Last week we discovered the responsibilities we have toward the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak. We have a responsibility to all believers in the church. Paul is going to hit some specifics in these next verses. Very short, very to the point, no room for misinterpretation.
1 Thes. 5:15 says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”
Revenge. It’s a topic many people think of, some dwell on it, some revel in it. If you Google revenge you’ll get almost 80 million hits. There are web sites that tell true stories of revenge. There are sites that will provide detailed instructions on how to get revenge on a spouse, neighbor, co-worker, or family member. De. 32:35 and Romans 12:19 declare, “Vengeance is Mine says the LORD.” There are places in the Bible that tell us to take no vengeance, there are places that tell us to execute the Lord’s vengeance. Jeremiah asked the Lord to take vengeance on them that persecuted him. Luke talks about the days of vengeance. So it is obvious that the Bible is filled with the topic of revenge, but is it for us to do?
It was Robert Kennedy that said, “Don’t get mad, get even.” Ivanna Trump said, “Don’t get mad, get everything.” Sir Frances Bacon said, “In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” As Christ followers, I think we should fall in line more with what Sir Frances says.
Paul here lays it out pretty clearly, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.” That is the definition of revenge, repaying evil with evil. It is clear that Paul is providing this instruction to the whole church. When you put the whole counsel of God’s Word together, there isn’t a place in the Bible that tells us to execute revenge upon anyone, even our enemies. When we are wronged, our natural tendency is to defend ourselves or fight back. Revenge is not something for us to get involved in. So what are we to do when we are wronged? What should we do to those people that attack us with no cause? Here Paul says, don’t take revenge. Remember the overarching principle for victorious Christian living is to exhibit the love of Christ.
The principles Jesus taught are radical. Read Matt. 5:38-48. Jesus began this section by talking about an eye for an eye and now he’s getting ready to rock the world of the disciples. Jesus said if anyone slaps you, turn the other cheek and let him slap that one too. If anyone wants your shirt, give him your coat too. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two. Don’t turn away from anyone that wants to borrow something. Jesus reminded them that they had heard, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.” That was a mischaracterization of the Law. Lev. 19:18 said that they were to love their neighbor as they did themselves. They thought that since the rule was to love your neighbor, therefore they must hate everyone else. That’s what the Jews thought. Jesus says to love your enemies and to pray for those people that persecute you.
That means for the Christian, there is no such thing as revenge. Don’t misunderstand revenge. Revenge is not allowing someone to break in your home and attack you or your family or steal everything in your house. Do not repay evil with evil.
Seek the good. “Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This part of the verse is in direct contrast with the first part. It’s not good enough just to not do evil, we must do good. This is good Christian behavior. Look at Romans 12:17-21. V. 18 gives us the idea that some people are just not going to get along no matter what you do. The verse says as far as it depends on you. There are two principles here. Live at peace – that should be the goal. Don’t start an argument. Others may want to engage you about religion. May lump you in with “those Christians,” or “people like you,” or “those hypocrites in the church.” Heb. 12:14 tell us to, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Ps. 34:14: “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” When you go on the offensive, people have a hard time seeing the love of Christ. You don’t want to do anything that will cause disharmony with people. That doesn’t mean you never state an opinion or never disagree. That is an oversimplification of this principle. These principles are radical. If your enemy is hungry – feed him. If he’s thirsty – give him something to drink.
Why? When you treat your enemy like that, “You’ll heap burning coals on his head.” That sounds like revenge. Revenge is repaying evil with evil. This is repaying evil with good. That’s the point. Heaping coals on someone’s head sounds pretty painful, like it might be considered revenge. Paul is thinking more in the line of the natural result of showing kindness. Coals would cause physical pain, but the pain brought on by expression of kindness would cause shame, guilt, remorse, a conviction of bad behavior, all of which may lead to repentance. True repentance that leads to Christ.
Paul concludes the passage in Romans by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Don’t let evil get you down. The best way to repay evil is to do good. As we have talked about here at C4, the love of Christ must be demonstrated, especially under difficult circumstances.
Revenge is something that should not occupy our minds. As a general rule, people don’t act right because they don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The kindness and love you display sets you apart as a child of God.