Do Not Retaliate Against One Another

Stefan Nitzschke July 15, 2018 Romans 12:17-21
Outline

4 ways to build one another by not retaliating

1 Thessalonians 5:15 - See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.

Romans 12:17-21 - 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 on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:4-5 - For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

I. Don’t fight fire with fire

1 Thessalonians 5:15 - See that no one repays another with evil for evil…

Romans 12:17 - Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…

II. Know your place in the courtroom

Romans 12:19 - 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.

Romans 13:1-4 - Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

III. If they have wronged you, serve them

1 Thessalonians passage – “…always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people”

Romans passage – “…Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink…”

“Most modern commentators have therefore concluded that Paul views ‘coals of fire’ as a metaphor for ‘the burning pangs of shame.’ Acting kindly toward our enemies is a means of leading them to be ashamed of their conduct toward us and, perhaps, to repent and turn to the Lord whose love we embody.” Doug Moo, Epistle to the Romans

IV. Look to the Cross as our ultimate example

Luke 23:39-43 - One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

1) Where do I tend to fight fire with fire?

2) In what circumstances am I quick to jump out of my defendant’s chair and start assuming all other roles in the courtroom?

3) When and how can I serve others when they are doing wrong to me?

4) Lastly, which criminal am I most like, and where do I need to be more like Jesus?

 

The courtroom is a fascinating place

We read courtroom language in our Bibles, where God is called the Judge and courtroom dramas unfold in Isaiah 3, Psalm 82, Revelation 20, and so on

Daytime shows are dedicated to proceedings in the courtroom

Whole documentaries and dramas are centered around what happens in court

Even some comedies take place in the courtroom

•            The reason in simple – we are a people who love justice

•            Our God is a just God who is zealous for vindication and things to be made right – it is suiting that those whom he made in his image would value the same

There’s something about when they finally catch the bad guy, his crimes are read aloud, and he is given a proper punishment in court – it just feels so right!

•            Even those who seem to have no moral compass love justice

•            Those on the far end of the spectrum may claim that it’s not bad to steal or kill, but once you swipe their car keys and drive off or grab them around the neck, the story seems to change pretty fast…

It’s written into our very DNA

And is it wrong to love justice?

•            Absolutely not!

But justice begins to sour at the point where we seek to take matters of spiritual judgment and sentencing into our own hands

We are going through our annual series of “Being Careful How We Build”, and today we will continue our current series of “Building One Another” by discussing two passages that encourage us towards this end: “Do Not Retaliate Against One Another”

•            With that in mind, please open up your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:15 – you’ll find that on page 161 of the back section of the Bible, where we will discuss “4 ways to build one another by not retaliating”

Passages

1 Thessalonians 5:15 –

15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.

Romans 12:17-21 –

17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 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. 20 “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 on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Oneness permeates through both passages

The 1 Thessalonians passage comes within a greater section on brotherly love and the unity that should result when they are practicing this love

The Romans passage is at the end of Paul’s explanation of how they are one body

•            Why mention such a similar exhortation to two different churches at the end of two separate topics?

•            You have probably guessed it – vengeance or “retaliation” ruins oneness

Think about it in the context that Paul gives in Romans 12 – we are one body comprised of many parts

•            Romans 12:4-5

•            4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

•            Let’s say – for the sake of example – my function in this body is a left foot (which is quite suiting when you think of my dancing skills)

•            One of my functions is to make sure we are moving when we should be moving, standing when we should be standing, and turning when we should be turning

But let’s say the right foot kicks up a bit of dust while he’s doing his thing

The dust gets all jammed up my nails and rubs me a bit raw in-between my toes, makes me look bad, etc. – I don’t like that one bit

•            Well, the next time I pick myself up as the left foot, I decide to smash right into the right foot…

Now, what happens when one of our feet smashes into the other foot?

Not only am I no longer moving forward, but typically the rest of me is doing some smashing of its own

•            So it is with the body of Christ

•            If someone wrongs me – whether intentionally or unintentionally – and I choose to respond with “wrath” of my own, the body is no longer functioning as it aught to

Instead of serving one another and utilizing the uniqueness of one another, now we’re tearing ourselves apart from the inside

We lose our effectiveness, our mission, and frankly, our testimony

•            But these passages seek to warn us against that and steer us in the right direction

Paul, in so many words, begins both exhortations with a variation of this age-old cliché:

I. Don’t fight fire with fire

1 Thessalonians 5:15 - See that no one repays another with evil for evil…

Romans 12:17 - Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…

The cliché makes a lot of sense – my father-in-law used to be a fire captain for the city of Cincinnati

•            He has told us quite a few stories of his various exploits as a fire fighter – some heroic, some comical, some quite sad

•            Do you know what story he has never told?

The one where he put out a housefire with a flamethrower

Unfortunately, that logic does not always carry over into our spiritual walk!

•            What do I do to the guy who doesn’t get over to let me onto I-65?

•            I slam the gas, blaze in front of him, and hit the brakes

Fire with fire

•            When the conversation heats up a bit and she starts raising her voice, what do I do?

•            I raise my voice a little more, showing her I mean business

Fire with fire

•            How about something a little more subtle: you don’t treat me with the respect or attention that I am convinced I deserve, so I slowly (over time) push you away to show that you are not that important to me anyways – I may even talk about you a certain way to others when you are not around

•            Fire with fire

When fire is being fought with fire, what is one guarantee?

•            Everyone gets burned

Both of these passages begin with an appeal to logic – don’t we see that evil cannot possibly overcome evil?

Why are we so convinced that it does?

•            He goes on to mention one of those reasons – we have found ourselves sitting in the wrong seat in the courtroom:

II. Know your place in the Courtroom

Romans 12:19 – 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.

Let’s take the example we just mentioned of our bitter friend, and for the sake of our example, let’s make him… well, you

what have you assumed about this situation where you chose to be bitter regarding someone’s perceived actions towards you?

•            First off, you put yourself in the seat of the plaintiff – you assumed yourself to be the person who was wronged and bring a charge against another

•            Well, then you make the easy move one chair over into the prosecutor’s seat – you formulate your case, assess the evidence, and present it in a way that is in the best interest of your client

Which is who, by the way?

•            As the prosecutor, we can see how easy it is for you to take a few steps towards the jury stand

•            Then you, yourself, and thy, the jury of your peers, assess the evidence, hear the prosecutor’s case, and make a recommendation to the judge

And just as easy as it was for you to find your way to every other seat, make your way to the judge’s throne, take up the gavel, and put forth your final judgment – guilty, and deserving of your wrath

But in reality, what seat are you actually in?

•            You’re not even the defense lawyer – you’re the guilty defendant who stands rightfully accused of all your crimes!

•            You are the one on trial and the evidence is overwhelmingly and ever increasingly stacking against you!

Imagine the audacity of someone who is blatantly guilty of a heinous crime running from chair to chair in the courtroom and rending others guilty and himself innocent

That’s something you won’t even see on the most ridiculous comedy show

But that is exactly what we do when we repay evil for evil by taking someone who has wronged us to our own mental court

•            As a caveat, I am not speaking against calling upon the law when a crime has been committed – even against you

•            For instance, if someone breaks into your house – call the police!

Testify against them in court, if necessary

Literally, the next passage after our Romans text reads like this:

•            Romans 13:1-4 – Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

•            So what I am not saying is that there is no place for our judicial system

•            What I am saying is that on a spiritual level – you are not it

That is why God calls us to not make a final judgment and seek to enact our own wrath

We are to get out of the way and allow his perfect wrath to judge the situation perfectly and punish it perfectly

•            And that is done in only two ways:

•            1) on the cross

•            2) in hell

And guess what? We cannot add to either

If the person who wronged you has placed their faith in Jesus and put their sins on the cross, then whatever wrong they may have done against you is hanging on that same cross that your sin hangs from (assuming you are a Christian yourself)

When Jesus was on the cross and said “it is finished” he didn’t mean it will be finished once you get the last word in – He meant it is totally paid for

•            Which is very good news for you, by the way

If the person who wronged you has not repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus as the only way to be reconciled to the Father, then whatever wrong they have done waits for them in the fires of hell where judgment will be perfectly carried out on them – and we cannot add to that wrath either

And I say this with a heavy heart and a plea for those who fall into this camp to give themselves over to Jesus, and make it today – put that wrath on the cross of Christ, take up your own cross, and follow Jesus

•            I know in this day and age, it’s not popular – even among genuine Christian circles – to make an appeal for Christ based on the pending doom for those who have not given themselves over to His Lordship, but I find that hard to neglect in a passage that talks about the wrath of God and heaping burning coals on one’s head

•            As is said often in this church, there really is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned

And we would be remiss to turn a blind eye to either reality

•            We all stand as the guilty defendant – do you stubbornly await your judgment, or do you wisely admit your guilt and then plea the blood of Jesus?

•            If this is not something you have done and would be interested in, I would invite you to talk to myself or one of the service pastors after the service – there is no other conversation we would rather have than that one

So if vengeance is not the route I am able to take, nor can I move from chair to chair in the courtroom, what am I called to do when I am wronged?

I am called to SERVE:

III. If they have wronged you, serve them

both passages have a similar positive charge after calling us to not repay evil for evil

1 Thessalonians passage – “…always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people”

Romans passage – “…Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”

•            And later goes on to say, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink…”

•            The reason for this is quite curious: “…for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head”

This would almost seem like the Word of God is encouraging us towards the retaliation it seems to be calling us away from throughout this passage – but that is not the case

•            Commentator Doug Moo helps us out with this explanation in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: “Most modern commentators have therefore concluded that Paul views “coals of fire” as a metaphor for “the burning pangs of shame.” Acting kindly toward our enemies is a means of leading them to be ashamed of their conduct toward us and, perhaps, to repent and turn to the Lord whose love we embody”

•            Embarrassingly enough, I have experienced this heaping of burning coals all too well growing up…

•            *story of patient older brother

In choosing to repay my blatant sin with patient kindness, my brother triggered conviction in me, rather than vengeance

•            Which disposition do you suppose is more conducive to seeing Jesus?

Had my brother chosen to raise his voice with me, I would have felt justified in retaliating with a harsher tone or even taking a swing at him

Fire with fire

But in triggering conviction in me, my brother left me wide open with this thought: I really am a terrible sinner; what can I do about this problem?

Heaping coals

•            *brother strong part of my testimony

If you choose to serve rather than retaliate, you never know how God is going to use that in the life of another

•            Not only that, choosing to serve rather than retaliate will draw you closer to your Savior, because you are choosing to act as He did…

IV. Look to the Cross as our ultimate example

The Romans text closes with this – “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There is no greater example of this than the person of Jesus and the example He gave in His death

•            But Jesus was not the only one being crucified on that day – there were two others next to Him, and they too serve as an example to us – let’s look at that passage together:

•            Luke 23:39-43 – 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Three men, undergoing the same capital punishment, yet with three very different responses

And those responses produce different results

•            The first criminal is overcome by evil and seeks to fight fire with fire – what is being done to him stirs up vengeance in his heart

•            He chooses to use his precious final breaths to spit venom towards those around him

And what did that produce? Further wrath, and no pardon from his sins

•            The second criminal mentioned here knows his rightful place in the courtroom

•            He knows the punishment is just – he does not mock or make excuses

Instead, he chooses to turn to the one who was in that very moment paying for the sins that put him on that cross in the first place, and pleads for Jesus to not leave him there

The burning coals of the crucifixion caused him to see his sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness

So what was the result? His sins forgiven and the promise of paradise with his Savior

•            Lastly, there’s Jesus – the only one overcoming evil with good

•            Was Jesus wronged in this process?

Arrested, beaten, mocked, wrongfully accused, flogged, and crucified

Yet how did He choose to respond throughout all of this?

•            The only way He could – with the purest good

And what was the end result?

•            Salvation made available to all who would turn to him, like the second criminal

No one is able to accomplish what Jesus alone could accomplish on the cross, but we are to look to Him as our ultimate example in how to respond when we are being sinned against

•            See the futility that the “wrath” of the first criminal produced

•            See the forgiveness that the repentance of the second criminal produced

•            And see the great power of overcoming evil with good that Jesus produced on the cross

Recap / Call to Action

But like a good court stenographer, I want to give an accurate account as I assess these four matters in myself

1) Where do I tend to fight fire with fire?

•            Introspectively, I see this quite blatantly in two areas of my own life:

•            Outside of the body of Christ: On the road and inside the body of Christ: In positions of leadership

I am quick to retaliate when I perceive that someone has wronged me when I am driving – I am seeking to combat this with thankfulness (*explain?)

I’m also quick to not believe the best of people in leadership over me, nor those whom I have the privilege of leading – I am seeking to combat this with quick repentance and strong accountability

•            I would encourage the rest of us to introspectively look at where we are tempted to fight fire with fire and plan out action steps on how we are going to change, by the grace of God

2) In what circumstances am I quick to jump out of my defendant’s chair and start assuming all other roles in the courtroom?

•            For me, the two circumstance I mentioned a minute ago are where I often find myself running around the courtroom of my head

•            When this happens to any of us, we need to hear our gracious Judge patiently say “order in the court” – and then promptly sit back down in our defendants chair and look to the cross: knowing we have forgiveness in Him

This puts us in the right frame of mind – sinners saved by grace

3) When and how can I serve others when they are doing wrong to me?

•            See where you tend to fight fire with fire, and choose to actively think on what serving looks like instead

•            In addition, it’s helpful to also look at where the Lord has shown his grace in this area of your life:

Where do you often serve others when you are being wronged? How can you specifically thank God for that and continue to build that strength that He has gifted you with?

4) Lastly, which criminal am I most like, and where do I need to be more like Jesus?

•            While thinking about this, we must understand that the power to repay evil with good does not come from us

•            This is only possible through the power that was displayed on the cross of Christ

•            We are only able to withhold retaliation from one another because Christ chose to repay evil with good

•            Looking to Him and with His power alone, that is how we are to relate to one another and build one another up

Stefan Nitzschke

B.S. - Management Information Systems, Iowa State University 
M.Div. - Faith Bible Seminary

Stefan is married to Alexandra and they have two sons – Judah and Israel. He currently serves as the college pastor and director Faith West Ministry Housing. Stefan is certified as a biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and is a board member of Faith’s Community Development Corporation. He has a heart for evangelism and discipleship, specifically though the process of biblical counseling.