Third Sunday after Epiphany: Christian Revenge
Sermons of Martin Luther-Baker - OUT OF PRINT
Text: Romans 12, 16-21. 16 "Be not wise in your own conceits.
17 Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in
the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be
at peace with all men. 19 Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place
unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me;
I will recompense, saith the Lord. 20 But if shine enemy hunger, feed him;
if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals
of fire upon his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with
"Be not wise in your own conceits."
64. The lesson as read in the Church ends here. We shall, therefore,
notice but briefly the remaining portion. "Conceits," as here
used, signifies the obstinate attitude with regard to temporal things which
is maintained by that individual who is unwilling to be instructed, who
himself knows best in all things, who yields to no one and calls good whatever
harmonizes with his ideas. The Christian should be more willing to make
concession in temporal affairs. Let him not be contentious, but rather
yielding, since the Word of God and faith are not involved, it being only
a question of personal honor, of friends and of worldly things. "Render
to no man evil for evil." *This and the last sermon are one in some
editions. Hence the paragraphs are numbered as one sermon.
65. In the counsel above (verse 14) to "curse not," the writer
of the epistle has in mind those unable to avenge themselves, or to return
evil for evil. These have no alter- native but to curse, to invoke evil
upon their oppressors. In this instance, however, the reference is to those
who have equal power to render one another evil for evil, malice for malice,
whether by aces committed or omitted and usually they are omitted. But
the Christian should render good for evil, and omit not. God suffers his
sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good. Mt 5, 45.
"Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men."
66. This injunction is similar to that he gives the Thessalonians (1
Thes 5, 22), "Abstain from all appearance of evil"; and the Philippians
(ch. 4, 8): "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable,
whatsoever things are lust, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things
are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue,
and if there be any praise, think on these things." The reference
is purely to our outward conduct. Paul would not have tale Christian think
himself at liberty to do his own pleasure, regardless of others' approbation.
Only in the things of faith is such the Christian's privilege. His out-
ward conduct should be irreproachable, acceptable to all men; in keeping
with the teaching of first Corinthians, 10, 32-33, to please all men, giving
offense neither to Jews nor to Gentiles; and obedient to Peter's advice
(1 Pet 2, 12), "Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles."
"If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all
67. Outward peace among men is here intended peace with Christians and
heathen, with the godly and the wicked. the high and the low. We must give
no occasion for strife; rather, we are to endure every ill patiently, never
permit- ting peace to be disturbed on our account. We must not return evil
for evil, blow for blow; for he who so does, gives rise to contention.
Paul adds, "-As much as in you lieth." We are to avoid injuring
any, lest we be the ones to occasion contention. We must extend friendliness
to all men, even though they be not friendly to us. It is impossible to
maintain peace at all times. The saying is, "I can continue in peace
only so long as my neighbor is willing." But it lies in our power
to leave others at peace, friends and foes, and to endure the contentions
of all. "Oh yes," you say, "but where would we be then?"
"Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath
of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense,
saith the Lord."
68. Note, in forbidding us to return blow for blow and to resort to
vengeance, the apostle implies that our enjoyment of peace depends on our
quiet endurance of others' disturbance. He not only gives us assurance
that we shall be avenged, but he intimidates us from usurping the office
of God, to whom alone belong vengeance and retribution. Indeed, he rather
deplores the fate of the Christian's enemies, who expose themselves to
God's wrath; he would move us to pity them in view of the fact that we
must give place to wrath and permit them to fall into the hands of God.
The vengeance and wrath of God are dispensed in various ways: through
the instrumentality of political government; at the hands of the devil;
by illness, hunger and pestilence; by fire and water; by war, enmity, disgrace;
and by every possible kind of misfortune on earth. Every creature may serve
as the rod and the weapon of God when he designs chastisement. As said
in Wisdom of Solomon, 5, 17:
"He shall make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies."
69. So Paul says, "Give place unto wrath." I have inserted
the words "of God" to make clearer the meaning of the text; the
wrath of God is intended, and not the wrath of man. The thought is not
of giving place to the anger of our enemies. True, there may be occasion
even for that, but Paul has not reference here to man's anger. Evidently,
he means misfortunes and plagues, which are regarded as expressions of
God's wrath. Possibly the apostle omitted the phrase to avoid giving the
idea that only the final wrath of God is meant his anger at the last day,
when he will inflict punishment without instrumentality. Paul would include
here all wrath, whether temporal or eternal, to which God gives expression
in his chastisements. This is an Old Testament way of speaking. Phinehas
says (Jos22, 18), "To- morrow he will be wrath with Israel."
And Moses in several places speaks of God's anger being kindled. See Numbers
11: 1, 10, 33. I mention these things by way of teaching that when the
political government wields the sword of punishment against its enemies,
it should be regarded as an expression of God's wrath; and that the statement
in Deuteronomy 32, 35, "Vengeance is mine," does not refer solely
to punishment inflicted of God direct, without instrumentality.
"But if shine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to
drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head."
70. This teaching endorses what I have already stated that the Christian's
enemies are to be pitied in that they are subjected to the wrath of God.
Consequently it is not Christian like to injure them; rather, we should
extend favors. Paul here introduces a quotation from Solomon. Prov 25,
21-22. Heaping coals of fire on the head, to my thought, implies conferring
favors upon the enemy. Being enkindled by our kindness, he ultimately becomes
displeased with him- self and more kindly disposed to us. Coals here are
benefits, or favors. Coals in the censer likewise stand for the favors,
or blessings, of God; they are a type of our prayers, which should rise
with fervor. Some say that coals represent the Law and judgments of God
(see Psalm 18, 8, "Coals were kindled by it"), reasoning that
in consequence of the Christian's favors, his enemy is constrained to censure
himself and to feel the weight of God's Law and his judgments. I do not
think a Christian should desire punishment to fall upon his enemy, though
such explanation of the sentence is not inapt. In fact, it rather accords
with the injunction, "Give place unto wrath"; that is, do good
and then wrath the coals will readily fall upon the enemy.
"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
71. With this concluding counsel, it strikes me, Paul himself explains the phrase "coals of fire" in harmony with the first idea that the malice of an enemy is to be overcome with good. Overcoming by force is equivalent to lending yourself to evil and wronging the enemy who wrongs you. By such a course your enemy overcomes you and you are made evil like himself But if you overcome him with good, he will be made righteous like you. A spiritual overcoming is here meant; the disposition, the heart, the soul yes, the devil who instigates the evil are overcome.