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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” (Rom. 12:18-19).
How striking it is that when God calls us to peace, he speaks about his own wrath and vengeance. Notice there are three things that you need to know in order to have peace and to bring peace.
1. There will be retribution.
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19).
God has established governing authorities in this world to administer justice. Paul speaks about this just a few verses later. Speaking of one who rules, Paul says, “He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).
God has established authorities in every home, school, workplace, church, community, and nation. Those who are given this authority are responsible for the work of recompensing evil that is necessary to maintaining peace. They “carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
The basis of order in any home, community, or nation lies in the wrath of God. God is irreconcilably opposed to all evil. He will bring it to judgment. Therefore, he establishes governing authorities to deal with evil justly.
It is on this basis that parents exercise discipline in the home, and without this there will not be much peace. If parents stop believing in the wrath of God, they will find it difficult to discover another basis for discipline in the home.
The principle for the administration of this justice is clearly given in the well-known words of Scripture, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” There is a quip on this that is often attributed to Ghandi: “An eye for an eye leads to the whole world going blind.”
But this saying is based on a misunderstanding. When God says, “An eye for an eye,” it’s about proportionality. The justice must fit the crime. The proper administration of justice is necessary to the maintenance of peace. Remember this: God never punishes to the full extent of his strength, and neither should a parent.
When God says, “An eye for an eye,” he does not say it to individuals. God gives this directive to judges and others in authority. God does not say, “If someone smashes your window, go and smash theirs.” That would be a formula for anarchy, in which the whole world would soon go blind.
2. You are not to take retribution yourself.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves (Rom. 12:19).
The word ‘beloved’ is significant here. It communicates how deep the pain of evil and injustice is, and how strong the impulse to seek revenge can be. With a great sensitivity of heart to the pain, Paul says, ‘beloved’—or dearly loved ones—never avenge yourselves.
God has given this responsibility to the governing authorities in this world, not to you. This is still true even when governing authorities are far from what God calls them to be. What about crimes that are never solved? Injustices that are never dealt with? Evils that are never brought to light? What about the times when there is a miscarriage of justice?
3. Place the unresolved injustice into the hands of God.
Leave it to the wrath of God (Rom. 12:19).
If people stop believing in the wrath of God, two things will happen. The first is that courts will be overrun with endless disputes, which is where we are in our country now. When people cannot get what they want from the courts, they will feel that they must take the law into their own hands, and there goes their peace.
The Scripture says, “That is never your job! Don’t take it into your own hands. Leave it in the hands of God. Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you” (Prov. 20:22).
What evil have you suffered that has never been brought to justice? What injustice do you need to trust into the hands of God today? When you do this, you are following in the path of Jesus.
Jesus knows all about this. There was no justice for Him in this world. He stood before a judge who said, “What is truth?” What chance of justice do you have when the judge isn’t even sure that there is such a thing as truth? Before the chief priests, Jesus was blindfolded, spit on, and struck while he was in what was supposed to be a court of law (Mark 14:65).
What did Christ do when He faced this injustice? He continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23). “Father, I know that every evil will be dealt with, and it will be dealt with by you. Every wicked deed will be brought to justice. You have said so, and you yourself will do it!”
The truth of God’s wrath is the assurance that one day there will be justice. God Himself will bring it, and this is the basis on which we can exercise restraint, even in the painful situations where we cannot get justice now.
If we lose sight of the wrath of God, believing that the only justice we can get is in this world, then we will feel that we must take matters into our own hands. And then the world will look in vain for peace. As much as it depends on you, live peaceably by leaving vengeance in the Lord’s hands.
This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Overcoming Evil with Peace”, from his series, Overcoming Evil.