I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of a deeper walk with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you.
Please take time to read this brief study to strengthen and protect you against the prison of bitterness and revenge.
Radical Kingdom Living:
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:38-42).
For some people, “eye for an eye” is a way of life. If you cross them, they’ll get you back — one way or another. By nature, we prefer “revenge” or “evening the score.” “I don’t get mad,” the bumper sticker reads, “I just get even.”
But the law of Lex Talionis (“measure for measure”) – was meant for judicial purposes not for personal retaliation. Lex Talionis was intended to make punishment proportional to the crime committed. It remains a primary principle of most legal system. Jesus was confronting the abuse of the law by those looking to justify personal revenge.
And it’s natural on the personal level to retaliate when others treat us in ways we perceive to be unfair or wrong. This is part of what makes the teaching of Jesus so profoundly unexpected. Jesus repeatedly taught us to live in unnatural, unexpected, and culturally radical ways. His kingdom is definitely “not of this world” (John 18:36).
Think about it
Jesus taught his followers to so completely forbear revenge that they would even allow someone to double an injury (offer the other cheek, give the coat, go two miles). According to the Lord Jesus we must make every effort (even costly and sacrificial ones) to resist the temptation to return evil for evil and to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Who lives like this? If we lived this way, how would it look in our day to day demeanor and attitude? I think of the call in Titus 3:2 “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”
How do we live this way?
Scripture offers a number of insights related to the kind of life Jesus called His followers to live. Here are 7 points to guide you when you are mistreated and battling a desire for revenge.
1. God is the Judge
The question we need to ask (and that puts things in perspective) is the one Joseph asked his brothers when they thought he would seek revenge against them. Joseph revealed his commitment to God as the rightful judge when he asked them, “Am I in the place of God?” (see: Genesis 50:14-20).
“Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. Acts 17:31; Rom.2:14).
God does not always operate this world on the principle of immediate justice. We might want Him to work this way when others hurt us, but consider how much we desire mercy from God when we are in the wrong. I like to remind people that raw justice would bring all of us under well-deserved judgment from God. See, Leave your grudge with the Judge..
2. Jesus is our example
Reflect on what we learn about Jesus in I Peter 2:21-24. The Lord Jesus is the most compelling example for us. In verse 23, we observe that, “Jesus (while on the cross) kept entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.”
If the glorious Lord turned his face to the smiters… If he refused to respond on the level of his abusers who am I to demand an even score with those who hurt me? (cf. Isa.50:6-8a; Mt.26:67-68). We must remember that Jesus calls each of his disciples to a visible participation in the cross. When we refuse to revile in return we offer the world a reminder of the Savior.
“Looking unto Jesus…” “For consider him who endured…” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Read and reflect on the account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Pray for grace to follow in his steps. Meditate on Isaiah 53.
I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Through such times you will be drawn into deeper levels of Christlikeness. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of intimacy with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you (Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-7).
3. Refuse to multiply evil
If seeking God’s righteousness is your priority than do not engage in the multiplication of unrighteousness (Matthew 6:33; cf. Romans 12:17-21). “Do not say ‘I shall do to him as he has done to me'” (Proverbs 24:29). Instead, “However you want people to treat you – so treat them” (Matthew 7:12).
4. Return a blessing instead
“‘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 12:20-21, Proverbs 25:21). (see: Burning coals?). See: Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:35.
5. Respect God-ordained authority
An eye for an eye has its place for those in authority. God ordained authority to punish evil doers and commend those who do good (see, Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14). Those in authority must answer this call to restrain and punish evil. We can correct misguided parts of the philosophy of passivism by making the connection between Romans 12 and 13.
Sometimes we can avoid revenge by appealing to authorities to handle matters. But even on these occasions we must guard our hearts and restrain our attitudes to align with Kingdom living. Answering to the King of kings is most important!
6. Recall God’s forgiveness
God’s absolutely amazing forgiveness of our sins is the standard for our treatment of others (see, Matthew 18:23-35). We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:32, cf. Titus 3:1-5).
Never lose the wonder of the grace and kindness of God extended to you at salvation and you’ll find the path of grace and kindness toward your offenders. “God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). See, How to move From forgiveness to reconciliation.
The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. In fact, this may be one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When we’ve been hurt we become vulnerable to anger and angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help.
God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7). We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27). When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge. Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments and we must confess it as idolatry.
“The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do… Finally, I would put it like this. We are to leave everything–ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future–in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones