Do Not Avenge Yourselves

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
—Romans 12:19–21

“Let God handle those who do wrong—you just do what’s right” may be a way to summarize Paul’s instruction on dealing with our enemies. I do have to say my flesh nature is usually stirred when I read these verses, for I, like you, have those who have wronged me and continue to wrong me. In my flesh, I will admit, I would like to heap coals of fire onto their heads. And in this passage, God is telling me just how to do that—only, of course, He is speaking metaphorically while I am not!

But the fact is, the quickest way for any of us to be reminded that we are still flesh and blood battling to walk in the Spirit happens when we are wronged or offended. I remember one time I was out walking our small dogs to the local park, and a carload of teenage boys drove by and yelled out some rather offensive things. They even questioned my masculinity for walking two little dogs. I am somewhat embarrassed to share the scene that played out in my mind as I wondered if I should try to catch up with them at the corner signal. There I was—a pastor—envisioning teaching those “punks” a lesson about who is a man and who is not.

We don’t realize how close to the surface that old nature is until we encounter it in someone else. So God tells us what to do: let Him deal with the vengeance department, and let us be people of mercy and grace. The reason this statement is so powerful is that returning evil for evil changes only you, not the ones who did you wrong; it merely causes you to stoop to their level. However, when you do good to those who have done you harm, the possibility exists for them to recognize the wrong they committed against you. But when you react in the flesh, they merely become convinced that they were right, and you confirm it by seeking to retaliate.

The ones who leave vengeance to the Lord and do right touch the consciences of others, and they will have opportunities to tell even their enemies what God has done for them. Those who continually react in the flesh, however, will never enjoy such opportunities.

So if someone drives by and yells obscene things at you, just keep walking. Let God touch their conscience through your returning good for evil!

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