Romansby David Cook
The Christian is to resist doing what comes naturally when it comes to responding to antagonism and persecution. Our renewed mind will lead us to bless the persecutor and not curse (v. 14), to rejoice when the persecutor rejoices, and to mourn when he mourns (v. 15). It is natural to do the very opposite. This section is very much like the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38–48). Antagonism will come to us inevitably because “the flesh is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7).
Such opposition is hard enough for Christians without them also having to deal with the most debilitating situation—that of disharmony in the local fellowship. We all know that such disharmony from the least expected quarter—within the church—can be more draining on our spiritual resources than the antagonism of the world (v. 16). We need to resist pride, which creates social and intellectual barriers within the church, and to remember that our Lord Jesus is meek and lowly.
Paul continues making clear in verses 17 to 21 that a Christian’s response to antagonism is that of non-retaliation. The believer will always seek to do what is right and good (vv. 17, 21). It may well be that a Christian in an official position of judge, soldier, or policeman will have to bear the sword of justice, but on a personal level, he or she is committed to non-retribution, thereby leaving room for God’s wrath (v. 19). Vengeance is God’s work and He doesn’t need our help. In 2 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul makes God’s justice clear: “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.”
In verse 20, Paul quotes from Proverbs 25:21–22. Does this mean that our loving response is a way of bringing judgment upon the antagonist? It probably means that our response will bring him to recognise his shameful behaviour and repent. Theologian James Moffatt translates this verse as “make him feel a burning sense of shame”, while Bible commentator F. F. Bruce comments that our response will “make him ashamed and lead to his repentance”.
If the believer is committed personally to non-retribution, how will God bring about justice? Most often God will use the authorities. Hence Paul goes on to talk about the right Christian attitude towards authorities in Romans 13:1–7.
Are you facing antagonism because you are a Christian? Pray that God will show you creative ways to respond.
How can you overcome evil with good?
In our society, how might we be tempted to show pride and conceit (v. 16)?