By John Piper
Romans 12:19 — 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.”
Why is this such a crucial promise in overcoming our bent toward bitterness and revenge? The reason is that this promise answers to one of the most powerful impulses behind anger — a desire for justice that is not entirely wrong.
I can illustrate with an experience I had during my seminary days. I was in a small group for couples that began to relate at a fairly deep personal level. One evening we were discussing forgiveness and anger. One of the young wives said that she could not and would not forgive her mother for something she had done to her as a young girl.
We talked about some of the biblical commands and warnings concerning an unforgiving spirit.
- Ephesians 4;32 — Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- Matthew 6:15 — (Jesus said), “If you do not forgive others . . . neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
But she would not budge. I warned her that her very soul was in danger if she kept on with such an attitude of unforgiving bitterness. But she was adamant that she would not forgive her mother.
The grace of God’s judgment is promised to us here in Romans 12 as a means of helping us overcome a spirit of revenge and bitterness.
Paul’s argument is that we should not take vengeance, because vengeance belongs to the Lord. And to motivate us to lay down our vengeful desires he gives us a promise: “‘I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The promise that frees us from an unforgiving, bitter, vengeful spirit is the promise that God will settle our accounts. He will do it more justly and more thoroughly than we ever could. Therefore we can back off and leave room for God to work.
No one was more grievously sinned against than Jesus. Every ounce of animosity against him was fully undeserved. No one has ever lived who was more worthy of honor than Jesus; and no one has been dishonored more.
If anyone had a right to get angry and be bitter and vengeful, it was Jesus. How did he control himself when scoundrels, whose very lives he sustained, spit in his face? I Peter 2:23 gives the answer: When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
What this verse means is that Jesus had faith in the future grace of God’s righteous judgment. He did not need to avenge himself for all the indignities he suffered, because he entrusted his cause to God. He left vengeance in God’s hands and prayed for his enemies’ repentance: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Peter gives this glimpse into Jesus’ faith so that we would learn how to live this way ourselves. He said, “You have been called [to endure harsh treatment patiently] . . . because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
If Christ conquered bitterness and vengeance by faith in future grace, how much more should we, since we have far less right to murmur for being mistreated than he did?
The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.
While seeking revenge, dig two graves– one for yourself.
Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.
–Edwin Hubbel Chapin
Leviticus 19:18 — “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 32:35-36a — (The Lord says), “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” The Lord will vindicate his people.
Romans 12:12-21 — Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear 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...” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.