Thursday, May 27, 2010

R12: Could you be 'playing God'?

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." In other words, don't act in the heat of the moment. The Bible gives us similar instruction in Romans 12:17, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." This is a passage easily taken out of context. At first blush, it looks as though it is instructing us to be people pleasers. But this sentence follows another in verse 17, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." And recall the context of the last three chapters- how do we respond to the evil aimed at us and the hurt caused?

"Be careful" can be literally translated as "think about" or "consider". In other words, we need to be conscious of our motives. We need to think before we act. We must ask ourselves what is driving this desire to repay evil for evil, confront that motive, and give it up to God. We need to be careful.

But this is also a two-way street. The NASB translation of the second sentence in verse 17 reads, "Respect what is right in the sight of all men." The lesson in Plato's Protagoras is that "all things are true for him who believes it." It is logically impossible to believe in something you know is false. The same is true for our behavior. If someone is acting out and causing harm, the sad truth is that is what he or she knows is right in their eyes. In this do-anything-to-get-ahead world, most people think it perfectly ok to lie, cheat, or steal their way to the top. They may have lines they will not cross, but their morals are defined by the world. We need to recognize this, and therefore not be surprised when someone runs us over as they are speeding to the front of the line.

To drive the point home, verse 17 is followed up with, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." This drives a stake through the heart of the "doormat Christian" mentality. If it is possible. It may not be possible and it may not be right. If the evil aimed at us is illegal, or physically abusive, it is not possible. This verse is not encouraging us to be doormats. At the same time it also reads, "as far as it depends on you..." Much of the hurt caused us has nothing to do with us. We don't encourage it, we don't invite it. We are literally victims and that hurt does not depend on us.

If this is hard to swallow, let me paraphrase these two verses: "Don't be the one to start trouble. Work for peace in your relationships." Don't start it.

Don't finish it either. Verses 19-20 instruct us to not seek revenge. Why? Don't we cheer for the hero of the story that does everything possible to make sure the bad guys get what's coming to them? Sure we do. But most of us aren't movie stars or action heroes. And when we seek revenge, when we desire payback, we are telling God that we don't trust his justice. "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord." Vengeance, meting out justice, is God's job. It is hard to let things go trusting in God's judgement. We may not see justice in this life, so we are robbed of that sense of closure. So it requires faith to let God do what He does. When we seek revenge or pay someone back for what they've done to us, we are putting ourselves ahead of God, in His place. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Finally, we have to remember Romans 12 is about personal relationships. We're not talking about war or crime in these cases. The focus is on what we can do to be like Christ in all our relationships, good and bad.

Think: Why does God prohibit personal retaliation or revenge?
Reflect: What happens when we pay back evil for evil? When have you done that? What were the results?
Understand: How can you afford to let "people off the hook"? What is God's role? His promise?
Surrender: Ask God to help you turn over "justice" to Him. Pray this week, fully releasing any desire for "payback" and turn the person who has wronged you and all outcomes over to God.
Take Action: Stop saying, thinking, or hoping bad things about your enemy. Don't let these words come out of your mouth and refuse to let them linger when they come into your mind.
Motivation: Consider memorizing Romans 12:19-21. Read it or say it aloud every time you're tempted to let vengeful thoughts linger or you catch yourself saying something negative about a person.
Encourage Someone: Think of someone at church, work, or in the neighborhood who has been treated even more unfairly or harshly than you. Ask God to show you a tangible way to provide support to them- a note, a gift, a dinner, or a listening ear.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

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