Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“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.
Paul closes out this section of brief exhortations aimed at helping the Roman Christians to be more unified and able to live in harmony with each other and with those around them. These final exhortations are all united around the common theme of reactions to being wronged.
In the world, the normal response to being wronged is to strike back, to get revenge, or at least an apology. But in God’s kingdom, the dynamic is entirely different.
The focus of kingdom people is always to be on doing good, bestowing grace and blessing, and on acting as Jesus’ representatives, light in a dark world. Therefore, peace is to be pursued at every juncture.
In the kingdom there is never any room for taking revenge. Instead, each person is to strive to do good to the bodies and souls of all people, even those who oppose or mistreat us. We are to leave any revenge or punishment that is to be taken in God’s hands. He will make sure that all appropriate punishments are delivered and received as He told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:35, quoted here by Paul.
By doing good to those who mistreat us, we will succeed in causing them to be ashamed of their actions (provided that their hearts are not so hardened as to be immovable), and moving them toward repentance and salvation, which should be the ultimate goal of every Christian.
Finally, Paul makes clear that he is not merely advocating for non-violence or for merely refraining from revenge. It is far more radical than that. The way of the kingdom is to engage in positive good actions toward those who oppose or mistreat us, not merely refraining from what we wouldn’t want them to do to us, but proactively doing the good to them that we would want done to us. (Matthew 7:12)
Father, that is quite a difference! I’m afraid that often we are so steeped in the culture of the world, a culture in which it is seen as virtuous to avenge wrongs and never forgive unless the other person is sufficiently ashamed or penitent, that we react in that framework before we even take time to consider a Christlike response. Help us, Lord, to break free from that false philosophy and that worldly righteousness that actually runs counter to Your true righteousness. Help us to have the mind of Christ as well as His heart at the very center of who we are, so that our natural response is the kingdom response. Amen.