In coaching sessions with folks in conflict with others, I frequently quote Romans 12:18. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We can’t hope to control what someone else does about our issues with them, but we can take ownership of our personal approach to the situation. Love constrained by the good news of Jesus pulls out all the stops to achieve reconciliation. But what if all attempts fail? Even worse, what if our conciliatory efforts result in increased hostility and harm from the other party?
The rest of Romans 12 calls for nothing less than a supernaturally aided, double strategy. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (19-21).
Strategy 1: Never try to get even. Leave things with God who rights every wrong in due time. Instead, employ strategy 2: Relate with your enemy just the opposite of his treatment of you. Don’t repay evil for evil. Refuse to get even; overcome evil with good.
In Robert Peterson’s biography of ‘Robert Chapman: Apostle of Love’, he relates a story from the much beloved 19th century British pastor’s life. It beautifully illustrates the power of overcoming love. “A grocer in Barnstaple became so upset when Chapman was preaching in the open air that he strode up to where Chapman was standing and spit on him. Later one of Robert’s wealthy relatives came to Barnstaple to visit him and to try and understand his activities. Arriving by horse-drawn cab at the address given to him, the relative at first would not believe that Chapman lived in such a simple abode in such a poor neighborhood. Chapman ushered him into the clean but simple interior and explained what living in dependence on the Lord meant and how the Lord had provided for all his needs. The relative asked if he could purchase groceries for him. Chapman gladly assented, but stipulated that he must buy the food from a certain grocer. The relative went there, made a large purchase, and paid the bill. When the grocer learned that the food was to be delivered to R. C. Chapman, he said that the visitor must have come to the wrong shop. Chapman’s relative, however, replied that Chapman himself had specifically directed him to that shop. The grocer, who had viciously attacked and castigated Chapman for years, broke down in tears. Soon he came to Chapman’s house, asked forgiveness, and yielded his life to Christ.”
Perhaps we can’t truly say we’ve done all we possibly can as peacemakers, until we heap some burning coals of good on the head that spits on us. Overcome evil with good!