Crawford Loritts and Jason Cook answer the question, “What does Paul mean by, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good?’”
In this episode of TGC Q&A, Crawford Loritts and Jason Cook answer the question, “What does Paul mean by, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good?’”
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The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check audio or video before quoting.
Crawford Loritts: Yeah. You know, when you read these injunctions in scripture sometimes, and this is where we don't always know what an author has in the back of his mind when he goes through this grocery list of things that he's trying to give to the people. And more often than not, you know, we do know Paul is so logical in terms of how he writes that he tells us why he's saying what he's saying. But sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he says, he just clicks off don't do this, do this, do this, don't do this, don't do this. And when he says repay no one, you know, evil for the evil that they've done you, but give them good, I think we need to take that at face value. And I think that probably what he's talking about is, you know, goodness is core. It's one of the core expressions of righteousness.
Crawford Loritts: And we're to exhibit the character of God who's long- suffering. And so we're not to be retaliating with people because the moment we retaliate, interestingly enough, we trespass God's domain. God, he's the judge. And so we stay where we are. We're dependent on him, and we let him handle his business. He tells us now, just return. You're to return the good for the evil. Now the flip side of that coin, I don't think what he's talking about there is not confronting evil. He's not talking about not confronting evil. He's not talking about being silent when evil is committed, but I think he does not want us to be complicit with evil. Don't have the same wrong motivations they have and respond Godly when they come after you. But he doesn't mean that you don't speak up and tell the truth.
Crawford Loritts: The Old Testament example of Daniel. Daniel defended the truth without being personally defensive. So in that sense, he consistently did good while speaking out against injustice. So, you know, these things that you got to be careful of, a one dimensional application of them, because it's not to be read as if this is a denial of what is right or wrong, you're just going to kiss up and do whatever anybody tells you to do and it's evil. No, we need to point out it's wrong, but I'm not to respond in kind, yeah.
Jason Cook: Yeah. That's good. I completely agree, yes and amen and all that. I also think it's interesting that the political and cultural, and really the socio-cultural backdrop Paul writes against with the Roman government is such that it's a government that's in stark contradistinction to the things of God, is the antithesis in some ways of the Christian ethic. So to legitimize their gospel message, to legitimize the truth of what it means to be a Christian is to not repay evil with evil, but to speak truth to that evil, but we don't respond in kind.
Crawford Loritts: You know, I think we need to go there on this one. I think many believers who have discovered social issues and the political sides of things, we have to be very careful that we don't become shrill. That in our engagement of these issues in the name of being culture warriors, that we don't become nasty. And unfortunately, we've all seen that, that somehow or another, we have forgotten the Christ-like character. There's never a time ever, ever, ever, ever a time where it's permissible not to exhibit the fruit of the spirit ever. Ever. And so when we get in these conversations, we have to remember that it's not my opinion only that I'm representing. It's Christ-like character that I need to be projecting. And that's got to be real. And so how we handle these issues is very, very important.
Jason Cook: It's an outrage culture. When everything is a big deal, we're kind of running from one Dumpster fire to the next. And everything is personal. It's interesting to me that Christians who want to be on the right side of history and the right side of justice, rightfully so, can also unwittingly do the very thing that injustice does. So sin ultimately in the garden, in Genesis 3, dehumanizes man, right? So to be fully and totally human is to be like Christ, to be found in Jesus. So for sin to exist is itself dehumanizing when we malign and when we are unjustly angry in some ways.
Jason Cook: And we respond to evil in unkind ways, or we respond to evil in kind. We actually dehumanize in the same way, sin to us. And I think what Paul is getting at is that there is a legitimacy to what you believe. This doesn't mean that you don't speak truth to power. This doesn't mean that you don't exhibit righteous anger. This doesn't mean that you cry tears of lament. This does not mean that you maybe even sacrifice some things in your life to fight for true justice and freedom. It just means as you're fighting, be like the Lord Jesus who, meek like a lamb being led to the slaughter, did not open his mouth.
Crawford Loritts: And I don't ever want to come across or be misunderstood. I don't ever want people to think that I hate you because I disagree passionately with what you stand for. And that's again, where Christ-like character has to eclipse the conversation. Has to eclipse the issue, that we can love them. We're not going to walk away from them. We're not going to abandon them. But we're not going to also, we're not going to call them names. We're not going to defile the image of God in them. And because I disagree with you does not mean that I have to show hate in any way or marginalize you in any way whatsoever. And I think Christians have allowed their favorite political party to write the script for their behavior. And we've got to be careful about that. And we live from the borders of another world and we represent another kingdom. And that kingdom manifesto, Matthew chapter 5, 6 and 7, that kingdom manifesto needs to be seen in how I treat people. And so I think goodness has to do with comprehensive Godliness.
Jason Cook: Yeah. I find that rather than living in the tension of a fallen world in the injustice and the spiritual warfare of the world, Satan and the sin within myself, that within this fear of all of that, some Christians would run to malign and dehumanize anything that doesn't corroborate with their worldview. Christians, who should be fighting for the same. Christians who believe in the death, burial, resurrection, and the finish, who are believing in the finished work of Christ Jesus would be diametrically opposed to someone because they disagree. And I think on that title, goodness, do not call evil what I've deemed good, right? And what it means to fight for the wellbeing of one another out of the goodness of the cross and the goodness of Christ and how that compels our ethic in how we live before one another.
Crawford Loritts: Yeah. And, you know, I think it was Abdu Murray that works with Ravi Zacharias that made this observation. And that is, you know, when you're in a debate with someone, the way to keep the heat down is, don't answer the question, answer the person. Answer the person. And maintain their dignity as you disagree with them. And that's, I think that's what God means about the intersection between goodness, righteousness, justice, disagreement, all these things.
Jason Cook: That's good.