Saturday, 23 November 2013
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19
Paul has just written these words to us – “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
In order to show that this is the proper avenue and that repaying evil for evil is completely unnecessary, he will turn to Scripture (“for it is written”) to show us that all will work out as it should. He begins though with “Beloved.” By beginning with this, he is making an appeal to the heart because it is the heart which will inevitably lead us to do wrong if left unattended.
And so in a heartfelt appeal we are now given our instructions, “Do not avenge yourselves.” This is linked right back to “Repay no one evil for evil.” As noted, committing an evil doesn’t cover an evil, it simply produces more evil. To grasp this, think of the modern call for abortion. The original demands came under the guise of fairness; cases of rape and incest certainly necessitated making the procedure legal, right? Once the foot was in the door, it opened the procedure for any and every reason. But even if it were only for cases of rape and incest, it doesn’t make it morally right. To murder an innocent human because a previous sin was committed doesn’t negate the original sin, it merely adds another to it. This is the logic of Paul here.
And so, rather than us carrying out vengeance, we are told instead to “give place to wrath.” This expression is speaking of divine wrath. Though it may seem slow in coming, it will in fact come. The wicked shall not always prosper and they will have a day of reckoning. And so we are asked to not get in the way of the divine wrath; something that we will do when we take matters of vengeance into our own hands.
And this is where Paul now cites Scripture. He refers back to Deuteronomy 32:35 for a verse from the Song of Moses to justify his stand – “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” As surely as evil is committed, the Lord has vowed to repay. There is no “getting off scot-free” and all sin will be judged. Because the Lord has spoken, He will follow through. This then is an absolute guarantee. So why would we seek to repay evil with evil when His coming judgment of the first evil will suffice?
Having said this, and understanding it to be true, there is still the caution against going too far in the opposite direction. This verse is held up on banners at rallies opposing the execution of criminals. It is often misquoted, being taken completely out of its intended context, in an attempt to stand against those who commit violations of set laws. This is an abuse of what is being stated here and is similar to the incessant and continuously incorrect use of “Judge not lest you be judged.”
Jesus never surrendered His rights under the law, but appealed to the law during His trial. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the apostles appeal to the law for their defense and as a just means of settling wrong-doings within society (see 1 Peter 2:13-17 for example). This verse today is speaking of personal vengeance, not the regular and proper execution of sentences within the framework of the governing laws of the land.
Life application: Paul has shown, directly from Scripture, that the Lord will avenge evil. It is not within our right to do so, except within certain contexts, such as the law of the land. Leave personal vengeance to the Lord. He will repay.
Lord God, when I see evil in the world, I really would like to handle the judgment all by myself… setting things right as I see it. But You have asked that I not repay evil for evil and that instead You are my protector and defender. In the end, You have vowed to repay all evil and execute justice. Though it is hard, I will confidently wait on Your timing, knowing that You have it all worked out. Amen.