Friday, January 12, 2024

Commentary: Revenge Is Malice

by Leonard V Johnson

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One of the deep caverns of our nature is bitterness. And, when someone does us wrong – we tend to want revenge. Our Lord Jesus tells us that we, brethren, will have tribulations. We will have troubles before we – God willing – enter into His kingdom. “ … ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’” – Acts 14:22.

In the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, he spoke of putting off our former conduct of “the old man.”

“If indeed you have heard Him [our Lord Jesus Christ] and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in JESUS: 22) that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts [including the lust of revenge], 23) and BE RENEWED IN THE SPIRIT OF YOUR MIND, 24) and that you PUT ON THE NEW MAN which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:21-24.

Then, toward the end of the chapter, he focuses in on our terrible problems of bitterness, wrath, anger, and malice.

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice [the intention or desire to do evil; ill will toward another].”

Revenge is malice.

I speak of revenge because this subject came up recently. Should true Christians seek revenge? Our Lord Jesus teaches us, ’ You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [See: Leviticus 19:18 - In the Old Covenant, your love for the LORD God was measured by your hatred for those who hated God]. Our Lord Jesus changed this – ’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’ – Matthew 5:43-45. Understand: the Old Testament NEVER teaches us to hate our enemies – cf. Exodus 23:4-5.

We’ve all heard it – “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live PEACEABLY WITH ALL MEN.” – Romans 12:18.

Of course, this command from the LORD our God is no small order at times for those of us trying to live the Way our Lord Jesus teaches!

As I wrote in our latest article “Be Not Ignorant of Satan,” this past year it seems as if Satan the devil has ramped up his attacks on us! And as we get closer to the end of this age it sure feels to be getting worse! Our life, brethren, is often inundated with sharp clashes of conflict. Family and friends attacking us verbally, accusatorily. Experiencing an uptick of anti-Semitism against us because we keep the seventh day Sabbath. Our enemies gather around us to deliver us to their councils and scourge us in their synagogues. Rejected by those claiming to be the “chosen begotten children of God.” The list is long. Conflict is very much interwoven into our lives as we “fight the good fight” to disengage ourselves from this “present evil age” – Galatians 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:10; Revelation 18:4. In truth, as stated earlier – true Christians will have tribulations! “ … ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ – John 16:33.

How then, can we fulfill Romans 12:17-18!?

Our Lord Jesus the Christ – the very One that Minister Garrett names THE MAGNIFICENT ONE – spoke to us the Way He wants us in His kingdom. He tells us that our righteousness must be genuine – not just external actions, but internal in attitudes. He wants us to grow spiritually so that our external actions and our internal actions match His character. And He gives us some examples:

Everyone surely agrees that murder is wrong. But, murder is merely the external evidence of an internal attitude. Our Lord Jesus says (and I use the word says and not said – because His word is a living word, His word is eternal) that it is wrong to harbor unresolved bitterness, wrath, anger, or clamor in your heart – even though it doesn’t lead to murder.

Also, a great many peoples recognize that physical adultery is wrong. But our Lord Jesus says that it is also wrong to lust sexually in your heart for anyone other than your spouse whom you married.

Furthermore, He goes on to speak about divorce. The LORD God (the family of God, which at this time consists of God the Father and our Lord Jesus) does permit divorce. He goes on to say that it is wrong to just abandon your spouse and leave them unable to remarry because you’re tired of him or her. *

He also spoke concerning justice and revenge. ’ You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39) But I tell you not to resist an evil person.’ – Matthew 5:38-39. Our Lord Jesus rejected how people misunderstood the Old Testament manner of how people were taking revenge for a wrong done. People were acting on emotions without clear thought.

The LORD God has given us some legitimate avenues for justice here on Earth, ** but our Lord Jesus warns us that revenge is something completely different.

It’s true that we tend to want to hurt those that have hurt us. Often we talk about “getting even, and settling the score.” The whole idea is that because the person hurt us we now have the legitimate right to hurt them in return. Sadly, usually, getting even isn’t enough – often we want to add a little more. Like in the game of poker – I see your false accusation, and I raise you homelessness and sleeping in your van down by the river!

The LORD God’s statutes written for us in the Old Testament were written for the physical children of Israel – the Old Covenant had no promise of eternal life – was actually designed to prevent personal vendettas from inflicting more punishment than the criminal deserved. As an example: If someone blinded another, they shouldn’t be killed or tortured for it. They should be held accountable for only an eye. And, many times these debts were paid in coinage – whatever amount the eye was worth. God’s living word does support measured justice. But not revenge. Our Lord Jesus says, “Don’t fight back.” ***

“ … ‘But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40) If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.’ – Matthew 5:39, 40.

The Greek word for resist is anthistēmi, meaning “to oppose – to set against.” And it’s not about non-resistance, it’s about not opposing. It’s also not pacifism (cf. Luke 22:36. Many people believe He was speaking to His disciples metaphorically about buying a sword. No, maybe those who believe this haven’t read the following verse – verse 38). My sister has asked me in regards to self-defense. There is much in God’s living word concerning self-defense. Our Lord Jesus is not teaching to be aggressive either. He is specifically warning not to take any personal retribution.

When a person came to my home – that I had never met before – and abruptly and for no rhyme or reason suddenly got up from his chair and kicked me on the shin – I immediately threw him out of my home! Our Lord God had the answer –

“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19.

Rather I “nipped it in the bud,” and forgave. That toxic person never came around again.

Sadly, the person died last October from a drug overdose.

Our Lord Jesus tells us to respond counter-intuitively. Instead of repaying evil with evil or with equal or greater force, He teaches us to resist an evil person with a different force: with good. Instead of paying back in kind, we are to pay back with kindness.

Many might say that it wasn’t kind to just throw him out of your home. But, that was the kindest thing I could do – to get him as far from me as possible. † The LORD God will take care of justice. It may not be when we want it. It may not be how we want it. But the LORD God will make sure that justice is done.

Brethren, this policy of our Lord Jesus is not a lack of justice. It’s a call for us not to take any personal revenge in order to get justice. Let’s leave justice and revenge to the LORD God.

Staying here in chapter 5 of the Book of Matthew, our Lord Jesus gives us some examples of this principle of answering evil with kindness. Such as physical assaults.

Verse 39 – “ …’ But whoever slaps you on your cheek, turn the other to him also.’

According to Wikipedia
“For the sages, it was deemed of utmost importance to avoid shaming another person. Hence, they sought to impose liability for humiliating personal injury, regardless of the physical effects of the injury. …

But for certain acts of violence that involve very little pain and no permanent disablement, but mainly disgrace, the sages fixed a scale of compensation, namely: for a stroke with the fist, one sela or shekel, for a slap with the open hand, two hundred zuzin, for a back-handed slap, or for pulling a man's ear or hair, or tearing off his cloak or a woman's headgear, or spitting at a person if the spittle reaches his flesh, four hundred zuzin.” 1
Apply the LORD God’s Living Law

Our Lord God, in the treasure chest that is the precious Word of the Eternal, unlocks insights into human behavior, that, when properly applied, steers a true Christian through much conflict – cf. Romans 15:4.

There are sound principles that, if applied, “give prudence to the simple, to the young man [the inexperienced] knowledge and discretion” – Proverbs 1:4.

Now, learning to handle or reduce conflict does require major changes in our mental and emotional approaches. We are to search out and apply these living laws of the LORD God.

To those who are willing to pay the price, the living word of the LORD God – our Lord Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace Himself – promises overall success in resolving our conflicts and tribulations.

Waste No Time On Revenge

The apostle Paul calls for us “to walk worthy of our calling with which [we] were called, 2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, …” – Ephesians 4:1, 2. The Greek noun for longsuffering is makrothymia, meaning patience, forbearance, and control.

Revenge is the direct opposite of longsuffering. Revenge only ups the ante in a dispute and leads to emotional escalation. Terrible and hurtful words said, which might not be forgotten. “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, …” – Proverbs 18:19. □

1) Wikipedia contributors. (2023, January 28). Damages (Jewish law). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 10, 2024.

* In my original writeup, I didn't speak about physical abuse inside a marriage, because that is a completely different topic from physical adultery. Of course, if physical abuse is occurring in a marriage - by either spouse - proper steps need to be taken to rectify and stop it. There should be no verbal or physical abuse in any marriage.
** My thought here was Romans 13:1-5. We all are to be subject to the laws of the land. And the LORD God has provided capital punishment (through many governing authorities throughout the world) for those that have committed terrible atrocities such as kidnapping, rape, and murder of our children. Revenge and torture are condemned by the LORD God.
*** The statement "Don't fight back" here does not mean not to physically protect yourself or your family. It is meant in terms of revenge or torture. We know that our Lord Jesus fought back against the merchants that had set themselves up in His temple - cf. Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-16. 
† I, of course, to extract him from our home, had to become very boisterous and loud, firm and unwavering. Just as our Lord Jesus had to become with the merchants that had set themselves up in His temple.

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