Summary: How the way of Christ is not the way of vengeance, but the way of seeking our foes’ blessing and salvation.
Litigation seems to be increasingly common in our society, people are always taking each other to court in order to get some form of compensation for some wrong that they perceive has been done to them. Most of you will know that I used to be a doctor; in fact I still practice at the detox unit. One of the increasing trends in modern medicine is that of ‘defensive medicine’ where doctors perform all sorts of unnecessary tests in fear of being sued. We live in a compensation culture, where for many people the immediate response to a hurt done to them is a search for some form of compensation. Newspapers often report on this and blame it upon greed.
However, I think that is something more basic than making money out of injustices or hurts that drives many people to the courts. It is a desire as old as humanity. It is a desire to ‘get even’ to ‘get back at them’.
Vengeance is sweet. An old saying, but still seems to be believed by many people. Not just confined to Western culture - tit-for-tat terrorism and warfare in Middle East and many other parts of the world. Whole communities and nations get embroiled in endless revenge seeking, A gets revenge on B for getting revenge on A for getting revenge on B for getting revenge on A… and so it goes on, from generation to generation, the whole origin of the conflict lost in the mists of time.
We think that if we could get even with somebody who has hurt us then the problem would be over, they would be taught a lesson and we would be satisfied. But history teaches us that it does not work like that. The only thing that revenge produces is more revenge.
So what then do we do? How do we deal with injustice done towards us? We have just read it. Paul tells us in Romans chapter 12:14
‘Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.’
This is taken straight from the teaching of Jesus in the sermon on the mount (Luke 6:28):-
‘Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you’
I am just an ordinary person. I have no power to bless people. How than can I bless people who hurt me? The simple answer is to pray for them. Pray to God that he will bless them. Not that he will punish them, or that I will feel better about the situation, but that he will bless the people concerned.
There are right ways and wrong ways of doing this. There are times when people have done wrong to me and I have prayed that God would bless them. But what I really meant was that I wanted God to make them feel really rotten and guilty about what they have done to me. Yes, I wanted them to receive the blessing of forgiveness, but also to feel dreadful and to suffer for what they had done! That was not truly praying for God’s blessing on the person. That was merely seeking revenge, just as much as if I had hit them, or sued them.
No, we are not to pray that our enemies will be punished, or that we will get vengeance, or even that they will feel bad about what they have done. We are to pray that they will be blessed.
Is there somebody that gets on your nerves? Someone who is always trying to do you down? A neighbour who is a nuisance? Someone who gossips about you, spreading untruths (or even unflattering truths)? A person who just does not like you? Somebody who has done you wrong or has hurt you in some way? The natural reaction is to avoid this person, to hope that something bad happens to them, to hope that nothing good happens, to look for revenge. But that is not the way of Christ. That is not the way that those of us who are supposed to be his followers should behave. These last seven verses of Romans 12 show us a different way to be the right way. We are to pray for the person, we are to call upon God to bless them, to bring them into his kingdom if they are not already belonging to him, to grow in Christ if they do. For things to go well for them. Yes, if somebody has done wrong then we should pray for them to be brought to repentance, but not so that they will feel guilty (for our benefit), but so that they can be forgiven (for their benefit).
Last year our own city was hit by suicide bombers who took many lives, left many people bereaved and suffering, in order to further their own political and religious ends. Monday was the fifth anniversary of the eleventh of September attacks on the USA. I wonder what our response was? Who did we pray for? Of course it was right to pray for the victims, those who were suffering, the bereaved. But what about the people who thought that they were pleasing God by doing these things?