[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]

A Study of Exhortation - Romans 12:21

This article concludes an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.

Overcoming Evil with Good

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

Here we come to the final verse of chapter 12. This verse sums up all that Paul has said since the fourteenth verse concerning living in a fallen world. We have been exhorted to "bless and do not curse" (vs. 14), "live in harmony" (vs. 16), "be willing to associate with people of low position" (vs. 16), "do what is right in the eyes of everybody" (vs. 17), and (most applicably) "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" (vs. 20). All these exhortations are ways to "overcome evil with good."

Paul first says, "Do not be overcome by evil." Evil often begets evil. It is difficult not to consider retaliation when faced with evil. It is natural first for us to be tempted to meet evil with evil, but Paul has just told us: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" (vs. 17). We must battle against our worldly tendency to "be overcome by evil." We must resist coming under the power of evil, being drawn into it. We must not even entertain thoughts of joining in evil or retaliation. Contrary to the world's belief, to retaliate is to lose. The world views the one who has the last blow or the last word as the victor. This is far from the truth. When we retaliate, we are the conquered, conquered by evil: we are brought down to the level of our enemy; we are no better than him.

Paul gives us an alternative, a way to resist being overcome by evil: we are to "overcome evil with good." This is a difficult exhortation to carry out, but we must strive and persevere to "overcome evil with good." We must, by the Spirit of God, go against our natural desire to retaliate. Paul, in the previous verse, gave a practical example of "overcoming evil with good." He said: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." Such behavior--giving our enemy food, drink, a helping hand--is much more effective in "overcoming evil" than giving him a rap to the jaw or a piece of our mind. Goodness, kindness are powerful weapons. "Men whose minds can withstand argument, and whose hearts rebel against threats, are not [able to withstand] the pervasive influence of unfeigned love."[Footnote #1] Noone but the most irredeemable evil man can survive kindness, the sincere love of a neighbor.

To overcome evil with good, we are to seek out the needs of our enemy. We cannot carry out Paul's exhortation to feed our hungry enemy, unless we first know that he is hungry. Once we know our enemy's needs, we are to seek to satisfy them. If he needs a glass of water, provide it; if he needs a helping hand, lend it; if he needs a kind word, speak it out; if he needs a pat on the back, encourage him enthusiastically.

To overcome evil in such a way is the will of God, for He did the same thing for us. Through sin, we were God's enemies, yet, instead of retaliating, He saw our need and went to great lengths to fulfill it: "[W]hen we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10). God overcame our evil by the greatest act of kindness the world has ever known. He proved the effectiveness of this strategy to overcome evil, for, through the years, countless multitudes of people who were entrenched in a life of sin and wickedness, left behind their evil ways when they understood and experienced the love of Christ.

So Father, by Your Spirit, give us such love, love that would overcome evil. Give us the moral strength to resist our natural tendency to retaliate, so that we may not be overcome by evil. Give us insight into the needs of our enemies; give us the desire and ability to fulfill these needs. In the name of Christ, who gave His life to overcome evil, we pray these things, Amen.

(This concludes our study in Romans 12)


1. Charles Hodge, The Epistle for Romans, pg. 404.

[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]