Date: 6 August 2023
Speaker: Dn Lee Pak Choon
Sermon Text: Romans 12:9-21
Good morning, everyone! Today, I want to share with you a powerful message of hope found in Romans 12:21.
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.
At first glance, this statement sounds daunting. Not exactly one idea of a message of hope in these times of stress and distress.
Upon close examination, you can see that this verse offers a choice between 2 things. You are either overcome by evil or you must yourself overcome evil. There is no middle ground. It is a conflict that you cannot avoid. You cannot let evil alone or evil will not let you alone. You have no choice but to fight to the end. So, what will your choice be? I trust by God’s grace, you will choose the better one.
Context of Romans 12 :21
To put it in context, Romans 12: 21 concludes a series of exhortations that encourage believers to respond to evil and adversity with goodness and virtue.
Paul begins this section in verse 9 by urging Christians to genuinely love one another, to serve one another with their spiritual gifts and to live in harmony and humility (Romans 12 : 9 – 16 ) . He then goes on to address how believers should respond to those who persecute or mistreat them. In verse 17-20, Paul instructs believers not to repay evil for evil, but to live at peace with everyone and leave room for God’s justice.
He quotes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, saying “ If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
It is in this context that Paul concludes with Romans 12 : 21 , providing a concise and powerful summary: “ Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When Paul says, “Do not overcome by evil,” he is cautioning against responding to evil in kind. He is urging believers not to allow evil actions or attitudes to control their own behaviour. Rather than retaliating, Christians are called to respond differently.
The latter part of the verse, “ but overcome evil with good ‘ offers the solution. Instead of responding to evil with more evil, believers are instructed to respond with acts of kindness, love and forgiveness. This is not merely a passive response but an active effort to combat evil by actively doing good.
Other similar passages that also teaches us to overcome evil with good
There are other similar passages in the Bible that also teaches believers to overcome evil with good.
Let us turn our Bible to Matthew 5 : 38 – 46
This is what Jesus teaches.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[b] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
In Matthew 5, Jesus delivers a significant portion of His sermon on the Mount, where He provides teachings on various aspects of righteous living and the kingdom of God. This specific passage from verse 38 to verse 46 contain several key teachings of Jesus on overcoming evil with good:
Turn the Other Cheek. Jesus instructs His disciples not to seek revenge or retaliate when someone wrongs them. Instead, He encourages them to respond with humility and non-violence. He speaks of turning the other cheek when struck, giving the cloak when sued for the tunic, and going the extra mile when compelled to go one mile.
Love Your Neighbours. Jesus reinforces the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. He teaches that this includes not only those who are easy to love but also those who may be considered difficult to love , outsiders or enemies.
Love Your Enemies. Jesus challenges His followers to love not only their friends and neighbours, but also their enemies. He teaches that loving those who love us is natural, but true righteousness involves loving even those who persecute or mistreat us.
Bless Those Who Curse You: Jesus emphasises responding to hatred and curses with blessings. He encourages His followers to pray for those who mistreat them and to respond with kindness and grace rather than returning evil for evil.
Another similar verse on overcoming evil with good is found in 1 Peter 3 : 9
9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
In this verse, Peter the apostle encourages believers to resist the natural urge to seek revenge or respond in kind when faced with mistreatment or insult. Instead, they are called to break the cycle of negativity and to repay evil with acts of kindness, grace and even blessing. By responding to evil with blessing, believers demonstrate the transformative power of God’s love and grace. They embody the values of the Kingdom of God where forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion are valued over retaliation and resentment.
Peter further explains that this manner of responding to evil is in line with our calling as believers. It is a reflection of our identity as children of God and followers of Christ. By choosing to respond with blessing, believers align themselves with God’s character and purpose, and they open themselves up to experiencing the blessings that come from living in obedience to His teaching.
The Reality of Evil
We live in a world that is marred by the presence of evil. It surrounds us in various forms, such as injustice, hatred, violence, and corruption. The war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of lives and is still going on. Innocent lives were destroyed. Hopes and dreams were dashed. War, even if it comes with the best of intention, can never justify the cost and destruction of human lives. Hate crimes are rampant in certain parts of the world. In the United States, If you are a coloured person, you may get punched in the subway or even get shot. Gun violence is on the rise in US.
In 2023 alone, there are already more than 200 mass shootings in US where 4 or more people are injured or killed. There were a lot of indignation and mass protests over the loss of innocent lives because of the mass shootings, but nothing much has been done at the US Congress to reform the gun laws. Even in this part of the world, we heard of the shocking murder of Abby Choi, a famous Hong Kong fashion model by her ex-husband and in laws family who hacked her body into several parts so as to hide their gruesome murder. Their motive for the murder was to gain her properties and finances after her death.
This is the reality of the world that we live in. Despite our efforts to do good, evil often persists. It can be very disheartening.
Overcome evil with good is not easy
Now, I want to say not to overcome evil with evil especially when you are the victim, but to overcome evil with good is not easy. It goes against our natural instincts for self-preservation and seeking revenge. It takes tremendous strength and faith in God to enable you to do good in the face of evil. It requires us to resist the temptation to repay evil with evil, or to harbour bitterness in our hearts. Instead, it calls us to rise above our own pain and to extend grace and love even in the face of injustice or harm.
I submit I myself struggle with this until I read the real-life stories of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Real Life Examples
One of the most striking examples of good triumphing over evil is the story of Corrie Ten Boom.
Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian writer, speaker and Holocaust survivor. She was born on April 15 1892 and passed away on April 15 1983.
During World War II, Corrie and her family actively worked to help Jews escape the Nazi regime. They provided a hiding place in their home, known as the “Hiding Place” for Jews and members of the Dutch resistance.
In 1944, they were betrayed and arrested by the Nazis. Corrie and her sister Betsy were sent to concentration camp in Germany where her sister tragically died.
Corrie ten Boom ‘s story is known for her remarkable capacity for forgiveness, even towards those who mistreated her and her sister during their time in the concentration camp. After the war, Corrie travelled around the world, sharing her experiences and spreading a message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
One of the most well-known instances of her forgiveness occurred when she encountered one of the former Nazi guards from the concentration camp. Following a speaking engagement in Germany, a man approached Corrie and extended his hand expressing remorse for his actions as a guard at the camp. Corrie faced a tremendous internal struggle but ultimately made the decision to shake his hand and offer her forgiveness.
Corrie’s ability to forgive and extend grace to those who had caused her immense suffering became a central theme of her post-war life and teaching . She often spoke about the importance of forgiveness and the healing it can bring to both individuals and societies.
Corrie ten Boom ‘s story serves as a powerful example of the transformative power of forgiveness and the capacity for redemption, even in the most challenging circumstances.
Other real-life stories are also found in the bible.
In the book of Genesis, we encounter the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Despite facing immense adversity, Joseph remained steadfast in his faith and displayed acts of goodness and forgiveness. Eventually, he became a powerful ruler in Egypt and saved his family from famine, showing kindness and reconciliation towards his brothers.
In Genesis 45:4-5, Joseph said to his brothers , “ I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt . And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Joseph recognised that God had used the events in his life to bring about a greater purpose: the preservation of his family during the famine.
Joseph forgave his brothers for their past actions and embraced them. He invited his entire family, including his father Jacob to settle in Egypt, where they would be provided for during the famine.
The story of Joseph demonstrates the power of forgiveness and how God can work through difficult circumstances to bring about good. Joseph’s forgiveness towards his brothers not only reconciled their family but also saved their lives and fulfilled God’s plan for the nation of Israel.
Another bible character story which we have studied in the book of Acts is Stephen who became the first martyr of the Christian faith. His story is an example of good overcoming evil through his unwavering faith and forgiveness, despite facing persecution and ultimately losing his life.
Stephen was chosen as one of the seven men appointed by the early Christian community to serve in the ministry of distributing food to widows. Stephen was described as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and he performed signs and wonders among the people.
Stephen ‘s faith and bold proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah attracted opposition from certain groups within the Jewish religious establishment. He was accused of speaking blasphemous words against the law and the temple leading to his trial before the Sanhedrin. When given the opportunity to defend himself, Stephen instead delivered a lengthy and impassioned speech that recounted the history of Israel from Abraham to Solomon. He infuriated the religious leaders, pointing out their failure to recognise Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and their continuation of their rebellious ways of their ancestors. The council responded with extreme rage, dragging Stephen outside the city and proceeding to stone him to death. In the midst of the brutal act, Stephen prayed to God, saying “Lord Jesus , receive my spirit .” Then, following the example of Jesus , he asked for forgiveness for his persecutors , saying “ Lord, do not hold this sin against them .”
Stephen remarkable response of forgiveness in the face of such violence demonstrates his deep faith and commitment to the teachings of Jesus. He shows love and grace even towards those who are taking his life. This act of forgiveness echoes Jesus’ words on the cross when He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him.
But the most remarkable example of overcoming evil with good is none other than Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ entire ministry and sacrificial death on the cross demonstrate the principle of overcoming evil with good in profound ways.
Here’s a narrative illustrating this principle:
Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world as a manifestation of God’s love and mercy. He taught about the kingdom of God, urging people to repentance, forgiveness and love for one another. His words and actions challenged the religious authorities of the time, who became threatened by His growing influence and radical teachings.
Despite facing opposition, Jesus consistently responded to evil with acts of goodness. He performed numerous miracles, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons , and even raising the dead. These acts of compassion and mercy displayed His power and authority over evil, illness and death.
Jesus preached a message of forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasising the importance of loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute you. He taught that vengeance and retaliation were not the way of His kingdom but rather forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.
The ultimate example of Jesus overcoming evil with good is seen in His crucifixion. Betrayed by one of His disciples, Jesus was unjustly arrested, falsely accused, and subjected to a mockery of a trial. He endured physical and emotional torment culminating in His crucifixion on a cross.
While hanging on the cross, Jesus demonstrated the pinnacle of love and forgiveness. Despite the extreme pain and suffering, He uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” ( Luke 23 : 34 ) . In that moment, Jesus showed His willingness to forgive even those who were actively crucifying him.
Through His sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and evil once and for all. He triumphed over the powers of darkness and offered the opportunity for redemption and reconciliation to all who believe in Him.
Jesus’ example teaches us that the power of love, forgiveness and self-sacrifice is greater than any evil in the world. His life and teachings inspire believers to follow His example, responding to evil with acts of goodness, compassion, forgiveness and love.
Living out Romans 12:21
So, how can we practically live out Romans 12:21 in our lives?
It starts with a transformation of our hearts and minds through God’s word and align our thoughts and attitudes with His truth.
Remember the teachings in the Bible and the examples of individuals.
While it may be difficult, it is important to remember the teachings in the Bible and the examples of individuals who have lived out these principles. They show us that it is possible. They demonstrate that responding evil with good can have a transformative impact not only on others but also on ourselves. It allows us to break the cycle of violence, promote healing and contribute to positive change in the world.
Rely on our faith
When we are overwhelmed or discouraged, it is essential to rely on our faith, drawing strength from our relationship with God and seeking guidance through prayer and reflection. God equips us with the Holy Spirit who empowers us to embody qualities such as love, forgiveness and compassion.
Seek Support and Encouragement from our faith communities.
Additionally, we find support and encouragement within our faith communities. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who share a commitment to overcoming evil with good can provide the strength and accountability needed to persevere.
Keep doing good even if it is small.
Remember that each small act of goodness and love matters.
A young boy is walking along a beach filled with thousands of starfish that have been washed ashore due to a storm. As he walks, he notices an older man bending down, picking up a starfish, and throwing it back into the ocean. Curious, the boy asks the man why he is doing this, as there are so many starfish and it seems impossible to make a difference. The man picks up another starfish, gently throws it back into the water, and replies ,” it makes a difference to this one.” He continues to pick up starfish, one by one and toss them back into the ocean.
This story serves as a reminder that we should not underestimate the value of our actions, no matter how small they may seem. It may not always lead to immediate or visible results, but it contributes to a cumulative impact over time. Even the smallest act of kindness can plant seeds of hope and transformation in the lives of others.
I started the message by asking ourselves which one of the 2 things should we choose. I hope by now, as we come to the end of the message that you know which choice you should make and I pray that by God ‘s grace you will choose to overcome evil with good.
The world needs individuals who are committed to overcoming evil with good. As followers of Christ, we have been entrusted with the transformative power of love and goodness. Though evil may persist, let us never lose hope or grow weary in doing good. Let us be beacons of light in a crooked and twisted world, displaying the character of Christ and inspiring others to join us in the pursuit of a better, just and more compassionate world.