Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Conflict happens (Part 3)

Let God take care of you. At some level, that is the message behind the words from Paul that I want us to dig into today.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:16-21, NIV)

I bring this passage to your attention today, not because it begins with the command to live in harmony with one another. Nor did I pick it out because it says again, “Do not be proud.” We covered those things last week.

I mention it because it addresses one of the root causes of irreconcilable differences: revenge.

Vengeance, having to time after time outdo another in evil, mocks the golden rule Jesus gave us. It shouts: “I’ll do to others as they have done to me…and then some!” There’s no peace in that formula.

“Them’s fightin’ words.”

Hostilities are practically guaranteed to commence and continue when a fool with that attitude enters the room. And once the cycle of revenge has begun, unless one party or the other is willing to follow Jesus and lay down their rights, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Revenge, when it goes unchecked, turns minor skirmishes into all out war as each combatant retaliates against his enemy with greater and greater wickedness.

Can you see Satan’s influence in all this? “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10, NIV) Revenge steals joy. It kills relationships. It destroys peace. Revenge is of the devil.

Thankfully that’s not all the truth Jesus gave his disciples. The end of John 10:10 is better than the beginning. While the thief is set on destruction, Jesus opposes him. Jesus gives hope with these words: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)

The full life Jesus promises has no room for vengeance. It’s too full of good deeds done to “enemies” to bother with such tomfoolery.

Believers, if you are living obediently, you don’t have to play the get even game. You can trust God to make things right. God is the perfect judge. He will take care of all the wrongs done against his saints – you included. Those who do not repent of the evil they have done to you will be dealt with justly. There’s no need for me or you to bite back when we’ve been bitten. We can choose to return good for evil. God will sort it all out when the time of judgment comes.

“Do not repay evil for evil…Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath…If your enemy is hungry feed him…If you enemy is thirsty, give him a drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Jesus said much the same thing in his famous sermon on the mount.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)

Love triumphs over hatred. Goodness defeats evil. Kindness ends the cycle of revenge. Do what’s right to others. Let God take care of you. He’ll do a better job than you ever could.

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