Reflections and Blog

Instead of Vengeance

One question I received after Sunday’s sermon about obeying authority and avoiding trouble is how Christians can give up seeking revenge without becoming those on whom others simply trample. I thought the question was good for our church to think about, so I offer it here with my briefly outlined response. Practically speaking, what can Christians do to protect themselves from oppression while they wait for God’s time of justice (Eccl 3:16-17; 8:6-7)?

1. Avoid. A Christian should be as shrewd as a serpent and as innocent as a dove (Mt 10:16). He should avoid putting himself in situations where someone can mistreat him and even be willing to flee dangerous scenarios (cf. Prov 22:3; Mt 10:23). For example, if a Christian knows that the police in a certain country tend to extort bribes, he should avoid interacting with the police of that country. Or, as another example, if a child knows that his parent acts cruelly when drunk, he should temporarily stay away from that parent if he can.

2. Speak. Suffering Christians should be ready to confront evil for what it is and appeal for the perpetrator to stop (e.g. John 8:48-49; John 18:19-23; Acts 22:25-29; 2 Sam 13:11-17). For example, if a Christian woman is sexually harassed by her boss at work, she need not simply suffer in silence. She should make clear to her boss that he is wronging her and ask him to stop, even giving him reasons why it is wise and beneficial for him to do so. She might also warn him of relational, legal, and even divine consequences should he persist.

3. Get Help. While an individual Christian might not have the ability to enforce consequences against evil, he can appeal to legitimate authorities who can (Rom 13:3-4). Some examples: a wife who is being physically threatened by her husband should call the police, a Christian worker being mistreated by a manager should appeal to higher authorities at his job, and a Christian wife enduring constant berating from her “Christian” husband should follow Matthew 18:15-20 to get the church involved.

4. Do Good. Sometimes, even after all the above, a wicked person remains able and determined to afflict a Christian. But another powerful weapon Christians have at their disposal is doing good. We often move too quickly past the words of Prov 25:21-22 (and Rom 12:20-21), but God’s word says that doing good to those who do evil tends to convict them and even compel them to change (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-6). Now, of course, the ultimate goal of righteousness should always be to please the Lord regardless of whether others change or not (Mt 5:38-48). Nevertheless, we should be encouraged that doing good to those who do evil is a powerful force against the evildoers’ consciences.

5. Pray. Though listed last here, prayer is not a last resort to seek when all other options fail. If we remember that God is in control of all people, events, and even afflictions (Isa 45:7; Prov 21:1), then prayer should be central to how we respond to people sinning against us. We should pray for changed hearts, for endurance through suffering, and for justice against our oppressors (Lk 18:7-8). God listens to the prayers of his people, and, at the right time, he will deliver (Ps 35:10).

Because we live in a fallen and vaporous world, probably no one will be completely free from injustice (Eccl 3:16; 5:8-9; 8:9). Nevertheless, because we fear God and want to honor his ordained authorities (Rom 13:1-2), we must not sin in the way we seek justice (Rom 12:17-19). God has given us practical steps we can take to mitigate mistreatment, but, ultimately, we must commit to following our Lord’s example in suffering for the sake of righteousness (1 Pt 3:14-22). Like our Lord, we know that God will reward and vindicate us when his kingdom of righteousness and justice comes (Jer 23:5).

1 Peter 3:17-18, For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

Questions to Consider:
1. How does one balance the wisdom of fleeing danger with the wisdom of avoiding the danger of flight itself (Eccl 8:3)?
2. Is it always wise to speak and confront evil? Compare Eccl 8:3-4; Prov 9:7-9; Prov 26:4-5; and Mt 7:6.
3. How can you apply the above strategies to situations of suffering you find yourself in right now?