Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear 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.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Basic principle: “Do not repay anyone for evil.” “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul says that to repay evil with evil is immediately to lose the battle to evil. The only way to defeat evil is by doing good to the one who has done harm. The only way to defeat evil is to forgive and love the person. Another way to put it is that when we identify “evil” too closely with the “evildoer,” we believe we need to destroy the evildoer in order to destroy evil. So it seems good to do evil, and we unwittingly become a pawn of the evil force behind the evildoer.
Our basic goal is to forgive, love and show kindness to the evildoer. When we do, there are two results. First, the spread of evil is checked toward us. Its hatred and pride do not infect us. Second, the spread of evil may be checked in the evildoer. He or she may be softened and helped by our love.
What does this mean?
- Do not avoid a hostile person. See verse 18. Your avoidance could well be a form of payback.
- Express loving words and actions. See verse 20.
- Forgive and forego repayment. See verse 19.
CAVEAT! There are boundaries! Verse 9 reminds us that we are not truly loving when we enable someone to sin or sin against us. Enemies that are still currently dangerous should be avoided. We need to discern our motive for avoiding but these principles do not apply to someone who is trying to physically harm you or someone you love.