I’m generally an easy-going person. I don’t hold grudges. I forgive pretty easily. But then I get behind the wheel of the car. Can you guess the rest of the story? I get enraged when other people cut me off. Oh, and those people who think the speed limit should be about 5 mph slower – traveling abreast in all three lanes including the passing lane. Or the guy who decides that he needs to go about 20 mph faster than the limit and makes the highway his slalom run. Or the person in the school zone who tailgates me, and, based on my observation in the mirror has some interesting things to say about my heritage, then turns into the school parking lot. That’s when I want to get back at someone. That’s when I want to get even with people…well, not people so much as idiot drivers.
The problem is that I no longer see them as people, I see them as idiot drivers. As idiot drivers, they may harm someone else on the road, and thus deserve my wrath and my punishment. Not buying that, eh? Neither does my wife who reminds me to calm down and just drive safely. Neither does God who reminds me that my rage serves no good purpose. What if I took out my revenge on these idiot drivers, and, they not being as skillful as me, of course, got into an accident. Would that satisfy me? Of course not. I’d be upset that I did that. There’s really no endgame in my desire to pay them back that would work out well. That’s true in a lot of areas of life, and Paul emphasizes that to the Thessalonians. “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
This verse comes in a list of things Paul was reminding the Thessalonians about. It struck me today as perhaps the verse I least wanted to write about because it applies to me so much. As Paul reminded the Thessalonians about how they should act, he included remembering church leaders, living at peace with others, encouraging, helping, showing patience, praying always, giving thanks to God, testing the spirits of those who prophecy and more. Behavior is important for the Christian and Paul wanted to make sure that his teachings in person were carried out in everyday life. How we live and react to others is visible to people who don’t know Christ. Some are looking to find true Christian behavior; others are looking for reasons to attack Christianity. While we are saved by grace, and while we live each day through grace, how we do that is on display to all and Paul reminds us that our behavior reflects our commitment to Jesus.
One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is that God forgives, and so should we. That’s what this verse speaks to. I want payback when someone wrongs me. I want them to feel the hurt that I felt. I want them to be enraged like I was. I don’t want things any worse for them than I got, I just want them to feel like I feel. Paul reminds me, and maybe you too, that more importantly than feeling the rage and the hurt I felt, I should live so that others can feel the grace and forgiveness of God that I’ve felt. Ouch. That hits home. Especially when I’m driving. And oh, can I find the justification to seethe at the other drivers. But God reminds me to do good to others always. So when that person cuts me off in traffic, and then gets stuck when their lane clogs up, I need to let them into my lane, instead of closing the gap between me and the next car. I need to show them my smile and my love instead of using that sign language everyone knows. I need to make their day better instead of getting payback. I gotta admit – there are some things I wish weren’t in the Bible, but I know that they make me a better person.
Lord, grant me the peace that I need in all situations so that I can strive to do what is good for others.