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Sermon: "Non-Retaliation and Peace"--Romans 12:17-18
The Apostle Paul
In this final week of the series on Romans 12, we will be examining verses seventeen through twenty-one. However, let’s begin our time by once more reading the entire passage.
Text: Romans 12:9-21 (NASB)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the LORD.”
But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Today’s message will focus on the idea of revenge and its connection to the wrath of God. Not particularly popular subjects, but important topics the Word of God discusses, so we have to. In recent days, the world has seen and heard of increasing upheaval in the Middle East. The mainline media have termed as “revenge” the violence certain Israelites perpetrated against a Palestinian teenager in response to the murder of three Jewish teenagers. If what they have done is truly out of revenge, it is clear that they have violated God’s law and denied the LORD His right to mete out His perfect justice as He wills. Since that time, apparently in a case of self-defense, Israel has responded militarily to missile attacks by the terrorist group Hamas.
They’ve targeted places where they thought militants were located, attempting to eliminate them. Sadly, according to the press, besides killing enemy combatants, they have also taken the lives of many civilians.
My purpose here is not to try to judge either case; I am merely stating that a difference exists between the violence of self-defense and the violence of revenge. I believe Scripture teaches that self-defense is necessary, but that taking revenge is wrong.
“Big Idea”: Dedicated Christians never retaliate, but rely on God’s sovereign justice and overcome evil by doing good.
The first point we’ll consider this morning is: Dedicated Christians Never Retaliate (Read v. 17a)
Paul writes the same idea in 1 Thessalonians 5: Verse 15a says, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone . . .”
First, I do not believe Scripture teaches that God wants His people to act like doormats that others can walk over. In this fallen world, we have the right and responsibility, even the duty, to defend ourselves against attack. Recall, for instance, the time when Jesus told His men to carry swords to protect themselves (Luke 22:36-38). In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter used his as an offensive weapon to cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, Jesus rebuked him. “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.”
We can and should defend ourselves; we should not throw our lives away recklessly and uselessly. However, we must not retaliate regardless of whether we are innocent or guilty.
Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount instruct us how to respond when we suffer for doing wrong. Turn with me to Matthew 5.
Verses 38-39 read:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist the evil. (The Greek words here might mean “the evil man,” or they might refer to “evil” in the sense that the punishment itself is a bad thing.) But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
To get a little more background on this idea, let’s look at the law of retaliation. Keep your finger in Matthew 5, and turn with me to Exodus 21.
Verse 24 reads: “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him . . . But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . .”
Right off, we must recognize that this case law was given in the context of personal injuries suffered in a quarrel. God gave Israel this command to deter them from behaving badly. Think about it. If you know you’ll receive in return the same punishment you dished out, you’ll think twice about causing problems, right?
This rule specifically applies to people who, because they’re deliberately quarrelsome, cause bodily injury to someone else.
OK. Back to Matthew 5.
The context of “turning the other cheek” presumes the guilt, not the innocence of the one being slapped. Therefore the one doing the slapping is not necessarily “the evil man”; “the evil” may just be the pain he inflicts. Jesus said if you are being rightfully punished for a wrong deed against someone else, you should turn the other cheek. Why? Because you should realize that you deserve far greater punishment than what you’ve received. The punishment you receive—for instance, a black eye or a loose tooth-- takes into account only the immediate damage you’ve inflicted on the other person; it does not take into account any long-term effects of your violence against him.
The rest of Romans 12:17 reads: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men” (NASB); “Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (NKJV)
Literally, the Greek words mean, “Take thought with respect to good things beforehand.” We’ve got to interpret this verse in its context. I take it to mean that while you are being punished, don’t plan on how you’re going to pay the person back. Instead, give thought to how you’ll respond to him (or her) with good.
Paul clearly states the same idea in the second part of 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “. . . but always pursue what is good both for yourself and for all.”
Say, for instance, a neighbor keeps haranguing you about something you did wrong. You shouldn’t think, “Now, how can I get back at him?” You ought to find a way to take that minor offense out of the way and even labor to do something good for that person.
As we learned last week from a certain writer, “The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him into a friend.”
Be at Peace
Verse 18a goes on to say: “If possible, so far as it depends on you . . .”
As so often is the case, we try our best to make friends with our enemy in an attempt to be a godly influence in his life, but he still hates us. His attitude should not come as a surprise to us; in fact, we should prepare ourselves for it. Jesus said some enlightening things to His disciples about the hatred of the world. Turn to John 15. We’re going to read a pretty extensive passage, but I think the verses give us a good picture of what we should expect from unsaved people. Let’s start with verse 18: This is Jesus speaking.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
(Pause) I do not regard my unsaved relatives as “enemies”; they are just part of the world system under the control of the “prince of the power of the air.” Only in that sense are they my “enemies.” A few months after I became a Christian almost thirty-seven years ago, I shared the gospel with my brother. He thought I’d become a member of a cult. Several years later, I asked my theology professor to visit my sister in her home in Dallas. She treated him coldly and later reprimanded me for invading her privacy. My mother has asked me from time to time, “What made you change into a Baptist?” Since those days, I have tried to “keep the peace.” But now I have recently learned that my sister has bought my novel, and has told my brother about it. And he said he is going to buy it and tell his friends about it. I covet your prayers for this situation. I don’t know how they’re going to react to the contents of the book, because there are some parts that they might take offense to.
At any rate, we must not allow ourselves to feel guilty for the response of the “enemy” if our intentions to restore the relationship are godly. We can’t control how others will react or determine what others will do. Paul writes that “whatever arises from you,” will be living “at peace with all men.”
God has called us to peace; therefore, we must seek (or be at) peace with all men.
Let’s next examine this idea of “peace.”
First, there is peace with God—this kind of peace speaks of the fundamental relationship with God established through saving faith in Jesus
Romans 5:1—“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God has reconciled Himself to us, not counting our transgressions against us.
God has reconciled Himself to us; we haven’t reconciled ourselves to Him through anything we’ve done.
Second, there is the peace of God—this kind of peace is the serenity that will rule in all circumstances in life; Phil. 4:6-7
Colossians 3:15- "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful." We are all called to peace. This is God's will for every Christian.
Third, the Lord commands us to be at peace with all men—Paul focuses here on a specific area in life: interpersonal relationships. Jesus gave His disciples instruction on this subject. He said they must seek to get things right with others before offering a sacrifice.
Matthew 5:23-24—“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
While we cannot reconcile ourselves to God, we can (and must) reconcile ourselves to other human beings through confession of sin and repentance from it.
Bottom line: Your service to God will be worthless unless you have sought to get things right with your Christian brothers and sisters.
TS: (In summary of this point, true believers do not retaliate against wrongdoers; they seek ways to get and keep things right between themselves and everyone else.
© 2014 glynch1