“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” – Romans 12:21
Is your heart broken over the death of George Floyd? Are you angry at the inhuman way this man was treated? You should be. Are you equally heartbroken and angry over the rioting and social unrest that has followed? You should be.
This situation has done something that only a few days ago would have been thought inconceivable. This situation has caused us to forget the Covid19 crisis. It’s that serious. It’s also interesting that just a few short days ago the country was discussing whether or not they thought churches were essential. I wonder, in light of the riots and rampant violence we are seeing in our communities now, if maybe, just maybe, we might reconsider to see that yes, the church is essential to a peaceful and ordered society. And the church is the perfect instrument to bring reconciliation to a nation that is divided like never before. More on this later in the study.
What are we to do as Christians? The Spirit inside us is repulsed by the images of a police officer’s knee on the neck of a man for nine long minutes until the breath was choked out of him. The Spirit inside us tells us we must do something. But the Spirit inside us checks us and is equally repulsed by the rioting and looting and destruction of property and people that has followed. What are we to do?
You are sensing rightly if you sense the Spirit wants us to do something. But what we do and how we do it is essential to bringing glory to God. If we allow ourselves to be caught up in the hysteria, hatred, and havoc, we will be reduced to common criminality like all the rest. And worse, we will have allowed ourselves to be involved in counterproductive Godless God defaming activities. Yes, we must do something. No, not just anything; not what the world is doing.
Jesus gave His followers a Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). He commissioned us to make disciples. A disciple is a learner. We are to learn Jesus’ will for us in the various circumstances of life. Yes, we share the gospel of how sinners can be forgiven as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Christ. But we also need to know and share and teach people what happens after they receive that forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
As Christians we are in this world to restrain evil (2 Thess. 2:7). Below I will share more of what the Bible says about that. But the important thing to understand is, we aren’t to use worldly or sinful ways to restrain the evil we see and encounter in this world. We are to use Gods ways; Biblical ways to restrain the evil in this world. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). If that’s Jesus’ purpose, then that should be our purpose too. We need to act on that.
Few if any (even police) argue that the death of George Floyd was cruel and unjust. It was a despicable abuse of power and gross malpractice of authority. This would be true even if Mr. Floyd was guilty of some crime. He was treated in a way disproportionate to anything he might have done. The police officer demonstrated depraved indifference to his life in the mistreatment of Mr. Floyd. This police officer crossed the line into criminality. He (and those who stood by doing nothing to stop him) need to be brought to justice.
Emotions are high. This crime has incited and inflamed deep hurts in the black community. There’s enough hurt to go around for everyone in this situation. Those who are rightly concerned with justice have taken up the cause of demanding a response from government. This is something Christians should wholeheartedly support.
But just as appalling has been the criminal response by some. Some have reacted with rioting and looting. Some have allowed their passions and emotions to drive them to social unrest and destruction of life and property. This is counterproductive in that it has deflected attention from the initial crime to these lawless responses. Still others have come from outside the situation and commandeered the situation to push an anarchist and destructive agenda. They are simply creating more victims and more pain. Lives are being destroyed in response to the one life originally taken. The family of George Floyd has come out and said such behavior would not have been endorsed by Mr. Floyd. Then why does it continue? None of it is right. None of it is scriptural. None of it will do anything but worsen the problem. These perpetrators of crime and exploiters of a bad situation need to be brought to justice too. This is something Christians should also wholeheartedly support.
Both the initial crime and subsequent social unrest are, according to scripture, for the Christian, unacceptable and sinful. Our commission as Christians, is to help people find the right response through word and deed.
What is the Proper “Christian” Response?
What does the Bible say about the proper response to social injustice? We don’t want to become a part of the problem by an unchristian response to the evil that has beset us. To do that would allow the devil to compound his success. But our emotions are strong. We are on fire with indignation and urgency to do something. But we have to do what is right, not just do something.
So emotionally charged is this situation, that, very possibly, some, from either side of the aisle, who read these very words, will object and find fault. They will find fault based on party line or political worldview. For some I won’t have emphasized the death of George Floyd enough. For others I won’t have emphasized the rioting and looting enough. What I wrote here will not be far enough left for some, far enough right for others. But being on the left or the right isn’t what’s important. Being in the center of the Lords will is what’s important. And His will is always aligned with His word. Therefore, we need to say, “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). That’s what we need to do. That’s what’s important. So, let’s take a breath, pause, pray, put politics aside, and see what the Bible has to say about all of this.
In the Bible, twelve is the number of governments. It’s possible to work within government to see appropriate changes for good. Here are Twelve Biblical Truths of Responding to Social Injustices. For the sake of brevity, I will for the most part let the word of God speak for itself. The scriptures given here are clear and concise inspired authoritative portions of scripture that instructs us on relevant social justice related issues.
First, we are to be men of the word living life by applying Gods word. This is based in part on the following proof texts:
Joshua 1:8 – 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
2 Timothy 2:15 – 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 – 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
It’s so important that we start, continue and end with the word of God. God’s word is a safeguard as well as a manual on how to live life in its various circumstances. Jesus prayed His disciples would be “sanctified by Your truth,” and then He added, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). If we are going to act, and act right, we have to act according to God’s word.
Second, we are to be distinct from darkness. The Bible uses light and darkness to contrast the child of God with the people of this world. The child of God is to walk in the light and revelation truth of God’s word. We are to have nothing to do with the darkness of sin. But we are not just to withdraw from darkness, we are to expose the darkness of sin in this world. There is always a negative and positive in God’s instructions. Paul points this out in his letter to the Ephesians where he is inspired to write:
Ephesians 5:8–21 – 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.
Those who once walked in darkness apart from Christ are now called to walk in His light and goodness. We are to walk in the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 4:9). We are to say and do something when we see injustice. We need to awaken from a lethargic Christianity and get involved in “goodness, righteousness, and truth.”
Third, we are to be influencers. Jesus taught that His disciples were to be salt and light in the world.
Matthew 5:13–16 – 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Again, Jesus implies we are to get involved. We need to infiltrate and influence this world. We are to be in the world but not if the world. We need to let God’s light shine through us to others. Let people see our good works so our Father in heaven will be glorified.
Fourth, understand God is orderly not chaotic. God is orderly. We see this from creation to the culmination of history. We see it in the tabernacle and temple plans and sacrificial system. We see this in His redemptive plan of salvation in Christ. We see it throughout the Bible and we should see it in His Church too. The Bible says:
1 Corinthians 14:33 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
1 Corinthians 14:40 – 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
When God is working in and through something, there will be order. God has a plan. God does things a certain holy way. God isn’t into chaos and disorder, confusion. God is in the clear, concise, redemptive plan of salvation and revelation found in His very orderly word.
Fifth, we are to be subject to governing authorities. This is something people like to overlook or explain away in times like this. They like to refer to the American Revolution and say that the founders were Christians and rebelled against government. Well, it’s true they were mostly Christians. But they did not take their situation lightly. They did not quickly decide to rebel against the king of England. They prayed and they saw extenuating circumstances and Spirit led justifiable reasons for their breaking away from an oppressive rule.
But, while there are injustices still occurring in our nation, we are not an unjust nation. We are not where our founders once were before they rebelled. There is a judicial system that while it has inequalities, there is a means to rectify those injustices peacefully, orderly, lawfully. We see this happening since the Civil War. And while it isn’t happening completely near as fast as it should, it is happening. There are people in this country who really do care about injustices and are trying to rectify them.
But as much as is possible, we are commanded to work within our governmental system. The Bible clearly states this. And keep in mind that the Roman government under which Paul was inspired to write these words, was no picture of justness. Yet, Paul was inspired to write:
Romans 13:1–9 – Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. 8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Governing authorities implement justice. In our federal republic we can work within system. Breaking away from a government is the very last resort. Government is designed by God to keep the peace. No government is perfect. But some are more perfect than others. The democratic federal republic of the United States takes a back seat to no other system as far as being socially just is concerned.
Sixth, we are not to be riotous. In Romans 13 it continues:
Romans 13:10–14 – 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
The term “revelry” (Greek komos) in verse thirteen means letting loose, carousing, rioting. In scripture there is no incident of Christians resorting to rioting to make a point, none. However, In Acts 19:21-41, in response to the effect of the preaching of the gospel on their pagan industry, a very great chaotic riot is the response. Rioting is ungodly, unchristian. Rioting is an emotionally wild unstable fleshly reaction. Rioting stands in complete contrast to the good peaceful yet powerful response of Holy Spirit led and empowered believers. The Bible says lawlessness is sin (1 John 3:4). Rioting is lawlessness to the maximum. Therefore, Christian, don’t’ be involved with rioting.
Seventh, we aren’t to seek revenge. God is sovereign. He will enforce justice. Vengeance is His responsibility, not ours. We aren’t to return evil for evil. We are to overcome evil with good. The Bible states this very clearly when it says:
Romans 12:9–21 – 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Christian, as hard as it is to control your emotions, as deep as the hurt and scaring goes, give revenge to God. God is sovereign. God is just. God is Judge. No one escapes His justice. Ask yourself, “who can enforce justice better and more effectively, me or God?” The answer is obvious. Let God do what God can only do, enforce justice in an effectively just way.
But here in Romans 12:21 is a key principle when dealing with the evils of injustice. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This runs diametrically opposed to the idea that rioting and mayhem and chaos and anarchy are in some way helpful in dealing with injustices. You have a choice before you. Either you are going to succumb to the calls and temptations of the world to jump in with them and throw rocks and light fires, pillage and destroy. Or you are going to trust the truth of God in His word that says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Which is it going to be Christian?
Eighth, Christians pray and use the laws of the government under which you live. In the book of Acts the Apostles did this over and over. In Acts 12 the Apostles and church prayed through a very tough situation. In the end, Herod was eaten by worms. Sounds effective to me (Acts 12). In Acts 16 and 22 the Apostle Paul uses Romans laws of citizenship to further his cause. He is both aware of the laws at his disposal as well as willing to use them (Acts 6:11-40; 22:22-29). That’s a good example fo us to follow.
Ninth, Christians disregard authority when it tries to prohibit preaching the gospel. In Acts 4 and 5 Peter rejects the religious authorities command that he and the others stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Their actions are summed up in the powerful statement, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If they said this to religious authorities, you can be they would have said this to Roman authorities and any government, any authority under heaven. Preaching and teaching the gospel and God’s word is not something the church can ever afford to compromise. This is where the line is drawn. There can be no compromise or cooperation with those who try to restrain the preaching the gospel.
Tenth, Christians are called to a loving ministry of reconciliation. This is beautifully and powerfully summed up in the inspired words which state:
2 Corinthians 5:14–21 – 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Whatever we do, it must be compelled or done in the love of Christ. And in such love, we are charged with a ministry of reconciliation. We are used by God to lovingly facilitate the reconciliation of sinners to God. And we are to lovingly facilitate the reconciliation of people to each other. If someone looks at your life and actions, would they say you are an ambassador of reconciliation, or a rebel who is rioting?
Eleventh, we are to be kind and tender hearted forgiving and helping others to be forgiven and to forgive. Scripture tells us, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We are to promote forgiveness in the cross of Christ. We are to do that wherever we go.
Twelfth, we are to respond in the Spirit. Acts 1-2 is the root and source of power for spreading the gospel, the proper response to social injustice (e.g. Acts 7) and working within the government system (Acts 12 and 16). If we go about our business without the Spirit, we become just like everyone else in this world. But in the Spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be very ordinary, but the Spirit is able to do very extraordinary things in and through us. The entire Book of Acts is evidence of this. If Jesus can change the world and spread His gospel through a Spirit filled fisherman, well, don’t you think He could do the same through me and you? Make sure before you do anything, that you have prayed and received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Meditate on Acts 1 and 2 and what follows in that great inspired revelation of God. Pray through that and receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And then act as He directs and empowers you to do.
We might also look at the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) and Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) as guidelines for the disciple’s proper response to social injustices in the world.
But our response begins with prayer. It begins with the body of Christ coming together “in one accord” itself. We cannot act powerfully unless we do this, and then are empowered by the Spirit and guided by Him to know what to do. We are called to action. We are called to restrain evil. But if we are to succeed, if we are to march on to victory, to justice, we have to do what we do the way God would have us do it and in the power He provides. A great missionary named Hudson Taylor once said, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” Remember that and do something to bring justice to this unjust world. God’s way is not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with His good. If we do things God wants us to do, and do them God’s way, in God’s power, then God will be glorified. That truly is the only just objective. God bless you. God bless us. And may God have reconciling mercy on this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.