I saw a quote the other day that made me mad. The message of the quote was that the only people you should try to get even with are the people who’ve done good things for you. It’s not that I have anything against paying back those who have blessed me; it’s just that they want to take all the fun out of getting revenge on someone who’s done me wrong. That’s the American way, isn’t it? For those of us with anger issues, society counsels us “Don’t get mad, get even.” My wife says that’s meant tongue-in-cheek, but I thought it was a biblical teaching. Apparently, it’s not. Learning that was eye-opening, and disappointing. Imagine my shock, then, when I found out that the phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold,” isn’t in the Bible either. As I searched the Bible for help in my quest to justify my vengeful thoughts and attitudes, I came up empty.
Jesus apparently isn’t big on revenge. I guess that time when He was on the cross and cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” should have been a big hint. In fact, it didn’t take long to realize that Jesus wasn’t really a good American. If the American dream includes a happy marriage, Jesus was single. If the American dream includes owning a nice big house, Jesus had no place to lay his head. He got into trouble with the authorities everywhere He went. Sometimes it seems like the message of Jesus is contrary to everything that America seems to stand for. And He influenced people like Peter who brought that “no-revenge” thing to his teaching also. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
When you think about it, Christians in the early church could have really gone to town on this revenge thing. They were disowned by their families, thrown out of the synagogues, and attacked by the authorities. They were turned into the authorities by family or those who claimed to be friends. If the teachings of Jesus indicated that we should seek vengeance, and we had followed them, we would have read the history of the Christian Church as nothing more than a short-lived rebellion against Rome. Peter makes it quite clear that vengeance, insults, and evil responses are not the ways of those who follow Christ. Are we wronged by others? Bless them. Are others treating us in an evil way, respond with grace. Is anyone insulting us, respond with kindness and a compliment. That is the way that Christ responded. That is the message of the cross and the message of grace.
I have a feeling that this passage doesn’t occur in all the English Bibles. Here in the United States, we’d rather fight, even if no one’s asking us to switch. We’d rather sue than take the chance that someone might take advantage of us. We take Peter’s words and think they make an excellent admonition for others to follow, but change it slightly by adding the words “unless they deserve it” after the phrase “insult for insult.” Because, we’re Americans, and we don’t take that stuff from nobody, and, in my case, I’m a Texan and you don’t mess with Texas. We read that verse over and over again, though, and as much as we want to see those words, they aren’t there. And so we’re left with an impossible command: to repay evil and insults not in kind but with blessing and grace. That’s the thing about our faith so much of it is impossible, without experiencing the grace of God in our own lives. Only as we realize how much we’ve sinned against God and others and have been granted His grace can we look at others and extend blessing for curses, evil, and insult.
Lord, teach me to hold my tongue when I’m angry and seek to return blessing for evil and insults.