Sunday, January 12, 2014

Leaving Room for God (Romans 12:17-19)

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17–19, NASB95) 

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” This is quoted twice in the New Testament, here and in Hebrews 10:30 where we read, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:28–31, NASB95)

The author of Hebrews sets up a ‘how much more’ consideration for his readers by first speaking to them of the Law of Moses which as Hebrew believers they knew well. Under the law it took only two or three witnesses for someone to be judged and incur punishment even to the point of death. Not only did the Scriptures spell out these transgressions of the Law, but it laid out the punishment without leniency. Then the author moved to the ‘how much more’ part of his point. If this is what was required for transgressions against man, how much more severe the punishment would be when man tramples on and rejects God’s Son and the price paid for salvation through the shedding of His blood. God knows all sin and He declares that all sin leads to death. But He also provided an answer to that demand of sin’s punishment by setting aside eternal death and granting new life. The answer was simply to believe in His Son and trust in His shed blood. Not doing so guaranteed death, and God is certain to exact that punishment. He will repay, and this surely is not anything we want.

I was speaking with a friend the other day who said that as a young teen he went forward in fear to be saved after hearing a message of God’s wrath. This message still marks his heart and mind decades later. At the same time he also admitted that he had many, many years after that time when he did not look to God to order his life, and he truly wonders exactly when he was saved. This was not a question of salvation, but one of when and how much wandering there was in between. I could not answer for him because I am not God and I don’t know exactly where his trust was at the time. But we could rejoice together in the truth that at some point he came to know with certainty that he was saved and that he could enjoy not living under the fear of God’s vengeance but under the joy of being at peace with God.

In this passage we read that we are to leave room for the wrath of God to be exacted by God. Scripture makes it clear that we are not to be the ones who exact vengeance or seek revenge for God. He is big enough to take care of that Himself and He is faithful to do so. And in His wisdom and His power He may turn the life of the individual that oppresses us so strongly totally around, drawing Him to salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans is one of those who knows this more than anyone.

And just as God held even His own Son firmly in His hands to the point of death on a cross, He holds each one of us in those same hands and He will not lose a single one of us. I know I have quoted 1 Peter 2:22-23 quite a bit, but when it comes to responding to harsh treatment there is no greater example than that of our Lord. “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (NASB95)

There is a great deal of freedom in this. Knowing that it is not up to us to settle the books for offenses frees us up to focus on responding to each person and each situation in a way that shows our concern for the individuals involved. I know there are some bumper sticker acronyms that have been popular over the years. One of them was WWJD or ‘What Would Jesus Do’ and another was WDJD which stands for ‘What Did Jesus Do.’ We have a hot air balloon in our town that rises in the morning skies to remind me of these two acronyms and the meanings behind them. If you were to see the balloon on its two sides you would see that it proclaims both WWJD and WDJD boldly. As we look to the Scriptures we learn from the example of our Lord (WDJD) which then guides our consideration as His followers of what He might do in our own situation (WWJD).

Today’s passage says that we are to do what is right or honorable in the sight of all men, that we are to live at peace with all men (Christians and non-Christians) so much as it is in our power. We know that it is up to God to exact His vengeance and to show His mercy. We also know that we cannot control what others do as they all wittingly or unwittingly stand under God. Between these two what we do have control over is how we live, and how we should live is according to the example of Christ and the instructions of Scripture.

Jesus lived right before men, and He calls us to do the same. While He was God and He could have changed everything, in God’s plan it included using the hatred of man to nail Him to a cross so that His plan might be perfectly fulfilled. We do not know God’s specific plan for individuals, and we do not know what He will work even as we respond properly to the harsh treatment of others. I was reminded of this Friday as a friend shared of treatment she had received over a long period of time from a previous supervisor, yet she recently received a card from her with kind and compassionate words. Just as she does not know what God is doing in the heart of this individual, we ourselves do not know what God will do with our responses toward others even over the long haul.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10, NASB95)

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