Paul says Revenge is a Dish You Should Serve… How?

If you read the news, you can’t help but see the baser elements of human nature played out in headlines. Giving and taking offense give way to wanting and taking revenge. We live in a culture that says it is ok to take revenge on those who wrong us. We have rap stars who get into spats, a President who tweets, and trolls on social media who attack virtually any point of view. Most people would say that it’s logical to take revenge, to strike back at someone who has wronged you. However, the Bible’s advice about revenge is absolutely counterintuitive:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

revenge

Here’s Some Advice: Be Abnormal

As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships, and he advises believers to be abnormal. Conventional wisdom might say that our self-worth enables us to move beyond revenge, but Paul suggests there is more to it than that. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important.

A loving person, Paul says, does not exact revenge or repay evil for evil. As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, he agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV).

We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts.

The Real Justice League

In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”. God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you?

The temptation to take revenge comes in many situations. I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment. My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving.

The Drive for Revenge

As I have gotten older, I’ve made some progress with my attitude behind the wheel, and have at least become a bit less outwardly demonstrative toward the (bad) distracted drivers around me (which means: I don’t purposely cut them off, make unnecessary hand signals, or give them dirty looks. I still, however have facial expressions and plenty of spoken advice for them…). So, while I’ve made progress I still haven’t really lived in peace while driving. Based on Paul’s advice, I am trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…)

I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. Driving is really just a small part of our lives, and there are many other ways we could leave justice in God’s hands and allow HIM to take care of revenge: leaving that catty response unsaid, or NOT talking about someone behind their back, or showing grace on social media when someone is so obviously wrong…

But I’m sure you can think of your OWN application of Romans 12. What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Next time you bump into one of those things, show some love instead of frustration. Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.

Revenge Advice

When someone's actions hurt your feelings,
Insult you and send you reeling,
Listen to Paul's astute advice:
Don't take vengeance, just be nice!
You don't have to pull your sword;
Give your anger to the Lord,
And try to find a better way.
Remember He had this to say:
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay".
When someone cuts you off today,
Be abnormal: stop, and pray.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

What Are You Doing Here on Earth, For Heaven’s Sake?

I bet at some point in your life someone asked you, “Just What the heck do you think you are you doing?” That question usually refers to a specific action, but I wanted to challenge you to reframe that into a much more cosmic question: in the grand scheme of things, what are you doing here on earth? Although our current culture focuses a great deal on how we feel, remember this: Life is not about feeling, it is about DOING.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12: 12-16, NIV)

Paul started this “love chapter” by exhorting us to be living sacrifices, and to follow Christ’s selfless example. In verses 9-11 he talks about the need for sincere love. Here in verses 12-16 he says that DOING love is more important than FEELING love…

He acknowledges that love is a great motivator, and I bet your own personal experience would bear that out. (Think about some of the things you have done because of love—whether foolish things to pursue romantic love, or acts of service inspired by unselfish love… We have all found ourselves doing something differently at some point because of love’s motivational pull.)

The Foolish and the Sublime

Here are two very different examples: The summer I was 15, I was on the aquatics staff at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Kerrville, Texas. Hoping to meet girls on our day off, I put “HI THERE” with adhesive tape on my chest for about a week. You know, that way at Ingram Dam where everyone gathered to swim, I could just point to my chest instead of making introductions…

When I removed the tape, my tan lines said HI THERE all by themselves for at least a couple of weeks. So it WORKED! (True story. Yeah it’s a dumb thing, but I was 15 and it did actually help break the ice with local girls a couple of times. It was, however, a little embarrassing on Parents’ Day at the end of the session, since I was on the aquatics staff and was in the pool working with kids with a chest that said, “HI THERE”…) True story.

  (NOT an actual photo)

doing

A few years later, I was on staff at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boys’ Camp in Colorado Springs. At the end of the summer, I donated a big portion of my salary to the camp (which, my Dad pointed out, was supposed to be my spending money at college that fall; when he had to replace it, it actually meant that HE had given the money to Eagle Lake. Sorry, Daddy. My heart may have been in the right place, but the net result of my decision fell on you…)

Both of those actions were motivated by love in one form or another—one foolish, and one sublime—but both were done in hopes of having a different outcome than would have been achieved by standing pat. The point is, what are you doing differently today because of love? What outcome are you hoping for?

Paul says here that love will help us overcome adverse circumstances. The circumstances may not change, but Paul says that doing thinks in love creates new possibilities. It enables us to view the world differently: to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. I have to say I am ashamed at how often I am NOT patient in affliction or faithful in prayer. How about you?

Doing the Thing that Changes Everything

Love inspires generosity towards others, and it even helps us act differently towards those with whom we disagree. Do you bless those who persecute you, or do you curse them? If we are living sacrifices, Paul says, we will be empathetic and live in harmony with others. Burt Bacharach’s1965 pop song said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”… The Beatles said, “Love is all you need.” How true.

One of my best friends in college was a summer missionary in Zambia, Africa. During her term she saw villages ravaged by poverty and malnutrition, and it touched her deeply. When she came back home, she told the director of the Summer Missions program how disturbing it was, how uncomfortable it made her, and asked, “How can God love those little children?”

His answer was surprising: he said, “I hope you are never comfortable again, Kathy, because one of the ways God shares His love is through you.” Yes, God loves the world through his Son and through His Spirit; but as believers who are part of the body of Christ today, He is doing His work on this world through us. What are we doing in this world for heaven’s sake?

There is too much division in our world and in our culture, and not enough blessing; too much selfishness and not enough sacrifice. Paul said a living sacrifice is not stuck up or conceited, but spends time doing loving things, which creates a means for God’s love to reside on earth through us, to us. Be loving today. Make the same decision tomorrow.

Doing Life, Doing Love

Love is not emotion or the giddy way you feel;
It is more than feelings, (although feelings may be real);
Love is more than romance, or the love songs used for wooing:
Love is found in how you do the things that you are doing.
Do them well, and serve as if you worked for God above,
And fill your life with godliness by doing things with love.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sacrifice: A Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms


In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus. You will find a number of different words for love. There are many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. It’s always been one of the central elements of human nature. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years.

Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

What made the Difference?

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ?) He didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension!

Something fascinating: If you read Paul’s work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well. Now, the early portions of the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote his letters. He didn’t have copies of Mark or John! Yet he writes about the New Covenant and covers intimate details known only to Jesus or his disciples. Where did Paul get Jesus’ teachings?

His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time! In Galatians 1:11-12 he says, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Paul then explains that he spent three years in seclusion with Jesus in the desert, learning from Christ himself. Paul wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even though he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

What is a Living Sacrifice, Anyway?

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice. He challenges us to repeat the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him in return.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE.

If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

Living

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
So you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

In A World Full Of Radical Hate, Maybe It’s Time For Some Radical Love

Do Opposites Attract? Usually They Fight

We live in a world full of radical opposition. There are polar opposites almost everywhere you turn. It’s not just about conservatives and liberals, there are anarchists, white supremacists, ANTIFA, radical Muslims and other domestic and international groups who advance radical agendas. But the idea of being revolutionary is certainly nothing new. In fact, here’s a quote from someone you may not always think of as revolutionary.

Jesus made this radical statement: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34, NRSV) I’ve always thought this was a statement that gets somewhat overlooked by today’s Christians. It sounds like Jesus is saying we are soldiers entering a battle. I mean, we are supposed to get along with everyone, right? Doesn’t Paul say something in Romans 12 about living peacefully with all men? Wasn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? What does he mean when he says that?

A Radical Choice

Jesus explains in verses 35-39 that even family members will become opposed to each other because of him, and he says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” What a radical thing to say about following him! I think we sometimes forget that Jesus did not call us to merely know what he said, or to listen to sermons and nod in agreement. He challenges us to love him so fiercely that all other relationships pale by comparison. He says that our commitment to Him should actually force us to make choices about what we do, even if it causes division.

radical love

I’m pretty sure that he’s not talking about the kind of division that happens when Christians disagree about the style of music, or about the building fund—those are petty disagreements that happen in Church because people are immature and selfish—but Jesus is saying that following him will force us to make choices about how important he is in our lives. In some cases, those choices will prompt us to move away from both comfortable and toxic relationships.

Just Ask Yourself…

It’s not about division, judgment, or hate– it’s about commitment, unity, and radical love. Christians belong on the front lines of social injustice, embracing decency and dignity. Christians belong in a relentless army of good will that spreads the Gospel of love and forgiveness as counterpoint to constant headlines that focus on division and hate. Today’s battle over culture and values should challenge us to do more than sit in our comfortable church and nod at what the preacher says. In his book Radical (page 20), David Platt says this: “The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response. In the process of hearing Jesus, you are compelled to take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, and not just ask, “What is he saying?” but also ask, “What shall I do?”

So here’s the deal: what have you heard Jesus say? And if you take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, do you feel pretty good about whether you are following Jesus or not? If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Peter Lord said, “What you really believe shows in your life every day; all the rest is just Christian talk.”

Your relationship with Christ is not what you THINK about what you believe, or even what you SAY about what you believe—it’s what you DO because you believe. Are you loving anyone enough to confront them with the Gospel? Are you loving your enemies so much that it makes them uncomfortable? Whether you know it or not, you are already in a battle. So gird your loins! Quit you like men! Be strong and courageous. Follow Jesus like you really mean it.

Carry the Sword

People call me the Prince of Peace, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild–
But what if I am a force unleashed, a raging river, strong and wild?
What occurs if you follow me, and allow my Spirit to reside?
Submit to my authority, with no place left to run or hide…
Love each other like a brother, follow me with one accord,
And know that I did not bring merely peace: I also brought a sword.
Be militant, therefore, in love: relentless for the world to see
That nothing in this life can stand between you and your love for me.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread