Beware active or passive retaliation
A major stumbling block for believers who suffer injustices is the belief that we have the right to retaliate and set things straight. We are told that “what goes around, comes around.” The world glorifies “heroes” who teach the “bad guys” a lesson. Never mind if we blindly leave a trail of destruction in our quest for revenge. After all, isn’t honour and justice of great importance?
Such ideas contrast sharply with God’s Word, which calls us to “turn the other cheek” and be willing to suffer twice the injustice. This makes waiting for God’s justice seem difficult and even unfair, because everyone else appears to be “getting away with it”.
Matthew 5:38-39 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Types of revenge
Revenge has different disguises, some of which are less obvious.
1. Reactive retaliation
The most blatant type of revenge is outright retaliation. We find ways to make people suffer, curse and slander them, or gossip about them behind their backs. At work, we play politics or create obstacles for others whom we believe have done us wrong. We believe that “others must suffer like how they made us suffer“ or that “we need to play the same nasty game or lose out”.
Romans 14:10 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
2. Proactive retaliation
In some cases, we will proactively do something to hurt the other person before they hurt us, whether they truly intended to do anything to us or not. We decide to “stab them before they stab us“.
Proverbs 26:27 ESV Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
3. Passive retaliation
Another form of revenge is passive-aggressive retaliation. We appear to not seek revenge, but will hold on to some grudge. Secretly, we simmer in bitterness, gloat over people’s suffering, get jealous when they do well, and subject them to emotional blackmail. We may believe that “I may have forgiven them, but they cannot forget that they once hurt me”. Even when we pray, we keep reminding God about how much we have suffered as a result of other people’s faults.
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Proverbs 17:5 ESV … he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
What the world teaches us
What we learn about revenge is largely based on what we hear from people around us, our cultures or the media. The world screams at us to ignore Jesus’ example, who humbly allowed Himself to be persecuted and would not retaliate. Here are some examples.
|The world says…||The Bible says…|
|1. “I don’t get mad, I get even.”||Ephesians 4:26 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,|
|2. “I’m going to teach them a lesson.“||Romans 2:21 ESV you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?|
|3. “I’ll prove to them who is stronger / smarter / richer.”||2 Corinthians 10:17-18 ESV “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.|
|4. “I’ll make sure they get the same treatment that I suffered.”||Matthew 7:12 ESV “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.|
|5. “If I can’t have this, then no one else can.”||Job 1:21 ESV … “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”|
|6. “I need and deserve justice. It’s my right!”||James 4:12 ESV There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?|
|7. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”||Matthew 5:3-39 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.|
|8. “They deserve the retaliation. They asked for it.”||Romans 12:17-18 ESV Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.|
|9. “I’ll make them regret what they did to me.”||Leviticus 19:18 ESV You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.|
|10. “What goes around, comes around.”||Psalm 103:10 ESV He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;|
As we can see, all of the world’s sayings sound right but they are in direct opposition to God’s Word. When we commit to following Jesus, we must also commit to following His Word on how we respond to our abusers and attackers.
Proverbs 16:2-3 ESV All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
Leave vengeance to the universe’s Supreme Judge
When Jesus died on the cross, His paid for the salvation for every human being. He purchased every person’s life with His blood, even that of our abusers and enemies. Jesus is the only One who has the right to judge and punish every human being on this earth, not us.
Our Heavenly Father tells us to never take revenge and to leave it to Him to bring about justice. God’s fierce anger against those who spread evil and wickedness will be far more terrifying than any revenge we can plan. We may stand up for the weak, correct the wayward, and graciously point out injustice, but in God’s Supreme Law, taking revenge is out of the question. When we retaliate against other people, we no longer remain the innocent victim, but become a fellow perpetrator whom God will judge.
Romans 12:19 ESV 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.”
Isaiah 13:9,11 ESV Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
Micah 6:8 ESV He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Whenever we retaliate and take revenge, Satan celebrates and the Holy Spirit grieves.
God’s Spirit will never instigate us to take vengeance. He is a Spirit of love, peace, gentleness, and control. God calls us to be tenderhearted, understanding and forgiving. When we choose to retaliate, we are in essence, rebelling against God and obeying Satan.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Some reasons why we retaliate
1. We forget who it is that we serve
Jesus came to teach us how to overcome the world. It is not by using evil against evil, but by using good against it. Our Saviour showed us how this looks like and calls us to follow Him. Whenever Jesus was tested, He would refuse to:
- Retaliate when He was insulted
- Crush people’s spirits
- Shout or raise His voice
- Cause a commotion
- Bruise people’s feelings
- Threaten revenge
Romans 12:20-21 ESV 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.
1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Matthew 12:19-20 ESV He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
2. We forget about God’s grace towards us
It is easy to be mean towards other people when we forget that God has chosen not to be mean towards us. He has not given us what we deserve. On the contrary, He has given us what we do not deserve; peace, blessings, spiritual gifts, protection and more. Spiritually, we who have been so richly blessed are called to share God’s abundant grace with those who haven’t experienced it. We have no excuse not to share the goodness that God has showered on us.
Luke 12:47-48 ESV And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
3. We forget to ask God for His power
Everything that occurs in our lives has a purpose. Sometimes, God allows bad things to happen because they are opportunities for us to demonstrate His love, to set an example for others or to learn something. Like the apostle Paul, we can ask God for His grace and power to overcome all insults, hardships, and persecutions.
Proverbs 16:2-3 ESV The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
4. We forget about the power of our testimony
Some people may never pick up a Bible to read on their own, but they will get to know about Jesus through our reactions to abuse, just because our choices will be radically different from theirs. Our reactions may even shock or intrigue observers to a point that they ask us for the reason for our love and grace. Every time we overcome evil with good, our lives speak volumes about Jesus’s love and bring glory to the One who loves us all.
Proverbs 16:5-7 ESV Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
5. We forget to ask God to heal our inner pains
When we react quickly to a sense of injustice and want to fight back, our heated responses are usually not only related to our current situations but also some unresolved issue or pain from childhood. Subconsciously, we may react badly when something reminds us of painful experiences where we were abused, ridiculed, overlooked, neglected, rejected or abandoned in childhood. It may take a nasty incident for us to recognise our need for deeper healing of our past wounds. To be able to withstand cruelty in this world, we must ask Jesus to revive our crushed spirits and heal us.
Psalm 34:18 ESV The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
6. We forget we are not of this world
Our lives were never meant to look like the world’s. Jesus said that we are “not of this world”. We are to exhibit His astounding grace and love in a world that cultivates pride and hatred. To be able to do this, we must study and follow what He teaches us in His Word.
John 17:16-17 ESV They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
True power over injustice
God calls us to lead the world through godly examples. It takes sound faith, courage, and leadership to refuse to give in to slander, mocking, lies, fraud, and abuse. The fearful and weak mindlessly follow the masses to take revenge, the wise and strong refrain and seek God’s help first.
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 NLT God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
1 Peter 2:20 ESV For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
The next time we are tempted by Satan to retaliate against the wrongs of our lives, we can remind ourselves of a few truths.
It is meaningless to hold on too tightly to earthly things, they will pass away | 1 John 2:15-17 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Those who give in to wickedness are in reality, praising the power of evil in their lives | Proverbs 28:4 ESV Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them.
God is the awesome Judge, He will avenge those who do not repent | 1 Samuel 24:12 ESV May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.
We are called to be exceptionally generous with grace | Matthew 5:40-41 ESV And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
… and to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us | Matthew 5:44-45 ESV But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
No one does evil, cruel things because they were born to. It is only because they are simply following the ways of the world, instead of the Lord’s. When those of us who know God’s Word follow this worldly tit-for-tat behaviour, we do Jesus’ death a great injustice because we only perpetuate cycles of evil.
Jesus came to make us instruments of His peace, so we no longer live as human weapons of destruction. As we grow in maturity in Christ, we have the choice to decide that “the buck stops with us“ and no longer play Satan’s cruel childish games in his playground of evil.
1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
Ephesians 4:14-15 ESV So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
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