Looking For Revenge?
Pastor Steve Ellison
As part of “loving without hypocrisy” as defined by Romans 12, we are cautioned about vengeance. Romans 12:17-21 gives crystal clear instruction, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” NASU
Vengeance is not prohibited. In fact vengeance is certain to occur. It is just strictly regulated. Vengeance is the sole responsibility of God. It is taken completely out of our hands. “Never” is a big word; it covers a whole lot of things and it’s also for a very long time. We are commanded to never pay back evil for evil. We are commanded to never take our own revenge. This issue here is, if we pay back evil for evil or take vengeance on someone, the creature is appropriating something that belongs to the Creator. That is rebellion and idolatry all at the same time.
We are looking at a New Testament passage. Maybe you remember some Old Testament passages such as Exodus 21 or Leviticus 24 where you find such phrases as “an eye for an eye”, “tooth for tooth”, etc. Perhaps you think that this New Testament teaching is different. You are correct. It is different. First of all, those Old Testament passages are in the context of a law code given to the nation to be carried out by the duly appointed government. This passage in Romans 12 is given to us as individual members of the church. That is an important distinction but I think there is a more important difference. The Old Testament passages are not advocating vengeance but rather limiting punishments. These Old Testament passages that many have viewed as harsh and vengeful are in reality merciful. The idea is to keep just and reasonable punishments from growing into personal vendettas. The famous “eye for an eye” phrases (tooth for tooth, etc.) occur in the midst of a lengthy passage spelling out strict limitations on accepted punishments for a comprehensive list of crimes. The intent is clearly to keep us from turning authorized punishment into personal anger-driven vengeance.
As it always does, the New Testament increases the requirement. It goes beyond a simple command to avoid personal vengeance. Romans 12 tells us to forgive and to do everything in our power to get along with all men. “All” is a big word. Some people are just plain hard to get along with, but we are called to get along with them anyway. Romans 12 tells us to practice kindness toward our enemies. It is not always easy to practice kindness toward friends, much less enemies. The passage goes on to command us to repay evil with good. It seems that the main point is that the absence of hate is not a complete indication of “loving without hypocrisy”. Rather, the question is, “Do I love the one who has wronged me?” That is so much more difficult than simply refusing to take vengeance, in fact so much so that simply asking the question hurts…..………..firstname.lastname@example.org