Romans 12:17-21 – Two “wrongs” don’t make a “right”!



Romans 12:17-21




ILLUS.: Last year – neighbours kids – golf in garden – ball over fence a few time – warned of  breaking a window – run ins with them before – full of cheek and abuse – sure enough a window was broken – spoke to father “What must I do about it?” was his response – I was not happy!!!!!


Response – they never did pay for window – I had all kinds of thoughts many of which were far from charitable – including a brick through their window [too obvious] // scratch the car — At least they were only thoughts and my conscience won the day ..


The desire in all of us to get even /retaliate is very strong. When wronged//been hurt or someone we love is wronged or hurt everything in us cries out for justice/ for the wrong to be righted. We want to hurt in return. We don’t like to see someone getting away with wrongdoing!!


It is natural to want justice BUT so often if retaliatory action is taken it is over the top. Retaliation is seldom getting even but it is usually giving back plus a bit extra!! Our emotions get in the way, our judgment is clouded, ….


As Christians, however, God calls us not to act naturally but supernatural.

Our instructions are to NOT  retaliate!!


That is the main point of this last paragraph in Romans 12.


There is a fourfold negative command –


  • ‘Do not curse’ v14
  • ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil’ v17
  • ‘Do not take revenge’ v19
  • ‘Do not be overcome by evil’ v21


These verses all say the same thing is a different way – retaliation and revenge are not to be part of Christian attitude and behaviour.

Christians are called followers of Jesus – Well then we had better follow him – Jesus never took revenge/ he never hit back in either word or action

1 Peter 2:23 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. ……. (NIV)


Tit-for-tat games start at toddler level – “You didn’t give me a sweet so I won’t let you play with my doll!!”  Childish reactions we say! but as young people and adults are we not often guilty of similar attitudes and actions even if on a more sophisticated level?


Non-retaliation has always been the what of God’s people are called to.

Luke 6:27-28     27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. (NIV)

We find this teaching in the OT as well.

Proverbs 20:22  Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!”Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. Proverbs 24:29  Do not say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did.”


Such non-retaliation is not easy – these instructions are hard enough to follow as they stand BUT Christian behaviour is never to be purely negative –SO Paul adds to each of these negatives, positive attitudes and actions we are to have!!


1. ‘BLESS, DON’T CURSE’ v14.


We dealt with this verse last time —

Romans 12:14   14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (NIV)

We said that if we are going to have a transformed life and renewed mind [v.2] that implies becoming more and more Christlike – A Christ who on the way to the cross could pray for his persecutors “Father forgive them…”

What about those who have hurt you – inside and outside the Church –

  • That family member who has taken you for granted –
  • that friend who has let you down
  • that boss who makes your life a misery
  • that fellow-Christian who irritates you
  • that neighbour whose cat damages your garden – or breaks your window !!!- music too loud – parks the car in your space ….

Do you avoid – hold a grudge – try to get even – wish some harm came to them??

— that a car would run over the cat!!! —

We are to bless them – pray for them – do good to them.




Romans 12:17-18   Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (NIV)


Even in the OT individuals never had the right to administer punishment on an personal level – When we read ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ we are not talking about individuals taking the law into their own hands rather this was the job of the civil authorities. This is what Paul will be dealing with in the next section.


When we have a vindictive spirit it destroys our Christian distinctiveness – and if we do not stand out as different in our words and actions people will say, “Those Christians are no different from us!’ — How then can we possibly be successful in winning people to Jesus Christ.


NOT just refusing to be vengeful BUT positively doing good – seeking peace. HOW?


reminds of

Proverbs 3:3-4  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man. (NIV)


Our lives need to be honest and upright and genuine –

  • making sure my work is done properly / my affair in order
  • my homework is MY work and not copied …


Matthew 5:16 ……., let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (NIV)



The Bible is full of passages that call for us to live at peace – Jesus called those who were peace-makers ‘blessed’ …

Matthew 5:9  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (NIV)


We are to take the initiative to make peace where there is none – is a world that is full of strife and conflict not just between nations but between families and individuals — Christians are to be peace-brokers where possible AND esp. where we are personally involved in a conflict situation.


HOWEVER it is not to be peace at ANY price!! – as far as it depends on you – qualifies the effort for peace!!

It is not always possible to make your peace with another party — How often we see this in marriage breakdown where one partner is willing to work at the relationship and do whatever it take to make it work but the other is determined not to – in such a case it is impossible to resolve.

Sometimes it is impossible to make peace because the other party lays down conditions for reconciliation that would involve unacceptable moral compromises .. the business partner/boss who will restore a working relationship on condition you overlook/take part in under-the-counter deals.

Clearly these are situations were peace is not possible!!




Romans 12:19-20 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 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.” (NIV)


As a counter to the negative command not to take the law into our own hands Paul reminds us that that is God’s prerogative.

leave room for God’s wrath – it is not our place as individuals to wreak vengeance on other or to ‘play God’. It is not our place to retaliate of to inflict punishment.

Ultimately God has the final say – after all he knows all the details – nothing escapes him – and he will deal justly with everyone and he will punish those who deserve to be punished.

We are not saying that judging and punishment of evil should not happen – clearly evil deserves to be punished and should be – BUT it is God’s prerogative and not ours.

In the present age – God has given the administration of justice to the State – not that they always get it right or that all governments are good – BUT justice will finally be expressed by God ….

Romans 2:5 ….. the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (NIV)


Again Jesus is our example to follow – he was the object of far deeper and greater suffering and anguish than we will know and it was certainly unjustly laid on him yet what does Peter say

1 Peter 2:23 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)


More than just being an example consider our Lord, by suffering in our place and removing God’s wrath from us, wrath which we undoubtedly deserved, shouldn’t we refrain from taking revenge against others.


Here comes the positive counter — BE a Servant to your enemy.

It is hard enough being a servant to a friend let alone an enemy.

BUT we are told to go out of our way to do good to our enemies … those who cause us trouble and make our lives difficult …

– taking positive action towards people…

  • still inviting that catty sister-in-law or obnoxious uncle to tea
  • giving a Christmas card to the Boss who has made your life hell
  • helping your fellow student with their project inspite of the horrible comments she made about you last week …


So when we have been badly treated we should respond not with concealed resentment or feeling of anger BUT with kindness!!

The purpose … In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. What does this mean?

Most likely … these burning coals are not a punishment – the purpose is not to scold their scalps!!

It was a way of a person expressing deep shame and contrition – it was s sign of repentance and sorrow – these were place there by the person him/herself.

The acts of kindness – heaping coals on – is intended to heal not hurt; to win over not to alienate, to shame into repentance.

We are to ‘love our enemies’ and the greatest love we can show anyone is to bring them to Christ to experience the greatest love of all – this should be our aim — So the challenge when wronged is to see this as an opportunity to act as Jesus did – to offer the hand of kindness NOT the fist of revenge!!




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


This is the climax of Paul argument. He began the chapter telling us to be living sacrifices, having transformed lives and renewed minds –

Here he holds out two alternatives – there is no middle ground  –

we can EITHER

  • succumb to evil by being bitter, vengeful, spiteful and cursing those who harm us or our loved ones … it can then engulf us and defeat us ..


  •  we can overcome evil by refusing to retaliate AND take positive steps to bless those who persecute us … making sure we are doing good … seeking to be peacemakers … working hard at trying to win over those who oppose us … IF we behave in this way we will be overcoming evil with good.


As you have listened this morning – Is there some one who has come to mind? someone you resent// are bitter towards // someone who has hurt you //….and you would like to get even  OR  who you would like to see them get their comeuppance.

There may be nothing you can do – except pray for them — but maybe you can do something practical.

Perhaps you have never done them actual harm BUT have you positively tried to bless them, do good to them, to serve them in some way!! You know who you are thinking about! You might feel that you are in the right and they were the one who wronged you – perhaps so! But as Christians we are most likely to react wrongly when we are in the right!!

God calls us to both act and react in a Christlike way.


This kind of attitude can’t be obtained by human effort or exertion – it is gained only by faith. Faith in a Saviour who did not retaliate or call down curses on the heads of his persecutors BUT who endured shame and humiliation so that we might be justified before God.

He not only calls us to follow him and his example in this BUT he give us the power of the indwelling Spirit to do it!





Romans 12:14,17-21.


Four negative commands:


  • Do not curse’ v14
  • ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil’ v17
  • ‘Do not take revenge’ v19
  • ‘Do not be overcome by evil’ v21




Each negative has a positive countermeasure:


1. Bless, do not curse. v14


2. Be peacemakers, do not repay with evil. v17-18


3. Be a servant, do not be an avenger. v19-20


4. Good overcomes evil, revenge adds to evil. v21


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