Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #23 – Overcome Evil with Good

Feasting with God #23

Overcome Evil with Good

Romans 12:14-21

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we are Christians, then we ought to live as Christians. Because we are unable to escape our sinfulness while we live on this earth, it’s not always an easy task to live in a Christian way, and Paul gives us some advice in this passage to help us live like Christians.

When someone persecutes us, it’s easy—it’s human nature—to curse them, to wish evil upon them, or to defame them to others. It’s especially easy for Christians, because we know we’re not supposed to react violently. So we’ll react with our words. But Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you.” He lays a great deal of responsibility at our feet, in fact: “Live in harmony with one another…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls Christians “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). Paul expects us here to be able to keep the peace. “He started it!” we might say. And we might be right. But the advice of my parents comes back to me whenever I think that: “It takes two to fight.”

So, for our responsibility, we won’t fight. Let our enemies persecute us all they like, we won’t fight back. That’s what Paul asks us to do. It’s not easy. And even harder is what he further asks us to do: “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” Not only are we to not fight, but we are to react with kindness, even feeding our enemy. I can think of very few things I would find less pleasant than hosting someone who was my enemy, someone I despised, someone who hated me. I would hate to have to feed them dinner, give them room and board even for a night. But this, Paul says, is what we are to do: “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Of course, there are times when Christians cannot sit idly by while injustices are done. Especially we can see this in the example of Christ, when he drove out the money-changers from the temple, even using a whip and overturning their tables, accusing them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:13). This is a righteous anger, and in the right context, it is the appropriate response.

It may not always be clear to Christians when we should respond with love, “feeding our enemies,” and when we should respond with anger, in wrath and vengeance. Luther writes, “To understand this, you must distinguish between God and man, between persons and issues. Where God an issues are involved, there is neither patience nor blessing but only zeal, wrath, vengeance, and cursing” (LW 14:258). This is the appropriate distinction. When God’s holy things are being defamed and destroyed, the Christian in faith responds with zeal. But when one’s own person is persecuted and broken, then we react in love, trusting God’s promise, when he says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

“Do not be haughty,” Paul says; and, “Never be wise in your own sight.” If we go about thinking that we can do no wrong, thinking that we are wise and holier than others, then it is natural that we would react with righteous anger rather than love. But we are not to consider ourselves this way. Rather we should humble ourselves. If we are persecuted or wronged, we can forgive, as Jesus did on the cross when the sins were against his own body. We overcome evil with good.

But it’s not easy. We are still sinful on this earth, and we want to take revenge, we want to respond in wrath. But thankfully we can turn to Jesus who accomplished this very thing. By living this way perfectly, forgiving and blessing his enemies, and then by dying as though he were a murderer, Jesus took our place, paid for our sins, including the ones of vengeance and hatred. And now, in faith, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enables us to react with blessing and love, feeding our enemies when they are hungry, and giving them drink when they are thirsty. We don’t have to have the strength of character to accomplish it. It’s accomplished by God already. We only need faith.

Dear Lord, thank you for paying the price for all our sins, even though we ourselves were your enemies. Help us to forgive and bless our enemies, even as you forgave and blessed us. Lead us to do these works of service to you, strengthening us in doing good, so that we may overcome evil. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #22 – A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Feasting with God #22

A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Text: Psalm 23:5-6

5You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     forever.

This psalm is in our culture today among the most beloved, because of the great comfort it gives.  It begins with the personal care and comfort we claim from God, stating, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).  The very sick or the dying have found comfort in the passage, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (23:4).  God is present to the one who speaks this psalm, very close and providing comfort and care and guidance, and it moves us to let go of any reliance on ourselves and to yield to God’s caring arms, like a tired child in the arms of his parent.

The verses cited above are no different from the rest of the psalm; they speak of the same great comfort, but there’s something new: our comfort comes “in the presence of my enemies.”  It seems as though we mean to gloat: that we’re showing off to our enemies, proving the riches we have and letting them starve or eat dirt.  If we take that picture too far, it seems like we’re turning ourselves into the rich man who denied help to poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

This devotional series is called Feasting with God for a reason.  We are moved by these passages of Scripture to see the great blessings God provides for us, often spoken of metaphorically as a great banquet or feast.  God feeds his people, so that we never go hungry.  And the blessings of this food are explained in the passage above: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  The blessings that God feeds us with are goodness and mercy in this life, and dwelling in God’s house in eternal life.  We have two sorts of blessings: blessings now, and blessings hereafter.  These blessings are so great, and move us to such wonderful appreciation and thanksgiving to God, that we want to show them off, we want to share them.

Perhaps this means we share them with our friends, showing them what great blessings we have, as Peter writes encourages Christians to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Notice, they are the ones asking us.  So they have to see the evidence of our hope.  We hope in the blessings which we receive now, and which we will receive hereafter.  That ought to be visible.

But the text speaks specifically of enemies.  Christians have plenty of enemies.  The whole world is full of sin, and sometimes it is our own sin which is our enemy.  Sometimes it is the author of evil, the devil himself, seeking to tear us down.  Sometimes it is other people, who see the things we teach and believe that we are close-minded, old-fashioned, bigoted.  We can have courage in the face of all these troubles, however, because God provides a table of blessings before us, even before them.  Even when these enemies are gnashing their teeth at us the worst, we have God’s blessings.  And sometimes that means that those enemies will see our blessings as well.  Sometimes those enemies will notice that our spirit is not broken despite their best efforts.  Perhaps that will make those enemies lose heart, or perhaps it will cause those enemies to become jealous of our hope and blessings, and perhaps they’ll want to have some of those same blessings.

It’s always a good thing for our blessings to show.  No, these blessings aren’t physical things—perhaps we’re blessed with a good job, a happy family, a nice house, fine toys and things—the real blessings that we show, though, are the spiritual blessings we have received: faith in the one true God, in his Son Jesus Christ who died to win us eternal life.  Let the joy of that show on our faces.  Trust the Holy Spirit to keep us safe and secure in that faith.  And notice, it’s not up to us to try really hard to show it off.  It’s God who prepares this table before us.  Our faith rests fully and securely in him.

Dear Lord, our Good Shepherd, guide us as you have promised in green pastures and beside still waters.  Restore our souls and lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.  When we face death or deep darkness, help us to fear no evil, knowing that you are with us, comforting us with your Word.  Prepare before us a table of sweet blessings that all our enemies may see.  Confirm your election of us by keeping us in faith, making us sure of the goodness and mercy that follow us in this life, and of the hope of our eternal life, dwelling in your house forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.