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.
To properly understand Jesus’s words about dealing with our enemies, there are three key distinctions we need to make. First of all, we need to understand the difference between vengeance and justice. Vengeance is my desire to hurt you for hurting me. The Bible says we are to give up our desire for vengeance. In Romans 12:19, Paul wrote, “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.” God can settle the score better than we can. Leave that up to Him.
But vengeance is different than justice. Justice is the payment that God–or sometimes God working through others–may demand from those who have wronged me. The Bible says we should never give up our desire for justice. Look at Isaiah 1:17: “Seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” We give up our desire for vengeance, but that does not mean we give up our desire for justice.
Second, we need to understand the difference between individuals and government. Jesus never meant for the Sermon on the Mount to be a constitution for nations. This sermon is about individuals and how they govern their personal lives.
Third, we need to understand the difference between rights and responsibilities. Some Christians would have you believe the core value of Christianity is standing up for our rights. But that is not the message of the New Testament. Look at Philippians 2:4-7: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself.” Jesus gave up His rights as God in order to come and meet our needs. In the same way, we are to hold our rights very loosely, especially when it comes to the well-being others.
But there is a difference between rights and responsibilities. We may voluntarily surrender our rights, but we can never release our responsibilities. If somebody breaks into my house, I have a responsibility to defend my family. If the government tries to restrict our freedom to preach the gospel, we are not to surrender that God-ordained responsibility. As we read Jesus’s words about how to respond to our enemies, we need to understand the difference between surrendering our rights, which Jesus called us to do occasionally, and surrendering our responsibilities.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Straight Talk About Your Enemies” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2022.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org