“Be not wise in your own conceits.”
The lesson as read in the church ends here. We shall, therefore, notice but briefly the remaining portion. “Conceits,” as here used, signifies the obstinate attitude with regard to temporal things which is maintained by that individual who is unwilling to be instructed, who himself knows best in all things, who yields to no one and calls good whatever harmonizes with his ideas. The Christian should be more willing to make concession in temporal affairs. Let him not be contentious, but rather yielding, since the Word of God and faith are not involved, it being only a question of personal honor, of friends, and of worldly things.
“Render to no man evil for evil.”
In the counsel above to “curse not” (v. 14), the writer of the epistle has in mind those unable to avenge themselves, or to return evil for evil. These have no alternative but to curse, to invoke evil upon their oppressors. In this instance, however, the reference is to those who have equal power to render one another evil for evil, malice for malice, whether by acts committed or omitted—and usually they are omitted. But the Christian should render good for evil, and omit not. God suffers His sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good (Matt. 5:45).
“Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.”
Outward peace among men is here intended—peace with Christians and heathen, with the godly and the wicked, the high and the low. We must give no occasion for strife; rather, we are to endure every ill patiently, never permitting peace to be disturbed on our account. Paul adds, “As much as in you lieth.” It is impossible to maintain peace at all times. The saying is, “I can continue in peace only so long as my neighbor is willing.” But it lies in our power to leave others at peace, friends and foes, and to endure the contentions of all. “Oh yes,” you say, “but where would we be then?” Listen:
“Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto Me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.”
Note, in forbidding us to return blow for blow and to resort to vengeance, the apostle implies that our enjoyment of peace depends on our quiet endurance of others’ disturbance. He not only gives us assurance that we shall be avenged, but he intimidates us from usurping the office of God, to whom alone belong vengeance and retribution.
The vengeance and wrath of God are dispensed in various ways: through the instrumentality of political government; at the hands of the Devil; by illness, hunger, and pestilence; by fire and water; by war, enmity, disgrace; and by every possible kind of misfortune on earth. Every creature may serve as the rod and weapon of God when He designs chastisement. As said in Wisdom of Solomon 5:17: “He shall … make the creature His weapon for the revenge of His enemies.”
So Paul says, “Give place unto wrath.” I have inserted the words “of God” to make clearer the meaning of the text; the wrath of God is intended, and not the wrath of man.
The thought is not of giving place to the anger of our enemies. True, there may be occasion even for that, but Paul has not reference here to man’s anger. Evidently, he means misfortunes and plagues, which are regarded as expressions of God’s wrath. Paul would include here all wrath, whether temporal or eternal, to which God gives expression in His chastisements. This is an Old Testament way of speaking. Phinehas says (Josh. 22:18), “ ‘Tomorrow He will be wroth with … Israel.’ ” And Moses in several places speaks of God’s anger being kindled (see Num. 11:1, 10, 33). I mention these things by way of teaching that when the political government wields the sword of punishment against its enemies, it should be regarded as an expression of God’s wrath. The words of Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine,” do not refer solely to punishment inflicted of God direct, without instrumentality.
“But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.”
This endorses what I have already stated—that the Christian’s enemies are to be pitied in that they are subjected to the wrath of God. Consequently it is not Christian-like to injure them; rather, we should extend favors.
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul himself explains the phrase “coals of fire” in harmony with the first idea that the malice of an enemy is to be overcome with good. Overcoming by force is equivalent to lending yourself to evil and wronging the enemy who wrongs you. By such a course your enemy overcomes you and you are made evil like himself. But if you overcome him with good, he will be made righteous like you. A spiritual overcoming is here meant; the disposition, the heart, the soul—yes, the Devil who instigates the evil—are overcome.