14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
We start off with kind of a mix of different things. Have you noticed how Paul tends to jump from point to point? We had been hearing earlier in this chapter about how to have relationship with other Christians, and now the attention is shifting to how we show love to non-Christians.
There is some evidence that perhaps the verse originally did not include the word “you”. Which would line up with some examples of how Paul lived his life - bless those persecute, whether you or someone else is the victim of the persecution.
In verse 15, we receive some great instruction on how to be a good neighbor. Not just to Christians, but again as the focus has shifted here, to non-Christians. Live in harmony. Don’t be a know-it-all.
Then we get to some hard stuff - not that this other stuff is necessarily easy. But we are told that our response to evil should not be more evil. I suppose that makes sense, but, considering how we may feel when evil has been done to us, we may have a hard time avoiding that.
This past Friday, my son Peter, grandson Nathan, and I did a bunch of work around the house. I was busy installing a new pool pump and re-plumbing the water lines, Nathan was mowing the lawn, raking, sweeping - all the fun stuff that there just isn’t enough of to go around, or I’d invite all of you to come and take part in the joy of some of those things.
Oh - and Peter, well, he was busy clearing some little 6 ft weeds that make their home over our leech field. Not a job for the feint of heart. At some point during the day, he yells over to me, “Dad, where’s the shed?” I replied, “What do you mean, where’s the shed? I’m sure it’s there. You just can’t see it with all those weeds in the way.”
“No - I’m telling you it’s not there.”
And just like that, I realize that someone has come, a thief in the night, and stolen my shed. This isn’t a little shed we’re talking about either. It’s a custom-built shed with a lumber frame and shingle roof. This thing is big, and heavy. I bought it from my neighbor when he sold his property, and I had 8 people plus a tractor help me move it just 20 feet from my neighbor’s lot to mine. Just behind the back wall. I can’t imagine how someone could possibly orchestrate such a heist, but nonetheless, it’s gone.
Within a few seconds, a number of thoughts and emotions came and went. I probably said a few things that nobody should hear me repeat here. And probably thought some not so nice things. I can’t say that I was thinking of ways to live in peace with those that stole my shed.
But, I gave it some time, and began to just let go of it. No amount of being angry was going to get my shed back. It was consuming me, and leading my thoughts towards dark places, where I began to wish ill on those who stole my shed. I surrendered it all to the Lord, and moved on. In fact, I believe I even said that if someone was so desperate that they’d come and steal such a difficult thing to steal in the middle of the night, then I suppose they need the shed or the money they’d get from it more than I do. So, God bless them.
Great, right? Isn’t that what Paul is saying we are supposed to do?
Fast-forward to 4 PM on Saturday. Somebody messages me on NextDoor. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a community-based app that let’s you post things like yard sales, ask for contractor recommendations, report suspicious activity… The biggest thing is usually lost pets. Every day someone posts about a dog or cat they lost or found.
Well, at 4 got this message, replying to my post about the shed being stolen. I was just giving people a heads up to keep an eye out for suspicious activity). Anyhow - he says he say a shed for sale at a certain intersection, and perhaps it’s mine.
Now, the rational me would think - there’s no way that someone would be that unintelligent as to sell something within a mile of where it was stolen. Not to mention how large it is. Not the kind of thing you just toss in the back of the truck and drive to an intersection to put it on display.
The actual me hopped in my truck immediately upon seeing the message and drove over to the location mentioned. On the short way there, I thought of so many wholesome things I’d like to say to the thief. I visualized how embarrassed he would be when the police showed up and took him away in cuffs - wait - maybe since he was so good at it, make him return the shed first, then haul him off to jail?
And then, I showed up and it clearly was not my shed. This thing wasn’t close to the same color, and was probably less than half the size of my shed.
See how quickly I went from angry and cursing the thief to blessing and then right back to cursing again? Ever had someone cross you? Say mean / hurtful things to you? Borrow something and never give it back, or give it back broken but not tell you they broke it? And pretend they had no idea they broke it? There are probably way more examples that we could all come up with that would give us reason to want the R word. Anybody know what that is? REVENGE.
But what’s the problem with seeking revenge? I can tell you all the things that I would like to do to someone that has crossed me. And none of them is going to draw anyone (including me) closer to the Kingdom of God. If anything, it’s going to chase people away. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about Jesus, it’s that He is in pursuit of sinners. He is in pursuit of the person that stole my shed. He is in pursuit of the person that hurt you. He loves them. He loves us.
What Paul is saying here, ultimately, is that perhaps by choosing to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, feed your enemy - heap burning coals of shame, we create a greater opportunity for repentance than responding in kind. And, as well, we respond not based on how the evil world influences or encourages us to respond, but based on how Christ responds. Instead of allowing ourselves to end up in a bitter, twisted state, we are to choose to release the desire for revenge and find ourselves healthier mentally and emotionally.
This isn’t to say that we should simply step back and allow evil things to happen and do nothing about it. We aren’t supposed to just ignore the hurt that was caused, are we? Emphatically, no. But what will we do about it?
Forgive. Show kindness. Be positive. Someone may have acknowledged they wronged you and perhaps there’s an opportunity for reconciliation. But - what about the person that isn’t sorry? Don’t give in to the desire of revenge. What did Christ do while we were still sinners? When human evil had reached its peak? Don’t give in to the desires that perpetuate evil. Instead, conquer evil. How do we do that? vs 21: conquer evil by doing good.
What exactly is doing good? Let’s take a look back over this chapter and see:
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. 6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. 9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.