David Jeremiah - Overcoming Evil with Good
Let's look at the instruction Paul gave the Ephesian believers when he told them to: "Put on the breastplate of righteousness". The breastplate of the common Roman soldier was a piece of armor made of reinforced leather. And for an officer, the leather was covered with metal plating for extra protection. And the breastplate covered the torso and protected the soldier's vital organs, especially his heart. A warrior without his breastplate was vulnerable and dangerously exposed to the enemy.
So, in his letter, Paul used this literal breastplate that was used to protect the physical heart of a Roman soldier. He used it as a metaphor. Righteousness, he inferred, acts like a breastplate to protect your spiritual heart, the spiritual center of your life and my life. It is by appropriating the righteousness of Jesus Christ and his moral perfection and his sinless life and living righteously that we are able to overcome the evil that is within us, the evil that is around us. So, how do we do this? When we think about overcoming evil with good, we tend to focus on the evil that's all around us. The Bible says, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. All have turned aside; they have all together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one".
You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, that's not what I believe". Let me tell you somethin'. Doesn't matter whether you believe it or not, it's true. We don't get to create truth by what we believe or don't believe. This is the truth. This is the Word of God. The Bible says we are born, and we inherit a sin nature from our parents, and sometimes that sin nature is grown like it was a wild flower, and it just becomes who we are. One of the great surprises that most of us have along the way is that the people who get in trouble sometimes are the last people you would expect would ever do such a thing because, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart".
One of the most dangerous thoughts a human being, even a Christian, can have is this one: "Oh, I would never do anything that evil". And that thought reveals a sad naivete about one's own heart, and a dangerous possibility because the Bible says, "Let him that thinketh he stands take heed lest he fall". "And pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall". You know, the bad news is that we all have evil in us, but the good news is that Jesus Christ, in his goodness and mercy, overcame that evil by dying on the cross and offering to us his righteousness. So, if you haven't heard this before, let me just kinda package this good news in a few sentences. Here's what happened when Jesus went to the cross. It's the most wonderful truth in the Bible. In 23 words, Paul gives us this message in 2 Corinthians 5: "For God made Christ who knew sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him".
Now, watch this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took on our identity as a sinner, and when we believe in him, we take on his identity as the righteous Son of God. By this incredible moment at the cross, Christ became sin for us, and when he forgave us our sin, he gave us his righteousness. And God wants to give you his righteousness and take your sin and forgive you, and he will do it. All you have to do is ask him. All you have to do is say, "Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, and I want your righteousness in my life. Please forgive me of my sin and give me your righteousness," and he will do it. He's never turned anybody down who has asked him that question. So, that's the basic thing.
So, now, I always say this little poem whenever I can 'cause it's so profound. It goes like this: "Two natures beat within my breast. The one is foul, the one is blessed. The one I love, the one I hate. The one I feed will dominate". You got two natures, all of us, and your old nature's still with you. When you get saved, you get a new nature, but the old one doesn't go away. So, guess what? After you become a Christian, you still have the tendencies to repay evil with evil. So, I wanna talk with you in these last moments of this message about how we overcome the evil that is around us. How do we deal with the evil things people do to us? How do we overcome? Anybody here ever have anybody do evil to you? Well, it's universal, and it's more so now, it seems to me, than ever before. And the temptation for us as Christians is to use the world's method of trying to find a way to get even.
The Bible gives us clear direction on how we can overcome evil with good, and there's a central passage that does it. I love it when the Bible does this. Sometimes the verses are strewn all over the place, but sometimes there's a central passage where the most important truth is in one place. So, if you ever discover that you're struggling with revenge or the desire to hurt somebody because they hurt you, read Romans 12:17 through 21. Put a box around it. This is the revenge passage: "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, '"Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord.' Therefore, 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good".
Let me read that last phrase again: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". And I wanna give you six principles that will help you learn how to overcome evil with good. Somewhere, someplace, somebody's gonna do somethin' to you that's really ugly. How are you gonna deal with that as a follower of Jesus Christ? Maybe you're in a situation right now. Maybe you're in a broken marriage, where your spouse is just trashin' you. Everybody goes through those times when evil enters their life, even after you become a Christian. What do you do with evil when it shows up at your door? I'm gonna give you some thoughts right from this passage of Scripture. First of all, leave vengeance to God. Here's what it says: "Repay no one evil. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves. For it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.'"
Have you ever noticed the way we talk about getting revenge? Now, listen, this is really interesting. We say we want to get even, which means we want to get even so we can even out the balance sheet. We want the person who's done evil to us to experience the same amount of evil from us. In other words, whatever you do, don't let anybody get ahead of you in doin' evil. Keep the scales perfectly balanced, get even. That's how we think. But then we read this in the Bible, and the Bible says, "Don't repay evil for evil. For it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.'" When we attempt to take vengeance on another person, here's what we're doin', folks. We're usurping the role of God. God says vengeance is his, and we have no right or authority to take on a role that he reserves from himself.
The Bible very clearly tells us what to do, and it does explicitly. Leviticus 19 says: "'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.'" Listen to me, if we try to do God's work, we will fail. God vindicates his people in due time, and we must have patience and let God's work go forward according to his plan. Leave vengeance to God, that's hard. Here's the second principle. Learn to plan ahead. Romans 12:17 says: "Have regard for good things in the sight of all men". Paul always gives good illustrations to these principles. He said: "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursues what is good both for yourself and for all".
So, let's just talk about that for a moment. When it comes to how to handle evil in our lives, most of us are reactive. In other words, when somethin' happens to us, we react. But Paul is calling upon us to be proactive. In other words, to plan ahead, to pursue what is good instead of just reacting to what is bad. No one is immune to the daily irritations in life. I mean, some situations and people just naturally bring the worst out of us, don't they? Paul challenges us to strategize so we can do good even in unpleasant situations. Our task is to learn how we can do better the next time we face the events that are drivin' us up the wall this time. Leave vengeance to God. Learn to plan ahead. Lean in to the next thing. Whether we've planned for them or not, times of trial will come, and when they do, we have to decide how to respond.
As an overcomer, you have to realize that you won't be able to fix everything now. But you say, "Oh, I'm in this situation, and this and this and this is happening, and I don't know what to do". Well, just do the next right thing. Don't worry until you get 'em all right. Do the next right thing. God will show you what that is. Just pray, "Lord God, I don't know how to fix all of this. I don't know how to make this right, but there's somethin' in here I can do. Show me what the next thing is," and then lean in to that and do the next right thing. Guess what? When you do the next right thing, you will learn what the next right thing after that is. And sometimes we just get overwhelmed. Have you been paralyzed by the, "It's just so overwhelming, I don't know what to do"?
So we don't do anything, and we stay stuck. And God doesn't want you to stay stuck. Leave vengeance to God. Learn to plan ahead. Lean in to the next right thing. And then the Bible says, "Leave peaceably with all men". That's Romans chapter 12, verse 18. It says: "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men". Very pregnant statement. I'm deeply concerned, and I know you are, about what's happening in the angry spirit that's taken over in our nation. Political rivalry has become political animosity, and opponents spit hatred and vitriol at each other like vicious animals. When we watch that, no matter what side we may be on with any issue, we should say, "Whatever it is they believe, what they're doing is wrong". You may even believe what they believe, but you can't believe that the way they express it is the way God would have it expressed.
Listen to what he said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God". "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord". When we overcome evil with good, the evil is smothered, lacking the fuel of animosity to keep it alive. Of course, we don't have total control over how people respond. Notice what it says: "As much as it depends on you". Sometimes peace doesn't depend on you. You might do all the right thing, and they still are angry, and they're still cussin' you out and sayin' all these ugly words. The Bible says, "If that happens, you're not responsible for that". "As much as is possible for you to do it, as much as depends on you, live in peace with all men". Don't let it be said, "We're not at peace, because I'm not at peace". Get in peace with God, and he will help you get in peace with others. And if they don't respond, thank God that you've done the right thing, all right.
Here's the next one, and this is the most central truth in this whole message. Let good overcome evil. Now, listen to these words again from Romans 12:20: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing," says the Scripture, "you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good". Let me tell you a little personal story. "Turning Point Radio," believe it or not, is heard on 2.200 radio stations every day, over 6.000 times a day, "Turning Point" is released across the country. We have a lot of wonderful stations, and we have very little conflict with the station managers, but one day, I got a call from a station in Southern California, where the manager said he was gonna take our program off the air, and this was a good station, covered a lot of territory.
We had a lot of response from this station. And I said, "Why would you do that"? Well, he tried to explain that new people owned the station, and I wasn't in the preferred group of speakers that they wanted on their station, and they were gonna take me off and put somebody else in my place. And I knew the person that he said they were gonna put in my place, and you know what? That got under my skin. And for a couple of days, I walked around barkin' at myself and "That's not right. I'm gonna send a letter out to all my listeners and tell 'em what this guy has done". Don't laugh at me like you don't know what I'm talking about, yeah. And the Lord got ahold of me, and this was in the middle of the month, and we pay monthly rates, and I hadn't paid for that month yet. I was gettin' ready to pay for it. So I was only gonna have to pay for half of it.
So, I wrote a letter to this guy and I said, "Look, I don't know why you're doin' what you're doin', but I'm gonna send my full check, and I want you to use what's left of my check after my time is gone to help the guy who's gonna take my place get started". Now, wait a minute. I'm no saint. I was doin' that to see if I could fix this ugly spirit in my heart, you know? So, he got the letter. I heard back from the broadcaster. Six months later, he called me and he said, "Hey, Dr. Jeremiah, we have a new time for you," and it was way better than the time I had before, and I've been on there ever since, and we're just knockin' the ball out of the park on that station.
So, what did I do that day, you guys? What did I do? I overcame evil with good. Do you think I wanted to do that? Not down deep in my heart, but I knew this principle, that if you overcome evil with good, God will take the evil away. So, here's some of the best advice I have ever received about responding to evil. When someone strikes out at you to hurt you with an evil act, don't curse it, don't rehearse it, don't nurse it, reverse it. There you go. Let me say that again. Don't curse it, don't rehearse it, don't nurse it, reverse it. And the way you reverse it is you overcome that evil by doing something good.
Jesus talked about reversing the impact of evil. He said, "You've heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right check, turn the other to him also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, give him your cloak". And Peter wrote, "Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing".
The last one is this. Let me go over them again: Leave vengeance to God. Learn to plan ahead. Lean in to the next right thing. Live peaceably with all men. Let good overcome evil. And love your enemy. Oh, my goodness. The phrase Paul used in Romans 12:20 says: "If you do that, you will heap coals of fire on his head". I never knew what that was until I studied this passage in depth. Here's what it means. In Egyptian times, heaping coals upon the head of a person was what happened when a person wanted to demonstrate public contrition. He would carry on his head a pan of burning coals to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.
The point here is that when we love our enemy and seek to meet his needs, we shame him for his hatred. We make him feel ashamed for what he's done. How do you do that? When he does evil, you do good. Someone has said wisely that "the enemy has overcome us when he makes us like himself". To repay evil for evil is to become like Satan. To adopt the methods of your enemy is to become an enemy yourself. But to repay good for evil is to become like God. The essential victory over evil is the work of love. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you". Love, bless, do good, pray, that's how you overcome evil with good. This is no imaginary victory. It's the most revolutionary force in the world, and I don't think anyone but Christians can do this.
If you don't have Christ in your heart, you don't have the power to do this. Here's the essence of this lesson in one statement: Overcome evil with good. Philippians 3:9 says: "Not having our own righteousness, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith". And Galatians 6:9 says: "Let's don't become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don't give up". So, I came here to tell you, if you want to hold a grudge, you're doin' it at your own peril. The person you hold a grudge against probably doesn't even know you're doin' it. They aren't hurt about it all. It's killin' you. So, why don't you just take God at his Word, and determine that by his grace, from this moment on, you will overcome evil with good? Hallelujah.