“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” - Romans 12:21
Before you watch the news or search the internet, or maybe just before you begin your day-to-day routines, it might be good to reflect on Paul’s words at the end of Romans 12. It is easy to be weighed down and discouraged by the struggles and very real horrors in the world. We can be paralyzed—so unsure of where to start or how to even address problems so big that we end up not doing much of anything.
But Paul gives us our starting point: Overcome evil with good. What this looks like for each of us will be slightly different, but it is a question we can bring before God daily—what good do You want me to do today?
In Victor Hugo’s classic masterpiece, Les Misérables, he tells the story of a man named Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for 19 years because he stole a loaf of bread. Once he is released, it is only an illusory freedom. He cannot find anywhere to work or stay because he is an ex-convict. He finally finds a compassionate bishop who takes him in, but he repays the man’s kindness by stealing his silverware and slipping away in the night.
The police arrest Valjean and bring him back to the bishop to be charged, but in a stunning display of mercy, the bishop tells the guards that the silverware was a gift and demands that they release him. He challenges Valjean to take the silver and use it to become an honest man—a moment that powerfully transforms his life. I encourage you to watch the clip below.
It is easy for us to forget just how redemptive mercy can be. It is also easy for us to forget that none of us were actually worthy of mercy. The bishop had no way of knowing that Valjean would actually keep his promise and become a better man. In the same way, Jesus had no guarantee that we would all receive His sacrifice on the cross, but He did it anyway, making our redemption possible.
Sometimes, I believe that is all God asks of us—to clear a path to make redemption a possibility for someone else. Whether they are actually changed or not is between them and God; our part is to never stop offering His goodness to our broken world.
So how do we begin overcoming evil with good? It is not as complicated as we might think. I encourage you to start in simple ways, with things you are hopefully already doing, but begin seeing them in a new light. Things become routine to us, and we lose sight of everything God can actually do through our steady faithfulness. We want to ask Him to enlarge our perspective and give us new strategies for being more effective right where He has placed us.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” - 2 Corinthians 10:4
This morning, I sat down to check emails and caught sight of a news alert about young girls being horribly mistreated by ISIS as they continue their violent quest across Iraq. This is an evil I cannot even fully wrap my mind around, and I wonder how long it will run rampant. I felt powerless to do anything beyond whisper a prayer for those girls, which is actually the most powerful thing I can do on their behalf right now, even as others are called to the front lines to actively engage the fight for their freedom.
Of course, you might expect an article from Generals International to mention prayer, but this is not because it is our trite, easy response. Instead, it’s our legacy—story after story, miracle after miracle, breakthrough after breakthrough achieved because of the power of prayer. God acts when His people pray.
Prayer helps us align our hearts with His. It enables us to move from a position of fear or discouragement to a position of eternal perspective. It is in the conversations we have with God that we come to understand what He wants us to do and how He wants us to engage. Not every battle will be yours to personally take on, but through prayer, the Holy Spirit will show you what goodness He wants to release through you.
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” - Ephesians 6:7
In a world where people are driven to seek their own position and power, serving others is a radical demonstration of good. Jesus set this example, coming to serve, rather than be served (see Matt. 20:28).
Many years ago, I had a boss who was very difficult to work for; more than one employee was driven to tears at different times. I’ve always been someone who strives to work with excellence no matter what, but I’ll admit, I was struggling to give my best to my work because the environment was so unpleasant. The Lord reminded me to serve this boss as if I was serving Him.
I would like to tell you a miracle happened, that my boss noticed my efforts and had a heart change, but that didn’t happen. The job was miserable to the very last day. But others noticed—fellow employees and customers—and more than once, I had the opportunity to share my faith and my values. Eventually, there were people who would come to me for prayer or advice when they were struggling.
Is there a difficult person in your life? Ask the Lord how you can serve them. I can’t promise the situation will change, but your heart will. And there will be someone who needs to see the demonstration of grace and humility you offer.
On a bigger scale, there are many justice issues in our world, like education inequality and poverty, that could go a long way to being solved by people willing to serve others. Perhaps there is a need in your community that you could meet. Perhaps there is someone you could serve, and it would open the path to redemption for them.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” - 1 Peter 4:8
Love is not a feeling; it is an action. If you say you love someone, but do not practically demonstrate that love, it is shallow. If we want to overcome evil in our communities, cities, and nation, our best approach is to find ways to tangibly express the love of Jesus with action. I believe we often find a culture resistant to spiritual truth because they have heard us ranting at them, but they have not experienced us loving them.
Over and over again throughout the gospels, we are told that Jesus saw people and was moved with compassion. I find myself very challenged by this. When I see people, what am I moved by? Cynicism? Stereotypes? Judgement? If I want my heart to be like God’s, then I need to invite His definition and idea of love to transform me.
Jesus knew we were going to feel overwhelmed by the brokenness around us, which is why He reminded us that He has already overcome the world (see John 16:33). But until He returns, we get to represent His kingdom and His ways here on earth. Every time you confront evil with good, you extend the substance of everything God is into the world around you. I would encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit for His perspective and His strategy. He’ll show you the unique abilities for good that He’s given you, and you will partner with Him in new ways to overcome the enemy.