Over the last few posts we have looked at the attitudes and behaviours of life in Jesus Christ. Most specifically there have been a few posts considering the issue of revenge and retaliation when we are hurt or wronged by other people.
The bible is very clear about this subject and the whole issue of taking the law into our own hands. Don’t! That is the message. Don’t put yourself into the position of judge, jury and executioner for this is not what we have been called to.
Here in these last few verses of Romans 12 we see this spelled out very clearly and what we should do when it comes to those who oppose us and oppose the will of God.
The Wrath Of God
First let us look at what the verses are saying.
19 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.” 20 To the contrary, “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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
The first verse (vs. 20) tells us point blank, do not seek revenge. Do not look for those who have done wrong against you for the purpose of avenging yourself. Instead we are to leave any judgement and vengeance to the wrath of God.
As it says, he WILL repay and avenge any wrong done by you. Oh, and by the way, if you do wrong by someone else God will repay you for the wrong you have done.
Just because we are Christians we do not escape God’s wrath if we do something deserving of His wrath. God seeks balance, justice and what is right and if that means we deserve a beating…we will get it.
When we read about God’s discipline towards His children, what is He doing but giving us the whack across the backside that we need to teach us and get us back on the right track. His discipline towards us is His judgement of when and what we need to teach us right from wrong. If we do right we are blessed, but if we do wrong we will suffer for it. The most important thing is that we learn the lesson…and don’t do it again!
And that is why we must leave vengeance to God also and not seek to avenge ourselves. God’s vengeance is just and if that person doing wrong by us is being called by the Lord, then perhaps they will heed His discipline and turn from their evil. If not though, then they will not be able to blame us and attack us further for the evil that befalls them from the hand of God as payment for the wrong they are doing.
So do not avenge yourself. Leave it to God for He is the true judge and He will mete out a balance justice in correct proportion to the evil done and the discipline or judgement required. Instead we are to show a true Christian attitude towards those who are our enemies, as we see in the next few verses of this section.
Compassion is what we are to show to those who do us evil or treat us badly.
Sure it is hard to do! It is much easier to lash out and seek vengeance against wrongdoers. But that is not what the Christian life is about and it is not what we have been called to do.
How can we show the truth of the gospel and the life of Christ as an example in us when we behave no differently to the rest of the world? This world is a violent and evil place. People are always seeking their own advantage and in selfishness only look out for themselves at the expense of others.
If we do the same as them, how are we any different to them? How can we preach love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control unless we show those attitudes and fruits of the Spirit in our lives?
If we are to live as Christ lived, then we have to walk as He walked and His walk was one that showed all of those things above, and especially showed compassion towards those who were downcast.
Under the law people were taught that it was OK to take an eye for and and a tooth for a tooth. But in Christ we are being held accountable to a higher standard as the next verse in this section shows us.
20 To the contrary, “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.
Look at these words carefully. If we had a friend who was in need and we had the means to help them, we would not think twice about providing what they needed, whether they are hungry or thirsty. And here the Lord instructs us to treat even our enemies with the same concern and graciousness as we would a friend by providing for their needs if they have them and it is in our power to do so.
Why? Because at one time we too were the enemies of God and He gave us grace, forgiveness and compassion so that we could be received by Him as we accepted Jesus Christ. And as Christians we are being taught to become like Christ. We are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit in us so that we can become perfect as He is perfect.
And helping those in need, whether friend or enemy, is what Christ did and what He expects us to do. If we are to become like Christ then we too must do what is good, what is true and what is righteous so that we can overcome evil.
The lesson is quite clear for Jesus has stated it many times and in many ways. We are to treat people in the way we would like to be treated. Note His words from the sermon on the mount.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Here Jesus is restating the commandment in the law that underpins all the rest of the law. He goes further even in the version of this in the gospel of Luke which says,
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)
Again this is a restatement of the Golden Rule which says, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
And in each of the two sections above we see that we are instructed to love our enemies, that is, to treat them with the same compassion and respect as we would a friend.
Furthermore we see that it is ONLY when we show compassion to our enemies that we are truly behaving like God. It is when we apply the Golden Rule to ALL people that we are showing the truth of Jesus Christ in the love of God.
God shows His grace and love and compassion to all mankind by giving us the chance to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. If a person chooses to reject God’s grace then that is their problem. It is not for us to judge if anyone chooses to follow the path of evil for that is God’s role and He knows who He is working with.
Consider your own life. There was a time in the lives of almost all Christians when they were not with the Lord and times when many, like the Apostle Paul, actively and openly scoffed and opposed God. But God showed you mercy and compassion until you saw the error of your ways and realized you needed a Saviour.
And it is no difference with the rest of the world who have not yet made a decision for Christ. Many who are currently enemies of Christ, just as we once were, will be called into His fold. We do not know who those people are and so it is encumbent on us to ALWAYS show the life of Christ in us through treating even our enemies well and compassionately so that they will wonder, and question and perhaps seek what it is that makes us different from others.
And if they have done something deserving of punishment, leave it to the wrath of God. Perhaps, just perhaps when they see the punishment they undergo they will wonder and reach out and be saved.
Yes, as the last verse in this section says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. (Vs. 21)
Repaying evil for evil never solves a problem, never brings resolution to a situation and never shows the love of Christ that we are called to show. But when we do good to those who do evil to us, we show that we are not like them and that we choose to do what is right regardless of what comes against us. This may infuriate them or it may cause them to reconsider and wonder. Either way, it is God who will step in and reward us for our steadfastness and avenge the wrong done against us in the most just and fair way and maybe even allow the person to reconsider and seek Him out.
So do good to all mankind…always. We are told to love our neighbors, not just our friends. Do good to all, especially the evil and undeserving for that is where we were in relation to God and He had mercy on us. So too we must show mercy to others and prove ourselves to be true children of God.
(Photo sourced from freeimages.com taken by Bev Lloyd-Roberts LRPS)
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