Paul is not pollyannish in the face of evil’s reality.
The apostle names opposition to God’s purposes with supple and varied vocabulary. There are ‘principalities and powers’, ‘rulers’, ‘dominions’, and ‘authorities’. Paul can discourse widely upon the power of sin and death. He lays hold of imagery of warfare, its weapons, and its equipment to paint the picture of the bellicose environment in which the follower of Jesus sooner or later discovers himself.
Yet in the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans, as he describes the confrontation of good with evil, Paul’s language is decidedly civilian.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 NRSV)
Paul places his readers in the power position. They are not so much potential victims of evil as its conqueror. Yet the battle tactics are asymmetrical. They will not experience their conquest over evil as the result of employing evil’s own tools.
The fury of warfare is there, all right. Paul encourages them to hate evil. But the deeds that will spell the downfall of the evil that threatens are loving, self-denying, and—in particular—ordinary.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ (Romans 12:9–20 NRSV)
The Christian message, ever surprising, locates power where we least expect it.