How do Christians live together and in the larger world? How should we live as people offering our entire lives in sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1–2)? That’s the question Paul has been answering in Romans 12. If we love others the way Christ loves us, we will forgive them and show them the same undeserved grace we have received. We will do what God’s Word tells us to do so that our carnal minds will be transformed by the Holy Spirit as we become more and more like Christ. If we love others the way Christ loves us, we will forgive them and show them the same undeserved grace we have received. The bullet points we’ve studied thus far point to this:
- Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.
- Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.
- Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord.
- Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.
- Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
- Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.
- If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Just a couple of verses back, Paul wrote that Christians must not repay evil for evil (Rom 12:17). Now he expands that idea to make it even more clear. “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay’, says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19) Those who follow Christ are commanded to never avenge themselves, to never “get even.” Whether the hurt comes from fellow believers or from unbelievers, revenge is simply not a legitimate option for us.
After all the other instructions to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we might expect something similar. Instead, Paul writes that we should refuse to take revenge because God is much better at it than we are. In a sense, Paul implies that taking our own revenge may dilute God’s opportunity to avenge us in His great anger against those who harm us.
Paul quotes from Deut 32:35 to show that God has always declared His intention to take vengeance on those who wrong others. A desire for justice for ourselves and those we care about is not wrong. Paul simply wants us to trust God’s timing and power to deliver justice as He sees fit. “Don’t say, ‘I will avenge this evil!’ Wait on the Lord, and He will rescue you.” (Prov 20:22)
How do we respond to this idea? On the one hand, we might be concerned that God will show mercy to those who harm us instead of giving them what they deserve. After all, He has shown great mercy to us. Isn’t that what God does? The truth is that God executes justice for every sin, including ours. For those in Christ, God’s anger was poured out on Jesus on the cross. Someone suffered for those sins: Christ. He experienced what we deserved. Those who refuse to receive Jesus’ death in their place for their sin will suffer the consequences for that sin themselves for eternity.
With that punishment in mind, we should hesitate to wish for God’s vengeance on our persecutors. God is saying to us, “Trust me to handle revenge and justice for all who harm you instead of seeking it yourself.” After all, we’ve already been told, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. We are to show grace, vengeance is up to the Lord. We don’t know what the Lord will do with the people or the situation, but we do not that it will be in His will for His kingdom here on earth. To God be the glory!