There are vast differences between Christianity and other religions. The uniqueness of Christianity stands out boldly in the way we treat our enemies. Nikita Khrushchev understood this and graphically illustrated the difference between Communism and Christianity with this paraphrased remark: “The difference between Christianity and Communism is great. When someone strikes you on the face, you turn the other cheek. If you strike me on the face, I’ll hit you so hard your head will fall off.”
Even in the church, the vigilante spirit is alive and well. Christians sometimes attempt to sanctify their anger calling it righteous indignation, but we too are tempted to retaliate against those who mistreat us. Piously, we may pretend to resist evil supposing that God is on our side as we seek to “even the score” by causing hurt or harm to those who have mistreated us. We may even try to use Romans 12:9 as a proof text for our revenge—as long as we read no further in Romans. Our text calls for much more, requiring death to the flesh and the subordination of our personal interests to those of others. Our text requires in particular what Paul has previously called for in general terms:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
In Romans 12:3-8, Paul urges us to offer our lives as living sacrifices through the exercise of our spiritual gifts within the context of the body of Christ. In verses 9-21, Paul calls on the Christian to exercise love by our response to both “good” and “evil.”61 Verses 9-13 speak more of our love as expressed toward other Christians. Verses 14-21 describe the behavior of love toward our enemies.62
Paul’s teaching in our text is not new. The same essential truths were taught in the Old Testament, and thus Paul cites texts from the Book of Proverbs (20:22; 24:29; 25:21ff.). Our Lord’s teaching calls for the same attitudes and actions (see Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:26-38). The teaching of the other apostles is the same (see 1 Peter 3:8-12; 4:7-12; James 3).
As clear, consistent, and emphatic as the teaching of our text may be, it is not popular for it runs contrary to the inclinations of our flesh. We are therefore tempted to try to find a way to excuse ourselves from simple obedience to the commands of the Word of God. Let us be on guard against this temptation as we study this text. Let us look to His Spirit to guide our interpretation and implementation as we seek to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices and as we love and serve Him through loving service to others.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Paul is very specific in these verses. Those whom we are to love appear to be primarily non-Christians who have persecuted63 us because of our faith in Jesus Christ.64 Old Testament saints, prophets in particular, knew persecution (see Matthew 5:12; Acts 7:52). Jesus told His disciples to expect the same treatment (John 15:19-21). Paul and the other apostles taught likewise (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Peter probably has the most extensive teaching on suffering for Christ’s sake. For example, he writes:
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God (1 Peter 4:12-16).
We should not forget that when Paul writes about our response to those who persecute us, he writes as an expert on this matter from both sides. Paul persecuted the church of our Lord with a vengeance (Acts 7:58–8:1; 9:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:13). Once he was saved and began to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, he became the target of opposition and persecution both from the Jews (Acts 9:22-23; 13:50; 14:2, 19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16) and the Gentiles (Acts 16:19f.; 19:23f.). Paul’s words come from a man not only inspired by the Holy Spirit but from one who is well acquainted with persecution from personal experience.
Paul tells us in verse 14 that the Christian should respond exactly the opposite from the natural man and the inclinations of the flesh. Instead of cursing, we are instructed to bless those who persecute us. Cursings and blessings are pronouncements of the mouth which address the future well-being of those to whom we are speaking. Cursing expresses our desire for harm to befall the one cursed. Blessing verbally expresses the desire for good to come to that person.
Blessing and cursing are mutually exclusive; we can do one or the other but not both (see James 3:9). We cannot seek blessing for someone and at the same time seek his harm. God is not content to allow the Christian to merely tolerate his persecutors. We must actively desire and seek to bless our adversaries. Jesus gave specific ways this should be done:
You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any one wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy,’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:38-48).
The natural man seeks to pay back those who persecute him, plus interest. He would not be content with “an eye for an eye” but would seek two eyes for an eye.65 This is revenge. The man of integrity seeks only that which is appropriate repayment or retribution. This is justice. The Christian must return blessing for cursing, good for evil. This is grace.
Verses 15 and 16 are puzzling at first and appear to be out of place. What does “weeping with those who weep” or “rejoicing with those who rejoice” have to do with persecution (verse 15)? What does pride have to do with persecution (verse 16)? Verses 15 and 16 almost seem to be misplaced as though they might better fit somewhere in verses 9-13.
Our consideration of these verses begins with an observation. Verses 15 and 16 apply to our response to both believers and unbelievers. In theological terms, the grace we are to show is “common grace.”66 We are to weep with all who weep, and rejoice with all who rejoice. We are not to be proud but humble in mind, not showing partiality to some while discriminating against others.
Consider then, in this light, the command of verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep.” We can safely say this text teaches us to empathize and identify with those around us, sharing the sorrows and joys of our fellow men.
We are a part of the body of Christ, and so we identify and participate in the sufferings and joys of our brothers and sisters in Christ because their experiences very much affect us:
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:26).
We are also a part of the human race. While the sufferings of an unbeliever may not affect us as personally, we are still to share in their sorrow and in their joy.
We should recognize this to be true and the teaching of Scripture. But what does this have to do with persecution? Suffering and persecution often turn men inward. They find their own suffering so great they feel unable to share in the sufferings of others.
Viktor Frankel, a well-known secular psychiatrist, wrote of his incarceration in a Jewish concentration camp, where he was confined to a small room. Through cracks in the boards, he could see the stairway immediately behind his wall. Hearing a thumping sound, he peered through the cracks and saw a German soldier dragging the dead body of his fellow-prisoner down the stairs. So great was his own suffering that Frankel confessed feeling nothing at all; in his own suffering, he had become isolated and emotionally uninvolved in the sufferings of his fellowmen.
Christians can do the same. We can become so caught up in our sufferings that we become isolated from our fellow men. If we would demonstrate the grace of God toward others, we must not sink in the mire of our own suffering and pain. We must identify with others and share their sorrows and joys. This empathy is vitally important for the unity of the body of Christ. It is also essential for ministry to unbelievers.
Paul could readily identify with the Jewish unbelievers who persecuted him, for he once was one of them. He was even better at persecution than they. Identifying with our persecutors enables us to forgive them and to desire to minister to them. Thus Paul and Silas were able to minister to the Philippian jailer even though he had played a significant role in their innocent sufferings. The jailer came to faith in Jesus, and great was the joy resulting from the salvation of his whole household. Great also was his gratitude as he ministered to some of the wounds he himself might have inflicted (see Acts 16:16-34).
The connection between verse 15 and its context is to be found in the relationship between revenge and love. If one’s attitude toward his persecutors is one of revenge, it will be difficult indeed to obey the instructions of verse 15. Revenge would rejoice over the weeping of our persecutor and would weep over his rejoicing. The only way we can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice is to genuinely seek their good. Our ability to share in the joys or the sorrows of our persecutor is an evidence of our blessing and a test of our obedience to God’s Word.
In verse 16 we come to yet another puzzling statement. Here Paul warns us of the danger of pride. The outcome of obedience to Paul’s teaching should be humility and impartiality. But how does Paul link the danger of pride to the dilemma of persecution? What does persecution have to do with pride or pride with persecution?
Chapter 11 holds the key. In our text, Paul warns, “Do not be wise in your own estimation” (verse 16). An almost identical expression is found only in Romans 11:25:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (emphasis mine).
In chapter 11, Paul identifies unbelieving Israel as an “enemy” with respect to the gospel (11:28). Due to much persecution from unbelieving Jews, it would be easy for Gentile saints to view the Jews as their enemies. So they are, in one sense. But one critical factor transforms Israel’s opposition into a source of blessing: the sovereignty of God. In His sovereignty, God causes all things to work together for the good of His saints (Romans 8:28). “All things” includes the unbelief and persecution of men. God therefore used a willful, hostile, Pharaoh to demonstrate His power and to proclaim His name (Romans 9:17). He also uses the unbelief of Israel to bring about the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles (11:12, 28, 31). The unbelieving Jews may be the enemy of the saints, but in spite of themselves, they have been used by God to perform a great service to the Gentiles. The Jews are an enemy, but a “beloved enemy.”
Why was Paul concerned that the Gentiles would become “wise in their own estimation”? Paul’s warning about Gentile pride (Romans 11) explains the instruction of Romans 12:16. As strange as it may seem, persecution can produce pride. By its very nature, persecution is unfounded and unjust. Because of this, the one persecuted feels a kind of righteous indignation. “I don’t deserve this,” the persecuted victim reasons, and rightly so. The victim is right; the persecutor is wrong. The victim begins to look down on the persecutor and is tempted to become proud. Paul thus warns the Gentiles about the danger of pride and of looking down on Israel.
Persecution is sin, based on pride and the misuse of power. Persecution can reproduce itself in the lives of those who are its victims. A feeling of superiority causes one to look down upon those who are not as blessed and to associate only with those who are as spiritual and worthy as ourselves. Pride results in a falsely based discrimination, the very evil which first caused the persecution.
Our salvation and the gospel have nothing to do with human merit or works but everything to do with God’s sovereign grace. His grace is bestowed upon us solely on the basis of faith, a faith He has given without merit. We have no reason for pride. In and of ourselves, we are no better than any other saved or lost sinner. Grace is given to the needy and the humble with whom we should associate. Those with whom Jesus associated caused the scribes and Pharisees to become jealous and angry (Luke 5:27-32; 6:20-26).
Grace is not bestowed on the basis of our status, worth, or performance. The grace we are to show toward men must be the same. We are not too good to associate with and serve the humble, and they are not too lowly to receive God’s grace. The gospel is the great equalizer of men turning the social structures of society upside down. If we would love our enemies, we will also cast off false pride and reject as evil any form of discrimination based upon human merit or external measurement.
Verses 14-16 command us to do no more than that which the Lord Jesus Himself did in His incarnation and earthly ministry. Consider how our Lord is our example in the things Paul has instructed us to do.
First, we have been commanded not to curse men but to bless them. Peter reminds us of our Lord’s response to the persecution of men when they nailed Him to the cross of Calvary:
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:21-24).
Second, Paul instructs us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. As Jesus approached Jerusalem, soon to be rejected by His people and to be nailed to His cross, He came to the grave of Lazarus where He wept, along with Mary:
Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “Behold how He loved him!” (John 11:32-36).
Finally, Paul instructs us not to be proud but to have a humility of mind which enables us to associate with and minister to the unworthy:
If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).
Verses 14-16 give us very clear instruction concerning our perspective, especially toward those who have unjustly persecuted us. We are to abhor cursing and bless our enemies, seeking their well-being. How better can this be accomplished than by their salvation? We are to have the kind of love for our enemies which enables us to rejoice with them in their joys and to weep with them in their sorrows. We are also to grasp that both sin and grace make all men equal in God’s sight. Being saved by grace means we have nothing for which to take credit or to be prideful. All men have sinned, without exception, and are deserving of God’s wrath. No man is worthy of His grace nor is anyone beyond the reach of His grace. The grace we manifest must therefore not discriminate as though some are unworthy of it.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In verses 14-16, the response of the Christian to those who persecute him is more passive in nature. Our love toward our persecutors is to be manifested by blessing rather than cursing. The one who is persecuted wishes either good or evil on his persecutor. But in verses 17-21, the victim is now viewed as the one taking action. It is not just wishes for our enemy, or merely our words, but our works which are in view. If in verse 14, our response to ill-treatment is the pronouncement of a curse or a blessing, in verses 17-21 our response to our enemies is seen as either the doing of “good” or “evil” to our enemy.
The first statement in verse 17 is a general summary statement. Verses 17b-19 lay down a general principle governing our response to maltreatment by our enemies. Verse 20 illuminates the application of these principles with specific examples of how Christian love responds to one’s enemy. Verse 21 contains a summary statement which concludes the argument of verses 9-21.
If Christian love abhors what is evil and clings to what is good (verse 9), then Christian love can never reciprocate by responding to sin with sin. Christian love can never practice what is evil in order to pay back someone for the evil they have done to us. Paul is not talking about justice here, which is the duty of the state (to be discussed in the next chapter), but about revenge. Revenge is returning evil for evil. Revenge is but the perpetuation of sin. It is not overcoming sin but being overcome by it.
Revenge is categorically forbidden—never is it to be practiced nor done to anyone. No exceptions are named; no excuses are accepted. Why? Four answers are given in the verses which follow:
(1) Revenge runs contrary to what society deems to be right (verse 17b).
(2) Revenge does not promote peace but incites men to hostility (verse 18).
(3) Revenge usurps a task which belongs only to God (verse 19).
(4) Revenge succumbs to evil rather than overcoming evil with good (verse 21).
Consider now why revenge is wrong, categorically and without exception, for each of these reasons.
Revenge is contrary to righteousness and to the definition of right which society holds in common (verse 17b). God’s righteousness is higher than sinful men are willing to accept. It is also a higher standard than Christians can meet, apart from God’s grace through the enablement of His Spirit. Unsaved men may often reject the higher standard of righteousness which God has established and which the Law defines. Nevertheless, society has its own standards of right and wrong. Man-made laws define those standards and prescribe the consequences for all who refuse to abide by them.
The Christian has been saved not to continue in sin but to demonstrate the righteousness of God in his daily life (see Romans 6:1ff). We are to live by God’s standards and not those of men. God’s standards are perfect and almost always higher than those of men. We should not disregard human standards altogether. Revenge not only violates the standards God has laid down for us, but it violates the standards of society as well. Revenge takes the law into its own hands. This view is dangerous and unbiblical.
I remember the statement from my college political science class, “We are a nation of laws, and not men.” Vigilante rule is unacceptable. That is why we have police and law-enforcement agencies. Revenge almost always extends the punishment beyond the crime and often promotes further violence. Society forbids revenge and condemns it as an evil. If society views revenge as evil, as God does, we should have regard for its standards. Revenge should not be taken because God forbids it and because society does also. Our testimony as a Christian will be greatly tarnished if we fail to live up to those standards commonly agreed upon by men.67 We dare not seek revenge.
Paul probably had another reason for instructing the Christian to have regard for society’s standards. Persecution is frequently imposed by the state, by the government. The Jewish religious and political leaders joined forces to persecute Christianity, especially in Israel. Before long, Rome would cease to protect Christians and begin to persecute them. Even though this were the case, the Christian should beware of disdaining government (thus Romans 13:1-7) and rejecting all of its standards of right and wrong. If the Christian is to suffer at the hands of human government, let it be for doing right and not for disregarding society’s standards categorically. When we must violate society’s standards by disobeying the law, let us be sure there is a clear and contradictory command from God. We must beware of rejecting all of society’s standards because we must reject a few. The mistreated Christian may be tempted to see a persecuting government as all wrong when it may only be wrong in more restricted categories.
Revenge does not encourage peace but incites men to hostility (verse 18). Peace68 is a priority for the Christian. When Jesus came to the earth, born as a baby, the angels sang, “… on earth peace among men, with whom He is well pleased” (Luke 2:14). Jesus taught His disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace was to govern the conduct of His disciples (Mark 9:50). Our gospel is the gospel of peace (Luke 19:42; Acts 10:36; Ephesians 2:14-17; 6:15). God is a God of peace (Romans 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:20). Peace should characterize the Christian (1 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22). Because peace is a priority for the Christian and revenge promotes hostility, pursuing peace is the antidote to revenge. Pursing peace lays revenge to rest.
Revenge is the wrath of man; Christians must leave vengeance to God to whom it rightly belongs. James said it, and Paul obviously agrees, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Revenge takes the law into our own hands. In seeking revenge, men attempt to execute judgment on their fellow men. Judgment is God’s business as taught by the Scriptures. God has promised to establish justice and to execute His wrath on the wicked. We must believe this by faith. We must wait for His day of wrath and not hasten it by taking matters into our own hands. Just as we must patiently wait for God’s blessings, we must also patiently wait for God’s vengeance. Taking our own vengeance is taking God’s place and exercising His prerogatives.
Taking revenge is being overcome by sin; doing good is overcoming evil with good. Christian love is evidenced by our abhorrence of evil and our cleaving to what is good (verse 9). Revenge is being overcome by sin and is the promotion of evil. The Christian does not “fight fire with fire”; we must not react to sin by sinning. Our sin was overcome by the righteousness of God. The sins of others expressed in opposition to us will not be overcome by our sinful acts. Sin is only overcome by good. As we do “good” to our enemies, we vividly demonstrate to an unsaved world how God defeats sin, complimenting the gospel we are to proclaim. When the sin of others prompts us to sin in return, we have been defeated by sin. When the sin of others prompts us to do good to our enemies in return, sin is defeated and righteousness prevails.
The biblical principles laid down by Paul in this text are not new but are consistent with the teaching of the Old Testament. Thus Paul quotes from the Book of Proverbs, citing Proverbs 25:20, which shows the very practical ways love is to be demonstrated to one’s enemies. When our enemy is hungry, we should feed him. When he is thirsty, we should give him water to drink. Revenge would let him suffer and rejoice in his suffering.
By dealing with our enemies this way, the Scriptures say we “heap burning coals” on their head. Does this sound a little like revenge? It cannot be. We do not do good to our enemy to bring about his suffering; we do good to our neighbor in order to be a blessing to him. Many explanations are offered for the reference to burning coals. I believe these “coals” refer to the guilt and condemnation of a stricken conscience which our good deeds may produce in the sinner’s heart. This is indeed a blessing if the sinner’s guilty conscience leads him to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and salvation. One wonders if Paul’s conscience was not stricken by the response of some of those whom he persecuted. The broader context of our passage makes clear that we do good to our enemies with the purpose of blessing them and not with the hope that we will bring a curse upon them.
Paul’s meaning could hardly be clearer. Such standards repulse our flesh, but they are clear and compelling. The Christian is set apart from all others by the way he responds to his enemies. He does not hate his enemies and seek their suffering and destruction. He loves his enemies and seeks to do good to them. As we conclude this lesson, consider four foundational truths upon which Paul’s teaching is based.
First, Paul calls for attitudes and action toward our enemies which are consistent with the character of God and evidenced in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus came to the earth in human flesh, God became incarnate; God was manifested in human flesh. Our Lord was the exact representation of God. He manifested to men all of the attributes of God—His holiness, His grace, His love, and His other attributes. In His attitudes and actions, Jesus was a perfect reflection of God.
When our Lord ascended into heaven, He left behind the church, His body. It is now through the church that God is incarnate in this world. God’s self-revelation comes through His Word and through His body, the church. Paul calls for an attitude toward others which reflects the attitude of God toward men. In particular, Paul wants us to love our enemies,69 and through this to reflect God’s love for fallen men. We are commanded to love our enemies in order to be like God and in order to be distinct from lost men. In the context of loving our enemies, our Lord Himself said: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, see verses 43-47).
Second, Paul calls for that which is consistent with the present purposes of God. All men are sinners, deserving God’s righteous wrath. Those who have received God’s gift of salvation in Christ have been delivered from His wrath. Those who have rejected God experience a present manifestation of His wrath (Romans 1:18). They are also storing up wrath for a future day of judgment as well (Romans 2:5). God has chosen to delay the execution of His righteous judgment, the full outpouring of His wrath, for a purpose. This purpose is put forth by Paul in Romans 9:
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:22-24).
The full power of God’s wrath has been delayed so that He might save those whom He has chosen as the objects of His mercy. At this time, these “vessels of mercy” are pre-dominantly Gentiles. But in the future, God has purposed to turn the hearts of the Jews to Himself (see Romans 11:25-32).
When on the earth, Jesus refused to judge men, insisting that He had come to save and not to condemn (see John 3:16-17; 8:1-11). There will be a future day of judgment, when He comes again at His second coming. Until then, the good news of God’s saving grace is to be proclaimed to the world. Until then, we who are saved are to reflect the saving grace of God to a lost and dying world. We are to leave judgment to God and to the time He has appointed. Now is the “day of salvation.” Let us behave in a manner consistent with God’s purpose for the present—the salvation of lost sinners.
If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, my friend, do so today. Acknowledge your sin and the fact that you deserve God’s righteous wrath. Receive the gift of salvation God has provided in Jesus Christ. He suffered God’s wrath in your place. All you need do is to receive this gift and be saved. Be assured that there is coming a day of reckoning when all who have rejected Him will be eternally condemned. When He comes, the day of salvation will be past, for all eternity.
Third, what Paul teaches here requires a transformed mind which sees life vastly different than the natural man. The more I study the Word of God, the more I see that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:7-9). Often Christians today talk of integrating secular truth with the truth of God’s revealed Word. What is so beneficial to the Christian from man’s thinking, motivation, and way of doing things? What do we need to know and do which God has not already revealed in His inspired, all-sufficient Word? The church’s great problem today is Christians seeking to live as the world thinks and lives. Our great need is to think and act as God does.
Romans 12:1 and 2 call upon the Christian to live in an entirely different way. We are to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. To do so, we must be transformed from what we were and not be conformed to the world. This is done by the renewing of our minds. Our thinking ceases to be in merely human terms but conforms to God’s thoughts. We must realize that to live as Christians, we must first think as Christians. This kind of thinking comes only through the Word of God, illuminated by the Spirit of God. Our text highlights the contrast between God’s thoughts and man’s. Let us be conformed to His thoughts. Let us obey Him by loving our enemies and seeking their benefit and ultimately seeking their salvation.
Fourth, Paul calls for conduct which is possible only in the strength God provides. If God’s thoughts are above ours and His ways are above ours, it is only by His means that we shall live as He requires. The Christian life is impossible to live in our own strength. Reading Romans 12 helps to better understand Paul’s words in Romans 7. No wonder Paul found it impossible to achieve God’s will in the power of the flesh. Only as we walk in the Spirit are these impossible requirements met. May we obey Him as we walk in His Spirit.
61 You will note that love is the general subject, giving unity to verses 9-21. Also note that in the first verse of this text (9) and the last (21) “good” and “evil” are specifically mentioned. Verses 9-21 are all about the exercise of love as it relates to “good” and “evil.”
62 This classification of (1) love toward fellow-believers and (2) love toward unbelievers generally holds true. It should be recognized, however, that some of our “enemies” will be found within the fold of those who profess faith in Christ. See, for example, Philippians 1:15-17; 2 Timothy 3:8; 4:14(?); 3 John 9.
63 Persecution is not as personal an offense as some others. We are persecuted because of Christ and because of our identification with Him (John 15:19-21). The hostages held against their will in Iraq were persecuted for being foreigners. The captive governments had nothing personal against them other than that they were foreigners in general and Americans in particular. We are persecuted not so much because of our theology as we are because of our practice. When our lifestyle threatens or exposes the sinful ways of those around us, they are inclined to retaliate (see Genesis 19:9; 1 Peter 4:3-4).
Men persecute those who threaten them, especially in the areas of wealth or power (see Acts 4:16-17; 5:27-28; 16:19f.; 19:23f.). Usually, persecution is an offense of the stronger against the weaker. Those who are in the majority and who have greater power have a greater capacity to persecute. I suspect this is why cursing is the evil in view here. Those who are overpowered may not be able to strike back physically, but they can always curse. Note, for example, the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39) and the instruction Peter gave to sufferers (1 Peter 2:1, 21-25). Cursing may be the only harm a helpless victim can do to his oppressors.
64 Verses 14-16 appear to have a more restricted group in mind—those who are our persecutors. Verses 17-21 seem more general—our enemies. Our enemies would include all those who have wrongly treated us.
65 The teaching concerning an “eye for an eye” was to establish a fundamental principle on which all justice is based, namely: Punishment should always be consistent with and proportionate to the crime. This principle was given primarily to govern rulers whose task it was to administer justice and not to those who sought revenge.
66 Common grace is the term theologians use to refer to the unmerited goodness of God toward all men, believers and unbelievers (see Matthew 5:45). God’s elective grace is sovereignly bestowed on those whom He singles out for blessing (see Romans 9:6-18).
67 There are many things which our society may permit which the Christian cannot practice. But there will almost always be fewer things which society prohibits which the Christian should feel free to practice.
69 There are those who say that God does not love sinners. If this were true, then God is requiring us to do that which He Himself does not do. When we love our enemies, we reflect God’s love for His enemies. God loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:6-8), while we were His enemies. God has a special love for His elect, but He also loves all men, including His enemies.