Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
26 June 2016 10AM
Rev Hans Vaatstra
Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Text: Romans 12:17-21
Sermon: Love Your Enemies
Romans 5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Results of Justification
5 Therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and [b]we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but [c]we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; [d]though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified [e]by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved [f]by His life. 11 And not only this, [g]but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for [h]until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a [i]type of Him who was to come.
15 But [j]the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression [k]resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions [l]resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 So then as through one transgression [m]there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [n]there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 [o]The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
12 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, [f]according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if [g]service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with [h]liberality; he who [i]leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; [j]give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the [k]saints, [l]practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute [m]you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but [n]associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. [o]Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but [p]leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Love your enemies
Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Text: Romans 12:17-21
Reading through this 12th chapter of Romans it is evident that it has a lot to do with relationships. How we relate to God, how we think of ourselves, and how we relate to one another in the church and those outside the church.
With respect to God Paul urges us to offer our bodies and minds as living sacrifices, living lives which are pleasing to God. As we reflect on our own lives we are urged to discover and use our gifts in in God’s service and to help build up the church. When it comes to our relationship with one another in the church the strong encouragement there is to exercise brotherly love and humility. In the last five verses of Romans 12 the focus shifts to the wider community and how we are to relate to them especially those whom Paul describes as doing evil. In a word we must love them too. These verses show how.
The 5 verses of our text can be neatly divided into three main points each beginning with a negative command.
1. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.
When I first went to Pt Moresby in 2003 one thing which excited my curiosity were the number of PMVs which had cracked windscreens. (PMVs are 20-30 seat buses which could be seen everywhere in the city) On further investigation I was told that these were most likely the result of what was called payback.
According to GW Trompf’s study on Melanesian religions ‘payback’ was and for many still is central to their way of life. It can be either vengeful or conciliatory, related to tribal warrior-hood and matters of justice and honour.. A more serious example happened across during my visit last year was when an intoxicated PMV driver drove into the back of the car in front of him causing injuries to some of his passengers. Fearing for his life the driver fled as the irate passengers torched his bus leaving it a burning wreck in the middle of the Sogeri highway.
Of course this kind of thing is not just peculiar to Melanesian cultures, there is plenty of it going on in our own communities. I’ve known of family members who haven’t seen each other for years because one has offended another or because of a dispute over money. To freeze someone out because of an offence given can also be an example of returning evil for evil. Some call that justice. . But as far as the Christians is concerned its an abuse of justice as well see. The Lord Jesus has taught a different way.
Haven’t we all sinned against towards God? Don’t we at times waste the gifts God has given us? Our primary purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How often and well do we do that?
And yet God so loved the whole world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
We have committed that which is evil towards God! He has repaid us with eternal good and so this this is really the point of our text. We’re to be imitators of God and repay evil with good.
By nature we are inclined to do the opposite. If people are kind to us well we’ll be nice back to them. But if they are unpleasant and unkind why would we give them the time of day? So we think according to our old nature.
But that is not Christ’s way and therefore not his disciple’s way.
That doesn’t mean that evil can never be punished. In the next chapter we find that God has given that authority to the state including the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and the penal system. In Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 and according to 1 Tim 2 it is our responsibility to pray for all those in authority over us and cooperate with them.
But in our personal conduct we are urged here in Romans 12 and other passages like 1 Peter 3:9 & 12 “not to return evil for evil or insult for insult but to give a blessing instead” and then it says that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears attend to their prayer but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Verse 18 takes it further. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” What often happens when a tit for tat mentality is followed through there’s an escalation of violence or a sinful war of words and evil is compounded.
So Paul urges his readers to be at peace. Don’t inflame a quarrel but defuse it. Lay down your own life. Give way and make peace rather than maintain the rage. After all Jesus being very God didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped. He didn’t stand on his rights. No he but humbled himself, lay down his life in order to defuse the situation. We were facing the wrath of God. But in love Christ removed God’s wrath for us on the cross.
Now Paul knew what that meant. When he returned to Jerusalem following his second missionary journey and was accused of falsely accused of flouting the law of Moses and teaching the Gentiles to do likewise he found himself in a rather grim situation. Perceiving the delicate situation he was in and wanting to win the Jews over to accepting the Gentiles Paul didn’t argue with them. Instead he went the extra mile for them. He took the Nazarite vow to show the Jews that that he too was zealous for the law.
The Jews falsely accused him and wanted to harm Paul but he defused the situation by not returning evil for evil but by being a peacemaker.
Here in Romans he urges us to do likewise. Be a peacemaker. Don’t fight with your enemies but reason with them. Don’t retaliate but find a way to love them and bless them instead. Perhaps you are wondering well who are my enemies. In our society Christianity is widely accepted. Persecution is not really a problem. However there are forces in our communities which would marginalise the church and slander us because of our uncompromising stance on things like marriage or the sanctity of human life and purity in relationships. The way we engage our opponents over those kind or issues also addressed here in Romans 12:17&18.
2. In the second place when it comes to how we relate to those who would wrong us Paul writes in verse 19 “Never take revenge beloved but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written vengeance is mine I will repay says the Lord.”
Again according to our sinful nature the spirit of vengeance is deeply rooted in our hearts. We don’t just get mad when we are offended we want to get even. A vindictive person wants to get back his enemies and make them suffer. An example of that can be found in Genesis 43 and the account the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah by the Hamor’s son at Shechem who then asked for Dinah’s hand in marriage.
Dinah’s brothers exacted their revenge by deception, killing Hamor and his son with the sword and then looting their city and taking their wives and children. However in doing so they incurred the wrath of the entire Hittite nation and so Jacob thought he’d better make himself scarce and move the entire family away from Shechem to go live near Bethel. It was either that or see his family wiped out.
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:25 in the text. This verse is a part of the Song of Moses. It says “vengeance is mine.” So, in the days of Moses the Lord avenged his people Israel for the injustice of slavery by inflicting the Egyptians with the plagues. God is a just God and justice will be done.
But tghere are a number of ways God avenges the righteous. For example he uses the courts which are human institutions established by God to vindicate the innocent and punish the evil doer. He uses parents who need to correct their children from time to time. He uses nations and armies at times to avenge the wicked and vindicate the righteous. He works through his providence. For example in Acts 12:23 Herod failed to give glory to God when he gave a speech. The people were calling out that his was the voice of a god! Herod, who should have known better, didn’t correct them. He didn’t give glory to God and so an angel struck him and he was consumed by internal worms and died. Finally because we don’t always see justice in this life we have the assurance in the Bible that there will be a final day of vengeance when all the wrongs will be righted, when everyone will receive exactly what they deserve, and when Christ and his church will be vindicated. In Revelation 18 we read about Babylon symbolising all those who are opposed to God coming under his judgment. Then in Revelation 19:9 all those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ are vindicated. This great vindication is symbolised bny the bride of Christ seated with Jesus at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
However until that day there is still hope even for the wicked so rather than take matters into our own hands and look for revenge we’re urged to love our enemies as Christ says or as Paul says “If your enemy is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him a drink for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head”
Think about the context of this letter and the early Christians in Rome and the persecution they endured under a succession of Roman Emperors. Nero Aurelius Decius and Diocletian were some of the most notorious. Yet these same Christians encouraged by the example of Christ and by Paul and Peter’s letters welcomed suffering for Christ’s sake. Instead of retaliating their response to suffering was generally through learned spokesmen who offered an apology or defence of the faith, or by praying for their persecutors and loving them in whatever practical way they could.
Now according to the historian Philip Schaff the war of extermination by Rome against the Christians amounted to 300 years of unequal struggle. 300 years of the sword versus the cross. 300 years of carnal power on one side and spiritual power on the other.
Well in the end it wasn’t the sword which was victorious but the cross because as Schaff also wrote “the persecution of the church developed the patience, gentleness and endurance of the Christians and proved the world-conquering-power of faith in Christ.” We know that in the providence of God in 313AD emperor Constantine declared the Romans empire to officially be ‘Christian’.
So by their meekness and kindness the Christians in the early church heaped ‘burning coals’ on their persecutors heads. The term burning coals is taken from Proverbs 21. The idea given is that when you have burning coals heaped on your head you feel the shame one feels when an evil deed is responded to with kindness. But we can take it even further. Why do good to an evil-doer, if not in the hope that he will turn from his wicked ways and be won over to the faith. Hasn’t the Lord Jesus Christ done that for us? Haven’t we felt the shame of our sin when we’ve finally admitted our sin and realised that Christ died for our sin? Hasn’t that shame caused you and me to turn to Christ for forgiveness? Yes it has and what joy there is in heaven and on earth when a sinner repents and turns to Christ .
So once again the command is to love our enemies. We do that by
1. repaying evil with good and
2. by leaving vengeance with the Lord and in the third place
3. by not being overcome with evil ourselves but overcoming evil with good. Here the focus turns inward into our own hearts. Paul is really is returning to what he wrote in verse 17 never pay back evil for evil because if we do then we have been overcome by evil itself.
This reminds us that the Christian life is a continual struggle against sin and so the encouragement here is this, ‘do not to allow sin to get the better of you but keep up the fight against sin in your life!’ Don’t give in to it. Never drop your guard against it.
When we drop our guard we’re likely to become careless or flippant about sin and its then that evil can overwhelm us. This was why Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “keep watch over yourselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Of course this applies to all of us we need to watch ourselves, our motives, our thoughts, our expressions, our attitudes so as to avoid being overcome with evil.
Rather we are to overcome evil with good.
Now again the perfect exhibition of this character is seen in Jesus Christ. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. When he was reviled didn’t respond. When he suffered unjustly he didn’t mouth imprecations against his enemies. It says in 1 Peter 2:23 that Christ left matters of wrath and judgment to his heavenly Father. He never succumbed to evil.
This Spirit of Christ is seen in church history too. When the Christians martyrs were dying because of their faith many of them considered it a privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake. They weren’t overcome with hatred for their persecutors but often prayed for them. If there was opportunity they would offer a well-reasoned defence of the faith. They did good to them in the hope that some might turn to Christ. Evil was overcome with good.
And so in the example of Christ and that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us we also learn what our duty is.
It’s our sinful inclination to curse those who curse us but the spirit of Christ in us enables us to do the opposite; to bless those who curse and do good to those who do evil and to leave matters of vengeance to the Lord.
This is what Christ did for us. While we were his enemies we were made his friends through his own death on the cross.
The Roman centurion who presided over Christ’s crucifixion will have at first mocked and despised Jesus as a deluded pretender. When the ordeal of the cross had ended and Christ breathed his last that same man trembled with fear saying surely this man was the son of God.
Christ has shown us that God’s love has the power soften even the hardest heart. Praise Giod that he has loved us. Let us therefore imitate Him.