A popular quote attributed to the 19th-century statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” One of the problems with this statement is its vagueness. What exactly are we supposed to do to triumph over evil?
Paul’s prescription for how to triumph over evil is much more specific. It begins not with action but attitude. Whatever we do to defeat evil must be motivated by sincere love. Our actions must also spring from the right moral base. We cannot use evil to defeat evil but must learn to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (v. 9). The fight against evil must be carried out with patience and sensitivity. We wage this battle on two fronts. We do good to those who share our faith. We do the same to those who oppose and persecute us (vv. 10–14).
In this time of outrage and paybacks, we should resist the urge to repay evil with a similar treatment. Paul’s message is indeed countercultural. He quotes Proverbs 25:21–22 in verse 20 to underscore the urgency of leaving revenge up to God. By doing good to those who are evil, we are treating them as God has treated us. We, who were once His enemies, were won over by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. The command to “live at peace with everyone” in verse 18 has an important qualifier: “If it is possible...” It is not always possible to live at peace with others, because we can’t control the response of others. But with God’s help, we can control ourselves.
>> Are you in conflict with someone? How can you repay their treatment with “good” today? An important place to start is to bring them before God in prayer. Ask Him to go before you in the situation, helping you to “live at peace.”