How to Overcome Evil with Good

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A sermon idea, based on Romans 12:9-21, about how to overcome the evil we see around us by acts of goodness, even toward our enemies.

Romans 12:9-21 NRSV

[9] Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; [10] love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. [14] Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16] Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. [17] Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. [18] If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. [19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We tend to use a lot of “fighting words” to describe our personal and collective struggle for our faith. This isn’t entirely bad. After all, the Apostle Paul did this throughout his letters.

The problem is, if we aren’t careful, we wind up believing our fight is against people rather than evil itself. Then we get mean and nasty, which simply doesn’t line up with the Way of Jesus, which is the way of love.

So Paul, in this passage, equips us with a different approach. On the heels of his big “therefore” passage about becoming a living sacrifice, he then challenges the Christians in Rome to go up against the evil they saw at work in their community and their world.

And Paul’s recommended weapon of choice was goodness, which was Jesus’ strategy, too. This is awesome because it’s a strategy that every single Jesus follower can adopt. Nobody gets left out.

We can’t all launch and direct nonprofits to tackle all of society’s issues, but every single one of us can adopt a lifestyle of fighting evil with good and Paul gives at least a dozen practical suggestions for doing so.

  1. Show affection for one another in a world that often feels cold (v. 10a).
  2. Honor others in a world that devalues and dehumanizes people (v. 10b).
  3. Cultivate zeal in a world often given to apathy and complacency (v. 11).
  4. Be patient and prayerful in a world that offers quick fixes (v. 12).
  5. Be generous in a world dominated by economic predators (v. 13a).
  6. Practice hospitality toward strangers in a world that excludes people (v. 13b).
  7. Bless and encourage people who seem opposed to your faith (v. 14).
  8. Celebrate the blessings of others in a world of envy (v. 15a).
  9. Weep with the broken and cultivate empathy in a world where people suffer alone (v. 15b).
  10. Walk humbly with everyone in a world where arrogance is so common (v. 16).
  11. Be a peacemaker in a polarized and divided culture (v. 18).
  12. Lay down the right of retaliation in a world where vengeance is considered justice (v. 19).

In short, live counter-culturally.

Because you are made in God’s image… because Jesus went first and set the example… because Jesus taught us to do hard things, take the high road, and go the extra mile… live life for the benefit of those caught up in evil.

That’s how we fight! And everybody has a role. Everybody can do this!

When we live counter-culturally, cultivating love and shining our light in the darkness, more people experience the goodness of God through us. And the more people experience God’s goodness through us, the more we’re able to share the story of Jesus, which is why we live this way to begin with.

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