“Return Evil for Evil to No One”
“Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men.”—ROMANS 12:17.
1. What type of behavior is not uncommon?
WHEN a child is shoved by a sibling, usually the child’s first reaction is to shove back. Sadly, such tit-for-tat behavior is not limited to children. Many adults act similarly. When offended by someone, they want to get even. Granted, most adults will not give a literal shove, but many will push back in subtle ways. Perhaps they spread harmful gossip about the offender or find ways to prevent him from succeeding. Whatever method is used, the intent is the same—to repay in kind, to retaliate.
2. (a) Why do true Christians resist the urge to retaliate? (b) What questions and which Bible chapter will we consider?
2 Although the urge to get even is deep-seated, true Christians resist giving in to it. Instead, they strive to follow the apostle Paul’s admonition: “Return evil for evil to no one.” (Romans 12:17) What will motivate us to live according to that high standard? Whom in particular should we not repay with evil? What benefits will be reaped if we refrain from getting even? To answer those questions, let us study the context of Paul’s words and see how Romans chapter 12 shows that refraining from retaliation is the right, the loving, and the modest course to follow. We will consider these three aspects, one at a time.
“Consequently I Entreat You”
3, 4. (a) Beginning with Romans chapter 12, what does Paul discuss, and what is the significance of his use of the word “consequently”? (b) What effect should God’s compassion have had on the Christians in Rome?
3 Beginning in chapter 12, Paul considers four related subjects that affect a Christian’s life. He describes our relationship with Jehovah, with fellow believers, with nonbelievers, and with governmental authorities. Paul indicates that there is a fundamental reason to resist wrong inclinations, including the urge to retaliate, when he states: “Consequently I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers.” (Romans 12:1) Note the word “consequently,” which means “in view of the foregoing.” Paul in effect says, ‘In view of what I just explained to you, I entreat you to do what I will tell you next.’ What had Paul explained to those Christians in Rome?
4 In the first 11 chapters of his letter, Paul discussed the wonderful opportunity open to both Jews and Gentiles to become rulers with Christ in God’s Kingdom, a hope that natural Israel failed to accept. (Romans 11:13-36) That precious privilege became possible only “by the compassions of God.” How should Christians respond to this great undeserved kindness on God’s part? Their hearts should be filled with such deeply felt gratitude that they would be moved to do what Paul states next: “Present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) How, though, could those Christians actually present themselves “a sacrifice” to God?
5. (a) How can a person offer himself “a sacrifice” to God? (b) What principle should influence a Christian’s behavior?
5 Paul goes on to explain: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) Instead of allowing the spirit of the world to shape their thinking, they needed to make their minds over to Christ’s way of thinking. (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5) That principle should influence the day-to-day behavior of all genuine Christians, including us today.
6. Based on Paul’s reasoning found at Romans 12:1, 2, what moves us to avoid retaliating?
6 How does Paul’s reasoning at Romans 12:1, 2 help us? Like those spirit-anointed Christians in Rome, we are deeply grateful for the continuing and manifold expressions of compassion that God has given us and continues to give us every day of our life. Consequently, a heart filled with gratitude moves us to serve God with all our strength, means, and abilities. That heartfelt desire also moves us to do our utmost to think, not like the world, but like Christ. And having the mind of Christ affects how we treat others—both fellow believers and nonbelievers. (Galatians 5:25) A case in point: If we think like Christ, we are compelled to resist the urge to retaliate.—1 Peter 2:21-23.
“Let Your Love Be Without Hypocrisy”
7. What type of love is considered in Romans chapter 12?
7 We refrain from returning evil for evil not only because it is the right course but also because it is the loving course. Note how the apostle Paul next considers the motive of love. In the book of Romans, Paul uses the word “love” (a·gaʹpe in Greek) several times when referring to God’s love and that of Christ. (Romans 5:5, 8; 8:35, 39) However, in chapter 12, Paul uses a·gaʹpe in a different way—in speaking about love shown to fellow humans. After noting that spiritual gifts vary and are present among some believers, Paul mentions a quality that should be cultivated by all Christians. He states: “Let your love be without hypocrisy.” (Romans 12:4-9) Showing love to others is a basic mark of true Christians. (Mark 12:28-31) Paul exhorts us to make sure that the love we show as Christians is sincere.
8. How can we show unhypocritical love?
8 Further, Paul notes how love without hypocrisy is shown, stating: “Abhor what is wicked, cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) “Abhor” and “cling” are strong words. “Abhor” can be translated “hate exceedingly.” We must hate not merely the consequences of evil but also the evil itself. (Psalm 97:10) The word “cling” is a translation of a Greek verb that literally means “to glue.” A Christian who has genuine love is so firmly glued, or attached, to the quality of goodness that it becomes an inseparable part of his personality.
9. What admonition does Paul give again and again?
9 One particular manifestation of love is mentioned by Paul again and again. He states: “Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing.” “Return evil for evil to no one.” “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved.” “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Romans 12:14, 17-19, 21) Paul’s words leave no doubt about how we should treat nonbelievers, even those who oppose us.
“Keep On Blessing Those Who Persecute”
10. In what way can we bless our persecutors?
10 How do we carry out Paul’s exhortation: “Keep on blessing those who persecute”? (Romans 12:14) Jesus told his followers: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 28) Hence, one way in which we bless persecutors is by praying for them, petitioning God that if any are opposing us because of ignorance, Jehovah may open their eyes to the truth. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Granted, it may seem strange to ask God to bless a persecutor. However, the more our mind-set resembles Christ’s way of thinking, the more we will be able to extend love to our enemies. (Luke 23:34) What can be the result of showing such love?
11. (a) What can we learn from the example of Stephen? (b) As illustrated by Paul’s life, what change may occur in some persecutors?
11 Stephen was one who prayed for his persecutors, and his prayer was not in vain. Not long after Pentecost 33 C.E., Stephen was arrested by opposers of the Christian congregation, dragged outside Jerusalem, and stoned. Before he died, he cried out: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” (Acts 7:58–8:1) One of the men for whom Stephen prayed that day was Saul, who witnessed and approved of Stephen’s murder. Later, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Saul. That former persecutor became a follower of Christ and went on to become the apostle Paul, the writer of the letter to the Romans. (Acts 26:12-18) In line with Stephen’s prayer, Jehovah evidently forgave Paul for the sin of being a persecutor. (1 Timothy 1:12-16) No wonder that Paul exhorted Christians: “Keep on blessing those who persecute”! He knew from experience that some persecutors may eventually become servants of God. In our day, some persecutors have likewise become believers because of the peaceable conduct of Jehovah’s servants.
“Be Peaceable With All Men”
12 Paul’s next admonition on how to treat believers and unbelievers is: “Return evil for evil to no one.” That statement is a logical consequence of what he said earlier, namely: “Abhor what is wicked.” After all, how could a person say that he truly abhors what is wicked, or evil, if he were to use evil as a means to repay others? Doing so would be the opposite of having love “without hypocrisy.” Then Paul says: “Provide fine things in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:9, 17) How do we apply those words?
13. In what way do we conduct ourselves “in the sight of all men”?
13 Earlier, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about the persecution that the apostles faced. He said: “We have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. . . . When being reviled, we bless; when being persecuted, we bear up; when being defamed, we entreat.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13) Similarly, true Christians today are being watched by the people of this world. When those around us observe the fine things we do even while we are being treated unjustly, they may be inclined to look more favorably upon our Christian message.—1 Peter 2:12.
14. How far should we go in order to make peace?
14 How far, though, should we go in order to promote peace? We should go as far as possible. Paul tells his Christian brothers: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) “If possible” and “as far as it depends upon you” are qualifying expressions indicating that making peace with others may not always be possible. For instance, we will not disobey a command of God just to keep peace with man. (Matthew 10:34-36; Hebrews 12:14) Still, we do everything we reasonably can—without compromising righteous principles—to make peace “with all men.”
“Do Not Avenge Yourselves”
15. What reason to forgo retaliation is found at Romans 12:19?
15 Paul gives another compelling reason why we should not retaliate; it is the modest course to follow. He states: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Romans 12:19) A Christian who tries to take revenge is presumptuous. He claims for himself a role that belongs to God. (Matthew 7:1) Moreover, by taking matters into his own hands, he shows a lack of faith in Jehovah’s assurance: “I will repay.” In contrast, true Christians trust that Jehovah will “cause justice to be done for his chosen ones.” (Luke 18:7, 8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8) They modestly leave the avenging of wrong in God’s hands.—Jeremiah 30:23, 24; Romans 1:18.
16, 17. (a) What does it mean to “heap fiery coals” upon someone’s head? (b) Have you personally observed how kindness softened the heart of an unbeliever? If so, give an example.
16 Taking vengeance on an enemy would likely harden his spirit, but treating him with kindness may soften his heart. Why? Note Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome. He says: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.” (Romans 12:20; Proverbs 25:21, 22) What does this mean?
17 To “heap fiery coals upon his head” is a figure of speech drawn from the method of smelting metals in Bible times. Ore was put into a furnace, and a layer of coals was put not only underneath the ore but also on top of it. Fiery coals heaped on top increased the heat so that the hard metal melted and separated from the impurities in the ore. Similarly, by doing kind deeds to an opposer, we may “melt” his hardness and bring out his better qualities. (2 Kings 6:14-23) In fact, numerous members of the Christian congregation were first attracted to true worship by the kind deeds that Jehovah’s servants performed in their behalf.
Why We Do Not Retaliate
18. Why is it right, loving, and modest not to retaliate?
18 In this brief consideration of Romans chapter 12, we have seen several important reasons why we “return evil for evil to no one.” First, holding back from retaliating is the right course to follow. In view of God’s compassion shown toward us, it is right and reasonable that we offer ourselves to Jehovah and willingly obey his commandments—including the command to love our enemies. Second, refusing to return evil for evil is the loving course to follow. By forgoing retaliation and promoting peace, we lovingly hope to help even some fierce opposers to become worshippers of Jehovah. Third, refraining from repaying with evil is the modest course to follow. Avenging ourselves would be presumptuous, for Jehovah states: “Vengeance is mine.” God’s Word also warns: “Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come; but wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) Wisely leaving the avenging of wrong in God’s hands shows modesty on our part.
19. What will we consider in the following article?
19 Paul sums up his discussion of how we should treat others. He exhorts Christians: “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Romans 12:21) What evil forces are we facing today? How can we conquer them? The answers to these and related questions will be considered in the following article.
Can You Explain?
• In Romans chapter 12, what admonition is found again and again?
• What will motivate us not to retaliate?
• What benefits will be reaped by us and others if we do not “return evil for evil”?
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Romans chapter 12 describes a Christian’s relationship with
• fellow believers
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Paul’s letter to the Romans provides Christians with practical counsel
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What can we learn from the example of the disciple Stephen?