Loving Those You’d Rather Hate

Romans 12:15-21

October 11, 2009 | Brian Bill

During one of our wars a military unit hired a local boy to cook and clean for them.  Being a bunch of jokesters, they quickly took advantage of the boy’s seeming naiveté.  They smeared Vaseline on the stove handles so it would get all over his hands.  They put buckets of water over the door so he’d get soaked when he opened it.  They even nailed his shoes to the floor during the night.  Day after day the young boy took the brunt of their practical jokes without saying anything.  Finally the men felt guilty about what they were doing, so they met with him and said, “Look, we know these pranks aren’t funny for you, and we’re sorry.  We’re never going to take advantage of you again.”  

The boy smiled and then asked, “No more sticky on stove?” The guys responded, “Nope.” “No more water on door?” They answered, “No more water on door.”  “No more nail shoes to floor?” “Nope, we’ll stop that, too.” “Okay” the boy said with a wide grin, “No more spit in soup.”

Instead of choosing revenge or retaliation when we’ve been wronged, we’re going to learn how to love those we’d rather hate.  Last week our focus was on just one verse – Romans 12:14.  Let’s see how many of us can quote it from memory: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”  While this verse deals with our attitudes and our talk, the section of Scripture we’ll be studying this morning covers our actions and our walk.  If there was some pushback last week, my guess is that you’ll have some major blowback today because Romans 12:15-21 contains some radical and revolutionary teaching about our relationships. That reminds me of what someone has said, “The more I get to know the human race, the more I love my dog.”  Or, as one of my pastor friends likes to say, “Ministry would be wonderful, if it weren’t for the people.”

Most of us need some help when it comes to our relationships, don’t we?  Please open your Bibles to Romans 12 as we begin in verse 15 and continue on to the end of the chapter.  I see 8 remedies that if followed, will mend our relational ruptures.

8 Relational Remedies

1. Empathize with the emotions of others. 

We see this in verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  This is a statement of incarnational relationship where we are invited to share both the blessings and the burdens of others.  The word, “mourn” means, “to shed tears and lament loudly.”  Literally it reads this way: “Rejoice with the rejoicing ones, weep with the weeping ones.”  Let me ask you a question.  Which is more difficult to do, to rejoice with those who rejoice, or to weep with those who weep?  I think most of us struggle more with entering into the joy of someone who has received a certain blessing that we have not received.  If someone here inherited a million dollars, could you really say, “I’m so happy for you!”  The story is told of two writers who were very jealous of each other and their animosity was apparent to everyone.  One of the writers eventually wrote a book that was very popular and became an immediate bestseller.  When the two met at a party, the other man said, “I bought your book the other day.  It’s a good read.  Who wrote it for you?”  Shaken a bit by this, the first man nevertheless thanked him for the compliment and then asked, “Who read it to you?”

We should also admit that sometimes when someone is hurting, inside we’re secretly thinking that maybe they deserve it.  Proverbs 17:5: “He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.” 

Fellowship is more than coffee and a cookie; it means sharing burdens and blessings

In order to rejoice in someone else’s joy, we need to get rid of all jealousy and to mourn with those who mourn, we must jettison a judgmental spirit.  Instead of being indifferent to the emotions of others, we’re called to be empathetic.  1 Corinthians 12:25-26 pulls both of these responses together: “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  Someone has said that a sorrow shared is but half a trouble and a joy that’s shared is joy made double.  Oh, to have the compassion of Paul when he asks in 2 Corinthians 11:29: “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”  Fellowship is more than coffee and a cookie; it means sharing burdens and blessings.

In a world that couldn’t care less, we should care more.  A story is told about a little boy with a big heart.  His next-door-neighbor was an older gentleman whose wife had suddenly died.   When the young boy saw the man cry, he went into the man’s yard, climbed up on his lap, and just sat there.  When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing.  I just helped him cry.”  That’s what Job’s friends did at the beginning when they sat with him in silence for seven days (see Job 2:11-13).  Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep quiet and ended up just making things worse for him.

I’m convicted by the words of a commentator: “To refuse to rejoice with another reveals envy in your own heart.  To refuse to weep with another is to reveal a lack of compassion in your heart. Either way, you have a serious problem.”  Is there anyone you can help cry?   Anyone you need to rejoice with?

2. Seek harmony through humility. 

The only way to enter into the emotions of others is to be humble.  Check out verse 16: “Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.”  The Greek for “harmony” literally reads, “Think the same things toward each other.”  Acts 4:32 tells us that all the believers were “one in heart and mind.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul makes this plea: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  And later in the Book of Romans, Paul says this in 15:5: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” 

If you’re haughty, it’s going to be really hard for anyone to live in harmony with you.  The phrase, “willing to associate” means to be led along or carried away with something or by someone.  The idea is that we should allow ourselves to be swept into the suffering of others.  One commentary suggests this idea: “Let the lowly take you by the hand.” Those in “low position” describes those who have been “flattened.” Look around.  There are people in this room who have been pummeled with problems and there are many in our communities that have been flattened by life.  We’re not just to see them; we’re to be humble enough to hang out with them because there is no caste system in Christianity!  

We’re cautioned against being “conceited” because there’s no place for conceit in Christianity.  The tense of this reads, “Do not have the habit of being haughty.”  Has it been awhile since you’ve gotten off your high horse?  Are you living in harmony with those around you?  

3. Resist repaying a wrong. 

The first part of verse 17 is a warning against what comes naturally to most of us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  The idea here is that we’re not to pay back a wrong that’s been done to us.  That reminds me of the story about Jack and his little sister.  Jack’s mother ran into his bedroom when she heard him screaming and found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair.  She gently released the little girl’s grip as she comforted Jack by saying, “There, there.  She didn’t mean it.  She doesn’t know that hurts.”  Mom was barely out of the room when the little girl started screaming.  Rushing back into the bedroom she asked Jack what happened.  “She knows now,” Jack explained.

Is there someone you’d like to pay back today?  Do you want someone to hurt like you hurt?  Here’s the deal: Don’t retaliate when you’ve been wronged.   1 Peter 3:10: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.”  1 Thessalonians 5:15 adds, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”  Bruce Goettsche offers some reasons why we should resist repaying a wrong.  

  • It causes conflict to escalate.  Proverbs 30:33: “For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.”
  • Retaliation is usually excessive. When we do pay back, it’s often with interest!
  • Retaliation always ruins our witness.

Friends, you can’t always stop people from hating you, but you don’t have to hate them back.  You can’t always make people love you, but you can always love them back.  I’ve been reading the book “Love Dare” that was written in response to the movie “Fireproof.” I was really challenged by the reading on Day 25 called, “Love Forgives” and I’d like read part of it to you: “Imagine you find yourself in a prison-like setting.  As you look around, you see a number of cells visible from where you’re standing.  You see people from your past incarcerated there – people who wounded you as a child.  You see people you once called friends but who wronged you at some point in life.  You might see one or both of your parents there, perhaps a brother or a sister or some other family member.  Even your spouse is locked in nearby, trapped with all the others in this jail of your own making.  

This prison, you see, is a room in your own heart.  This dark, drafty, depressing chamber exists inside you every day.  But not far away, Jesus is standing there, extending to you a key that will release every inmate.  No. You don’t want any part of it.  These people have hurt you too badly.  They knew what they were doing and yet they did it anyway…so you resist and turn away.  You’re unwilling to stay in here any longer – seeing Jesus, seeing the key in his hand, knowing what He’s asking you to do.  It’s just too much.

But in trying to escape, you make a startling discovery.  There is no way out.  You’re trapped inside with all the other captives.  Your unforgiveness, anger and bitterness have made a prisoner of you as well.  Like the servant in Jesus’ story, who was forgiven an impossible debt, you have chosen not to forgive and have been handed over to the jailers and torturers.  Your freedom is now dependent on your forgiveness.

Coming to this conclusion usually takes a while.  We see all kinds of dangers and risks involved in forgiving others. For instance, what they did was really wrong, whether they admit it or not.  They many not even be sorry about it…but forgiveness doesn’t absolve anyone of blame.  It doesn’t clear their record with God.  It just clears you of having to worry about how to punish them.  When you forgive another person, you’re not turning them loose.  You’re just turning them over to God, who can be counted on to deal with them His way…That’s why you often hear people who have genuinely forgiven say, ‘It felt like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.’  Yes, that’s exactly what it is.  It’s like a breath of fresh air rushing into your heart.  The stale darkness of the prison house is flooded with light and coolness.  For the first time in a long time, you feel at peace.  You feel free.   But how do you do it?  You release your anger and the responsibility for judging the person to the Lord.”

Proverbs 20:22: “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’  Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”   C.S. Lewis hit it on the head when he said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” For you Country Music Fans, Garth Brooks has a song with these lyrics: “We bury the hatchet but leave the handle stickin’ out; we’re always diggin’ up things we should forget about.”  It’s been said that true forgiveness is hard to extend because it demands that we let go of something we value – the right to repay.  1 Corinthians 13:5 says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.”  Who do you need to let go of right now?

4. Realize that it’s always right to do what’s right. 

Too many of us live haphazard and shoot from the hip when God wants us to be prepared to walk in His ways

This is stated in the last part of verse 17: “Be careful to do what’s right in the eyes of everybody.”  It’s easy to misunderstand this statement.  It’s not our job to make everyone happy but to instead live holy lives by consistently doing what’s right.  Note that we’re to be “careful” to do this, which means that we’re to “take thought beforehand” how we’re going to respond in certain situations.  Too many of us live haphazard and shoot from the hip when God wants us to be prepared to walk in His ways.  The word “right” here means, “beautiful or precious.” When we ponder how to do that which is precious to God, people will notice and give Him glory.  Here’s the principle: Live in such a way that no one can make an honest accusation against you.  Live so that if they are going to accuse you, they have to tell a lie to do it. 

Are you rehearsing the right thing to do before you even get into a situation?  Do you have a premeditated plan in place or are you just going to wing it?  How can you prepare yourself today for what you’ll face tomorrow?  

5. Be at peace if possible. 

Verse 18 challenges us to be peacemakers: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  This verse is so realistic because sometimes making peace is unattainable.  The key is to do everything you can do to be at peace with everyone.  Notice the phrase, “If it is possible” and then the next one: “as far as it depends on you.”  This literally means, “As far as what proceeds from you.”  Here are some questions to ponder when it comes to peacemaking.

  • Have you accepted your part in the breakdown of peace?
  • Are you willing to make right the wrongs that you may have done?
  • Have you forgiven any wrong that has been done to you?
  • Are you doing your part to be at peace?  

If the other person refuses to be reconciled there is not much more you can do.  I’ll never forget the advice someone gave me in this regard: “My response is my responsibility and the only person I can change is me.” We will not answer for the other individual but we will answer for ourselves.

Rabbi David Nelson likes to tell the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a longstanding feud.  The rabbi got the two to reconcile their differences and shake hands.  As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the New Year.  The first brother turned to the other and said, “I wish what you wish for me.”  At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, “See, rabbi, he’s starting up again!”

I love the closing words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers, good-by.  Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  As you think of that person that you’re in conflict with, have you made every effort to be at peace?  Remember the saying, “It takes two to tango?”  We could rephrase this to say, “It takes two to tangle.”

6. Relinquish revenge to God. 

When we’re hurt we often want to hurt the one who has hurt us but verse 19 calls us to live differently: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  God has called us to be peacemakers, not prosecutors.  Unfortunately, many of us want to exact justice on those who have wronged us.  Revenge goes beyond just getting even; revenge is excessive retribution.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 which is a reference to the truth that one day God will balance the books.  The full verse is not quoted here so let me complete it: “…In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”

The wrath of God is not a popular doctrine today but it nevertheless is true.  The word itself refers to that which is “swelling and ready to burst.”  Listen to Nahum 1:2: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.  The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.”  This underscores the importance of leaving room for the wrath of God.  We’re to give our anger and desire to retaliate over to God and then back off.  When we act in judgment toward others we are usurping God’s rightful role because God says, “It is mine to avenge.”  Let’s face it – this is hard for many of us. We want justice and we want it right now.  Once again, Bruce Goettsche is spot on.

  • God alone can judge fairly.  We don’t know all the variables and we can’t measure anyone else’s heart.  God maintains the moral order, not us.
  • No one is going to get away with anything.  God will make sure that justice will be done, in His way and in His time.
  • The God of judgment is also the God of mercy.  Aren’t you glad God is gracious and merciful toward you?  Think about this.  The person you are angry with right now may repent and seek reconciliation.  Just as God has extended mercy to us, so He may also extend it to others.  Frankly, we’re more like Jonah than Jesus because we get angry when our enemies seem to be spared.  When God had compassion on the wicked Ninevites, Jonah was upset.  Check out Jonah 4:1: “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”  Some of us don’t want our enemies to be redeemed; we want to retaliate.

This is illustrated well in the story of David when King Saul was seeking to destroy him.  David is being hounded and hunted down like an animal, through no fault of his own.  David tried to stay out of Saul’s way but was persistently persecuted.  On two different occasions, David had the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on his enemy, but instead he chose to honor and respect Saul.  He believed that since God had put King Saul in power it would be God who would remove him from power.  Listen to what David declares in 1 Samuel 24:6: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.”  When Saul realized that David had spared him, he was initially very moved by this act of mercy.  Here’s what he said in verse 19: “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed?  May the Lord reward you for the way you treated me today.”  By the way, God did take care of Saul when he was later filleted by the Philistines.

Instead of seeking revenge we’re to look for ways to point those who persecute us to reconciliation.  A man went into the preaching ministry and resigned after seven years, concluding that people don’t want spiritual health, they just want to feel good.  So he went back to school to become a doctor.  After working as a physician for seven years he quit and went back to school again to become an attorney, concluding that, “People don’t want spiritual health.  They don’t even want physical health.  They just want to get even.”  Proverbs 25:8 points out that our impatience for justice can backfire on us: “What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?”  Vengeance is God’s job, not yours.

Go back to verse 19 again.  I want you to see the phrase, “my friends.”  This comes from a form of agape, which means love.  Paul is so tender here because he knows this is really tough to do.  Let me pick up on that and ask you some questions.  Dear favorite friends, will you move away from revenge right now?  Beloved, will you let it go and let God handle your hurts?  Are you ready to stop playing God?  It’s time to love them and then leave them in the hand of God.

7. Do good to those who do you wrong. 

Christ-followers are called to a counter-cultural and contrary response to people who wrong us in verse 20: “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”  I was on the receiving end of this when I was in college.  No matter what I would do to get rid of my college roommate, he just kept responding with kindness.  I’d fill up the refrigerator with beer so he couldn’t get his milk in it and he would ask if I wanted to play Frisbee.  I’d ask my buddies to smoke in our room because I knew Bruce hated it and he would ask what I wanted on my pizza.  No matter how mean I was to Bruce he always responded with kindness and love.  And that made me mad.  But it also led me to Christ.  I celebrated my 30th spiritual birthday this past Saturday.  Two Saturdays ago I saw Bruce in person and thanked him again for his kindness that led me to Christ. 

Exodus 23:4-5 underscores the importance of helping someone you may consider to be an enemy: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.  If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”  Christianity goes beyond non-resistance to active benevolence.  William MacDonald says, “It does not destroy its enemies by violence but converts them by love.”

A great biblical example of this came during the time of Elisha in 2 Kings 6:22-23.  King Aram and his army decide to eliminate Elisha.  When Elisha has an opportunity to wipe all of them out, he instead fixes them a banquet and then sends them home.  It would be like us gathering members of the Taliban or al Qaeda together for a meal in the Family Life Center: “‘Do not kill them,’ he answered. ‘Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow?  Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.’  So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master.  So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.” 

Kindness doesn’t always mean that the person who has offended you will change.  However, those watching you may be changed.  Your children may see Christ more clearly.  And beyond a doubt, you will change as your bitterness and resentment are lifted.

Let me say a couple things about what “heaping burning coals on his head” means.  First of all, this is a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22.  There’s a difference of opinion among Bible scholars about the exact meaning.  Here are three different ideas…

  • Some think that this idea is borrowed from an Egyptian custom where people would heap coals on the top of their heads as a sign of repentance.
  • Others point to the practice of people carrying coals on the top of their heads so they would always have enough briquettes for their Weber Grills — or something like that.  In that case, to heap coals on their heads would be a good thing because it would keep the fires burning.
  • Most believe that this symbolically represents something extremely painful that would lead the individual to remorse and repentance.  That’s the idea behind Psalm 140:10: “Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.”

I’m not sure which one is correct but in each case, the act of kindness brings about a burning shame that melts a rebellious heart.  The idea is to respond so generously with this conspiracy of kindness that your enemy will be ashamed of their actions.

8. Overcome evil by going with the good. 

Verse 21 is really a summary of the whole chapter: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  The tense of this verse makes it read like this: “Stop being overcome by evil…”  Sometimes Christians are so angry because we’ve made those who believe differently than we do our enemies.  We forget that our aim is not to defeat those we disagree with but to win them to the gospel.  The cause of Christ is not advanced by doing evil.  Bombing abortion clinics is wrong.  Being filled with hatred toward homosexuals is wrong.  Being constantly angry and vengeful toward those in another political party is not right.  

Here’s something to think about.  As long as you try to get even, you’re still living in the past.  It may have happened years ago, but you’re still stewing about it.  Listen.  When you try to get even, evil destroys you because the other person keeps on winning.  He or she still controls your life as long as you want revenge.  The only way to get free of your past is to let it go once and for all.  If you think about it, your enemy wins twice – once when he or she hurt you, and twice because you’re still thinking about how to get even.  No wonder he or she is smiling.  And you’re not.

Friends, the best way to overcome evil is to do so with good.  This is not easy, is it?  Notice the word “but” in the verse.  This is yet another way Christians are to live in contrast to those around them.  The word “overcome” means to conquer or carry off to victory.  Let me suggest just one example from Proverbs 15:1.  When someone is angry at you, the best response is not to retaliate but instead to respond softly: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  I like what Martin Luther King, Jr. often said: “I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

One commentator captured it well when he said, “We are the disciples of Him, who died for His enemies.” Friends, remember that none of us would be Christians if Christ had not loved his enemies and overcome our evil with His great good – His death and resurrection.   Jesus is our example and our motivation.  How do I show real love to the one I love to hate?  I do it by looking to Jesus who showed real love to me.

Let’s summarize these eight Relational Remedies:

  • Empathize with the emotions of others
  • Seek harmony through humility
  • Resist repaying a wrong
  • Realize that it’s always right to do what’s right
  • Be at peace if possible
  • Relinquish revenge to God
  • Do good to those who do you wrong
  • Overcome evil by doing good

Action Steps

Do you know how God helps us grow in this area?  By putting us in situations that force us to practice Christian love.  Let me suggest some action steps for you to consider.

  1. You need to make a choice today.  Either you will be overcome by evil OR you will overcome evil with good.  What’s it going to be?  Choose right now.
  2. Make an attitude adjustment.  These two questions will help you do that.  Do you want your enemy to repent and know God’s kindness and forgiveness?  Or, do you want them to roast slowly over a spit in hell?
  3. Take a step this week to do something kind toward the person you’re struggling with.  It could be a kind word, a phone call, an email, a note on Facebook, a flower, a meal, small gift, a Snickers Blizzard (that’s what I want – actually, don’t get me that because if you do I’ll know you’re mad at me).   Your only limit is your own creativity.

I came across a story about a young man who was in the army.  He was a Christian and had formed the habit of praying beside his bed before he went to sleep.  He kept up this practice every night, but he became an object of mockery and ridicule to the entire barracks.  One night he knelt to pray after a long, weary march.  As he was praying, one of his tormentors took off his muddy boots and threw them at the soldier one at a time, hitting him on each side of his head. The Christian said nothing about it, and just took the boots and put them beside the bed and continued to pray.  But the next morning, when the other man woke up, he found his boots sitting beside his bed, all shined and polished.  It so broke his heart that he came to that soldier and asked him for forgiveness.  That led, after a time, to that man becoming a Christian. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?