Revenge is sweet.
We've all heard or probably experienced the powerful feeling of "payback time", and if we haven't I'm sure there are times when we have truly wanted to get even. Several years ago brother Kent Allen presented a lesson about getting even without getting into trouble and I'd like to share some of these ideas with you today as we discuss the problem of revenge.
Cause of Revenge
The desire for revenge is really a mixture of anger and need for justice:
- Anger because someone has probably done something to us that we perceive as unkind, unfair or unjust.
- Need for justice because we want to make things right, we want to restore our property or our reputation or a position we may have lost because of what the person(s) have said or done to us.
The problem with revenge is that it is so subjective:
- Only the person getting the revenge decides how much pain and for how long.
- Only the person getting the revenge decides if the punishment is truly justified or not.
In the Old Testament God provided guidelines to prevent the abuses that occurred because of unbridled revenge and Jesus refers to this in Matthew 5:38:
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Some think this is a Biblical permission to seek revenge but it was part of a basic judicial system given to help regulate disputes and injuries. The point was that repayment for injury or offense had to be made proportionately. You paid back in quality and sometimes in greater quantity - but there was a limit in order to discourage abuse.
A fair way of receiving justice was needed because of the emotional factor. Angry people tend to want a lot of justice and a lot of pain in payment for their sufferings. This is why laws were developed in order to be fair to both the victim and the guilty parties.
The consequences of Revenge
What many people don't recognize however, is that revenge harms the person who seeks it as much as the person who receives it.
Revenge is sweet, but only for a little while.
Paul talks about this subject in Romans 12:17-21 and enumerates some of the things that happens to the one who takes revenge. According to this passage, when I take revenge:
- I disobey God because He says, "Don't take revenge." Disobeying God, regardless of the reasons will bring His judgment upon us - is this revenge really worth that?
- I destroy the power of love. Offenses, injustice, unkindness is to be countered with love not more offenses, injustices and greater unkindness. Revenge doesn't change or improve anyone.
- I defeat my own purpose. If I want to settle a matter revenge is not the way. Revenge usually escalates the argument into a war.
- I defy God's authority. God is the only one who is strong enough, good enough, fair enough to execute final and complete justice.
I'm not saying that we cannot seek justice and protection through the Law because the Law is part of God's system - but doing it through personal revenge violates God's system and makes us as guilty as the one who offended us in the first place.
Some may say, "What if the laws are poor or inadequate", then I believe our energies should be invested in changing and improving the laws if we can - not in revenge. For example, victim impact statement in criminal trials.
In some places there is no law, or the law is oppressive and in these cases I am made aware of 2 things:
- How blessed I am to be in a free and democratic country and how I should support and protect this freedom.
- How the 1st century Christians trusted in God to overthrow their Roman oppressors which He did... eventually, without Christians being insurrectionists.
Christians are not called to be rebels and anarchists - they are here to build the kingdom of heaven on earth regardless of the type of rule that exists at the time.
The Cure for Revenge
Not taking revenge doesn't mean doing nothing. There are other options open for one who has been injured, offended, treated unfairly - pro-active things done aside from revenge.
1. Ignore the Offense
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
- Proverbs 12:16
We can make an issue out of an insult and deal with all the consequences or we can simply ignore it. (make a big deal out of it or not) There is great comfort in knowing that it requires as much self-control, as much courage, as much self-confidence to ignore as to confront.
The difference is that when you ignore you demonstrate your strength without a single word and please God with a Christ-like attitude.
2. Forgive the Hurt
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
- Colossians 3:13
The problem, of course, is what to do with the hurt, shame, anger that we feel. If we do nothing we have to carry around the burden of this thing with us. Forgiveness is the answer, not revenge, because what we do is pay off the debt ourselves and let the burden go. Revenge wants someone to pay with pain, money, etc. so we can give ourselves permission to let go the feelings we have. Forgiveness says, "no charge" and unloads the feelings. When I stop looking for payment, I stop feeling bad.
If we lack motivation to forgive we simply have to look at the sins Christ forgave us by dying on the cross - if He was willing to say "no charge", we, as Christians, are called upon to do the same.
3. Serve the Person
This idea defies conventional wisdom which says, "Don't get mad, get even." However:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him water to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
- Proverbs 25:21-22
Some people find it hard to imagine inviting their enemies for dinner, but the Bible uses this language to encourage us to be kind to our enemies as a way of disarming them and making them vulnerable to the gospel (guilty consciences produced by the Word/Spirit).
Some practical ways this can be done:
- Pray for their well being.
- Look for opportunities to serve them, then follow through.
- Show them that you bear them no ill will or desire for revenge.
Loving enemies is a sure sign to them and to God that our faith is not only sincere but powerful as well - powerful enough to stop the cycle of hatred and revenge.
4. Love their Soul
We deal with the issue by ignoring the offense and forgiving the hurt. We deal with the individual by serving them as people and loving their souls.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 5:7-8
Jesus' sacrifice was not done to make his followers rich or comfortable in this world - it was done to guarantee their entry into the next.
People who have hurt us have sinned and exacting revenge, no matter how justified, will do little to save their souls. In ignoring, forgiving and serving them, we can lead them to repentance and ultimately to faith and salvation.
Revenge is sweet but bringing your enemy to Christ, transforming them into a fellow Christian is so much sweeter and satisfying.
The title of this lesson is somewhat misleading - you rarely get even without getting into trouble. As Christians our goal in life is not to get even, we want to get ahead in our spiritual lives. Offenses and injustices are often the things that God allows to come our way in order to test our faith and promote spiritual growth.
It requires spiritual maturity to resist the temptation to seek revenge but the reward is peace of mind, and favor with God and those around you including your enemies. Most wars would be over in a heartbeat without the thirst for revenge fueling the violence.
I encourage us to remember these things and adopt this attitude the next time we are provoked or hurt by our spouses, friends, coworkers or even strangers. If we have struggled with resentments or desire for revenge why not leave them at the cross of Jesus today. If we need prayer for strength, or need to confess Christ and be baptized, come now.