(Romans 12: 17-21) 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I am going to admit something very ugly about myself (my old self, rather) to you. When I was a little girl, and on up into my teens and early twenties, I had a very vengeful spirit. I grew up in a large family, the fourth out of five kids in all, and I was the middle of three girls. As you can surmise, there was a lot of competition and bickering at times. In a family that size, with kids so close together in age, you sort of had to learn to find yourself amongst the crowd. This was difficult for me. It was often hard to be heard, difficult to defend oneself against accusations (as kids naturally like to toss those around), and even tougher to understand when things just didn’t seem fair. I don’t fault my parents at all…it was just organically that way.
I remember learning early on that, instead of telling on my older siblings for something, it was much easier and more effective to get them back…and it all began with a yellow Lego. I was five years old. My mother was getting ready to have our little sister, who would oust me from my reigning title of family baby. I was internalizing it, but I had conflicting feelings of excitement and annoyance about this new and unfamiliar baby who would be dethroning me, so to speak. In the midst of this whirling, internal storm, I had the day-to-day battle of being the youngest in the crowd. My older sister would often play tricks on me and one day I decided I’d had enough! So I took a yellow Lego from my brothers’ room, and used the corner of it to scratch the first few letters of my sister’s name into my mother’s cherry wood coffee table. I can close my eyes and remember as if I did it yesterday…how it felt as I crawled into the living room so as not to be seen, and keeping an eye on the doorway for anyone that might catch me in the act. I was just SO SURE that my sister would get into the biggest trouble of her life for this. It was a devious plan indeed. This was the start of a struggle within that took me years to overcome. It fed something ugly inside of me to destroy or hide something that belonged to whomever had wronged me, and to then sit back and enjoy the satisfaction that came from watching the injustice I felt be rectified by my secret payback. I didn’t have to worry about someone believing me or arguing with what I was saying; I found my gratification in making someone feel as bad as they’d made me feel.
As I got older, this need for revenge was my go-to defense mechanism. When someone wounded me, I never let them see that they’d done so, but I would store the anger and think, “Go ahead, do and say what you will. It might be years from now or it might be later today, but I will get you back.” All of my hurts and anguishes of life were poured into revenge. I know my parents struggled with many aspects of raising me, but I feel like this was one of the most difficult parts of parenting me. I was chock full of anger, and I didn’t deal with it in healthy ways. Sounds evil, doesn’t it? That’s because revenge is evil. Practicing vengeance is a form of rebellion! God says to us that He’s got the area of vengeance and justice under control, so when we take matters into our own hands…we are defying His will and word.
How we treat others is probably the most significant voice that we have as Christians in this world. More than ever, we are being watched. We are human, faulty and sinful by nature, so we don’t always respond in love. We don’t always reflect Christ in the things that we say and do, but the Bible says (in 2 Corinthians 5:17), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As new creations, yesterday has to be laid to rest for good. We are the sons and daughters of God; joint heirs with Jesus! As such, we have been made representatives of God on earth. We are the flesh and bone, tangible, and relatable ambassadors of Christ. It is our duty to respond in love. In 2 Corinthians 5: 20-21, it is written, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” How can we appeal to others to reconcile themselves with God, if we are spewing hatred, negativity, and acting out through the rebellion that is vengeance? New creations have shed the skin of their sinful youths, have reconciled the sin that once kept them trapped in that skin, and are continually moving forward in daily repentance…away from the old…away from the sin…away from the anger and strife.
So when someone ticks you off, take a minute to think before you say or do anything. Your response to that anger will be noted by all who witness it. As an ambassador for Christ, there can be no more “tit for tat.” Only love. You might ask, “How do I respond to injustice and hatred with love?” Well we know what God has to say about it: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wouldn’t have accomplished what he did for the Civil Rights Movement if he hadn’t had the understanding that love wins. Love is what allows us to face adversity with dignity and class. We will encounter things in life that anger us, but our responses are what will govern what kind of influence we are able to have on the rest of the world. Rise above the anger. Respond in love. Let it go.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to do better. Help me represent you well as I navigate life as Your ambassador. WhenI am angry and hurt, let Your love be stronger in me. Help me to stop and think, so that my responses are honorable and come from a place of grace. I can do all things through Christ, who is my strength. Amen.