Let Revenge Go

Romans 12:17-18 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

It doesn’t take much to push us into revenge mode. A man in my neighborhood didn’t like the neighbor dog constantly barking at him from the other side of the privacy fence. Then one day the dog turned up dead. It was poisoned. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

We think that little children are petty and immature when they slug a playmate for some perceived offense and then plead, “Well, he started it.” Apparently it’s a reaction people are slow to outgrow.

The Christians in Rome to whom Paul was writing had bigger reasons than barking dogs or playground feuds to feel injured and offended. Some of them had been expelled from the city for a time, forced to leave their homes and businesses because of their faith. They were generally regarded as dim-witted, uncultured, and even a threat to Roman civilization. Worse things were on the horizon. Within 10 years the emperor would begin rounding Christians up, feeding them to dogs or burning them alive as living torches.

To these people Paul writes, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Living at peace with everyone doesn’t mean agreeing with things God’s word identifies to be false or evil. God calls us to stand up for the truth.

But the big truths are “Grace” and “Love.” You know “grace,” the teaching in which God forgives people instead of making them pay for their sins. You know “love,” the teaching in which God rescues the very people who rebelled against him, and provides and cares for a world that does not care for him. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Jesus once asked his students. “Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Taking revenge isn’t compatible. It isn’t acceptable. “Do not repay evil with evil.”

By all means, stick up for others. Enforce applicable laws. None of this is a commentary on whether criminals should be apprehended and prosecuted. But remember, you have not committed any sin when you are wronged, and you respond with mercy instead of justice.

Jesus carried out our salvation that way, didn’t he? He didn’t compromise any truths. He at times questioned those who abused him. But all the time he kept a cap on his anger, and controlled his tongue–no obscenities or insults from his mouth. He let them lead him all the way to torture and death.

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter specifically tells us that Christ “suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps.” He isn’t saying that Jesus’ sacrifice was primarily an example. A few verses later Peter tells us that “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is the payment for sin, the sacrifice that saves us. But when Jesus tells us, “Don’t take revenge,” he knows a little about the subject personally.

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