pastor Bob’s sermon series.)