Triumph of Good Over Evil

Tuesday: Two Parts

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.
Two Parts

Our text has two parts. The first part says, “Do not be overcome by evil.” That is the negative. The second part says, “But overcome evil with good.” That is the positive, and of the two it is the hardest to accomplish. 

Do not be overcome by evil. The negative part is hard enough, of course. This is because to be overcome by evil means to respond to evil with evil, that is, to fight back, and that is the most natural thing for a sinful human being to do. It was summed up in a recent comic strip in which Hagar the Horrible tells his son, “Son, don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath…. Attack your enemy at once and waste him while what he did to you is still fresh in your mind.” 

Unfortunately, that is not very funny, if only because there are so many examples of just that kind of retaliation and of the evil that comes from it. There is the example of Mattathias, one of the Maccabees, who commanded his followers, “Avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full” (1 Macc. 2:67-68). They tried, but much damage to Israel and an untold loss of lives was the result. We see the same attitude today in South Africa which seems on the very edge of a genocidal civil war, in spite of the heroic efforts of some leaders, both black and white, to avoid it and move toward reconciliation and justice. We see the identical attitude in Yugoslavia where centuries old racial and religious hatred fuels one of the most destructive “little wars” of recent history. Indeed, this is the case in every place where the normal human instinct for retaliation and the cherishing of hatreds holds sway. 

This must not be the case with Christians. Christians are not to avenge themselves. Instead, as Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matt. 6:39-40). 

Overcome evil with good. Yet there is more, the positive. Not only are we not to strike back, thus being overcome by evil, letting evil rule the day, but we are to respond positively in love, thus overcoming the evil in the situation and in the other person with our good. 

Every time I get on the positive side of this matter I feel that the standard is so far above most of us as to seem almost unreal. So I do not want to be at all academic in this study. I want us to live by examples, and since I gave a living example yesterday in the case of John Perkins, let me add to it by a well known Old Testament example. It is the example of David in his treatment of King Saul. 

David had served Saul faithfully, killed Goliath, fought his battles and become a hero of the nation. But that had incited Saul to jealousy, and at this point Saul was pursuing David ruthlessly to put him to death. Taking three thousand men with him, Saul pursued David into the wilderness of En Gedi. David was hiding in a cave, and Saul entered not even suspecting he was there. While the king was in the cave David crept forward and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe which he used to prove his love for the king. Yet so far was David from wanting to do any evil to Saul that he was conscience-stricken just for having cut off the corner of the robe. 

When Saul went out again David followed and called to him, “My lord the king!” Saul looked back. David continued. “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.” 

When Saul heard this he was stricken with guilt and wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly…. May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” David promised this and they parted on good terms, at least temporarily (see 1 Sam. 24:1-21). 

A short time later a similar incident occurred. Saul and his guard of soldiers were sleeping in their camp, and David and his friend Abishai went to it secretly and removed Saul’s spear and water bottle. Then they called to the king from a hilltop some distance away, showing the spear and water bottle as proof that once again the Lord had placed Saul in David’s power and that he had spared him graciously, since he could have killed him if he had wanted to. “Why is my lord pursuing his servant?” David cried. “What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of?” Saul answered, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly” (1 Sam. 26:1-25). 

We know, of course, that Saul was unable to change his character, and therefore these were only temporary embarrassments and confessions. He never stopped trying to kill David, and he was stopped only when God allowed Saul and his son Jonathan to be slain in battle with the Philistines. But on these two occasions, for a short time at least, good triumphed gloriously, and good attended David’s long reign in no small measure because of the way he was known to have conducted himself then. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” David triumphed in both of these areas and prospered because of it.

Study Questions
  1. What are the two parts of Romans 12:21?
  2. What does it mean not to be overcome with evil? Why is this hard?
  3. How should Christians respond to evil?

Reflection: When have you seen people overcome by evil? When have you seen evil overcome with good?

Prayer: Ask God to give you the grace to overcome evil with good. Bring specific situations before Him now, and commit yourself to obedience to God as you purpose to return good for evil.

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

For Further Study: If you have been blessed by this study of Romans 12, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals would still like to offer you James Boice’s book, Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World, at a sale price of 20% off.  Consider getting a copy for someone you know who could grow in their Christian life through this careful look at Romans 12:1-2.

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