Verses 1-2 of this chapter are still the starting point for the verses before us now. So keep these verses in mind as we go on with Paul’s exhortation or encouragement.
V14. Let blessing flow towards others through your way of life, even if they behave unfriendly. Blessing means to wish someone well. We tend to curse someone who’s unfriendly to us, that is, to wish unpleasant things on him. To be able to bless while enduring persecutions, you must look at the Lord Jesus. He is again the perfect example. Did He not pray at the cross for His persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:3434But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.)?
V15. Is someone around you happy? “Rejoice” with him. This doesn’t refer to the empty pleasure of this world. You can rejoice about the pleasant things God gives to others, even to unbelievers. Think of all kinds of earthly blessings like someone getting married or having a baby, or an unemployed person finding a job. You can join in the joy these things give.
Yet, to “weep with those who weep” is more difficult. To share someone’s grief is to sympathize. An incurable disease and death are terrible things. Unbelievers as well will appreciate it if we show sympathy. This can give an opportunity to talk of the Lord Jesus.
V16. Experiencing certain things together, such as joy and grief, makes it easier to be like-minded with one another. We can have the same desires. This like-mindedness can exist only as we have the desire to live for the Lord Jesus. For this, being humble is an important condition! Striving after “haughty” things makes us feel elevated above others. Then we will begin to stand on our own, apart from the others with whom we form the one body in Christ (Rom 12:5). When we are not humble, we lose the ability to be like-minded. We can only learn this from the Lord Jesus (Mt 11:2929Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.). By learning from Him, we show we’re not wise in our eyes.
V17. To “pay back evil for evil” was proper for the Israelite of the Old Testament (an eye for an eye, etc.), but it’s not proper for a New Testament Christian. Christians should radiate God’s features and should “respect what is right in the sight of all men”.
V18. As far as it depends on you, you ought to live in “peace with all men”. This is not always possible as can be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He is the Prince of peace. Yet, by Him unrest and quarrels entered families because a choice had to be made either for Him or against Him (Mt 10:34-3534“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.35For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW;). Maybe you have experienced this. But such discord should not be caused by a wrong act on your side.
V19-20. When you’re treated wrongly, you don’t have to avenge yourself or become angry. You can leave the wrath to God. In His time He will execute His justice. What you should do is the opposite; you should make those who wrong you feel ashamed. Many have already been won for the Lord because of believers who did well to their enemies and blessed them instead of cursing them.
V21. “Do not be overcome by evil.” The world is filled with evil, and sin is still present inside you. The world around you and the flesh in you are on excellent terms with each other. But the body of sin has been annulled and you should no longer serve sin (Rom 6:6).
In the same way that God has overcome the evil in us with the good that He gave in the Lord Jesus, you can now overcome evil with good. You thus overcome evil when the enemy fails to get you to react in a wrong way! You can use this opportunity to show the goodness and mercies of God. In 2 Kings 6 you find a beautiful illustration of such a victory in the way Elisha reacted (2Kgs 6:8-238Now the king of Aram was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.”9The man of God sent [word] to the king of Israel saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans are coming down there.”10The king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice.11Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?”12One of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”13So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”14He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.15Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”16So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”17Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.18When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.19Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria.20When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these [men], that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.21Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”22He answered, “You shall not kill [them]. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”23So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.).
Now read Romans 12:14-21 again.
Reflection: To what degree can these ‘rules’ for the Christian life be found in you?