Revenge Versus Reality (Part 1)

Voodoo doll with pins

Romans 12:19

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.”

Has everyone heard those words from Romans 12:19 before? Just in case you haven’t, I’ll repeat them again:

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.”

Pretty straightforward, eh? Two clear facts can be easily extracted from it:

  1. Do not take revenge
  2. God will take vengeance for you

Agree?

Okay, that was a trick question. #1 is accurate:

Don not take revenge.

And please note that Paul said to “never avenge yourselves”…

However, I took some liberties with #2:

God will take vengeance for you.

Is that what Romans 12:19 really said?

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Hmmm…that should pretty close to “God will take vengeance for you,” doesn’t it? However, it only clearly says vengeance is God’s (not yours), and that the Lord will “repay”…but not for what and how.

Do Not Take Revenge

Before we try to settle on what #1 and #2 should actually say, let’s look at a few more biblical references…first trying to confirm #1:

22  Do not say, “I will repay evil”;

wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you (Proverbs 20:22).

29  Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me;

I will pay the man back for what he has done” (Proverbs 24:29).

15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

What do you think? Am I on firm ground with #1?:

Do not take revenge.

I think so…especially when we read Romans 12:19 in it’s larger context:

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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 12:17-21).

It should not surprise us that an apostle of Jesus…the one who not only said to turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39)…but did not repay evil for evil to the point of dying on the cross for our sins….

That the apostle of Jesus would tell us not to repay evil for evil…

That Paul would tell us…

Do not take revenge.

And there are plenty of good reasons not to. For instance, the famous Englishman Francis Bacon is quoted as saying:

A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.1

And John Milton, in Paradise Lost, notes:

Revenge, at first though sweet,

Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.2

Basically, in taking revenge you are not just injuring your the one who wronged you, you are injuring yourself…perhaps even more.

However, my favorite quote as I was researching for this sermon was from Martin Luther King, Jr…and given how race relations have taken such a southward turn the last eight years, I think his wisdom is especially apropos. This is from his speech as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 11, 1964:

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for a man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.3

Social media gives ample opportunity for each of us to be wronged…as part of a group or as an individual.

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Of course, it also gives us ample opportunity to wrong…as part of a mob or individually.

And Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly agrees with the scriptural advice not to repay evil for evil, encouraging us to develop a method for dealing with “human conflict…which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.”

And what was the “foundation of such a method”?

Love.

Which, when I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sage words, reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The foundation is love because love is not resentful. It bears all things and endures all things.

That is, love does not seek revenge…and Leviticus 19:18 helps further contrast love and revenge:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Love and revenge are incompatible.

Jesus Christ

Although I could provide more reasons not to seek revenge, before wrapping up I’d like to go back to Jesus, who I pointed out did not repay evil for evil to the point of dying on the cross. Understanding that He was abused and tortured before being raised next to two thieves, we join Luke’s narrative to see how we was treated close His last breath:

35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39).

Here we have a man suffering horribly. Even if was truly a despicable sinner, the lack of compassion…or…the fact that it was quite the opposite…deriding the sinless Son of God…is devastating. Evil at its worst.

And well deserving of divine revenge.

But, I purposely didn’t read the three verses just before those. Let’s do that now:

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments (Luke 23:32-34).

Jesus knew the hearts of those who were crucifying Him and watching Him being crucified (see John 2:24). Jesus had every reason to be resentful.

But God…

Those two words probably have launched a thousand sermons…

But God…in the person of Jesus Christ…

Wasn’t resentful…didn’t return evil for evil…instead…

He bore all things and endured all things.

Jesus didn’t ask for the Father to take vengeance on those horribly sinful people who surrounded Him.

He asked the Father to forgive them.

Be Christlike

Do you want to be Christlike? Do you want to be like Jesus? Do you want His eyes? Do you want His heart?

I do.

Compared to what happened to Jesus on the cross, anything that happens to you is no more than a paper cut.

If Jesus didn’t take revenge…and He could have:

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53)

If Jesus didn’t take revenge when, if there was ever a reason for it, He had reason.

Then you and I with our paper cut level suffering shouldn’t.

I want to be Christlike? You?

Then do not take revenge.

Wrapping Up

I told Michelle I was going to keep this one short…so we’ve only dealt with #1…”Do not take revenge.” Next week we’ll see what we can learn about #2…”God will take vengeance for you.”

Is that statement right? Mostly right? Wrong?

Today, I’ve given you multiple reasons not to take revenge…some biblical…some just from wise men…

But ultimately, what is the most simple reason not to take revenge?

Because God said not to.

Even if you don’t understand why not…

Do not take revenge, because God said not to.

Be like Jesus.

Listen to God.

Do not take revenge.

Footnotes

1Merriam-Webster, I. (1992). The Merriam-Webster dictionary of quotations (p. 362). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

2Merriam-Webster, I. (1992). The Merriam-Webster dictionary of quotations (p. 363). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

3Bartlett, J. (2002). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (16th ed., p. 761). Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.


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