Good for Evil
January 9th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-9-55 7:30 p.m.
Now, did you bring your Bible with you? In the Bible, and we’re in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Romans, Romans the twelfth chapter. We’re going to read the fourteenth, then the seventeenth through the twenty-first verses. Now, you turn to your Bible, and watch as I read it. Romans 12. Romans 12, the fourteenth verse: "Bless them which persecute you; bless and curse not." Now the seventeenth:
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourself, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written –
this is Deuteronomy 32:35 –
"Vengeance is Mine," I will repay, saith the Lord.
Therefore – and I read to you this morning out of Proverbs 25:21-22. This is an exact quotation. Therefore:
If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink;
For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
Before I start, there’s only one thing that possibly would need an explanation in this text that I read: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink." Then that unusual saying: "For in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." And most apparently – could be some other meaning that is lost that we could never discover – but so far as anybody knows, what that refers to is this: the building of a fire on your head would be very painful – most so.
So with a man who has done you wrong, and you, in return, are sweet and gracious and kind to him. It hurts his heart. It wounds him in his spirit. It makes him feel contrite and unworthy. Like you build a fire on a fellow’s head would cause him pain, if you treat a man good who has treated you evil, it does something. It stabs his heart. It quickens his soul. And that is the reference here.
Now, let’s begin. I suppose one of the first introductions that any youth, that any child, will ever experience as he walks down the road of life is the feeling of resentment that comes – and it’s congenital; it’s born in you; it’s human nature – the feeling of resentment that comes when people do you wrong. And that is an early, early experience in life when people mistreat you and do you wrong. I say that is one of the first and earliest experiences in life, and I’ll take my own as an example; but what I say will be just typical of what every one of you could stand up and repeat here tonight.
When I was six years old, in school, one of my playmates went to the teacher and told her something that wasn’t so that I had done; and that teacher punished me for it. She just nearly shook my eyeteeth out, and she spoke harsh words to me; and I didn’t do it. It wasn’t my fault. And the feeling of resentment I had as a little fellow, I can feel right now when I think of that low-down, good-for-nothing scalawag!
I remember when I was a kid playing basketball, and one of those fellows on the opposite team playing us. And I was just a little kid. It wasn’t any world championship thing now. I wasn’t making forty points. I was just playing on the team, and I remember that fellow. He came down the court, and I was standing there with my right foot stuck out just about like that to guard and whatever to do to keep them from coming down there to that goal. And he deliberately – with malice aforethought – he deliberately came up, jumped up, and put his full weight coming down on the top of the arch of my right foot; and it nearly killed me. He did that deliberately, and I think that’s grounds to have beat the living daylights out of him had I been big enough.
I remember when I was about twelve years old. I came from a little country town of three or four hundred people and went to the then-to-me big city of Amarillo. And I got a job in a drug store; and I didn’t know anything, and I hadn’t had any experience, and I hadn’t been anywhere. And one of the men who worked in that drug store got me fired because I was a green country kid and didn’t know anything. And he didn’t have any patience with me, and he said all kinds of caustic remarks about me; and the man that owned the store fired me on account of that fellow.
Now in your life, from the time you can remember, those hurts and those wounds are part of the experience of your life. And now that I have got to be a man, if I were to recount to you the things that I have seen and watched since I have become a pastor of a church, you’d almost lose your religion. Why, some of these deacons – not mine now, but some of them I’ve had in this church and some of them in other churches – are born congenital, brazen, bald-faced liars. That’s what they are; and they have told the most impossible, and atrocious, and unspeakable things, and have done things that I think the devil himself wouldn’t do. God’s supposed people!
Now, all of us experience that. You don’t go through life without things being said and done, and about all of the things that enter into those experiences and remembrances, that when you think about them you just get so angry you just flush. All right, what do you do? What do you do? And what people do individually, they do collectively. What they do by the ones, they do by the millions. What they do by units, they do by nations and organizations.
Now, what do you do? What do you do? All right, here’s what you can do. You can retaliate. You can double up your fists, and you can recompense evil for evil. That’s what you can do. You can fight back.
That’s where those Kentucky feuds come from. One fellow spit in another fellow’s face, and that guy spit in that guy’s face; and he doubled-up his fist and he hit him, and that fellow doubled up his fist and he hit him. Then that guy socked that man, and then that guy’s brother socked that fellow; and then that family had it in for that family, and it isn’t long until there’s a feud. And some of those feuds went on for generations and generations as they shot one another down and killed one another on the face of the earth.
That’s what war is. War is a retaliation. You do this to me, and I’ll do that to you. That’s why you have had in this generation in which we have lived and in this century, that’s why you have had the bitterest wars the world has ever known.
At the end of World War I, there was an unjust treaty made against Germany. Maybe France had a cause to be bitter; she’d been invaded three times by those German wars. But however it was, France dictated an unholy, an unholy judgment against Germany; and Germany abided the day and abided the time until she could retaliate. And how she did it! And so we had World War II.
And at the end of World War II, the leadership of the United States of America was blindly led by men like [Henry] Morgenthau [Jr.], and then blindly led by his own blind self. And instead of trying to achieve some kind of a fair and equitable judgment upon Germany, they sat down in those conferences; and unknown to the people of America, and unknown to our Senate, and unknown to all of the rest of the world, the leader of the United States of America made secret commitments for the destruction of the only state that could ever stand between us and the spread of the Soviet Communistic empire.
Consequently, we face today a hydra-headed monster because of the doctrine of retaliation: evil for evil. "We will make up Germany," they said, "an agrarian state. And we will dissect her, and we will rend her apart; and she’ll never rise again." Now, by day and by night, we’re trying to resurrect the little slit off part over which we might have some kind of control. That war – it breeds evil; it breeds hurt. It breeds ultimate disaster and world destruction.
What shall I do with evil? I will fight it back. I will recompense evil. I will retaliate. Not only does it create evil in others, but when we retaliate, it creates evil in ourselves. You hate me. I’ll hate you. You did me wrong. I’ll do you wrong. You hurt me. I’ll hurt you. You shed my blood. I will shed your blood: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" [Exodus 21:22-27; Matthew 5:38-39].
And the evil comes into me. It comes into us. We become like our enemies. They hate. We do too. They despise. We do too. They war and fight. We do too. We become like our enemies. That’s the horror and the tragedy of recompense: evil for evil.
Now, let’s turn aside. Let’s turn around. Let’s look at the Savior. Let’s look at the preaching of the great Christians and apostle Paul. How do you do evil? How do you do evil? What do you do with hurt and bitterness? What do you do with wrong and injury? What do you do with evil?
All right, this is what you do. First, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" [Romans 12:18]. You got a rotten, good-for-nothing neighbor; and his dog ruined your yard and your garden; and his kids don’t stay at home – they go over there and they do all manner of things. That’s your neighbor. What do you do about your neighbor? He does all kinds of things that just drive you to distraction. What do you do with him? Well, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fall out with your neighbor. You don’t like his kids; you don’t like his dogs; and you don’t like his blaring radio; and you don’t like his parties that go until four and five o’clock in the morning and really get going strong towards daylight; and you don’t like all of those things that go on.
What do you do about the fellow down there in the office, and he’s a despicable skunk? You’d almost rather die than work by him, and he doesn’t treat you right. What do you do about these people? All right, if you are a Christian, this is what you do. Get along with him. Brother, get along with them. Get along with them. Whatever it takes outside of a violation of a great moral principle, get along with them. Get along with them.
A drunk came into a bar, and he had a long list of names in his hand. And around there they said, "What is that, that long list of names in your hand?" And he said, "Here, here I have the names of all the men in this town that I can whip." And a big fellow walked over there to him and said, "Got my name on that list?" That drunk looked there, and he said, "Yes, sir. Yes, I have." And the fellow drew himself up to his full height and said, "Then you can’t whip me!" He looked down his list and looked at him, and said, "Then I’ll take your name off the list."
"As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" [Romans 12:18]. Get along with them. Get along with them. Get along with them. As much as you can, get along with them. Don’t let a nasty situation arise over you. Don’t let it come in the office. Don’t let it come in your home, and in your neighborhood, and among the people where you live. As much as you can, live peaceably with all men. What do you do with evil? What do you do with injury, personal insults, and hurt? What do you do with corruption in the world?
All right, a second thing. We are, insofar as we can and are able, we are to retard it. We are to stop it insofar as we are able. Jesus said, "Ye are the salt of the earth" [Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50]. And one good member in a bad family – a mother sometimes, a daughter sometimes, once in a while a son, once in a while a father, one good member in a family – oh how much that one good member can do. One good member, one good, fine friend in an organization.
"They’re a bunch of cheapskates. They’re all a bunch of drunkards and gamblers. They have no respect for God or the Lord or for right. They are a sorry bunch." There are a lot of organizations, apparently, everybody in them almost is like that; but there’s one glorious Christian, and he is a blessing. Oh, how they’re conscious of Him! They know he’s there. He may be the butt end of every sorry story, but he wields an influence that he himself doesn’t realize.
One in an organization, just a few in a wicked city: the Lord God said to Abraham, "Abraham, if I can find in all of Sodom, if I can find ten righteous men, I’ll spare Sodom" [Genesis 18:32]. For the lack of ten, just ten, Sodom was destroyed [Genesis 19:1-29]. That’s what we can do. We can retard it. We can stop it. That’s what salt does. It stops corruption and decay.
What can we do? What can we do in the presence of evil and wrong and injury? This is what we can do. We can lend ourselves to the creation of a more glorious and worthy way, a more blessed principle, a more glorious following. These Christian virtues – faith and humility and meekness – are not static; but they are active, and vigorous, and quickened, and alive. Good is not just the absence of evil, but good is positive and directive. It has an energy, and it has a tremendous working for it.
[Thomas] Chalmers preached a great sermon one time entitled "The Explosive Power of a New Affection." When evil comes, it comes because there’s a vacuity. There’s nothing there; and it seizes, and it takes hold, and it grows. But good can grow. Righteousness can grow. Faith can grow. Love can grow. Humility can grow. Devotion can grow. Consecration can grow. These things are tremendously active, and vibrant, and vigorous. They are quickened and alive.
Let me illustrate it so you know what I ‘m talking about. You know why these teenagers vandalize? You know why they get together, and up and down these streets they put firecrackers in these houses, and they put fire in those automobiles, and they wreck these homes sometime? And if there were a bunch of teenagers that came into our church last week and did all of that damage over there, do you know why that vandalism on the corner those the kids? I’ll tell you why. They are indulged. They have nothing to consume their lives.
I suppose that child labor is a horrible thing. They say it’s a horrible thing. I have seen child labor in India, and that kind of child labor is horrible. But I tell you another thing that is horrible. To allow boys and girls to grow up in indolence, and in laziness, and without any conception of what money is worth, and what work is, is also a horrible and unspeakable thing.
Our boys and our girls, as boys and girls, their lives and their time ought to be dedicated and their energies consumed. I don’t mean that they have to be driven to work all of the time – maybe part of their energy consumed in directive work. But to let these kids loose, there’s a vacuity in their lives, and they fill it with those unspeakable things that teenagers do.
Why do you think that a man drinks? A guy in Birmingham, England was asked, "Why do you drink?" And he replied, "It’s the shortest way out of Birmingham." There’s an emptiness in his soul. There’s a vacuity in his life, and he has to do it. He’d go crazy if he didn’t. I don’t have to drink. You don’t have to drink. But there are loads of people who don’t have in their souls and in their life what you have, and then in order to fill that void, that emptiness, they drink – anything to calm themselves and get away from themselves.
Do you know why a guy ambles down to the bar to meet a girl? And most fellows, most fellows, that are not given to a wonderful love and friendship, to a wonderful partnership at home, most of them by and by will amble down to the bar. And he’ll sit there; and they’ll come over, a cheap girl, and say, "Honey, could I have a drink with you?" or "Would you buy one for me?"
Why does he do it? I’ll tell you why. Most of the time, it isn’t because he likes the filthy, and the dirty, and the cheap, and the prostituted; but there’s an emptiness. He’s lonely, and he doesn’t know how to fill his heart, and he doesn’t know what to do with his soul. So he ambles down to the bar and looks for a cheap, makes the date. That’s why he does it.
Do you know why fellows smoke? I’ll tell you why. Because they don’t know what to do with their hands. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They don’t know what to do. Here you are, you sit down. What do you do with your hands? Well, there they are. What do you do with the things? What do you do with them? And smoking gives you something to do. You sit down there, and you got to find it. You got to reach around for a match. You got to strike it; you got to strike it. You got to strike it, and you put it in your mouth. And you got to run down a do-winky, ashtray, and you got to sit just so, and it gives you something to do. It’s the emptiness of your life that makes you do it. All of these things – and I’m not putting smoking in the same category with drinking and off-colored dating – but I say all of those things come because of the emptiness of life. There’s not anything on the inside.
And I was saying that to illustrate that goodness is positive. Goodness is energetic. It’s quickened and alive; and the way to overcome evil is by instilling great energizing works, and principles, and dedications that belong to God without which you can fight, and war, and preach, and pray forever, and evil will never be overcome.
All right. Let’s go on. What shall I do with evil? What shall I do with hurt and injury? This is what we do. We leave the recompense to God. ‘"Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,’ saith the Lord" [Deuteronomy 32:35]. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ saith the Lord" [Romans 12:19]. It isn’t my job to try to recompense the reward that evil people incur. It’s not mine. That belongs to God.
And if you came to this course studying the Bible this week, there are in the Book of the Revelation, there are the terrible judgments of Almighty God reserved against that awful and final day. There are the judgments of the Great White Throne when the resurrected wicked dead shall stand before God and receive the works done in their flesh – these awful things of falling into the hands of the living God [Revelation 20:11-15]. The mills of the God grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine.
I am not to judge. I am not to recompense. It is not mine to reward. That belongs to God. Let God repay. He will. He will. I have always thought that David, who so many times could have struck Saul down [1 Samuel 26:1-25] – cut off the hem of his garment one time and held it up from afar just to show Saul that he was close enough to take his sword, and the same sword he could have plunged into his body. Instead, he just cut the hem off of his garment [1 Samuel 24:1-22].
I often think of David; and his soldiers around him and his friends around him said, "David, why don’t you slay that wicked man who tries to slay you?" David replied, "It is not for me to touch the anointed of the Lord. It belongs to God." And the Lord dealt with him [1 Samuel 28:11-25; 31:1-13]. That’s right. That’s Christian.
And one other thing, what shall we do with evil? What shall we do with hurt and injury? This is what we shall do. We shall recompense good. We shall return good. We shall overcome evil with good. God help me, how do I do it? He speaks evil. We shall speak good. He curses. We shall bless.
Just as much as you please.
I’ll talk about you
Down on my knees.
["Talk About Me," traditional Negro spiritual]
Ah, that we could! "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" [Romans 12:21]. A kind gesture. A gracious word. A kind, thoughtful remembrance. Ah, it takes more than anything I know of. That’s hard. That’s hard; but most of the time it works.
Somebody says something wrong about you, somebody speaks evil of you – let me tell you what you do. Get a hold of a friend who will be careful to relay it to that fellow and say something marvelously good about him; and by the grapevine, it gets to him. See what happens. Ah, it’s the coals of fire on his head. He’ll be coming around. He’d be saying something nice to you, and he’d be doing something nice for you because for the evil that he spake, you have returned good.
Just this and I’m through. There is not anymore moving or precious story in God’s Book than the story of Joseph who was hated by his brothers [Genesis 37:1-11]. They despised his looks. They despised his dreams. They despised his words. They hated him. He was his father’s favorite. There he came walking with his coat of many colors. They didn’t have a coat of many colors. Joseph got it. He was his father’s pet. He was his momma’s pride and joy. They hated him.
And upon a day, they put him in a pit to die [Genesis 37:12-24]. And one of them said, "Let’s don’t lose this money if he dies. That doesn’t mean anything for us. Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites" [Genesis 37:25-28]. So they got some money for him, and took his coat of many colors and put it in a kid’s blood, in kid’s blood, and took it to their father and said, "This is what we found. Is this Joseph’s coat? A wild beast has slain him and eaten him up" [Genesis 37:29-35]. And they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took Joseph down into Egypt, and he was a slave there [Genesis 37:36]. And the years passed [Genesis 39:1-41:57].
And then those stories when those brethren came down to the land of Egypt to get food for the famished land of Judea [Genesis 42:1-38]. And then when Benjamin was brought back, and in Benjamin’s sack the cup was found, and they come before the lord of all Egypt who is Joseph, their brother [Genesis 43:1-44:17]. They come before the lord of all Egypt who is Joseph. And Joseph says, "On account of this thievery, you can return back home, but Benjamin has to stay here – my slave surety" [Genesis 44:17].
And Judah came near unto him and said, and made that dramatic appeal for the boy Benjamin, "How shall I go up to my father and the lad be not with me?" [Genesis 44:18–34] And Joseph could contain himself no longer, and he wept aloud. And he caused the Egyptians to leave, and Joseph said unto his brethren, "Come near. Come near. I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" [Genesis 45:1-3a] And his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled in his presence [Genesis 45:3b]. All of those days of hate and bitterness, all of those hours when they looked upon him to die in the pit, all of those times they came back, and they were troubled in his presence.
And Joseph said, "Come near to me, I pray you. Come near." And they came near, and Joseph said, "I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Don’t be grieved nor angry with yourselves that you sold me, for God sent me before you to preserve life. God sent me before you to preserve your prosperity. It was not you, it was of God. It was of God" [Genesis 45:4-8].
And he turned to his own full brother, the son of his own mother. He turned to Benjamin, and he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck; and he wept, and Benjamin wept [Genesis 45:14]. Ah, isn’t that of God? Isn’t that of the Lord? Isn’t that in the highest traditions of the Holy Book? Isn’t that Christian?
Dear people, anybody can fight back. Anybody can curse and return. Anybody can be angry. Anybody can recompense evil for evil. But if you do, what do you more than others? How would they ever say, "O what a great God, what a noble Christian, what a dedicated life"? To be Christian, let the Lord answer. Let the Lord recompense. Let the Lord judge. But as for us, God help me. The Lord help us. As for us, we are to return good for evil. Well, I need praying for. Let’s pray.
Wonderful Savior, who being reviled, reviled not again [1 Peter 2:23]; being cursed, cursed not in return; being wounded and despitefully used, prayed for those who crucified Him [Luke 23:34]. O Savior, how does a man ever measure up to the calling we have in Christ Jesus? It is so natural. It is so much of the flesh to return the bitter and hasty word with a caustic and burning reply. It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of hating those who hate you. Dear Lord, how could we ever be children of the Father when we act and live like the unregenerate of the world? Lord, give me a double portion of the grace and mercy of the Spirit of Jesus. Not to be good for nothing. Not to be negatively good; but, Lord, dynamically and actively good: given to the work of the Lord, filled with all of the things of Christ and His church and the work of Jesus. And may this people, Lord, may they find in these holy admonitions read from God’s Book tonight, may they find encouragement to bring religion out of the clouds and out of the sermon and out of the pulpit and put it into life.
Our hands are not filthy because like a geologist, or like a chemist, or like a scrub woman, they have the earth on them. And we are no less Christians out here in the common ways of life trying to live Jesus than we are at prayer or listening to the message from the preacher in God’s house. Master, as we’re Christians here in this holy place, tomorrow when we go to work, may we be no less Christian there. But to do it, Jesus, we need help. God help us. Now Master, as we sing a song, if there is somebody You give us tonight, put into his heart to come, and we’ll thank Thee for answered prayer. In the lowly Jesus, in His spirit of humility, and in His precious name, amen.
Now, while we sing our song, somebody you, "Tonight, Pastor, I give my heart and my life to the Lord Jesus. I am coming into the church. Here I am." Or, "Here’s my family." Or, "Here’s my little boy" or "my girl." God must make the appeal. God must woo and draw. As the Lord shall say the word, would you come and make it now? Make it now while we stand and while we sing.