Do Not Avenge
These are beautiful words. We should read them daily and keep them in our heart. Paul is teaching us about how to live as a Christian. Or how to live as a good human being.
These are marks of Christians. These are visible marks of being a good person.
You don’t become haughty but associate with the lowly. You extend hospitality to strangers. How beautiful it is to live like that. It doesn’t matter whether you are Christians or not. It is what a good human being is supposed to do.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. It sounds simple and easy but people don’t do that. Many times people are jealous with those who rejoice. They are indifferent to those who weep. We just don’t know how to feel for others. St. Paul said to feel for others. That is a beautiful attitude.
But Paul left the most important and the most difficult topic to the end.
DO NOT AVENGE!
Bless those who persecute you. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
This is what differentiates a good person from an ordinary person.
What Paul is telling us to do is very hard. How can you bless your enemies? Those who did evil to you? How can you bless them? Our whole body protests against that. Every cell of my body shouts,
At best, I can ignore what they did to me. But no way I can bless them.
An Eye For An Eye
Taylor Swift sang,
There’s nothing I do better than revenge!
Yes, that is what I want to do. We can all identify with that. We don’t need to practice to do that. We are already good at it. It is our automatic response when we are hurt. Somebody strikes you, you strike back.
We believe that we are entitled to do that. We have the right to do that. Maybe we do.
Paul is not saying that you don’t. But Paul is saying, Don’t do it. Why? BECAUSE IT IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Yes, it destroys both. It destroys you. And it destroys those who hurt you.
Actually, Moses gave “an eye for an eye” instruction for the sake of telling them to be fair. When somebody takes your eye, just take his eye, not his nose and his ears. Don’t be a savage. Just one eye, not two eyes either. That’s fair. That was Moses’ ethics. Ethics of being fair.
But when it comes to Jesus, he introduced a higher ethics.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (Matthew 5:38-41)
A very different idea and a very different standard. It was the same idea as what St. Paul said. Bless those who hurt you. Bless and do not curse them. That is Jesus’ way of living our life.
It sounds unreasonable. It doesn’t sound rational. But I believe that there is a good reason behind that.
A Vengeful Heart
When evil is done to you, it hurts. Yes, it hurts. When you are betrayed, When you are back stabbed, When you are wrongfully accused, It hurts.
No one is immune from the feeling of that hurt. You don’t need to pretend that it doesn’t hurt. It hurts.
When I went to Ohio for a conference, I heard a minister telling us this story. He went to another town to preach and there he met a couple who used to come to his church. After the service, they came to him and so he greeted them nicely and talked to them. That night, when he came to his hotel room, he was covered with hives. And he was shivering. He didn’t know why. He realized that he was still feeling the hurt. When this couple was at his church, they hurt him so much that he still felt it.
The evil done to you hurts you. But it doesn’t stop there. It often creates a vengeful heart and brings darkness within you. It does not just hurt you but takes you into a very dark place.
When you are hurt, you want to avenge yourself. You feel that you have to do it. You feel that you need to release your negative emotions. So that you may not be destroyed by your negative emotions. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t help you. It makes you feel worse.
The research found out that the revenge makes you feel worse.
Kevin M. Carlsmith, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert studied several participants about the revenge.
In their studies, while participants thought they’d feel better after exacting revenge, the researchers found the very opposite. It wasn’t just that punishing the transgressor didn’t provide a release but that it in fact made participants focus on and ruminate about both the transgressor and the transgression more.
Yes, momentarily, you may feel good because you can release your negative emotions within you. But in the end, it is not good for you. You will feel worse.
Not only you feel worse, if the hurt turns into a vengeful heart, it will take you to a dark place.
This vengeful heart is much more difficult to deal with than the hurt you feel.
You don’t want your hurt to create a vengeful heart.
Living out a vengeful heart takes away joy from you. You cannot be happy with the vengeful heart. Being hurt – yes, it is painful. But living with a vengeful heart is much worse.
Dr. Joseph Burgo said in his book, The Narcissist You Know, said,
The more narcissistic you are, the more tendency you will create a vengeful heart within you.
You don’t always have to turn your hurt into a vengeful heart. We Christians are equipped to deal with our hurt in a healthy way. Knowing our weaknesses, God has provided us with a mechanism to deal with our hurt.
God has given us the grace. And with the power of grace, we can deal with our hurt in a healthy way. When grace is strongly present in you, your hurt will not turn into a vengeful heart. When the grace of God is powerfully working within you, you don’t let the evil do that to you. The grace within you will protect you from the evil. The grace will deliver us from evil as Jesus taught us to pray. God’s grace will turn cursing into blessing.
St. Paul said,
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Deal with evil done to you with God’s grace. The only way to deal with evil is not with evil but with good.
Blessing those who persecute you – that is overcoming evil with good. That was what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him.
The cross itself is overcoming evil with good. Jesus’ whole life was overcoming evil with good. Because he lived his life by God’s grace. When you are able to do that, you will be the winner of life. Nothing can destroy you. That is the sign of real strength.