Monday, March 16, 2009

Good That Overcomes

Rom. 12:17-21

Romans 12 presents one challenge after another. Don’t conform to the world but be transformed ... encourage ... be sincere ... be devoted to one another ... bless those who persecute you .. Rejoice with those who rejoice ... live in harmony with one another. Paul doesn’t end with these. Romans 12 continues with more challenges. Do not repay anyone evil for evil .. Live at peace with everyone ... overcome evil with good ... do not take revenge. The Bible seems to burden us with some impossible demands. These admonitions seem impossible because they are so unnatural.

Do you think it is natural to overlook an offense and not seek revenge? Ask Connie Deweese. Connie dated a guy for about 8 months. He turned out to be what she called a "psycho." So, she told him to get lost. But the man, Alex, didn’t want to get lost. Turns out he was stuck on Connie. And, he got stuck in another way, too.

Alex went to see Connie. Two problems: he was drunk and it was 3:30 in the morning. Connie wouldn’t let Alex into the house. Not to be denied, Alex climbed the roof and started to climb down the chimney. Until he got stuck. When rescue crews arrived they had to cut a hole in the wall and into the chimney to let Alex out. Connie got angry, either at the damage to her house or that her ex was being freed. She yelled, "Leave him in the chimney and let him die." Her interference with the rescue workers earned her a citation.

Alex went to a local hospital to be treated. After he was released, he returned to Connie’s house. Connie was still pretty upset. So, she hit Alex with a garbage can and threw bottles at him.

People do funny things, don’t they? Almost crazy. Maybe it is not a matter of being crazy. It’s the world. It’s sin. Sin is like a virus that infects all of us. We do things that are destructive to ourselves and people we care about. Sin alienates us from God, so we are alone and feel insignificant. We do crazy things in our sinful state, things that seem natural at the time. Why would Alex crawl down a chimney at 3:00 in the morning? In his drunken, worldly state, it seem perfectly normal at the time.

God wants to challenge what we consider normal and natural. That is what Romans 12 is about. It is a text that challenges how we approach life.

What does the text call them to do?

1) Romans 12 challenges Christians to live transformed lives. (V.12) They give their bodies as living sacrifices. In other words, Christians are to do the hard thing.

2) Specifically, Romans 12 challenges Christians to conquer evil in the world and in the church. How do we do that?! We conquer evil by an overpowering display of good. (V.17-21)

Why does the text call for this behavior?

How can God expect us to respond to overwhelming evil with overpowering good? Because the church often finds itself infected with viruses from the world.

It is easy for us in the church to think of ourselves. That is natural because we are humans. When our thumb gets hit with a hammer, we hurt. When our hearts get hit with a hammer, we hurt.
When we hurt we lash out. Have you ever seen anyone throw a hammer down after they hit themselves with it? In the same way, have you ever seen anyone lash out at another person with biting words? You may have wondered, "Where did that come from?!" They have been hurt, and they are throwing the emotional hammer and lashing out.

It is natural to lash out. But the Bible says, "Do what is unnatural. The Spirit of God guides you now, not a spirit of self-preservation or defense. You don’t have to hurt others as you have been hurt." Instead of lashing out ...
V.17 - Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
V.18 - Live at peace with everyone.
V.19 - Do not take revenge.
V.20 - If your enemy is hungry or thirsty, feed him and give him something to drink.
These responses are not natural.

But we are an unnatural people now. We do not conform to the world anymore (12:2a). We are transformed in our minds. That means our hearts and minds have moved from the realm of this world to the realm of heaven. Sounds funny to say it, but it is true, we are not "natural" or "normal" anymore.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." (V.20) What is normal about that? What normal person feeds and cares for an enemy? Is it even possible for us to do the unnatural and care for an enemy? "Normally" I would say, "no," but God has ways of showing us some amazing examples of how love can conquer. Years ago in the German countryside a group of hungry U.S. soldiers stumbled upon a house. "Food," they thought to themselves. They knocked on the door with their rifles drawn and ready. A young German woman came to the door, her young son clutching her skirt. She was horrified to see enemy soldiers at her door. Through broken communication she learned they were hungry. She invited them in and instructed them to put the rifles in a corner. As she prepared food she heard another knock at the door. She opened it to find a group of young German soldiers standing on her porch. They, too, were hungry. Thinking fast and speaking freely in German she told them, "You, too, may come in and eat, but leave your guns outside." When the unarmed German soldiers entered the house they came face to face with the unarmed American soldiers. Cold silence ensued, until the German woman began setting plates of hot food on the table. One soldier sat, then another, then another. And on this day, this very unusual, unnatural day, enemies in the most brutal war in history shared a pleasant meal. Kindness and goodwill, even if but for a moment, conquered the hate and killing of the natural world.

God’s goodness finds ways of piercing the most hate filled moments in the most unnatural ways. And he uses us to do it. We are the agents of God’s goodness in the world ... and in the church.

Think of the situation in the Roman church Paul is writing to. Jews and Gentiles are in church together, and Paul expects them to function as friends. Do you realize how abnormal that is? That can only happen in Christ. Could it happen today? Should we expect it to? Should we have faith that God can still do the impossible? Could a Jewish Christian and a Palestinian Christian take the Lord’s Supper in unity? Could an Iranian Christian and an American Christian sing songs of praise together?

How can we overcome such differences? By the power of transformed lives. We offer our bodies as "living sacrifices." (12:1) We can do it, because this is God’s "Good, pleasing and perfect will." (12:2)

How might we function in the church if we completely trust God’s power to transform our memories, hurts and spirit? "Do not repay evil with evil" is not a dream. It is a reality in the kingdom. Do not take revenge" is not a dream. It is a reality in the kingdom. We are that kingdom. The rule of God is in our hearts.

God reigns in our hearts. He purges the viruses that infect us from the world. It is in our hearts that God destroys hate and grows love. It is in our hearts that he banishes anger and welcomes grace. He blasts our pride and nurtures humility. God exiles resentment and invites forgiveness to take its place.

The goodness of God conquers the evil of the world one heart at a time. That’s your heart. My heart. Our hearts. So it can happen. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Warren Baldwin

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