After Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by Huaorani tribesmen in 1956, no one expected what happened next. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, their young daughter, and another missionary’s sister willingly chose to make their home among the very people who killed their loved ones. They spent several years living in the Huaorani community, learning their language, and translating the Bible for them. These women’s testimony of forgiveness and kindness convinced the Huaorani of God’s love for them and many received Jesus as their Savior.
What Elisabeth and her friend did is an incredible example of not repaying evil with evil but with good (Romans 12:17). The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Rome to show through their actions the transformation that God had brought into their own lives. What did Paul have in mind? They were to go beyond the natural desire to take revenge; instead, they were to show love to their enemies by meeting their needs, such as providing food or water.
Why do this? Paul quotes a proverb from the Old Testament: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (v. 20; Proverbs 25:21–22). The apostle was revealing that the kindness shown by believers to their enemies could win them over and light the fire of repentance in their hearts.
Paul’s letter to the Romans follows the consistent pattern that marks most of his church letters. He opens with an extended discussion of important theological issues and then follows with practical application. It’s been said that the former shows us what we’re to believe, while the latter describes how we’re to behave because of what we believe. Romans 12, with its opening call to commitment and spiritual service, launches the application section, leading perfectly into today’s text (vv. 17–21). This list of practices is intended to be the outflow of a life lived in relationship with the God whose Son has purchased our forgiveness and new life.
For more on Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, check out Knowing God through Romans at discoveryseries.org/sb221