June 29, 2003
BE NOT OVERCOME OF EVIL
When asked what "be not overcome of evil" from Romans 12:21 means, people often answer that it is describing people who get caught up in sinful and wicked behavior, such as murder, lying, cheating, stealing and can't seem to stop. If asked to explain how their explanation fits the context, they cannot see any connection. Here the Apostle Paul is explaining behavior which only a renewed mind approving the perfect will of God could understand.
Beginning at verse 17 our attention is turned away from fellow-believers to our behavior toward people in the world around us. "Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men," is the way we are to act toward non-believers, men who might very well behave wickedly and hurtfully toward us. Paul continues, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (12:18). This verse is clear that we are to do everything possible to find a way to live peaceably with people that seem to not want peace! Their hatred might be directed toward us because of our faith in the Lord and our stand for His truth.
Paul describes what we are to do when such evil is done to us, even when we have been injured or suffered loss, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (12:19). The believer's behavior in the matter of vengeance seems to be much the same throughout various dispensations. The words that we should "give place unto wrath..." do not mean that we should let evil behavior simply run its course or spend itself, such as a storm on the ocean.
The words following this phrase make it clear that the wrath to which we are to give place is God's wrath! God promises to take the proper vengeance and asks us to refrain from doing anything like that. We are to leave it up to Him in His own good time. This requires trust and patience on our part that God will surely do what He has promised. We are to show kindness and grace by giving food and drink to a needy, thirsty enemy, even to one whose mission was to do us harm! Failing this, we have become "overcome of evil." We are, by deeds of kindness, to overcome evil by good rather than being overcome by evil resorting to deeds of vengeance trying to get even.
Ivan L. Burgener