“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.’” (Romans 12:17-19)
This is our longest text so far. We are on Post #18 in Paul’s Marks of a True Christian from Romans 12:9-21. We’ve only got two more posts to go. This has been a tremendous blessing for me. To catch up or review, scroll to the very bottom of the page and you’ll see all of the posts categorized together under (appropriately) “All Posts from Romans 12:9-21.”
So back to the text. Paul is focusing on repayment here. There are a few interesting things happening in this text.
1. Paul is acknowledging that evil exists and that it will be done to you.
Huh? Wait, come on. I’m a Christian now. That means that bad things aren’t going to happen anymore. I thought I signed up for this team because it would make life easy, I’d always be happy, and I’d have no more problems!!! (Insert large game show eeeeeeeeghhhhhh, WRONG buzzer sound). From the mouth of Jesus to His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Let’s just pause here and acknowledge that our zip code is planet earth, our companions are sinners (including your own bad self), and our hope is eternal. As long as we live here and until Jesus comes back, we gonna have baby mama drama and ain’t nothin we can do bout it cept keep our eyes on the one who has overcome it all. Can I get an Allelujah, Amen?
So the first step is accepting and acknowledging that original sin and continued sin make this world a broken place with evil. Once we do that, it helps us focus on ourselves. It challenges us to quit the “It’s not fair” charade. No it’s not fair. Yes, it does suck. Absolutely this isn’t how God intended things to be. But we hang on and thank Him for His rescue plan and goodness through Jesus. Understand this. I’m not minimizing evil. I’m not saying, “deal with it.” Evil enrages God, it’s contrary to His plan, and that’s why He sent His Son to die for it and conquer it. It’s a big deal. But God’s got it.
2. Paul is not focusing on the behaviors, actions, or punishment of the other person, he’s focusing on YOU!
The fact that other people are going to commit evil against me is inevitable (as will I sin/commit evil against them). It’s the whole planet earth zip code deal. Here’s the real deal. I can’t change you, you can’t change me. I’m not in control of you or your behavior, nor are you in control of mine. Paying you back for what you did against me gains no ground, just as you paying me back for what I’ve done to you gains no ground. So Paul is challenging us to handle our own bad selves.
What are Paul’s challenges to the individual here? He says:
A.) Do not repay evil with evil
B.) Do what is honorable in the sight of all
C.) Do everything in your power to live peacefully with everyone
D.) NEVER avenge yourselves
I have to share a story with you. First, a confession. Yesterday I was watching the Dr. Phil show. That’s my confession. Now, here’s my story. I was intrigued by the show because the program info said, “Murder of a Preacher’s Wife-Convicted murderer Harris Williams meets with the now-grown Children of the woman he killed in front of them in 1978.” That pretty much sums up the story. In 1978 Harris Williams stormed into the home of his pastor as the family was sitting down to have dinner. He shot the pastor, seriously wounding him, and shot the pastor’s wife in the chest, clipping her heart and killing her. He did this all in front of their two children, then 7-year-old Rebecca and 3-year-old Daniel.
Yesterday, on the show, now 41-year-old Rebecca and 37-year-old Daniel faced their mother’s killer for the first time in 33 years. The reason they went on the show-to offer Harris Williams their forgiveness. I literally wept. Here’s the message that Rebecca and Daniel shared with Harris.
Sort of trivializes whatever it is I’m holding onto, doesn’t it? I mean, I’ve had wicked things done to me (and I’ve done wicked things). But we sort of get caught in a place of unforgiveness that leads to bitterness and a desire for vengeance. In watching Rebecca and Daniel, there are no signs of rage, anger, or vengeance. I see only peace. Based on what they said, getting to this place of peace and forgiveness has been a process. I would imagine that they have had moments of tremendous anger and rage. But they’ve made a CHOICE to let go, forgive, and give it to God. It’s a powerful story. For information on Rebecca’s book, The Devil in Pew Number Seven, click here. Or for more details on their story, click here.
Paul tells us to “as far as it depends on you, leave peaceably with all.” Paul knows that it won’t always be possible to be at peace with everyone, even when we make our best efforts. But we can do just that, make our best effort, and leave the rest to God. Who has done evil to you that you need to forgive? Where are you trying to repay people for things that they’ve done? Where are you trying to play God by doling out punishment and vengeance that belongs to the Lord alone?
3. Paul says that God’s got it. So let go.
Last point. God’s got it. It’s what Jesus said in John 16. Take heart! I’ve overcome the world! That piece of knowledge is what allows us find any semblance of peace as we acknowledge that evil exists and that evil will be done to us. It’s what allows us to do our part to let God do His part. Essentially this lifestyle of forgiveness, humility, and grace isn’t about behavior modification. In and of ourselves we can’t forgive, we can’t not repay evil for evil, we can’t live peaceably with all. But as we focus on Jesus, as we worship Jesus, as we invite Holy Spirit in, there are God sized transformations in our hearts, our minds, and our actions. That’s what we see with Rebecca and Daniel. That’s what you can see in your own life. WHO DO YOU NEED TO FORGIVE? As we serve God we quit serving ourselves. As we serve God we quit needing others to serve us. As we serve God we change by the grace of God. Here’s some hope for you in the form of 2 Corinthians 6:4-10.
“…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”