A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as Exhibited in Transformation
A Life of Love (12:1-21)
Verse 18 confronts believers with a most difficult task, and only by the grace of God can we do it. "If it be possible" - there he is talking not about you, but the other fellow. The second phrase talks about you: "As much as in you lies" - the emphasis on you - "live at peace with all men." That does not mean peace at the expense of righteousness, but the point is this: you are never to be the one to break the peace. If the other fellow breaks it, even then you are to do all you can to keep the peace. When the peace is broken, don't look at the other fellow, but look at yourself and see if you have done all you can do.
We are not to use this exhortation for simply giving in to everything that comes. For instance, when it concerns me individually, then it is right for me to give, give, give to the last drop, and never break the peace! But I also have a duty to others in my life, and when, by permitting somebody to run over me, I fail in my duty to others, then that is a different matter.
Verse 19 explains the underlying reason for saying this. Paul begins, "Dearly beloved." He knows he is uttering a hard thing. The people of his time were accustomed to taking revenge, perhaps even more than today. "Do not avenge yourselves, but give place to wrath," that is, the wrath of God. Let us not imagine this means the wrath of other men or even the wrath of ourselves. It means the wrath of God. The word "God" ought to be supplied at this point, for He is involved. Apparently the translators of the ASV thought it meant that, for they rendered it that way into English. "Give place to wrath." Why? "Because it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord." It is not our business to repay men for what they do to us. Any effort on our part to administer justice will fall far short of the true situation.
But if the believer is not satisfied with that and feels that he must do something in repayment, then there is a way to do it. This is set forth in the twentieth verse: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink." That is the only kind of repayment that is permitted the Christian. In doing that, what will you do to him? "Heap coals of fire on his head." What do you think that means? A lot of folks are at sea and do not know just exactly what it does mean. Here is my best judgment in the matter, as God has given me grace to understand: "In so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head." If you actually heap coals of fire on his head, you will destroy him in the sense that you will destroy him as your enemy. That is the kind of repayment to make. Or, if you want to look at it as some others do: Very often there is nothing that burns and brings greater remorse than for a man who has done you damage to realize that you have forgiven him for all of it, and that you have treated him kindly. In that sense, it would be a revenge and would destroy him as you enemy.
Paul sums it all up in the twenty-first verse: "Overcome evil with good." Paul had begun his exhortations by saying, "Be not conformed ... but be ye transformed." The word "good" ought to be the dominant word in the Christian life, from one end to the other. God's people who have been listening to the mercies of God ought to be very prayerful in the presence of these exhortations to holy living. We ought to have regard for the exhortations to holy living. We ought to have regard for the exhortation that says, "I beseech you by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice!"
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 78 - "The Christian Life as One in Subjection to the State")