Romans 12:17-19

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 12:17
  • Romans 12:18
  • Romans 12:19

The Apostle Paul writes to the world-renowned believers in Rome, the center of the world at that time, in order to answer a slanderous charge made to them against Paul and his message. Paul’s detractors claim his emphasis on faith overturns the law. Paul says that ” just living by the law” does not achieve personal justice before God, while “just living by faith” does. Paul then demonstrates what a just life looks like: harmonious living with Jesus as the leader. Paul also makes clear the choice a believer has: to walk in faith and the power of the resurrection and experience resurrection life, or walk in sin and unnecessarily experience the negative consequences.

In Chapter 12, Paul shows that a life of righteousness or justice (living in harmony with God’s design) looks like a life that has been transformed spiritually. It looks like team harmony, like a human body, where every body part is doing what it does best as directed by the head (and a believer’s Head is Jesus.) In order to function like a body, it requires an active decision to love and honor others, while honoring Jesus as the One in charge. As the One in charge, it’s Jesus’ job to judge the world (not ours.)

Paul turns from defending against the slanderous attacks of competing Jewish “authorities” and begins an admonition to the world famous believers in Rome (1:8) concerning their pursuit of righteousness. Paul has comprehensively demonstrated that righteousness, which is harmony with God’s design, comes only through walking by faith in the resurrection power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. He has also proven that his gospel message is “good news” about three deliverances: 1) being delivered from the penalty of sin, irrevocably placing us into the family of God when we first believe 2) being delivered from the presence of sin when we are taken to heaven to be with Jesus, and 3) being delivered from the power of sin in our daily walk, when we choose to walk by faith in the power of the indwelling Spirit.

Since most of our lives are spent between the time we first believed and the time we leave this earth, Paul has and will continue to emphasize the practical impact of the gospel on how we live daily. Paul has made it crystal clear why we ought to choose to walk in faith by the Spirit and enjoy the newness of life in the resurrection power of Jesus, rather than going back into the death and slavery of sin by following our sin nature. We want to walk in obedience because of the immense positive consequence from walking by faith (believing God’s way is true and best), versus the terrible consequences we get when we walk in sin (believing we know best). Paul has also clearly shown us how to walk in the resurrection power of Jesus, through the exercise of a heart of faith. Now Paul will give us some tangible illustrations of what righteousness looks like in everyday life.

We aren’t God. Our role is not to right all wrongs, especially personal wrongs. If we seek to pay people back for how they’ve treated us, we’re in God’s way. God is the Judge.

Paul’s message is relentlessly consistent: we should not put ourselves in the place of God. Be humble, do not be haughty. See ourselves and the world around us as it really is. Do not curse enemies. Do not take vengeance on anyone for anything, never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, it is His role to deal out judgment toward wickedness. We are not God, so we shouldn’t try to avenge ourselves; instead, we should get out of God’s way. So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Paul was very harsh on those who slandered his message, but never sought vengeance himself; he leaves that to God. In verse 19 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, where God makes clear to Israel that all deeds will be brought to justice: ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord. God will take care of all wrongs, and it is important that we not try to do God’s job for Him. In fact, if we try to do God’s job for Him, we might be getting in the way of justice being done.

Have peace with all men, Paul writes, if it’s possible, and it isn’t always totally possible, but as much as we can manage, be peaceful with other people, Christian or otherwise. We can control what we do, not what others do. Even if someone is committed to opposing us at every turn, we have the choice to not retaliate.

It’s important to remember that Paul is writing to a church body. If we live humbly with one another (v. 16), not arrogantly, and if we let God be God and recognize that He’ll be the one to right all wrongs, we won’t fall into petty conflicts. We won’t try to dominate others for the sake of our sinful pride, and if all of us Christians practice these principles, how could we not get along?

God’s will is that we live righteously (meaning living rightly, justly, correctly—as God designed life to be, which is harmonious living), and living harmoniously is not consistent with being arrogant (we are equal, no member is more valuable than any other). If we aren’t arrogant, then clearly we’re humble, meaning we know our low position relative to God, who is sovereign. When we look at God as the Judge and the King, and we look at one another as people to serve rather than control, our faith is in God, not ourselves. Living righteously is only accomplished by faith, as the theme verse of Romans says: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17).

Paul is expressing transformative principles, not a to-do list. He began this chapter by speaking of being transformed by having a new way of thinking. He is endorsing attitudes, not rules to follow. If we follow the Spirit and live the way Paul is describing, we will continue to be transformed to the image of Christ. When called to contend for the truth, as Paul is doing in this letter, we are to avoid being personal and stick with the message. When called to serve other believers, we are to do so emphasizing our gifts, by meeting people where they are and seeking their best.

Biblical Text

17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

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