“It is mine to avenge; I will repay . . . . If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:19-20
I’ll never forget an older woman who came to my office and heatedly dumped on me a long list of objections about her husband. I asked how long she had been married. It had been more than 40 years. I have never in my life, nor would I ever, counsel anyone to break up a home. But as she went on and on about how miserable he was, I finally said, “Why have you lived with him so long if he’s so bad? Did you ever think about just checking out? I’m not advising it, but I’d like to know what you think.” She said, “Oh, no! I’d never walk out of this marriage.”
I thought that was an honorable attitude until she continued. It was evident that she hated him so much that walking out of the marriage would have meant she couldn’t torment him anymore. For her, that was a reason for staying. Why would she want to give up the opportunity to shred her enemy at every turn?
Got any people like that in your life? People you’d like to take every opportunity to even the score with? Take my advice: Forget it! You’ll only lose sleep and waste precious energy if you are living to get even with someone. As someone well said, “Bitterness is the poison you prepare for someone else and end up drinking yourself!” So thankfully, God has a better way. He’ll deal with your enemy if you get out of the way and pour out love instead of venom.
Joseph understood this dynamic when he, as a ruler in Egypt, could have made toast out of his hateful brothers. But instead he said to them, “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Joseph was free of the “do evil for evil” syndrome and admitted he had no business getting back at his brothers because God is the one who carries out justice. With Joseph, you can experience emotional liberation from your enemies when you pray, “God, they are in your hands! I give them to you to deal justly with them!” When that is our prayer, we are set free to follow the liberating way of Romans 12:19-21 where Paul writes:
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
So don’t get in the way. God has not equipped us to personally carry out justice and vengeance on our enemies. That’s why things always get messed up when we try. He is the only one who has that right and the power and wisdom to do it well.
- What are the emotional and spiritual downsides to trying to carry out your own revenge?
- Have you ever known a situation to get better when enemies did their best to keep evening the score?
- Shock an enemy with acts of love. It takes two to fight!