Summary: In all his obedience Jesus was standing in for us, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.
“Just do it.” That’s the way Nike hopes to motivate us to “get back to sport,” as they put it, to get back in the game. “Just do it,” they tell us, and, of course, they also tell us: the best way to “do it” is to use their shoes and their gear. And, no doubt, some of us do. I see the Nike swoosh everywhere I look.
The name Nike is actually the Greek word for “victory.” It’s pronounced NEE-kay in Greek, of course, but no matter how you say it, it’s a great brand name, especially for a company that wants to help people win. And it’s a perfect word for the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ. In fact, the term nike shows up – at least in its verb form – in the passage we just read not once but twice. You’ll see it there in verse 21. It is rendered into our language as “overcome.” “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That’s why I have entitled my remarks today The Nike Factor. Good is supposed to win – to be victorious – over evil in our lives. Or, to put it another way, you and I are commanded by God to overcome what is evil for the sake of what is good.
But have you looked at the game plan? There are twenty-four, maybe twenty-five imperatives in these thirteen verses we read from Romans 12. That averages about two per verse. We are commanded to love others with authenticity, to hate evil, to hold fast to what is good. We are told to love one another, to outdo one another in showing honor. We are instructed not to lag in zeal but to be ardent and to serve the Lord, to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to the needs of others, and to show hospitality to strangers.
And that’s not even all. On and on the list of demands goes. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Live in harmony with one another. Don’t be uppity but associate with the lowly. And that’s not even the end of it.
But here’s the thing. Not only is the list long. It’s cast in the superlative degree. We’re not just to do better; we to do the best. The NIV starts off verse 11 with the word “never:” “Never be lacking in zeal.” Never?
I don’t know about you, but if this kind of comprehensive, extensive, and unexcelled obedience is the path to victory, I’m already so far behind in the race that I’ll never catch up. “Do not be overcome by evil?” Too late!
You doubt it? Just look at the playing field. Look at what we’re up against. Over and over again, I have buckled under both internal weakness and external pressure. My spiritual enemies – yours too! – are the flesh, the world, and the devil. The flesh, according to the New Testament, is the remnant of sin still active within me, and it shows up in me more often than I care to admit. Maybe you’re the same way.
You’ve seen how it works. The Bible requires genuine love. How often has my love – or yours – been completely genuine? We are to honor each other – to “outdo one another,” in fact, in the attempt. But how often am I so caught up in myself that I’m not so much interested in showing honor to you as I am in having you show honor to me? We’re to be zealous and ardent, never lacking in zeal – isn’t that what it says? Yes, that is what it says, but saying it doesn’t change my apathy and indifference, not in the least. “Rejoice,” Paul says? I prefer to be unhappy. I know. I know. I have God in my life. I can’t even count my blessings; there are so many. But it’s not enough. I want something more, something else. And as for patience in suffering, forget about it. I am the poster child for impatience.
And all that is simply the product of the flesh, my internal opposition, so to speak. But then there’s the world outside me. It puts the squeeze on me, too. It’s my external opposition. Paul tells us in Romans 12 to be hospitable to strangers. Instead of showing them hospitality, what do we do to people we don’t know? We show them hostility. Paul tells us not to be snobbish and contemptuous of those we think are beneath us. We are not to pretend to superior intelligence, and we are to bless our enemies and show them kindness. If somebody offends us, we’re not to plot how to get back at them. In summary, we are not to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good.”