“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Lashing out to achieve revenge is so very natural, at least to me. When someone hurts us, mistreats us, or wrongs us it is a natural reflex to strike back. I remember saying more times than I care to confess, “I’m going to give him a dose of his own medicine!” We like to even the score with someone who has taken advantage of us or wounded us. And, let’s be honest, sometimes just getting even is not enough. Sometimes we want to “do them one better.”
This kind of vengeful payback is “natural” in more than one way. It is “natural in the sense of being an almost automatic response. But payback is also “natural” in the sense of being “fleshly.” Scripture is clear; there is nothing remotely spiritual about settling the score with someone who has acted in an evil way toward you.
- “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).
- “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 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” (Romans 12:16-18).
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
Rather than retaliating when wronged, God’s people are called on to respond with kindness. “Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out” (The Message). “Always try to do good to each other” (NLT). A response that’s all about kindness, goodness, and looking for the best in others rather than retribution is expected from followers of Jesus.
Eventually, inevitably, someone will wrong you. Sometimes the wrongdoer will be your brother or sister in Christ. Other times it will be someone who is outside the family of God. Revenge is to be avoided whether the offender is a Christian or an outsider (“to each other and to everyone else”). This is difficult teaching, for sure. But it really comes as a relief when the offender is not a brother or a sister or an outsider, but me instead.