The Supernatural Life: Dealing with Challenging People (Romans Sermon 97 of 120)
April 02, 2006 | Andrew Davis
Works of the Flesh, Sowing and Reaping , Anabaptists, Forgiveness
Well, this is our third week of looking at the supernatural life that the Apostle Paul is commanding. And these very practical commands at the end of Romans 12, the application of 11 chapters of doctrine, the foundation of the supernatural life of the Christian is the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If you have trusted in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you have come to the cross realizing that you cannot save yourselves realizing that you cannot do enough good works to ever atone for even a single sin. You have come to Christ, you've come to the cross and you have received in his name, forgiveness for your sins. He then enjoins on you, commands this kind of a life and His commands are not burdensome.
This is a marvelous life, this is the best kind of life to live. But we recognize and we've seen the last two weeks and now, this, for the third week, this is a supernatural life that Christ is calling on us to live through the Apostle Paul. And as we look today, the unifying theme of these verses that were read, Romans 12:14-21 is a life with challenging people. Now by that, I don't mean anything negative, it's just that people are challenging. I'm a challenging person, so are you. And I don't mean anything by it, other than that it's a challenge to live with other human beings in a way that honors and glorifies God.
Now, I love church history, and one of my favorite one of the most thrilling stories that I've ever read from church history, centers on the Anabaptists who are our forebearers as Baptists. They are the group of people in the 16th century, during the time of the reformation, who came to the conclusion that baptism was just for believers in Christ. Came to that conclusion and for that they were persecuted by just about everybody in Europe, everybody hated these people and tried to shun them from their countries. By the mid-1530s over 50,000 of them had been executed for their faith, it was a terrible time of persecution. The story I have in mind is from the year 1569 when one of these Anabaptist brothers was fleeing for his life in the middle of the winter, and he's running, being chased by somebody who's been deputized to bring him back to justice, which means bring him back to death. He's running across a frozen river and as he's running, he's on the other side, he's just about to get away when he hears a crack in the ice and his persecutor, the man chasing him has fallen in the frozen river and is screaming for help. Now, let me ask you a question, what would you do at that moment?
Some would look at that as a gift from God. I'm free, I can run away, I can get away. He didn't look at it that way at all. A human being, his life was in jeopardy, and if he didn't turn back and go back that man would drown he would die for sure. And so he went back compelled by the love of Christ as the scripture says, "The love of Christ compels us." He went back and he saved that man's life. And he ended up paying for that act by being executed for being an Anabaptist. The man himself, wanted to set William Dirk free, but the authorities caught up and they captured him and they brought him they condemned him to death for his heresy and they burned him at the stake. But what was at the heart of this man, William Dirk? His heart was, Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you. Friends, that is a supernatural calling isn't it? It is not natural for us to seek to love those who want to kill us. It is not natural, for us to want to save somebody who's hunting us down. It is supernatural, and that's the kind of life that Christ is calling on us to live.
I. A Supernatural Life of Harmony with All People
Now this morning we're going to be looking at a variety of relationships that Christ is calling on us to be supernatural in by the power of the Spirit. But first, we'll just look in an overarching way, at every human relationship. Look at verse 16, there it says, "Live in harmony with one another." "Live in harmony with one another." Now, the bottom line here is that people are complex. We are a complex physical web of hormones and nerves and drives within, physically complex. We are a complex emotional web of hurts and fears, of confidence and vulnerability, of arrogance and pride, also joy and sorrow, very complex. We are a complex mental web of convictions, of opinions, of beliefs and insights, of data and facts and figures, all woven into a unique world view.
We are a complex historical web of personal history, of experiences, of cultural backgrounds, past successes and failures. That's what each one of us are as human beings, we are complex. And human beings are so complex and potent [chuckle] that some people despair from interacting well with other people and they withdraw psychologically, even physically, become reclusive, they pull back, they don't want to live with people, they're just too tough. It's too painful, it's too difficult. So they pull back.
French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote a play called "No Exit". And in that play, one of his characters utters the most famous line that Sartre ever, ever wrote, and that is this: "Hell is other people." Now you think about how would you live that philosophy, out? No wonder these existential philosophers were always depressed. Clearly, he's wrong, but there's something out of reality, something out of truth that flows into that bizarre way of looking and that is that human beings are difficult to get along with, except you, of course. You are sweet and gentle and loving and easy, to get along, but everyone else is a challenge, right? Well, you know, it's a challenge for all of us. Human beings are challenging beings, they're so complex that it isn't long in the Christian life before you realize the hardest thing you will do today, is to get along well with other people in a way that glorifies God. It's the hardest thing. Harder than anything else you're called to do.
The Essence of the Supernatural Life: Dealing with Challenging People
Now, the essence of the supernatural life is in large part dealing well in a Christ-honoring way, with other people. That's a big part of it. Christ is calling on us to live this supernatural life, it's a life that the Holy Spirit enables us by His power, and for his glory to deal well with people all over the map, who are in all different kinds of situations, socio-economically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, to deal well with each person, that's what he's calling on us to do. And the overarching command in verse 16 is "Live in harmony with one another." Now, literally the translation here is think like each other. Think the same.
And so, I believe, at first blush, as you look at it, this is an in-house matter, this is from Christian to Christian. Because we share world view and convictions with other Christians and we're supposed to live out of that. We're supposed to think like other Christians and get along with other Christians. We cannot be of the same mind on ultimate matters as non-Christians. Now, this doesn't mean we're seeking difficulty with them, we'll get to that in a minute, but this is first and foremost, I think an in-house principal of seeking harmony with Christians. It does extend however, in somewhat reduced way to outsiders. Look at Verse 18. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people." Do you see that? Now, you realize it isn't always totally up to you to live at peace with others. Some people are just so angry and frustrated and alienated from God, that they will not live at peace with anyone. And so, it isn't your fault, it is not you they are rejecting. They're not angry at you, they're angry at God and they're taking it out on you, and you just need to know that. But it says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people."
So this is just a general command Verse 16. In-House, Christian to Christian, think like each other. Outside of the circle of Christianity, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people." That's what it's saying here.
Christ’s Example and Christ’s Power
Now, Christ has given us a beautiful example of this, he lived in harmony with people of many different backgrounds. He could sit at table with tax collectors and prostitutes and not in any way be dragged down by sin, but rather he lifted them up, some of them right into the kingdom of God. And he could sit down with those folks, he could sit at table equally well with Pharisees and religious leaders, he could do that. He could relate well to a rich Zacchaeus or a religious leader like Nicodemus, these are wealthy, powerful men. He could do that. He could also deal with a sinful Samaritan woman comfortably, and talk with her in a comfortable way.
As a matter of fact, it seems the only people that Christ had difficulty relating with, were those people who are so blind through their own pride and their own self-righteousness, that they felt they had no need or use for him at all. And through that blindness, they actually ascribe his works to the devil. But other than that he got along very well and lived in harmony with all different kinds of people. But praise God, Christ hasn't come only to give us an example, amen? Suppose you just look at the example of Christ, and then you're told without any help from him, be like him. How would you do? Christ as example actually condemns us, but Christ as Savior, saves us. And so Christ saves us from all of the ways that we're not like him, but having saved us, then he brings us to his example and say, "Now live like this." He gives us both the salvation and He gives us example. Now, isn't it wonderful to know within the circle of Christianity, our future is one of absolute perfect unity in heaven.
We will be as one, it says in John 17, "as the Father and the Son are one." There is never a shadow or shade of disagreement between the Father and the Son. There's no disagreements in heaven, there's no factions or divisions in heaven. We will be in perfect unity. But I think the world needs to see it now, don't you? And the more the world sees Christians in unity, living in harmony with one another, the more powerfully the gospel can advance. Isn't that true, when the world sees us getting over our difficulties, resolving things well doctrinal, emotional, physical, whatever the difficulties are, that we get over it by the power of the Spirit of God, the Gospel advances. Listen to this, it says in the high priestly prayer, John 17:23, Jesus prays, "I in them and you in me," listen, "May they be brought to complete unity." See the progress. "May they be being brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and that you have loved them even as You have loved Me." So as we are gradually, consistently being brought more and more into unity, the world watches, and says, "I want to know the gospel, I want to know more about Jesus, if this is how you treat one another." It's so beautiful. So Live in harmony with one another, that is supernatural.
II. A Supernatural Life of Compassion toward Emotional People
The second thing that Paul talks about here is a supernatural life of compassion toward emotional people. Look what it says in Verse 15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." The challenge here are the extremes of emotion that we're dealing with here. The world is full of extreme situations from one end of the spectrum to the other. Human beings created in the image of God, we are emotional beings. We don't just react like computers, processing data. We react with feelings, we have emotions, we feel that. And so, you can respond with laughter, you can respond with tears, with great pain with great joy. It's all over the map. But what's so challenging [chuckle] brothers and sisters, is that this is going on all the time around you. Somebody's greatest day could be happening on your worst day. And how in the world can we deal with that? They are so thrilled. They're walking on cloud nine, and you're in the depths of despair, and yet the two of you have to somehow connect and somehow relate.
This verse, verse 15 tells us how. "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." Now, the call here, is to show compassion. Another word would be sympathy. They're the same thing, we are feeling with people. We're joining our hearts together emotionally with other people.
Jesus Christ was the most compassionate man in history
Now, Christ did this, I think Jesus Christ was the most compassionate man in history. Wasn't it Christ who was moved with compassion when he saw the crowds and he saw that they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. He was moved with compassion when He wept over Jerusalem. Moved with compassion also, he reached out and touched a leper, a disgusting leper and said, "I am willing, be healed." Moved with compassion. Inside him something moved. He wasn't just a salvation machine without any feelings. He would see situations and he'd say, "Oh, oh." Something would move inside him. He was connected to what he saw, moved with compassion. He wept at Lazarus's tomb when he saw Martha and Mary weeping, it says, "Jesus wept." "And once more deeply moved, he said, 'Where have you laid him?'" There's a compassion in Christ. I think he's the perfect embodiment of the compassion of our Heavenly Father. God, Almighty God, is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love. He has compassion.
Listen to this command in Exodus 22. This is just a minor detail, but look at the compassion of God in it. Exodus 22, it says, "If you take your neighbors cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will be sleep in. When he cries out to me, I will hear for I am compassionate." He cares about somebody who doesn't have a cloak to wrap himself up in at night, God says, because of my compassion return his cloak please, before the sun goes down. Do you see the compassion of God and how much more when he heard the cries of His own people, the Israelites in Egypt and he was concerned about them because of their bondage. He was moved with compassion for them and sent Moses as their deliverer.
And how much infinitely more, when God, Almighty God moved with compassion, sees us as slaves, not to making bricks without straw but slaves to sin moved with compassion. He sends His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, our God is a compassionate God. He gets emotional about the things in your life. That's why the Scripture says, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." He has an emotional reaction to what's going on in your life.
God’s Call to Us: Be Compassionate
And God's call to us here is to be compassionate, to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, he wants you to take your heart and melt it into somebody else's. That takes vulnerability, doesn't it? It takes a willingness to be hurt. A willingness to connect with somebody and find out what's going on in their situation.
Well, look at rejoice with those who rejoice. Finally they get a job after months and months of being unemployed. Do you care? Does it matter to you? They're happy, they're thrilled. They finally got a job. How does it hit you? And perhaps they're celebrating the birth of their first child or their fifth child for that matter. They're delighted, they're rejoicing, they're thrilled. How about you? Perhaps they've just become engaged to the love of their life and they're so excited, stars in their eyes. Everything's so bright and wonderful. And you're thinking, "What does that have to do with me?" Well, that's up to you, what it has to do with you. The scripture here says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice."
Maybe they just got an excellent grade on an exam. Or maybe they just led somebody to Christ for the first time, they finally been able to lead somebody to the Lord. Maybe they're just happy in Jesus and they want to share that with you. There's a challenge if you're not, okay. The Scripture says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice." In any case, you're to rejoice with them as though it were happening to you.
And then there's the flip side, "Mourn with those who mourn." That hurts, doesn't it? You were doing fine until you met somebody who was walking around with a burden. They're under a cloud, and you're thinking, "I don't... Do I want to be dragged down into that?" But the Scripture says, "Mourn with those who mourn." Walk with them through their suffering, maybe they've lost a spouse of 50 years. Maybe they've had a miscarriage. Maybe they just got laid off from their job or they had hopes to get a job and it didn't work out. Perhaps a child is suffering in a hospital bed. Maybe they've just been diagnosed themselves with cancer, and they're going to have to have chemotherapy, or radiation. Maybe it's just a minor thing, struggling in some way. Maybe they're having marital struggles or having a hard time parenting their kids. Mourn with those who mourn.
And notice what it says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn." You have to do it together, sit next to them. Look them in the face, connect with them. It's to be a community issue here, a interpersonal issue. Not just, "Well, I was happy in my room when I got home, I thought about it and I was... " They don't benefit from that at all. This is to draw us together. In order to do that, you know what, you and I, we need to get up out of ourselves don't we? We need to get out of our immediate circumstances and start thinking about other people's situations, what's facing them. Philippians 2:4 says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also the interests of others." You know what the natural state that sin leaves us in is cold indifference to other human beings.
The kind of thing where in the story, the good Samaritan, people, religious people can just walk by a man laying bleeding in the gutter, just walk right by and say, "It has nothing to do with me." Cold indifference. That's the natural state of our sinful hearts. I don't care, that's where we start. And the Lord is saying here in verse 15, "Care. Be compassionate, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. " I sometimes ask, I hope my family knows I'm goofing around when I ask this question, but somebody asks, "Hon, could you get such and such?" I ask, "What's in it for me? I want to know, what's in it for me?" "Just get the thing, will ya. I need it now." But I just play with that, because that's kind of the state of the human heart, the natural state. What's shameful is, what I joke about, other times, I kind of live at other times.
I want to know what's in it for me, what do I get out of this? And what the Scripture is saying is that's not the question you should be asking. The thing is, What can I give? How can I minister? How can I enhance somebody's joy, who's rejoicing? How can I minimize somebody's grief who's suffering? What's in it for you is not the question. What's in it for the brother and sister? That's it. And how can I glorify Christ?
The key to the supernatural life is prayer
I find that the key to this is prayer. I can't do this unless I pray for other people. If I invest in somebody's lost job, situation or in their cancer or in their desire to have a child or in some situation they bring to me, if I invest in it, like buying shares of a stock, then when it comes back, my joy is greatly increased. I care. If I invest in somebody's suffering, through prayer, I am going to care, when I see them. And if I don't, I probably won't. The key role of prayer.
III. A Supernatural Life of Humility toward People “Beneath You”
The third aspect here is the supernatural life of humility toward people beneath you. Look what it says in verse 16, "Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." Now, life has kind of a pecking order. I know in the British system, it's almost like a caste system, where everybody's in a certain place in the stratified social order and there's going to be people above you, they are your betters. That always bothered me as an American. Is that how to treat your betters. Saying, "Wait a minute, Aren't all men, created equal? Oh, I'm such a colonial. I'm such an American."
So I look at that and it kind of bothers me. It's like, "What do you mean my betters?" But we have a pecking order here in America. It's based on socio-economic success, how well people have done financially, what kind of job they have, where they live, how they're doing. And so there's always going to be people 'above you' and people 'below you.'
When I was ministering, my wife and I and our kids were ministering in Japan, I came to know there was a group there called the Barakamon who are at the lowest rung of Japanese society. And I guess in previous centuries, they had been involved in the Tanning of leather and other things and at some point that became untouchable. And so the Japanese people did not want to have anything to do with the Barakamon. They're Japanese people. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference, but they all know who they are, has to do with their names and has to do with their breeding and other things, and they don't want to give their sons, to their daughters or take their daughters for their sons, they don't want to intermarry with them. And so it's a big problem. Or again, in India, you've got the Dalit or the untouchable class, and again, nobody wants to deal with them. They're at the lowest rung of society, but we have it too.
And here in this Scripture, the Lord is commanding on us to be... Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low station. The root of this is pride. And pride is the deadly enemy of what God's calling us to do. You're saying, well, these people can't do anything for me. All they can do is kind of make my life disorderly and messy. And so we don't want to associate with poor people or with people who are below us on the social rung. I think the command here is basically don't put on airs, don't have your nose up in the air, don't be snooty. Don't be conceited, but be willing to embrace, warmly embrace people who are of a low position.
Maybe you remember when you were in high school and there were different cliques and groups in high school, the jocks, you had the Chess Club nerds. I was in the Chess Club. Alright, I admit it. I was, I like to play chess. I like math and things like that. So you can call me a nerd. But anyway, I was in a definable a group. The jocks, you've got the... Later on came the Goths, the band geeks, the cheerleaders, the burn outs, the red-necks. Hey, listen, I didn't make these things up, the preppies. And then there was the coveted in-crowd. These are all the most popular kids. And then at the mirror opposite were the losers. And if you wanted to be... If you were almost in the in-crowd, the last thing you wanted was to be seen with a loser or to be friends with a loser because you would be ostracized, you wouldn't be accepted in that in-crowd, that clique.
Well, these are immature groupings in high school, but they take a different feel when you move on to adult life, and there are some people and you begin to ask that same question. I asked a minute a go, what's in it for me in this relationship, what can they do for me? And the answer is probably nothing. They can make your life difficult, they're going to be a drain on your resources, on your time and all that, and you decide, "I don't want to have anything to do with them." Woe to us if we ever do that as a church. Amen? If we will not reach out to people of low position because we're too conceited or too successful.
God has positioned us here to minister to people who need Christ. To minister to them directly as we saw yesterday, in the health fair. It's a beautiful thing, and to realize how is it that the Lord Jesus Christ has approached us, how does he see us? What do we look like from heaven's perspective? And how could we ever put on airs with some other sinner who's struggling just like we are? Jesus put it this way. He said, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, if you do, they might invite you back and you'll be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be paid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Jesus is telling you who to invite to your dinner party. He says invite the people who can't repay you. Invite the people who need it the most. And God is calling on us to a whole different way of viewing people, seeing them as God sees them, not in terms of how they can advance your life, stoke your ego, advance your career, not at all, but who are they, created in the image of God, perhaps brothers and sisters in Christ through faith in Christ. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
I Think about Jesus. And I mentioned earlier how Jesus reaches out to the Samaritan woman at the well. A good friend of mine told me something about this woman at the well, and I've never forgotten it. He said, "You know, the Jews were, in some sense, the rejects of the world. The Samaritans in some sense, the rejects of the Jews. The Samaritan women, rejected by the Samaritan men, and this woman rejected by the Samaritan women, because she had to go in the middle of the day and get her water because of the lifestyle she was leading. And Jesus opened himself up more to her than almost to anybody else. I know that Messiah is coming, she said, and he said, 'I who speak to you, am He.'"
He said directly, I'm the Messiah. He usually didn't do that. He usually gave some kind of words that were hard to interpret and then you'd know what he was meaning. He said directly, "I'm the Messiah," to her. Incredible acceptance. She's a woman that most people wouldn't have had even a conversation with. Jesus loved her. He connected with her, even to the point of maybe scandalizing His own disciples, they were surprised that he was talking with her. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
IV. A Supernatural Life of Loving Your Enemies
The final aspect here is a supernatural life of loving your enemies. I am amazed at the pervasiveness of revenge and vengeance in our culture. And not just in our culture, around the world. It is a big issue. Just look at geo-political situations, how much is it revenge at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How much at the core of suicide bombings that are done in reprisal for something that was done by the Israeli occupying force or something like... Back and forth it goes. How much of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was motivated by some people, at least, not by everybody, some people as revenge for what happened on September 11th. Get them back, make them pay.
I read about a group of Holocaust victims from World War II that organized themselves into a group called The Avengers. And their job after World War II was to hunt down and kill, assassinate SS members, former Nazis that were involved in the executions and in the death camps. And so they would go and find these people through research and they'd pull them out of their beds in the middle of the night, pull them out into the streets and shoot them and just leave them dead in the street. The Avengers.
It was revenge that motivated a 48 year old Russian man named Vitaly Kaloyev to fulfill a two-year vendetta after his wife and daughter and son had died tragically in a mid-air collision in Europe. He systematically hunted down the Danish air traffic controller, this in July of 2002, the Danish air traffic controller, Peter Nielsen and murdered him in February 2004 for this. Personal vengeance, because this man, he feels, had ruined his life.
Revenge is a major motive in much of the ugliness surrounding divorce court proceedings as people... Two people who formerly loved each other want to take as much flesh almost out of the other person, make them hurt, make them suffer. There's so much bitterness there.
How about gang-related violence, in city after city in America? One gang member does something to another and then they come back and kill two of them, and it escalates. It's always with interest, the payback is always with interest, it never stays at the same level. There's so much vengeance in gang-related violence. Revenge is behind road rage. When a driver cuts somebody else off and the other one comes in flashing their high beams and honks the horn and does all kinds of nasty things, whatever, not that you've ever gotten upset when somebody's cut off and done anything like honk your horn or anything like that. There's not even the slightest motion of revenge in you, I'm sure, but there it is. Road rage, people willing even to kill over slights that happen on the road.
Revenge is behind office politics and slander and gossip. It's behind the strange delight that family seem to take in the punishment of somebody who hurt their family in some way. You watch it in the local news. And it's like "they got what's coming to them," and all I think, "Oh, that's not the attitude here. You should be praying for these people, even if they did something heinous and terrible, because a far greater judgment stands over them than whatever the courts can give out here in this world."
And then there's a more common level. Just in families, and in churches, somebody says something, somebody does something that you don't like, and it hurt you. And then you start thinking, "Oh, I'd like to get them back a little bit. A little bit of payback." Brother to brother, sister to sister, husband to wife, wife to husband, in the church. It happens.
And here the scripture is calling us to let it go. Let it go. Do not take revenge, it says. Do not pay back evil for evil. Try to be kind to everyone. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
The root of revenge: pride
Now, what is the root of revenge? Well, at the root of it is pride. It isn't just that a wrong has happened or else you'd be just as motivated when something happened to somebody else, right? You'd say, "Oh, it's the justice of the matter. It is. This thing was wrong that was done." I say, "Yeah, but wrongs like that happen around you all the time, and you don't get so motivated. " It's because it happened to you. And therefore pride is at the root of it. And so it's like, "You did such and such to me, to me. Don't you know who I am." And so we become like little gods and goddesses hunting down the perpetrators wanting to hurt them, make them punished for what they did to you.
We become the center of the universe. It's so dishonoring to God, to be a little god or a little goddess trying to get back the person who hurt you. And Christ gave us a perfect example in his commands and his teachings in Luke 6, He said, "I tell you who hear me, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic." That's his teaching, but did he live it out? Did Jesus practice what he preached? Yes, he did. He's dying on the cross, and He says, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."
And at the heart of that was his trust in His Heavenly Father. In 1 Peter 2:23 it says, "When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats, instead he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly." He just gave his case to God, just gave it to God and said, God, you deal with this. And God did. Now, look at the negative commands here. Look at verse 17. Do not repay any one evil for evil. Verse 19, Do not take revenge, my friends. Verse 21, Do not be overcome by evil.
So you're in the office and you find out that somebody's been slandering you, telling something that just isn't even true, making you look bad, what do you want to do? What do you want to do? Not only do you want to vindicate yourself, you want to go beyond that, don't you? You want to hurt them back. You want to come up with some scheme, but it's going to take some cleverness on your part now. You can't do it in an obvious way that everybody can see that it's revenge. So you have to be some creative and all that. God's saying, stop all the meditation. Stop all the planning. Stop all of it. Get rid of it, and give the whole matter up to God. Do not, do not, do not.
Overcoming evil with Good
But he also gives us some positives here too. Look at verse 14, "Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse." Verse 17 and 18, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Verse 19, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath." Verse 20, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you'll heap burning coals on his head." In verse 21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." So it's not just do not, do not, do not, he's saying actively love these people. Actively bless them. William Dirk goes back and leans down with his hand and grabs the cold hand of his persecutor and pulls him up out of the water. He loves him actively. He blessed him by saving his life. Make your life, your heart filled with activity toward people who are being wrong toward you. That's what he's commanding here. Does this sound easy to you? This is supernatural. This is something only God could work in sinners like you and me.
Vengeance belongs to God
Now, what are the reasons for it? Well, God says, "Do not take revenge, my friends." It says, it is mine to avenge. Verse 19, "It is mine to avenge, I will repay." That is powerful, God is basically staking out a claim here. You can take these three words "I will repay." And depending how you emphasize them you can look at each one of them, each aspect. First of all, I will repay, not you. Or you could say "I will repay." It's a promise. Doesn't it say in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived, for a man reaps whatever he sows." He's not going to get away with it, nobody's getting away with anything. Every sin there is in this world will be judged either at the cross by Jesus' death or on judgment day, by that individual going to hell, that's it.
And He's saying I will repay... And then I will repay. There is justice with God. So, don't take revenge, let God do it. It's his job, his role. And he will do it in God's perfect time.
Now, it's a very stirring thing when he says, leave room for the wrath of God. Is that surprising to you? How would you like to heap burning coals on somebody? I want to heap burning coals on somebody. Woo, that's ugly, that's unpleasant. I read this and I said, "You know, I would have an easier time preaching it if it were written like this. 'Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for the grace of God." Do you see it? And this is a valid theme, isn't it? Because God's grace can take any bitter hateful enemy and turn them around and make them a Christian brother or sister in Christ.
Look what he did to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, he converted him and he became a Christian. And those who used to be afraid of him and maybe even tempted to hate him, then loved him as a brother in Christ. So, don't take revenge because God's grace can be at work in their life. That is true but it's not what it says.
There's another aspect too. Because, frankly, many of these persecutors are not going to come to Christ, and they're goanna keep on persecuting and keep on opposing their whole lives. Still, bless them. Still, love them. Still, pray for them. Because, yeah, they might someday come to Christ, but even if they don't, the ultimate wrath from God is far greater than anything you could ever do. Far greater. And so with every kind act, you're stepping aside and letting the justice of God work. And in so doing, you're heaping burning coals of judgment on their head.
Matthew Henry wrestled with this and he said, "Okay, the burning coals, either it's going to melt their hard hearts into a liquid state, so that they will become Christians and your friend, or it's going to be wrath on Judgment Day. But either way, don't take revenge." Basically, the bottom line here is this, look at verse 21, only good can conquer evil. You can't conquer evil with evil. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Stephen’s example and Paul’s conversion
Stephen, as he was finishing up his sermon in Acts 7, cries out by the power of God, says, "You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears, you're just like your fathers: you always resist the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?" Now you have betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, the Messiah." And when they heard that, they were filled with rage and they flooded out and grabbed hold of Stephen and moved into a place and began to kill him. They poured stones on him and they were murdering him. And while they are murdering him, they laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul who was approving of what was going on. But Saul watched something that day. He watched Stephen sink down and look up and see heaven open. He said, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." And then as he was dying, he said, "Lord do not hold this sin against them." And when He had said this, He fell asleep.
Years later, I don't know how many years later, but Saul of Tarsus was on route to Damascus, the story is told in Acts 26, when a blinding light came around him, and he fell to the ground and a voice came from heaven. And someone who is better at loving enemies than anyone ever in this world, Jesus, said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And then out of compassion, he adds this, "It's hard for you to kick against the goads…" Isn't it? It's hard for you. Out of compassion. What are the goads? Stephen was a goad. The way he died, the way he said "do not hold this sin against them." You want to be a Christian, don't you Saul? Yes, I do. And he was ready.
And so the love and the compassion of Stephen toward an enemy, toward a bunch of enemies converted, in part, converted Saul of Tarsus. What about you? How are you going to deal with it the next time your husband, your wife says something unkind to you? Are you going to try to repay them? Or are you going to just give it up to God? How about here in the church, the next time somebody does something, says something, doesn't notice a good thing and you think they should thank you and they didn't notice, are you going to try to work out a little bit of revenge or are you going to give it up to God?
What about to the non-Christians around who don't have the same values you do, but they try to hurt you, to attack you in the office, on the road, out in public, because they don't know Jesus and they don't know any better. Are you going to give it up to God, or are you going to try to seek revenge? And how about if it's even worse than that, if somebody kills a family member, can you be like some Christian brothers and sisters that I've seen on the local news, say, "I forgive them, I'm praying for them, that they would come to know the Lord" or are you going to be a more vindictive sort, and say, "they got what they deserved?" I pray, God, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will live the supernatural life that God has for us, to live.mClose with me in prayer.