As these examples of "sincere, unhypocritical love" move from love for Christian family (vs. 10-13), to love for people in general (vs. 14-16), to love for those who hate us (v. 17-20), we become increasingly aware that this love is a distinctly "Christian" characteristic. Expressing love toward one's enemies - desiring what's best for them and doing what's possible to cause that "best" to happen - is a reflection of our "Father in heaven's" nature. He did what was best for us (his people), by sending his Son to die in our place (John 3:16) and to bring us new, eternal, life. Even those who never turn to Jesus for salvation are recipients of God's blessings and kindness (Acts 14:17; Romans 2:4) - expressions of love that are examples for us to learn from (Matthew 5:44-48).
We must not forget that our enemies are enemies by their choice. Our desire (if we are following Jesus, and our "heavenly Father's" exmaple) is to do whatever we can to turn them into friends - specifically, members of God's family. It is love in its purest form.
Paying back others with good (v. 17)
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil."
Some people teach that moral obligations in the New Testament are different from those found in the Old Testament. Some go so far as to suggest that God changed his mind about moral issues when Jesus came - or even that the Old and New Testaments portray the views of two different gods! In reality, God has not changed. Though the Old and New Testaments have different emphases, our moral obligations remain the same. (This issue can affect how a person interprets the first part of Romans 12:17.)
Circumstances may have changed, but the moral principles have not. God requires justice; but when designated authorities fail, Romans 12:17 shows us (as individuals) how to respond.
We have an obligation to "pay back" evil... but not with evil! However, when determining how to "pay back," we must consider the way God defines "evil" (as well as "good"). Otherwise, it becomes very easy for us to excuse and "justify" anything we may want to do.
"Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody."
Doing what is right and good requires requires conscious effort. We must use our minds before we move to action. We must carefully consider what we do - something which involves "pre-planning."
Yes, the "good" we do must be visible to others. This is because we are the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:14-16). [We are "lights" only because we follow Jesus, the "light of the world" (John 8:12).]
We cannot do it on our own; we need renewed minds (Romans 12:2). As we grow in Christ, we will grow in our ability to obey this verse.
This first of two articles focuses on the issues of ignorance, not applying what we know, and fakeness (pretension).
This second of two articles focuses on wrong attitudes about God - a faulty "God-view" - and how we can change it.
The good we do will not always be understood by the unsaved, because their minds are corrupted by sin. But God has graciously made it possible for them to understand some things - and doing such things should be a part of our pre-planning.
We cannot pre-plan "good" without learning God's Word and applying it to life. This will take conscious effort on our part.
There are many good results from pre-planning. Some affect us; some affect other people. There may also be opposition from the unsaved; but even that, God will use for our good.
Promoting peace in the world (v. 18)
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
We cannot promote "peace," until we know what "peace" is! In the Bible, we discover that genuine peace is quite different from the limited (and often distorted) understanding that the world has.
Sin destroyed our ability to have peace; but God graciously restores what sin has destroyed. Unsaved people can comprehend some aspects of peace (even when they don't have it); but the full experience of peace is possible only for those who have first made peace with God.
If you belong to God, he calls you to be a peacemaker; he accepts no excuses for not doing so. There may be times when peace cannot exist; but when this happens, it better not be because of you.
A desire for justice... God's way (v. 19)
"Do not take revenge, my friends, ..."
Desiring justice is not wrong. The problem is that we tend to desire it our way; and normally that is not God's way. (The issue is who does it, how and when.)
There is a difference between having a vindictive, vengeful spirit... and the pursuit of justice! There is a difference between "taking matters into our own hands"... and the administering of justice by God (or by God-designated authorities). Scripture shows us what we are to do, and what we are not to do.
How should we respond when designated authorities fail to promote justice? Taking matters into our own hands is not a legitimate response. When all else fails, we are to commit our situation to the God of justice.
When we experience great injustice, this can be a very difficult verse to obey. But God gives it to us because he loves us. The injustice he endured for us (on the cross) is far greater than any injustice we will ever endure.
"... but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord."
Instead of trying to sit in the judge's seat, we need to make room for the real judge! Don't get in the way of real justice; trust God to do it right!
All will be paid back for what they have done. And that includes us!
Kindness for all! (v. 20)
"On the contrary: '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.' "
This is the final instruction before the conclusion, and it goes against the way people normally respond to such matters. Most likely, we will respond the same way as we did with the previous instructions. (If so, here is another opportunity to repent.)
Also included are many Scripture passages that show us whether our "salvation" is genuine or fake.
Kindness has always been an expression of God's nature (in both Old and New Testament times). It must be an expression of ours, as well.
The last half of this verse is difficult to understand; but the obligation it gives us is clear. Included are some principles that may help us when we find passages we don't understand.
Overcoming evil, wherever it may be (v. 21)
We also looked at this verse in the Introduction to this series: Issues related to "evil vs. good."
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. "
We are to show kindness - an expression of love - to all regardless of how they treat us. Follow Jesus' example! It's the only way we can overcome evil.
"Newborns" are still learning how to live godly. Fake "Christians" aren't willing to do so. Even when others aren't doing so, we still need to follow Jesus - and have unhypocritical love for others.
It all depends on who does the overcoming. Our goal is not only for us to have the victory, but for our enemies to share the victory with us! (This requires their salvation.)
CONCLUSION: Love based on truth - beautiful and eternal.
The first 11 chapters in Romans provides the truth-foundation on which the commitment-love of Romans 12:9-21 is built. Genuine love is never torn away from genuine truth.
The type of love described in Romans 12:9-21 is an eternal obligation. When we accept the truth of Romans 1-11 (which requires a changed way of thinking - Romans 12:1-2), it will result in this love expressing itself in all areas of life.