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Too Gracious to Be Ignored

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 12:14–21

Being gracious to others is not easy. It requires a selfless, humble spirit that desires the best for others. With God’s grace as a model, however, we are fully equipped to live gracious lives and overcome evil. Paul offers some practical principles for a grace-centered life.


On March 11, 1830, a young British girl was doing her lessons with her private tutor. As she studied the genealogical chart in her history book, she suddenly became aware that she was next in line—she would one day become the queen of England! At first, little Victoria wept with the sudden wave of responsibility and privilege. Then through her tears, she looked up at her tutor and with great determination delivered those immortal words, “If I shall be queen, then I will be good!”[1]

Even at such a young age, this future queen sensed the relationship between where she would sit one day and how she should act in the meantime. The apostle Paul wants us to sense the same truth: who we are ought to determine how we act. In other words, since we are royal heirs to the grace of God, we should start acting graciously, even now.

As we again set sail in Romans 12, Paul is going to begin listing in rather rapid fashion, ten different ways we can demonstrate graciousness to a world around us that is graceless.  

First, Paul effectively says that we should demonstrate our best toward our enemies. Verse 14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

The word “Bless” here translates the verb eulogeō, which gives us our word eulogy. People tend to say nice things about their enemies after their adversaries have died. But to eulogize, or to bless, a living enemy is surprising to the world around us.[2] Paul is challenging us to do something totally surprising here—to speak well of our enemies.

Two more gracious acts are identified next; let me put them this way: we are to delight in other people’s joys and demonstrate compassion for other people’s sorrows. Paul writes in verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Beloved, it is a lot easier to weep with the sorrowful than to rejoice with the joyful. It is easy to feel sad with someone when they lose their job; it is another thing to rejoice when they happily announce that they have become your new boss!

We are going to need the Lord to help us not to envy or resent those who rejoice. This is a real test of a gracious spirit.

Keep in mind, beloved, that these ten demonstrations of graciousness are not suggestions; they are biblical commands. They might be difficult to practice, but since they are commanded in God’s Word, that means we can perform them.

Number four in this list of ten is that we should desire harmony in our relationships. Paul writes it this way in verse 16:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

This phrase “Live in harmony” demands an attitude of humility. Do not get carried away with your reflection in the mirror or your accomplishments in life.

The fifth command is this: Determine to have a non-retaliating posture in life. Paul writes in verse 17, “Repay no one evil for evil.” Simply put, gracious people do not strike back; they are not out to get even. Looking for opportunities to get back at somebody is going to stunt your growth in grace.

Here is the sixth command for demonstrating grace in a graceless world: Develop a lifestyle of purity. Paul writes further in verse 17, “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” The Greek word translated “give thought” has the idea of “think first before you act!”

And let me tell you, living in our morally depraved culture is going to demand that Christians do a lot of thinking. We need to daily answer the question, “What is honorable and right according to God’s Word?”

When Paul says we are to do what is “honorable in the sight of all,” he does not mean we should do what everybody thinks we should do; he means we are to do what is right no matter who is watching—and let me remind you, beloved, many people are watching you today.

Principle number 7: Display a desire for peace. Paul writes in verse 18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

I love Paul’s realism here. First, he writes, “If possible.” Why write that? Because sometimes it is not possible. Just about every time I teach the Bible, I make some brand-new enemies.

Paul goes on to write, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably.” Why write that? Because it does not always depend on you! You cannot control that angry neighbor, that stubborn relative, that unreasonable coworker. But Paul is saying, “Do everything you can do to offer peace, and then leave it at that.”

Here is the eighth principle: Do not forget this future prophecy. Paul now quotes here from Deuteronomy 32:35:

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.” (verse 19)

That word translated “repay” means to personally and accurately pay back.[3] God will personally judge the world one day; His vengeance is not a vendetta—it is a verdict. If anything, this eternal verdict of guilty should make us pity the unbeliever today.

Paul then moves on to the next principle: Demonstrate specific acts of pity. Here in verse 20, Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22:

“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.”

“Heaping burning coals on his head” does not sound very gracious at all.

In Paul’s day, if an individual’s hearth fire went out, he wouldn’t be able to cook or keep warm without a lot of effort in starting from scratch. Or, he could go to a neighbor for some live coals from his fire. If his neighbor was gracious, he would put some coals in a container and, in typical fashion, the man would balance the bucket on his covered head and carry those coals back home.[4]

Paul is essentially saying, “Be that kind of gracious neighbor.” Who knows how God will use it.

The tenth way to show grace to a graceless world is this: Depend daily on God’s power. Verse 21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Chinese author Watchman Nee told the true story of a Christian he knew who owned a rice paddy next to the rice paddy of an atheist. The atheist hated his Christian neighbor and wanted nothing to do with Christ. Now this Christian farmer irrigated his rice paddy by pumping water out of a nearby canal. The pump was manually operated, and it was long, hard work.

Every day, after several hours of pumping, his rice paddy would be covered with water; but when he left his field, his neighbor would remove some boards that separated their fields and all that water would flow down into his rice paddy. He did this day after day, and the Christian farmer struggled with anger. He prayed, “Lord, I’m going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I have a family to care for; this isn’t right. What should I do?”

The Lord impressed on him to apply the truth of this passage. The next morning, he arose much earlier than usual, removed the boards from these two fields and pumped water into the field of his neighbor and then into his own. He did this for several weeks, and both rice fields produced a bountiful crop. Because of this Christian’s gracious spirit, it was not long before the atheist gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ.[5]

Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were just too gracious to be ignored?

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Live Like a King (Moody Press, 1976), 141.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, 2d ed. (Eerdmans, 1996), 799.

[3] William R. Newell, Romans Verse-by-Verse (Kregel, 1994), 476.

[4] Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), 204.

[5] Watchman Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand, compiled by Angus I. Kinnear (Tyndale, 1977), 20-21.

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