What does Romans 12:21 mean by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"? Let’s start off by drawing out some word meanings with the help of Strong’s Dictionary:
- the word overcome (Gk. Nikao) refers to: victory, conquer, prevail, subdue, and come off victorious (implying a battle)
- the word evil (Gk. Kakos) refers to: bad, inwardly foul, rotten (poisoned), flowing out of a morally rotten character.
- the word good ( Agathos) refers to: “intrinsically good, pointing to what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life"
We know from experience that what 1 John 5:19 says is true, that the whole world lies in wickedness. Crime is rampant, just check out the news. Offenses are everywhere both offline and online. People hurting people, damaging and victimizing others with words and deeds. And people are rarely apologetic nowadays. Corrupted by sin and without Christ in this world, we can’t expect any better from most of the people out there.
In the midst of this culture and environment, what is a Christian to do? How is he to act and respond? Romans 12:21 instructs the believer to observe 2 things:
- Do not be overcome by evil.
- Overcome evil with good
Do not be overcome by evil
We can apply this in so many ways:
- Do not be discouraged. If you’re in an environment where all the wrong things are happening to others or even to you, whether repeated offenses or unfairness is the norm; don’t be discouraged. In His time, justice will be restored and what is needed to come out will be brought to light. Ecc. 3:17 Job 12:22
- Do not be influenced. In an environment where wrong is the normal practice, the Christian may sometimes be tempted to do as others do, thinking that it won’t make a difference, or thinking that doing wrong pays off, or thinking that since everybody’s doing it, it must be okay. Choose to remain honest even if your peers are into plagiarized work and cheating. Stay honest even if your peers are cheating on work hours, sleeping on the job, goofing off, inflating work hours done. Stay honest even if other businesses cheat on their customers. Leviticus 19:36
- Do not be intimidated. Edmund Burke is attributed to have said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." John Stuart Mil said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." Many times, it is the wrongdoers who are brave and aggressive in their ways, making no apologies about what they do and say. Christians, in the desire for peace may feel forced to stay quiet. Now, not every issue should be a battle we fight others over for. But at times, we need to make our stand known if it helps bring enlightenment even to just one person. Speak your mind when God gives an opening. Answer a curious question when somebody asks your view. God promises to teach you what to say. Luke 12:12
Overcome evil with good
We can apply this in so many ways:
- Do good to your enemies. The enemies Matthew 5:44 points to are those who do wrong against you and who just feels hatred towards you for no valid reason. It may be tempting to give them a dose of their own medicine or to take revenge but the verse says to love them instead. That does not necessarily mean to go out of your way to be best buddies with them, consent to their wrongdoing and to suffer repeated abuse. In the context of agape love, it means to desire their highest good. You can and should pray for God to bless them. Pray for God to bring enlightenment and salvation in their lives. You never know when your goodness will cause repentance to dawn on them, “heaping coals of fire on their head."
- Do good and do it without expecting anything in return. Good works are rewarding to you personally and to others. The good you do will bring some fruit in their lives; gratefulness, hope, cheerfulness, and more. Often, good works are contagious. The good you do tend to get paid forward by others.