Pastor Michael Bowman
“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. 12:19)
What makes it hard to forgive? Obviously, you could say sin, the fallen nature, corruption, etc. I want you to exegete yourself on a deeper level. What are some of the reasons you use when you refuse to forgive someone in your heart? There are many answers here, but one that I think is very prevalent is justice or some false sense thereof. When you resent someone and hold onto the bitterness, when you allow anger to build and animosity to grow, I think that if you listened to your heart a little closer you would hear it say, “They deserve this.” Or maybe, “They don’t deserve my forgiveness.”
Why do we do that? Why do we try to take things into our own hands and wish to deal out vengeance as we see fit? Ultimately, it must be that we don’t trust God to be just. Look with me at the commands of scripture: “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” (Rom. 12:17-19). It’s not just Paul either. Add to this what Peter says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9).
As a Christian you don’t have to “get them back.” They will get what is coming to them, good or ill, from the Lord himself. This is a good reminder that true justice can really only be found when you start with God. I was struck by this when preaching through 1 Timothy. In 1 Timothy 5:19 Paul commands, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This is simply a restatement of the Mosaic law of requiring 2 or more witnesses, and I had read both many times before. However, when working through the passage I asked a question that I had evidently not had before, “What if there are less than 2 witnesses?” What should you do if there is a chargeable offense committed by an Elder but there isn’t more than one line of independent testimony against him? Nothing.
Doesn’t that seem unfair? That’s how I felt originally. But then, think through the other option. You could listen to every accusation against every Elder and act on only one witness, leading to unjustified discipline against many innocent parties. In this life, God has determined that innocent until proven guilty is better than guilty until proven innocent. Much less harm will come by following his commands.
Now what does that have to do with God’s justice and our lack of forgiveness? Well, the same impulse that says it’s unfair that anyone could get away with sin and so we should move to a “guilty until proven innocent” model without proper witnesses to the offense, that same impulse is what causes us to say, “I can hold onto my bitterness because they deserve it.” It’s the impulse of someone who has forgotten God. If this worldly existence is all that there is, and when we die we simply cease to exist, then we need to do everything we can to punish anyone who has possibly done wrong because there is no justice after the grave. Of course all of that being true would make justice itself an absurd idea. But this life isn’t all there is. When someone sins against you and gets away with it, either it will be dealt with in Christ or will be dealt with before him as he is seated on the judgement seat. There is not one sin that will not be dealt with by God in this life or the next, and he has told you that he will be the one to take vengeance.
So why do you forget him? Why do you try to take matters into your own hands? Hopefully you can see that a lack of a forgiving spirit is not simply a little slip up but a lack of faith, hope and love. Trust God, know that He is both just and the justifier of men. If vengeance is necessary he will take it. Don’t repay evil for evil, but do what God has done in repaying your evil with blessing upon blessing, grace upon grace.