Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Another verse to add to the “Julie always thought of this wrong” pile! 🙂
The context really lends itself to thinking the “evil” here means “evil people,” and surely that is one valid meaning, but… life has taught me there’s a lot more evil to overcome within myself than there are evil people waiting to persecute me!
It continually delights me how God uses children’s music to work in my heart, and this morning we were listening to Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” in the car, and this verse is one of the songs. When it came on, my heart was heavy with thoughts of various conflicts going on, and my own tendency to react to such conflict sinfully—impatiently, unkindly—and our human tendencies to respond to disagreement with slander and bad-temperedness and selfishness. (A musing itself inspired by an earlier track on our adventure this morning, Andrew Peterson’s “I Want to Say I’m Sorry.”) How desperately real is the struggle to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), to “let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6); how true is it that “when there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Proverbs 10:19)!
When that moment of conflict comes up, it is so very hard to beat back the instinctive reaction of my tongue. James says (3:8), “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” And yet we must. Proverbs 10:19 concludes, “but the prudent hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:27, “the one who has knowledge uses words with restraint.” James 1:19, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” In that very first moment of a disagreement—how the temptation of evil is so near! Especially when someone has done us evil, the temptation to retaliate is so strong and so hard to resist. And yet such is evil; vengeance belongs to God, not to me. There is never a justification for speaking even a little bit uncontrolled, or even a little bit selfishly, even a little bit vindictively. With our tongues, surely sin is indeed “crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).
At the beginning of a disagreement, evil is lurking. Lurking in my heart. Vying for control of my tongue. Trying to overcome me, to turn the conversation—even the relationship!—to evil. But as David begs in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” In that moment, we can restrain our tongues, we can overcome the evil of the encroaching conflict with good, with the fruit of the Spirit, with patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.
Do not be overcome by evil—but overcome evil with good!