|Overcome Evil With Good - Is it a lost art?|
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell
Abigail in whom beauty and brain were wed, whose name means joy, had her family relationships tested to the utmost. She was married to a rich, harsh and badly behaved, Nabal. Yet she put her faith into practice, and lived the teaching of the Bible, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21.
Nabal, whose name means fool, verbally abused David’s servants who were sent to him with a request for help. Earlier David had freely protected Nabal’s men and sheep from outside forces. When the shearing of the sheep was completed, David sent ten of his young men to Nabal. As per David’s instructions the messengers were to bestow blessings upon Nabal's well-being and that of his household. This is what David said to his young men: “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favour in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David,’” (1Samuel 25: 5-8).
David's messengers returned to him declaring that Nabal refused to provide any kind of payment for the protection given. Not only did Nabal refuse any kind of supply, he was angry and arrogant. As the Bible says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” David, passionate and hot-headed, breathes revenge, not only upon Nabal, but his entire household! He was determined to take violent action.
When Abigail heard of her husband’s behaviour, she immediately prepared to make up for his foolish actions. Without telling her husband of her plans, she and her servants prepared a large amount of food and drink, and she bravely went to encounter 400 men with swords and an angry leader at their head. She was indeed courageous. Her motive was to plead for the lives of others; she didn’t think of herself, she was prepared to die. She did not shield her husband before David rather she admitted his folly. She prevented certain bloodshed by humbling herself before David.
Her faith in the living God was her source of strength with which she addresses David with confidence. After she spoke, David not only changed his mind but recognised God as the source of her instruction - an amazing insight for a man from a male dominated society! Here is David’s response to Abigail: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (vv.32-35). God’s people have an exemplary capacity for correction and change.
Abigail’s story teaches us that wise people can effectively initiate action even when they aren’t in formal leadership positions. Because she cared less for herself, and had less ego investment in the situation than did either David or Nabal, Abigail was able to avert a confrontation between two leaders that would have proved catastrophic for both.
Abigail displayed remarkable wisdom, integrity and courage in her day and generation and made peace. Leadership is wedded more with the wisdom of the person than with the power of the position. Abigail teaches the value of keeping our calm, understanding the bigger picture, forming a workable plan and influencing other people to follow a wiser course than the one their anger is driving them to follow.
Abigail overcame evil with good. In this she reflects the character Jesus Christ praised, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
It’s tragic that the arrogant and revengeful spirit as seen in the behaviour of Nabal and David is alive and well today even among followers of Christ. Christians sometimes attempt to sanctify their anger by calling it righteous indignation, but we too are tempted to retaliate against those who mistreat us. Religiously, we may pretend to resist evil supposing that God is on our side as we seek to “even the score” by causing hurt or harm to those who have mistreated us.
A clear, consistent, and definite teaching of the Bible is not popular for it runs contrary to the drive of our fallen worldly nature. It is easy to like certain people without loving them. But how well do you love those you find it impossible to love? The principles of living as taught in the Bible are for the ultimate good for us and the ultimate good for others. Let’s briefly consider the teaching of the Bible on returning good for evil as found in Romans 12:17-21.
“17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul knew that persecution and acts of malice would be directed against the small house gatherings. Yet it’s in the atmosphere of threat and intimidation within which Christians have to live out their discipleship. He therefore urges for a life-style which steers clear from trouble by refusing to retaliate to provocations and by responding with positive good to all hostile acts directed against them. Paul calls for a humble and peaceable attitude both towards Christians and people of other faiths and ideologies. Positive outgoing love is the rule for Christian living; a kind of love which does not consider or depend on receiving a positive response in turn.
Revenge is contrary to righteousness and to the definition of right, (v. 17). The taking of vengeance, that is, acting independently of or beyond the law, is condemned in the Old Testament: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord,”(Lev 19:18). “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you,” (Proverbs 20:22). “Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me.”(24:29).
God’s righteousness is much higher than we are willing to accept. Its standard we can meet, only by His grace. Self-centred people like Nabal often reject the higher standard of righteousness which God has established and which the Word of God defines. Our encounter with the living Christ must demonstrate the righteousness of God in our daily life. Revenge not only violates the standards God has laid down for us, but it violates the standards of society as well. Revenge takes the law into its own hands. That is why we have police and law-enforcement agencies. Revenge usually always extends the punishment beyond the crime and often promotes further violence. Society forbids revenge and condemns it as an evil. If society views revenge as evil, as God does, we should have regard for its standards. Our testimony as a Christian will be greatly flawed if we fail to live up to those standards commonly agreed upon by society. We dare not seek revenge. This view is dangerous and unbiblical.
Paul is not advocating that Christians should compartmentalize their lives, into spiritual and ordinary affairs, or live their lives cut off from contact with the wider community. He takes it for granted that Christians will live out their daily lives and wider relationships motivated by the same love as in their relationships with fellow believers.
Revenge does not advance peace but provokes people to hostility (v. 18). Peace is a priority for the Christian. When Jesus came to the earth, born as a baby, the angels sang, “… on earth peace among men, with whom He is well pleased” (Luke 2:14). Jesus taught His disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace was to govern the conduct of Christ’s disciples (Mark 9:50). The double qualification, “If possible, so far as it depends on you,” (v.18) is very noticeable. Paul clearly recognizes that harmonious living with neighbours might not be possible nor lie within our own power. Facing hostility and persecution was all too common during the days of Paul. It is not uncommon in our day and age as well. Paul is not pressing for an unrealistic ideal upon Christians nor expecting them to compromise their faith for the sake of a quiet life. Because peace is a priority for the Christian and revenge promotes hostility, pursuing peace is the remedy to revenge. Walking the path of peace lays revenge to rest.
Revenge is the anger of humans; Christians must leave vengeance to God to whom it rightly belongs. James said it, and Paul obviously agrees, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Revenge takes the law into our own hands. In seeking revenge, men attempt to execute judgment on their fellow men.
Revenge assumes a task which belongs only to God (verse 19). Judgment is God’s business as taught by the Scriptures. God has promised to establish justice and to execute His anger on the wicked. We must believe this by faith. We must wait for His day of anger and not hasten it by taking matters into our own hands. Just as we must patiently wait for God’s blessings, we must also patiently wait for God’s vengeance. Taking our own vengeance is taking God’s place and exercising His right.
Inculcate a positive response to hostility (v. 20). As we saw earlier Abigail acted with a positive response to hostility, by meeting it with acts of kindness, just as the Bible underlines the importance of meeting an enemy with hospitality and compassion. In her we see an expression of outgoing love seeking only good for the enemy, and not simply as a passive response, leave it to God.
The scripture teaches us that we have the power of disarming our enemies by treating them as friends. Of course, being kind does not remove the weapons from the hands of our enemies, but it does remove their reason for seeing us as their enemy. This is what is meant in the scripture passage by the image of heaping hot coals on their heads. If we respond as neighbours, rather than as enemies, to those who hate us, their shame may burn away their anger and allow them to see us as neighbours.
Jesus taught his disciples: "You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for your Father makes the sun rise on the righteous and on the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:43-45) And Paul quoted this text from Proverbs to encourage Christians facing persecution. "Do not be overcome by evil," he urged, "but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:20-21)
Revenge submits to evil rather than overcoming evil with good (verse 21). The present tense indicates a call for dedicated persistence. Revenge is being overcome by sin and is the promotion of evil. If we do not overcome evil with good, we are of worldly mindset. Taking revenge is being overcome by sin; doing good is overcoming evil with good. Christian love is evidenced by our hatred of evil and our embracing what is good. The Christian does not “fight fire with fire”; we must not retort to sin by sinning. Our sin was overcome by the righteousness of God. The sins of others expressed in opposition to us will not be overcome by our sinful acts. Sin is only overcome by good. As we do “good” to our enemies, we clearly demonstrate to a self centred world how God defeats sin, bringing tribute to the gospel we proclaim. When the sin of others prompts us to sin in return, we have been defeated by sin. When the sin of others prompts us to do good to our enemies in return, sin is defeated and righteousness prevails. Christ’s answer to evil is always and never other than a positive act of good. Only so will good outlast and gain the victory over evil (v 21).
The followers of Christ are set apart from all others by their way of responding to their enemies. They do not hate their enemies and seek their suffering and destruction; rather they love their enemies and seek to do good to them. Indeed the Bible calls for a conduct which is possible only in the strength God provides.
God’s thoughts are above ours and His ways are above ours. Let’s call upon God to empower us by His grace to live as He requires. Let’s follow the path shown by Christ of overcoming evil with good. For overcoming evil with good is not a lost art rather the only art for peaceful living.