Triumph of Good Over Evil

Monday: One Man’s Triumph

Romans 12:21 In this week’s studies, we are reminded that not only are we not to retaliate for evil done to us, but we are actually to do good to others and to overcome evil by our good conduct.
One Man’s Triumph

Today we come to the last sentence of Romans 12, and it is worth noting, as we look back over the preceding verses, that Paul has said three times that we are not to return evil for evil. Verse 14 commands, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Verse 17 urges, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Now, verse 21, the last verse in the chapter, demands, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is Paul’s overriding theme in this section. It is why he repeats the idea. But these verses also establish a progression leading from what we must admit is already a very difficult standard to a standard that is even higher, in fact, as some would say, nearly impossible. 

The standard Paul lays down in this chapter is so unnatural to us and, as I said above, seemingly impossible, that I want to begin by the story of a man who has actually lived up to it. His name is John Perkins, a black man who dropped out of school in the third grade but who became a pastor and founder of the Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mendenhall, Mississippi. He has received national recognition for his leadership in race relations, an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College, and even served on a presidential commission for inner city problems under Ronald Reagan. 

John Perkins was born in Mississippi. He left the south for California when he was still a teenager, became a Christian in California, and later returned to Mississippi because he believed God was calling him to preach the Gospel to the poor black people he had been raised with and help them by developing and supporting black leadership. 

On a Saturday night early in 1970—the date was February 7—a van of black college students who had been taking part in a civil rights march was pulled over by highway patrolmen from Brandon, Mississippi, and the students were arrested. Perkins and two of his associates went to the jail to post bail, but when they arrived they were surrounded by five deputy sheriffs and seven to twelve highway patrolmen who arrested them and began to beat them. 

Perkins had not been speeding, taking drugs or resisting arrest. He didn’t even have a police record. All he had done was to come down to the jail to post bail for the students. But he was a black leader, and he was hated. 

Perkins was beaten most of that night, along with some of the others. They stomped on him, kicked him in the head, ribs and groin. One officer brought a fork over to him and said, “Do you see this?” Then he jammed it up his nose. After that he shoved it down his throat. For part of that terrible evening Perkins was unconscious and so mutilated that the students who were watching over him in his cell thought either that he was dead or that he was about to die. It was a case of evil in a particularly vicious, violent, racist form. 

Yet it did something good for Perkins which he himself must describe. Up to this point he had been in Mississippi to preach to black people only. It was all he could do, of course. The doors of virtually all white churches were closed to him. But the beating changed him and gave him a new vision. He wrote, 

I remembered their faces—so twisted with hate. It was like looking at white-faced demons. For the first time I saw what hate had done to those people. These policemen were poor. They saw themselves as failures. The only way they knew how to find a sense of worth was by beating us. Their racism made them feel like ‘somebody.’ 

When I saw that, I just couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I said to God that night, ‘God, if you will get me out of this jail alive’—and I really didn’t think I would, maybe I was trying to bargain with Him—‘I really want to preach a gospel that will heal these people, too.’ 

Perkins’ recovery took some time, since he needed to heal both physically and emotionally. The physical recovery was assisted by a pair of compassionate doctors, one white and one black. The emotional healing was accomplished by God, who taught him that the same Gospel that frees blacks also frees whites and that real justice, if it was to come, would come “only as people’s hearts were made right with God and God’s love motivated them to be reconciled to each other.”

“Now that God had enabled me to forgive the many whites who had wronged me, I found myself able to truly love them,” said Perkins. “I wanted to return good for evil.”1 And Perkins did! His ministry is the proof of that desire, and it is continuing. It is a striking case of a believer refusing to be overcome by evil but instead overcoming evil with good. 

1John Perkins, With Justice for All (Ventura, CA: Regal Books/GL Publications, 1982), pp. 99-104.

Study Questions
  1. How are we to respond to an evil person?
  2. How do we overcome evil?
  3. What was John Perkins’ response to evil?
  4. How did God bring good results from Perkins’ evil situation?

Application: When have you been mistreated? How did you respond? How did it change your opinion of the wrongdoers? By God’s grace, have you reached the point of forgiving them?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Philip Ryken’s message, “The Faith to Forgive.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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