Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In this Part 3, we’ll talk again at the question of revenge—is it something sweet? Jesus gives an extraordinary statement there—if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer him your left cheek; if someone forces you to walk with him for a mile, walk with him for two miles.
Of course, that was the time in the New Testament when the Jews were struggling under this terrible oppression by the Roman Empire. So the Romans could tell them, You just gotta walk with me, come with me. Remember, when Jesus was taken to Calvary, a man called Simon of Cyrene had to carry his cross. The Romans could just tell them to do anything.
What does the Lord say? Would you say to the Roman soldier: Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Do you think I’m a second-class citizen, asking me to do the likes of this? Our Lord doesn’t even say, You must carry the burden of your enemy. No, he says that your attitude is to go an extra mile! Do more than you have to do. Do more than what the law says, and so heap coals of fire on his head. Choose inconvenience!
Remember that Good Overcomes Evil
How many times are we unexpectedly called upon to help or to serve, and it’s very inconvenient? It’s bad enough going that single mile, isn’t it?—let alone going the extra mile! But do you know something? We are under the authority of the Emperor of heaven and earth. Our compulsion to do right is more stringent than the imperial Roman government. It is Christ’s great love for us that constrains us to serve as he served. Don’t give in to your enemy grudgingly or out of necessity, because God loves a cheerful giver.
Do you know what the Lord is saying? If you went out today and your enemy had a heavy burden then you would offer to help him, because Jesus has come alongside you. “Take my yoke upon you,” he has said, and he is always getting under the burden with you, and giving you strength to cope. You can carry your enemy’s burden. You can be more than a mere conqueror. You can walk through life far ahead of your enemy, singing a hymn under your breath to the glory of God. Pour coals of fire on his head.
So there is a better way of getting even than by vengeance: Vengeance destroys you, but good overcomes evil.
So Paul ends this mighty chapter with these words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Don’t think that this is a little motto like, Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise or An apple a day keeps the doctor away—the sort of thing your grandmother would say. When Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil,” what he means is, Don’t let revenge eat you up and destroy your life. Think how vengeance destroys suicide bombers and their families. We too can look at life as a kind of competition: He hit me so I had to hit him back; Sure, I said some awful things to him, but he said them to me first; I got in my retaliation first. This happens in marriages everywhere.
Getting even doesn’t work. What happens when you try to get even? You unleash this whole cycle of retribution and violence. It never ends because someone else always wants to get the last word. There is a very practical reason behind Paul’s advice. You may win the battle, you may even get the last word or strike the last blow, but in the end, you’ve destroyed your own spiritual life. In the process of hurting another person, you’ve hurt yourself too.
Anger has done its dirty work on the inside. You seethe with malice, rage, hurt feelings, and horrible thoughts that keep you up late at night. That’s one reason why many people are sick today. They aren’t sick because of some bug or a new flu virus. No, their souls are sick and as a result their bodies are sick. They are always depressed, and they can’t sleep. They have all sorts of problems, back problems, tension headaches, nightmares, stomach problems, and weight problems.
I’m not suggesting that these things are unreal, or that you shouldn’t go to a doctor with them. Not at all. What I am suggesting is that in many cases the ‘hidden tormentors’ have done their dirty work inside your soul and in the process of seeking to get even, you’ve lost your health.
Carry With You the Love of God
Here’s something else you have to consider. As long as you try to get even, you’re still living in the past. What happened occurred maybe years ago, but you’re still stewing about your divorce, or how unfairly your boss treated you, or how your father let you down or how your children disappointed you. You are living in the past. Again, when you try to get even, evil destroys you because the other person keeps on winning. He still controls your life as long as you want revenge.
The only way to get free of your past is to let it go once and for all. But if you want to get even, you’re still chained to the past. To make matters worse, he’s probably sleeping like a baby while you are up half the night thinking of the terrible things you’d like to do to him. He’s won twice: once when he hurt you, and the second time because you’re still thinking about getting even with him. No wonder he’s smiling, and no wonder you’re not.
“Overcome evil with good,” is Paul’s conclusion. That’s the bottom line. Although we live in a world where evil seems to win out, it’s only a temporary situation. Almighty God will one day sort things out for his cosmos. He is going to overcome the evil of this fallen world with good. God has so arranged things that evil does well in the short run, but good always wins in the end. If life were like a 100-metre race then you’d bet on evil winning—but it’s not 100 metres. Life is a marathon, and because it is, good wins out in the end.
That may not happen in one lifetime or in one generation—but over time, and across the generations, God moves to bring justice into the world. And if justice doesn’t come in this life, it always comes in heaven. Justice will be done. Evildoers will be punished and those who follow the way of Jesus will be rewarded. That’s the promise of God.
There are many great examples of good overcoming evil, but the greatest example in history occurred some 2000 years ago when God sent his Son into the world. Jesus died for us. That was the greatest thing that happened. So we know that he showed us what life is all about. Why not consider the fact that vengeance doesn’t have to be part of your life.
Go anyway, and carry with you the love of God. Go determined not to seek revenge against those who hurt. Above all else, go with a new determination to love your enemies no matter what it takes. Don’t let evil overcome you this week, overcome evil with good. And know that when you go in that spirit, Jesus himself will go with you.