Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
Romans 12:14-21 speaks particularly of the Christian’s life in society. It can be summed up by describing the Christian as someone who is kind, helpful, and harmless. This is amazingly difficult in this sinful world. Paul tells us in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (ESV). Why is this so difficult? Our evil world doesn’t want to be overcome with good. That makes for a world of trouble. Another reason it is difficult, possibly one more important for our consideration, is that the definition of doing good is muddled.
In verse 17 we are do consider “what is honorable in the sight of all.” Yet what one person thinks is honorable is considered dishonorable by another. We are very hard-pressed to find universal good, especially when we consider the variety of presuppositions about how good is to be done. I’ll draw a quick example from the current discussions in my native country. It is essentially universally agreed upon that good and affordable health care is a good thing. There may be a few dissenting voices, but they are remarkably few. However, this concept brings up countless questions. How is good health care defined? What makes it affordable? Are there some medical procedures that should be provided free to the patient? If so, what? Does the patient pay directly for health care, or is funding generally to be taken care of on the basis of a large group of people so as to spread the financial risk out? Is health care financing something to be provided by government or through free enterprise? Who gets to determine pricing? How is health care service reimbursed to providers? Who gets to judge what appropriate care standards are? How can that be enforced? Disagreements abound in all those matters. Yes, we think good and affordable health care is a good thing. Yet as soon as we start discussing the details, we are likely to find deep disagreements, which make it hard to fulfill the command in verse 17.
The definition of doing good is then muddled. How do we live this passage out? In a word, we live it out badly. Something is going to fall apart somewhere. We really can’t avoid that.
As always, then, we see that the law of God points us both to God’s perfect will and to our failure to do God’s will. We are directed, again and again, to our need for a savior, someone who is able to grant us forgiveness as we come, repentant of our inability to do what is good.
In the end, we don’t overcome evil with good. But God does. He is the one who can forgive, heal, and restore us. We do what we can. We try to do good, and sometimes we are remarkably close to success. Yet it is in Jesus and his forgiving love that we can actually stand before God, called his children, knowing that he will work through us for the good of our world.
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