The Christian’s Relationships — Part 5 (Romans 12:17-21)

Relationship To Non-Christians

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:17)

We come now to the section of Romans 12 which deals with how the child of God is to act toward those who are not believers. The very first instruction given is to not retaliate against the evil done to us. The fact of the matter is that, so long as we live in this world, people will commit evil against us. It is going to happen. People lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, hurt, harass, assault, persecute, and take advantage of other people every day and we are never told that God will shield those who belong to Him from the pains of this present hour. Sometimes we get the idea that the Lord will somehow keep trouble from coming our way (and I believe that He does keep much of it from us; perhaps we will know one day just how much anguish He has not allowed to harm us), but no promise was ever made to the Christian that we shall be completely immune to the effects of evil. Instead, we have been told that trials and tribulations will come to the children of God (John 16:33), but to rejoice because our Lord has overcome them. Again, we see that Peter warns his readers:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:” (1 Peter 4:12)

Yet how often do we react as if something unusual has happened to us when we fall victim to the wickedness of this world? The important thing is not if evil will befall us and how we can avoid it; the important thing is how to respond when it does come. Our natural, human reaction is to repay those who wrong us and our innate desire is to get even with those who hurt us. We do not want to turn the other cheek to our enemies, we want to hit them right back! But this is not how the Christian is to respond when he is mistreated. We are to leave the matter to God and let Him deal with it. Verses 19 and 20 of Romans 12 go on to say:

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

The idea is not that we are to let people walk all over us and we should just accept it with a smile on our face. What we are being reminded of is the fact that God is the Supreme Judge over all things great and small. It’s not that God doesn’t care when people hurt us, it’s that God does care and He will deal with those who have hurt us in His own time and His own way. When we “give place unto wrath“, we are allowing for God to carry out appropriate and fair justice on our behalf. If we take the matter into our own hands by meting out “justice” on the basis of our own limited knowledge, then we are taking the place that rightfully belongs to the Lord and we are usurping His prerogative of judgment. God alone has all the facts, only He knows all of the details and circumstances surrounding every injustice and sin committed; we do not.

What if God chooses to allow a person to steal something from us and then brings a conviction to that person’s heart which ultimately leads them to faith in Christ? Say we decide that we are going to pay that person back for stealing from us and we track them down and beat them senseless. Now, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to soften their heart, we have just made them a little more bitter. We never know what is going on behind the scenes and therefore we must not interfere with what God is doing. This doesn’t mean that a Christian should not notify the police when a crime has been committed or that we should stand idly by and allow a thief to rob us blind, but it does mean that we should never practice “vigilante justice” but should rest on the fact that our Lord will make all things right in His time.

Heaping Coals Of Fire

Romans 12:20 is quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22. The immediate sense in both passages does not seem to be referring to our driving the evildoer toward repentance by making him feel guilty. What we are likely doing in many cases is adding to their culpability and punishment. We often forget that those who are not in Christ will be called upon to give an account for every sin they have committed and will be punished accordingly. What excuse will the wicked have before God when they have mistreated and abused those who did nothing but good unto them? When we refuse to answer evil with evil but rather respond to evil with good, we are pouring burning coals of judgment upon them in the Day when they stand before the Lord.

Can our doing good help to bring the wicked under the conviction of the Spirit and lead them to repentance and Salvation? Absolutely, and hopefully so! We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and that means that our intentions for doing good are for that very purpose. We must never do good while relishing the idea that we are bringing a greater condemnation upon them; God forbid. Ultimately, whether our good actions bring conviction or a harsher judgment, we are to recognize the authority of our Savior to judge and we must leave the business of vengeance to Him.

Being Honest

Now, going back to verse 17 we see that a Christian is to provide things honest in the sight of all men. Non-Christians care very little about what goes on behind the doors of the Church on Sunday morning, but they do care about what churchgoers do Monday through Saturday. The lost man loves to point out hypocrisy and, if we are not impeccably honest in our business dealings, we can be sure that our witness for the Lord will be greatly compromised. The Christian must pay their debts, give an honest day’s work, and treat others fairly. Because we can be sure that those who know we are Christians will be watching us to see if our actions support our testimony.

Live Peaceably

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)

Sometimes it is just not possible to live peacefully with others, but we are to do so whenever we can. As Christians, we should never be the instigators of trouble nor should we fan the flames of contentions already present. Blessed are the peacemakers, our Lord said (Matthew 5:9), and we should seek peaceful co-existence with our non-Christian neighbors. We must do our best to get along with those who do not know the Lord and never be quarrelsome with them. Some have felt that the Christian cause is to oppose sin wherever it is found, to openly protest against all immorality, and to harass and antagonize sinners, beating them over the head with the Gospel. But this is not what standing up for the Lord is all about. We are called to witness to the mercy of the Lord and to share the Good News, seeking to let the Lord use us to change hearts, not just to clean-up bad behavior. It is the Holy Spirit Who convicts of sin, not our protests and marches. If we are living our lives peacefully and honestly before others, they will take notice and they will be ready to hear the Message that we have for them.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,