Romans 12: Get the best of evil by doing good.
Having done the heavy lifting of theology, the Apostle turns his attention to practical Christian living and his opening instructions on the topic, Romans 12, feel a lot like Jesus’ beatitudes. Here I find a series of helpful and challenging concepts. There’s enough material here for an entire book, making it difficult for a writer to pick just one thing and focus on it. Paul’s summary, though, is attention getting. Christians, I’m told, live in a world containing plenty of evil. Opportunities to do wrong abound with even good things, like having personal resources, carrying with them some built in temptations. With the potential of wrong attached to everything from spiritual gifts to that which is obviously wrong how does a Christian cope? The best way, according to this passage is “by doing good.” I take each circumstance of life and ask, “What good thing can I do here?” Some things are easily understood. For instance, if I have the gift of teaching, I stick to my teaching, using that gift for good. Some things are quite understandable but harder to apply: if I have an enemy, I do good by blessing him rather than quietly cursing him. If I don’t have a clue as to what to do, I do my best, believing God will take care of it. This, I’m told is the secret to overcoming evil. I beat it by doing good.
Take Away: This is easier said than done, but, by God’s grace, it can be done.
Good versus evil
Esther 3: When Haman saw for himself that Mordecai didn’t bow down and kneel before him, he was outraged.
The final person we meet in the story of Esther is Haman. Every good story needs a villain and Haman fits the role quite well. He has it all: pride, revenge, selfishness, godless ambition. Haman rises to a position of great power in government and he expects all the perks that come with power. He especially likes it when the “little people” bow and scrape before him. And that is what sets this story in motion. Each time Haman arrives at the palace to see the King he enters the gate with a flourish. Everyone plays along except for one senior adult Jew. Mordecai doesn’t think Haman is worth honoring and his refusal to pay homage infuriates him. He could respond by killing Mordecai but Haman has grander ambitions than that. He knows Mordecai is a Jew, so he schemes a way to do away with the whole Jewish population. Haman and Mordecai are polar opposites. Haman’s a very bad man and Mordecai’s a very good man who loves and serves God with all his heart. It’s a classic conflict: good versus evil.
Take Away: Evil is real and it’s especially evident in the presence of good.
Judges 20: How did this outrageous evil happen?
The final story in the book of Judges is about as dark and evil as it can get. It concerns a man and his concubine. The story contains deviant sexual behavior, rape, and murder. The result is a civil war in which the tribe of Benjamin is practically wiped out. One question asked during the story should ring in our ears: “How did this outrageous evil happen?” How did the descendants of Abraham, this miraculously freed nation of slaves, these recipients of the Ten Commandments, these people chosen to be God’s very own come to this? The answer is “self and sin.” Their faith hasn’t been passed on to their children. Their heroes become more and more flawed. God is forgotten and their society begins to unravel. The writer of Judges concludes in the famous epitaph of the book: “At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. I’d better not read this with a detached sense of superiority. I live in a society in which “doing whatever one feels like doing” is the norm. We want a convenient God who does our bidding, but leaves us alone the rest of the time. When Israel tries that the result is disaster. Do we really think we can get away with it?
Take Away: Whether we’re talking about an individual or a nation, it’s foolish to attempt to live apart from God.