Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Romans 12:21

King James Version (KJV)
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Be not overcome of evil - Do not, by giving place to evil, become precisely the same character which thou condemnest in another. Overcome evil with good - however frequently he may grieve and injure thee, always repay him with kindness; thy good-will, in the end, may overcome his evil.

  1. Thomas Aquinas has properly said: Vincitur a malo qui vult peccare in alium, quia ille peccavit in ipsum. "He is overcome of evil who sins against another, because he sins against him." A moral enemy is more easily overcome by kindness than by hostility. Against the latter he arms himself; and all the evil passions of his heart concentrate themselves in opposition to him who is striving to retaliate, by violence, the injurious acts which he has received from him. But where the injured man is labouring to do him good for his evil - to repay his curses with blessings and prayers, his evil passions have no longer any motive, any incentive; his mind relaxes; the turbulence of his passions is calmed; reason and conscience are permitted to speak; he is disarmed, or, in other words, he finds that he has no use for his weapons; he beholds in the injured man a magnanimous friend whose mind is superior to all the insults and injuries which he has received, and who is determined never to permit the heavenly principle that influences his soul to bow itself before the miserable, mean, and wretched spirit of revenge. This amiable man views in his enemy a spirit which he beholds with horror, and he cannot consent to receive into his own bosom a disposition which he sees to be so destructive to another; and he knows that as soon as he begins to avenge himself, he places himself on a par with the unprincipled man whose conduct he has so much reason to blame, and whose spirit he has so much cause to abominate. He who avenges himself receives into his own heart all the evil and disgraceful passions by which his enemy is rendered both wretched and contemptible. There is the voice of eternal reason in "Avenge not yourselves: - overcome evil with good;" as well as the high authority and command of the living God.
  • The reader will, no doubt, have observed with pleasure the skill and address, as well as the Divine wisdom, with which the apostle has handled the important subjects which he has brought forth to view in the preceding chapters. Nothing can be more regular or judicious than his plan of proceeding. He first shows the miserable, wretched, fallen, degraded state of man; next, the merciful provision which God has made for his salvation, and lastly, the use which man should make of the mercies of his God. He shows us, in a most pointed manner, the connection that subsists between the doctrines of the Gospel and practical piety. From the beginning of the first to the end of the eleventh chapter he states and defends the grand truths of Christianity, and from the beginning of the twelfth to the end of the epistle he shows the practical use of these doctrines. This is a point which is rarely considered by professors; multitudes run to the Epistle to the Romans for texts to prop up their peculiar system of doctrine, but how few go to this sacred book for rules relative to holy life! They abound in quotations from the doctrinal parts, but seldom make that use of them which the apostle makes in this chapter. "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, and be not conformed to this world, etc." Now we learn from the use which the apostle makes of his doctrines, that whatsoever teaching comes from God leads to a holy and useful life. And if we hold any doctrine that does not excite us to labor after the strictest conformity to the will of God in all our tempers, spirit, and actions, we may rest assured that either that doctrine is not of God, or we make an improper use of it. He that knows God best, loves and resembles him most.
  • Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Be not overcome of evil - Be not “vanquished” or “subdued” by injury received from others. Do not suffer your temper to be excited; your Christian principles to be abandoned; your mild, amiable, kind, and benevolent temper to be ruffled by any opposition or injury which you may experience. Maintain your Christian principles amidst all opposition, and thus show the power of the gospel. They are overcome by evil who suffer their temper to be excited, who become enraged and revengeful and who engage in contention with those who injure them; Proverbs 16:22.

    But overcome evil with good - That is, subdue or vanquish evil by doing good to others. Show them the loveliness of a better spirit; the power of kindness and benevolence; the value of an amiable, Christian deportment. So doing, you may disarm them of their rage, and be the means of bringing them to better minds.

    This is the noble and grand sentiment of the Christian religion. Nothing like this is to be found in the pagan classics; and nothing like it ever existed among pagan nations. Christianity alone has brought forth this lovely and mighty principle; and one design of it is to advance the welfare of man by promoting peace, harmony, and love. The idea of “overcoming evil with good” never occurred to people until the gospel was preached. It never has been acted on except under the influences of the gospel. On this principle God shows kindness; on this principle the Saviour came, and bled, and died; and on this principle all Christians should act in treating their enemies, and in bringing a world to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. If Christians will show benevolence, if they will send forth proofs of love to the ends of the earth, the evils of the world will be overcome. Nor can the nations be converted until Christians act on this great and most important principle of their religion, “on the largest scale possible,” to “overcome evil with good.”

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Since men became enemies to God, they have been very ready to be enemies one to another. And those that embrace religion, must expect to meet with enemies in a world whose smiles seldom agree with Christ's. Recompense to no man evil for evil. That is a brutish recompence, befitting only animals, which are not conscious of any being above them, or of any existence hereafter. And not only do, but study and take care to do, that which is amiable and creditable, and recommends religion to all with whom you converse. Study the things that make for peace; if it be possible, without offending God and wounding conscience. Avenge not yourselves. This is a hard lesson to corrupt nature, therefore a remedy against it is added. Give place unto wrath. When a man's passion is up, and the stream is strong, let it pass off; lest it be made to rage the more against us. The line of our duty is clearly marked out, and if our enemies are not melted by persevering kindness, we are not to seek vengeance; they will be consumed by the fiery wrath of that God to whom vengeance belongeth. The last verse suggests what is not easily understood by the world; that in all strife and contention, those that revenge are conquered, and those that forgive are conquerors. Be not overcome of evil. Learn to defeat ill designs against you, either to change them, or to preserve your own peace. He that has this rule over his spirit, is better than the mighty. God's children may be asked whether it is not more sweet unto them than all earthly good, that God so enables them by his Spirit, thus to feel and act.
    Ellen G. White
    The Upward Look, 42.5

    Cannot you be a partaker with Christ in His sufferings? Cannot you endure to have your name cast out as evil, and suffer the loss of temporal interest? You may be falsely accused, but bear in mind that Jesus bore all this for you, and faint not at tribulation. Overcome evil with good. Do not become bitter and estranged from Jesus. He loves you. Put your trust in Him.... UL 42.5

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    Ellen G. White
    The Ministry of Healing, 486

    If impatient words are spoken to you, never reply in the same spirit. Remember that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” Proverbs 15:1. And there is wonderful power in silence. Words spoken in reply to one who is angry sometimes serve only to exasperate. But anger met with silence, in a tender, forbearing spirit, quickly dies away. MH 486.1

    Under a storm of stinging, faultfinding words, keep the mind stayed upon the word of God. Let mind and heart be stored with God's promises. If you are ill-treated or wrongfully accused, instead of returning an angry answer, repeat to yourself the precious promises: MH 486.2

    “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21. MH 486.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 163

    Counsel to a Woman Literature Evangelist—I have received two letters from you, and have a desire to relieve your mind if I can. Your position was a very remarkable one, and God gave me a decided message for you. I did not consider from the facts presented that your case was without hope; but your perception of what constituted right and wrong was so low in the scale that it was entirely unsafe for you to be traveling and be canvassing and giving Bible readings, and be exposed to temptations. [You are] one who could not distinguish in the Word of God what sin is, in giving your body to be polluted by a man, whatever may be his profession, and claim to be relieved [forgiven]. This matter was shown to me to be a heinous sin in the sight of God, and yet your senses were so benumbed and demoralized that you would continue to canvass for our religious books and give Bible readings, and you committing fornication. TSB 163.1

    Reproof From God—The law of God proclaimed upon Mount Sinai, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and yet you who transgressed that law in so marked a manner were teaching others the Bible. God did not accept your labors. You ask if the Lord gave me that letter to give to you. I say He did. The holy God of Israel will not serve with your sins. That message was given of God. If you have had, since that message was given, a new sense of what constitutes sin, if you have become truly converted, a child of God in place of being a transgressor of His law, there is no one who will be more pleased than myself. I could not present your sin before you in too strong language. TSB 163.2

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