Title: Grace Greater Than Vengeance
Text: 2 Timothy4.14-18
CT: God’s grace is greater than anything that has been done to you.
FAS: According to Rick Atkinson in The Guns at Last Light, as WW2 drew to a close, American took more reprisals against German soldiers. The violence of war wore down the American soldiers, especially when stories of German atrocities spread. At the Battle of the Bulge, for example, SS troops slaughtered over a hundred American soldiers after they had surrendered.
By the time the Allies reached Germany, they showed no mercy. These, after all, were the perpetrators. German soldiers flying white flags were gunned down. And when the Allies liberated concentration camps, their sense of outrage and hatred grew even more murderous.
"Still having trouble hating them?" Eisenhower asked a nervous young GI after touring Buchenwald. At Dachau, American liberators stood aside while inmates literally tore apart their guards, limb from limb. GIs gunned down many more after they surrendered.
In contrast, think about how God responded to us at the Cross of Christ. It takes a good deal of determination to murder someone. Those who plotted Jesus' death, those who bayed for it before Pilate, even the Roman soldiers who beat Jesus and then nailed him up—they did it with feeling. What had he done to deserve death by torture—or, any death at all? He threatened their sense of order, he endangered them through his heedless rhetoric, and he was a living blasphemy. They hated him enough to kill, and niceties like judicial procedure be damned.
LS: And what about God? Looking at this world that scorned and abused his own Son, and hung him up to die a slow, dangling death, how he must have hated them, enough to kill them all. Except he didn't.
Adapted from Tim Stafford, "Good Friday Meditation," Timstafford's blog (4-18-14)
I am in my fifth week of the sermon series Grace Is Greater. Today I am going to be looking at how grace is greater than vengeance.
If you are in the ministry some people don’t like you at all. How could you get into trouble talking all the time about a person people were so desperate to get rid of they nailed him to a cross.
It is not something they teach you at Bible school but it is true. People are not going to always like you and want you around. I know this to be true. Many years ago when I was leading worship for CCC I got a letter in the mail. It told me what a bad job I was doing and basically I should give it up. It wasn’t signed and I never approached the person who wrote it about to me. I was a lot younger than and took it pretty hard. But I prayed to God and let Him have it. I did find out who had written the letter but I forgave and she left the area. Lesson learned for me.
It really didn’t hurt too badly because I didn’t personally know the person who sent the letter. It did open my eyes to a lot of things. I easily forgave and wrote it off. I do still have the letter though.
But what about when it is personal and you know someone is trying to intentionally hurt you. What if it is someone you know, someone you’ve counted on, someone you trusted, someone you loved?
Let’s be more specific.
Your ex that makes life miserable.
The neighbor who makes living where you live a nightmare.
A mom who constantly yelled at you and put you down.
Your father who really just wasn’t there.
Your friend who wasn’t there when you needed them.
Your spouse who cheated on you.
Of course you’re hurt. Of course you are angry. But Paul says in the Bible,
[Screen 3] “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4.26.
It’s natural to get angry; sometimes even appropriate. But when anger turns into bitterness it becomes toxic. We need to get rid of it. What was done to you begins to shape your identity. So it is easy to understand what Paul is saying when he tells us to get rid of it. Get the anger and bitterness out of your life.
If a doctor told you had cancer you would tell him to get rid of it.
If you refuse to give grace, you can be sure that the tumor of bitterness will mutate and multiply and spread through your entire life.
Forgiveness requires we get rid of our anger and bitterness. But forgiveness needs to go further. It is more than dealing with your feelings; it is forgiving someone specific. Its one thing to release some emotions that are hurting you, it’s another to release a person who has hurt you.
Remember we have said that grace flows. If it doesn’t flow it isn’t grace. We can’t keep God’s grace for ourselves and refuse to give it to someone else.
Acknowledge it. Paul understood about forgiving and grace. He is not just passing on pious views that he didn’t deal with. Paul had people that intentionally tried to hurt him. Paul wrote to churches, leaders of the churches but he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy directly to Timothy who was the leader of the church at Ephesus.
Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. 2 Timothy 4.14.
Paul writes to Timothy warning him about a man named Alexander. He had caused pain to Paul. Paul doesn’t elaborate on what Alexander had done but he makes it clear that he is one that needs to be watched out for. He wanted Timothy to know. Sometimes we pretend nothing happened, seeking to sweep the problem under the rug. That just doesn’t work. You cannot forgive what you refuse to acknowledge.
Release My Rights. The first thing I do is acknowledge what has been done to me. I immediately feel like I should do something to get back at them. I have a right to retaliate. I have a right to take revenge. I am owed something and I am ready to collect. That is the next thing we have to get over when we really want to forgive.
Paul finishes the verse in [Screen 7] 2 Timothy 4.14, The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
Paul doesn’t minimize the hurt that was done to him. He simply releases his right to take revenge. This is more than releasing his anger and bitterness; he is releasing the offender to God.
There is something within us that thinks, I’ll forgive when I get even. When I make them feel the way they made me feel, I can forgive. But that is not forgiveness…that’s revenge. [Screen 8]
The Bible says, Roman 12.9, 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.
Justice is God’s job. When we insist on holding to our right to get even, we put ourselves in God’s place. The weight of what they did to us is too heavy for me to carry. I’m not letting the person who did this to us continue to wear us down. So we release them to God. We are not just releasing the pain of what was done, but also the person who did it. [Screen 9]
We do need to look at what Paul said about this hurtful man. 2 Timothy 4.15, You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
Paul has released his right but he is still protective of Timothy. He may forgive Alexander but he doesn’t trust him. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily equate to trust.
Just because you give up your right to seek revenge does not mean the person is not still accountable for their actions. If a crime is committed against you, this doesn’t mean you don’t report it. It doesn’t mean the person doesn’t need to answer to the law. It also does not mean you move forward and trust the person as if nothing happened. It may be you need to put up some boundaries moving into the future.
Pray For Your Enemies.
Paul gives us another example of when he had been hurt. [Screen 11] 2 Timothy 4.16, At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.
Paul is talking about how some of his friends had told him they would stand with him in front of the judge but they didn’t. Paul life was on the line. But in that moment of need not one of his friends made it.
Maybe you have felt the way Paul felt. You trusted your heart with someone, and they gave it back to you in little pieces. This is a different kind of hurt, because it comes from someone you trust. I believe these people that didn’t show up hurt Paul more than Alexander. The more intimate the relationship, the more devastating the hurt is.
Kyle Idleman used this story. It is not from the person who was betrayed, it is from the one who did the betraying.
I grew up in the church. I knew what was expected of me as a moral person and as a follower of Christ. I met Bill at the park and our relationship quickly went from friendship to so much more. Our selfish desires were more detrimental due to him being married. We made attempts to be honorable and end it but selfishness prevailed. Then our secret became tangible. I was pregnant . . . a pregnancy test in my hand convicted me of my sin. I did love him, but I offered to leave the area and not disrupt his life further. I felt more culpable in our situation because I had knowingly disregarded God’s voice. He
made his decision to reveal the betrayal and ask for a divorce. They had been together for eight years with no children.
It turns out Bill’s wife was named Lisa. Can you imagine how devastated Lisa must have been to find out her husband was cheating on her? Not only that, but this other woman would be having his baby— and on top of all of that her husband wanted a divorce. Can you imagine? Sadly, some of you don’t have to.
Paul is writing about feeling betrayed. He loved and sacrificed for these people and they all deserted him. How does he feel about them now? He writes,
[Screen 12] “May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4. 16).
In fact, he doesn’t just release his right to take revenge; he says a prayer for them, hoping that their sin won’t be held against them. It’s the same prayer we saw with Stephen in Acts 7, and with Jesus on the cross.
It’s what Jesus taught all of us to do in Luke 6: 27– 28: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Maybe you read that, and attach the name and face
of the person who mistreated you, and it sounds impossible. “Wait, you mean I’m supposed to pray for the person who hurt me?” Yes. In fact, I’d say this will do more to get you down the path of forgiveness and grace than anything else.
In 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first African American to attend an all-white school. She was six years old. She was selected as one of four first-graders to integrate two elementary schools. Unfortunately, she was sent to integrate one— William Frantz Public School in Louisiana— all by herself.
On her first day several hundred protestors gathered outside. She saw one carrying a black doll in a coffin. She was spit on and cursed at, and her life was threatened. She saw a doctor, Dr. Robert Coles, to help her deal with some of the pain of what she was going through. He couldn’t understand how she coped so well with everything going on. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to
be angry or bitter or depressed.
One morning Ruby’s teacher watched Ruby stop in front of the angry mob that was cursing at her, and she saw Ruby’s lips moving. She told Dr. Coles about it. Later, when he met with Ruby again, he asked what she was saying to the crowd.
Ruby said, “I wasn’t talking to them. I was praying for them.”
Ruby later wrote in her memoir, Through My Eyes, “My mother and our pastor always said, ‘You have to pray for your enemies and people who do you wrong,’ and that’s what I did.”
Dr. Coles points out that Ruby’s parents could not read or write but they taught her to do what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to pray for your enemies, so that’s what she did. That’s what allowed her to get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger.
We need to do what Jesus said to do. If we’re going to forgive and let grace flow, we need to pray for our enemies. You may be at a place where you won’t even consider doing what Jesus said to do, but I’d encourage you to remember it’s also what Jesus did for you. He prayed for the people who put him on that cross.
Paul briefly writes about how he was wronged but also he gave us how God was with and gave him strength when he needed it. [Screen 13]
The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4.17-18.
How do you forgive? You choose to release it, you pray for your enemy, and, I think probably most importantly, you recognize that God is standing with you— and he will have the final word. Paul concedes that the people he was counting on let him down, and he says, “The Lord stood with me and gave me strength” (v. 17).
Some of you understand what Paul is expressing. There was a time in your life when people you cared about seemed absent, but it
was then that God seemed most present. When you felt the most betrayed and abandoned, you discovered God was right there standing with you and you were able to lean on him.
Here is how Lisa responded. Remember this came from the other woman.
When Bill told Lisa of our relationship, the pregnancy, and essentially the end of her life as she knew it, she was undoubtedly devastated. Do you know what she did after she watched her life come crumbling down around her? She called me to say that she didn’t hate me . . . and that while she would surely go through some tough times in the near future . . . after all was said and done . . . her prayer was that somehow we could all still be family.
She later asked me if she could be Aunt Lisa to the baby. I couldn’t comprehend it. All these years later, I still can’t. How? Who has such strength? Who has such grace?
While we certainly deserved the wrath of a woman who never deserved such treatment, after our son was born there was a friendship and true love that flowed without reserve.
Bill didn’t know Jesus. He still doesn’t. But Lisa and I began to pray together for him. We prayed that he would come to see the love and grace of Jesus through everything that happened. Her grace humbles me daily. There are no words for her forgiveness. I guess the only word is Jesus. Her strength, her mercy, her grace are only a mere inkling of what Jesus offers.
This woman is right. But no one has that kind of strength and that kind of grace. That didn’t come from Lisa. It came from Jesus to Lisa and Lisa just let it flow.
If you have been hurt, betrayed, abandoned or abused,
God is standing with you and offers you a grace that is not only greater than anything you have done, but is greater than anything that has been done to you.
Won’t you come today? Acknowledge your hurt, release the one or ones who have hurt you. Pray for everyone. Give everyone to God. Let God deal with their hurts just like he does with yours. Release the person who hurt you to God and trust God to deal with that person. Lean on Him. He’s got your back.
Bibliography: Idleman, Kyle; Grace is Greater; Baker Books, Grand Rapids Michigan, Chapter 6, 2017