28th September 2023
Read (Romans 12v17-21)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
In 1941 the American novelist Fannie Hurst spoke about the Second World War and said “We may not be interested in this war, but it is interested in us. I’m not trying to sell it to you, but no one can evade the fact that we are in the path of the storm." Hurst was right and just a few weeks later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the war directly to the United States.
I suspect most of us don't start the day looking for a good fight, but what if a fight is brought to us? Paul was the frequent victim of evil men and their evil deeds but he still was clear that we are not to meet evil with evil (v17). If someone seeks your harm, you have no Biblical authority to fight fire with fire. Instead we meet evil with actions which are honourable in the sight of all (v17b). This is extraordinarily difficult when we find ourselves under attack. We are conditioned to stick up for ourselves and not to let anyone push us around and sadly when trouble breaks out in a local church the tactics on both sides closely resemble those of the world around us.
The Apostle counsels us to "give thought" to an honourable response rather than letting our rage fly. Does this mean the Christian should be helpless in the face of any and all hostility? No. We are to always seek to live peaceably with everyone (v18) but sometimes it will be necessary to defend ourselves and our family. We should never be the aggressor but as far as it depends on us, we are to seek peace with all.
Furthermore, the Christian isn't to be driven by a hunger for revenge. Did Joe Bloggs wrong you back in 2004? Let it go. We have no Biblical mandate to seek revenge but we are to leave such issues with the righteous anger of God (v19). The Lord is aware of every situation and He knows about the wicked, unfair treatment you have suffered. Vengeance belongs to Him and He will surely defend His people (Deuteronomy 32v35).
So do we keep our enemy at arm's length and hope for the best? By no means. We listen to the wisdom of Solomon who once stated "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25v21-22) This is our radically different response to the hostility we meet in this world. Evil is not overcome by evil but by good (v21). By the grace of God, our enemy will consider their actions and feel only the burning coals of shame leading to the gift of repentance (v20).
There is more than a little satisfaction when we have an opportunity to strike back at someone who hates us, but that satisfaction is both sinful and fleeting. Brothers and sisters, give thought to those who hate you and instead of seeking vengeance, seek their good. This is God's call upon our lives, it is indeed a heavy one but it is our only acceptable response when trouble comes our way.
Q56 What is the reason annexed to the third commandment? The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.