You’re just not meant to carry all that stuff.
That’s what the policeman told me, as he flagged me to a halt and invited me to consider the dangerous load on my Pick-Up. He gave me a few pointers.
- It obscures your own view.
- It endangers other drivers.
- It’s a risk of your own life.
- It is an offence.
So what do I do? “You unload at the earliest opportunity.”
Pretty philosophical for early in the day? I nearly said “Amen” to the guy, but he might have given me a ticket and not just a warning.
But if grudges were Pick-Up loads, maybe we’d see more easily the damage they cause.
They obscure our own view. It’s difficult to see past them. Every time you see that person, you see the offence and you mentally reenact their “crime.” It might be that they have forgotten it completely (or never even known it!) but for you it’s fresh and unpleasant.
As if you’d just stepped in it.
And Jesus said:
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
“Anything against anyone” is a bit comprehensive, Lord. Are you sure that’s what you mean?
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Ah, but he’s never actually said sorry….
“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31)
You mean forgive them anyway? You’re asking too much.
Child, you do not forgive because the person who wronged deserves it. You misunderstood the point of forgiveness entirely. The only cage that a grudge creates is around the holder of the grudge. Forgiveness is not saying that the person who hurt you was right, or has earned it, or is allowed to hurt you again. All forgiveness means is that you will carry on without that load.
It’s dangerous for you and for others. It obscures your own view and makes you difficult to get around. You need to “unload at the first opportunity.”
There’s a line in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which sums it up: “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.” The only person you hurt when you stay angry or hold grudges is you. Forgive everyone, including yourself.
So “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Looking at Romans 12:17-21
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
This passage takes it up a level, doesn’t it? The world says, “Don’t get mad; get even!” But Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27) Do good? Do extra?
And the Romans 12 passage opens out that idea:
- The wrong response to being wronged is to pay it back with wrong.
Paul says this three times in slightly different ways for emphasis: Romans 12:17a: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Verse 19a, “Never take your own revenge, beloved….” Verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil….” Paul gives a similar command in 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.”
John Calvin once pointed out that returning evil for evil may not be as severe as seeking revenge, but it is still forbidden. For example, your husband snaps unkindly at you and you respond by being cold to him or by not speaking to him. You aren’t exactly plotting revenge, but you’re not exactly blessing him either. In fact, you’re returning evil for evil. Or, if someone makes a cutting remark and you try to counter it, even in jest, you’re returning evil for evil.
Revenge does not promote peace but incites men to hostility. In verse 18, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Vengeance doesn’t lead to peace, but to further vengeance. It keeps the vicious cycle of grudge- bearing and unforgiveness going.
Revenge usurps a task which belongs only to God. In verse 19, Paul says, “Leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The thing is, we are incompetent to carry out personal vengeance, because we cannot know all of the motives and circumstances that were behind a person’s wrongful action towards us. Besides, our emotions get involved and cloud our judgment. Only God, who knows all things, is a competent and righteous Judge.
Revenge succumbs to evil rather than overcoming evil with good. As Paul commands (12:21), “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To take revenge is to respond to sin with more sin. It puts you on the same level as the one who sinned against you.
And so, as difficult as it is (and it is difficult!), it is always wrong to respond to wrong with more wrong. Paying back evil for evil or taking revenge is always motivated by selfishness or pride. It does not honor our merciful God. It will not lead to the conversion of the one who sinned against you. So you have to determine in advance that when you are wronged, you will not retaliate with more wrong.
- The right response when you are wronged is to do what is right toward your enemy.
Paul states the right response to wrong several times for emphasis: Romans 12:17b: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Verse 18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Verse 20: “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink ….” Verse 21b: “Overcome evil with good.”
Again, I would emphasize that this is not our natural reaction. Our natural reaction is: He hit me; I’ll hit him back even harder! It requires submission to the indwelling Spirit of God to respond to wrongs by doing what is right.
So the wrong response to being wronged is to pay it back with wrong. The right response when you are wronged is to do what is right toward your enemy. Finally,
- After you have responded to wrong with right, you can leave all vengeance to God.
God is the final Sorter. Every time you bear a grudge you are usurping his role as judge and taking it upon yourself. But you are simply not equipped for the position of Final Arbiter. Leave it to him.
Move away from the Baggage Reclaim.
So the hard question that this Scripture leaves us with is, have I paid back evil with evil to anyone? Is this my pattern with my spouse? Is this the way I deal with my kids? How are my relationships with my extended family? Is this how I deal with difficult people at work or in my neighborhood? If so, first ask God’s forgiveness. Then figure out a way to ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. Even if they don’t repent, think about ways that you can bless them with kindness. That’s how to do right when you’ve been wronged.
As someone said:“Free your grudges and heal your wounds.”
(The Romans 12 exposition bit is drawn from an online sermon)