Romans 12:17b-21

Be Forgiving

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Rom. 12:17b (Holman) Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.

We must respond to life in ways that inspire confidence toward us in others’ eyes. Even our enemies should have to confess a high quality about our lives.

Christians must not only be good. They must also appear good. Our lives should be outwardly attractive. Troubles and hostility are to be met with beauty.

We tend to think people dislike us because of our holiness, but sometimes our attitude is what turns them off. Roughness and harshness disgust others.

Sometimes people are turned off not by what we say, but by how we say it. Don’t be sharp and austere. Put the food of the Gospel on a pretty and soft platter.

Be especially cautious in the presence of unbelievers. They watch us with eagle eyes. They may not live a consecrated life, but expect Christians to do so.

The average Christian could possibly learn a lot about Christian living simply by listening to what unbelievers expect of a believer. Even our worst critics have a rude sense of what a God-fearing person should be like. Pre-Christians may hate goodness, but nevertheless know it when they see it.

Rom. 12:18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.

In a world of peace-breaking, Christians must be noted for peace-making. We must do our best not to shatter the peace to pieces, but to piece it together if it is broken. Anything that can be won only by quarreling is rarely worth winning.

Don’t rile up folks. Don’t play with fire. We never know when we’ll meet someone whose temper is gunpowder.

Christians do not have to respond to their surroundings with hostilities and wrangling, or fight all the time. In Christ we have already won the victories most worth winning. We have received Christ’s peace and must pass it on to others.

“If possible, on your part” does not mean there is finally a point where we are justified in showing an ugly spirit. It rather means if peace cannot be maintained, be sure it is the other person’s fault. We must never be the one to blame for the outbreak of hostilities.

We may have to disagree, but we do not have to be disagreeable. Do not quarrel with people even if they quarrel with us. Direct our efforts totally toward peace. Strife and conflict should not originate with the Christian. This is an extremely high standard to live up to, but it is possible to live with a forgiving spirit. Jesus did it for us at Calvary. With the Spirit’s help, let’s do it for others.

Rom. 12:19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.

We have an inward fiend who loves to retaliate, but revenge is dangerous business. It is like a huge stone one pushes up a steep hill; eventually it rolls back down crushing us and breaking the very bones that pushed it up. Do not take the law into our own hands. Leave our case with God. Stand out of the way and let God punish. In other words, step back that God may work.

Ours is a God of reckoning. Lost people may forget it, but the saved never should. Taking revenge indicates a lack of trust in the Lord. The time we yielded to our inward fiend and struck back, how did it feel to use God’s scepter? How well did his crown fit on our head? Did we find His throne suitable?

We must leave vengeance to God. To avenge ourselves makes us accuser, judge, and executioner. No person is a proper judge in their own cause. We are highly prejudiced to ourselves. We are prone to mistakes in judgment.

God, however, is impartial and omniscient. The Lord has infinite knowledge of conditions and motives. Maybe the wrong was unintentional or based on misinformation. We might avenge the wrong person.

God alone knows how to make a punishment exactly appropriate to the offense. Only the Lord can know what results vengeance will have on others. Trust God. Leave matters in His hands.

Rom. 12:20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.

This quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22 urges us to be kind to our enemies. Merely abstaining from revenge is not enough. We are to initiate positive actions toward our enemies.

“Fiery coals on his head” is hard to understand. Its intent may be to picture something intolerable, which cannot be endured without causing strong results. Coals of fire are a burden no one can bear. It must be reacted to. Kindness to our enemies may shame them and melt them into friends. Vengeance may break people’s spirit, but kindness may break their heart.

On the other hand, our kindness may harden the enemy. It might increase their hatred. In this case, such a one ought to be answerable to God Almighty. Those who scorn kindness deserve to suffer the burning wrath of God.

Whatever “fiery coals” refers to, it is obvious what Christians are expected to do. We must show kindness to our enemies. Results are to be left with God.

Rom. 12:21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Memorize this verse. It should be the motto of every Christian. We cannot be passive in life. We are engaged in a warfare. Cruelty attacks us constantly.

We cannot be listless. It is absolutely essential we fight back, but kindness is the only weapon we are allowed to use. Goodness is our return fire. Dr. Cotton Mather was never content until he had bestowed a kindness on every person who had in any way done him an injury.

This world tends to be cruel, vengeful, and unkind. It needs to see better things in the citizens of Christ’s kingdom. There should be a difference in our lives. Henry IV of France said he tried to make the days of his enemies golden in order that the lead of their wickedness might appear even darker in contrast with the gold of his goodness.

If we return evil for evil, we have been overcome. The curses of our enemies have filled us with curses. The evil from others has filled us with evil.

However, if we are able to return good for evil, then all the dirt they threw at us missed its mark. It obviously did not stick to us, because we have none of the same to throw back.

All who return good for evil never have to worry about their character being ruined. They are clad in an armor of proof, for they never allowed themselves to sink to the level of ugliness. We must ever desire not to come “down” to the world’s level.

We do not want to “get even” with our enemies. We want to live above their standards. As Booker T. Washington said, “I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him.” We are children of God, joint-heirs with Christ. We should evermore see revenge and unkindness as beneath us.