Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 21. Good Heartedness
1 Thess 5:15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
There are people you can encounter in life who are grumpy and grouchy but even worse there are people who are vindictive who, it seems, are out to get revenge, out to get back at others for real or supposed offences. They are spiteful and unpleasant in their endeavours to pull others down. Can such people be Christians? Can people who have been instructed by their Lord to “Love one another as I have loved you,” (Jn 13:34) and to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) be vindictive and pay back wrong for wrong? Let’s look at this more deeply.
The crucial words are paying back wrong for wrong. A wrong has been done to you. That is hard to take. Someone speaks wrong gossip about you, a false rumour is spread about you, someone uses their position of power at work against you, someone cheats against you and you lose out. All of these things are difficult to take. Even a good heart cries out, “That is unjust, that is unfair, that is wrong!” And we want that wrong to be righted but sometimes no one comes to our aid, no one steps in challenges the untruth of the gossip or rumours, no one moves against the power broker at work, no one brings down the cheat – and we feel wronged.
Have you ever been in or heard of one of those situations where someone cries out, “But it’s so unfair!” and someone else responds, “Who told you that life was fair?” In this fallen world, so often life is unfair, people more powerful than us do us down, others speak behind our back to our detriment. It does even happen in church because we fail to see how terrible it is that we are contributing to lack of unity, i.e. divisiveness, and we are failing Jesus’ instructions to love. We get wrapped up in the moment and lose perspective and suddenly are on the wrong side of God’s instructions. Oh yes, be quite clear, these are God’s instructions.
The Law was quite clear on this subject: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Lev 19:18) Love is to replace a grudge. God was serious about it. Solomon understood it when he wrote his proverbs: “Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.” (Prov 20:22) That was at a good time of his life when he could still say, wait for the Lord and leave it up to Him.
The Law (from the understanding heart of God of course) understood that there would be circumstances where the offence was so great that there would need to be a cooling down period, and hence the institution of the cities of refuge: “For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbour to cut wood, and as he swings his axe to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbour and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. 6Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbour without malice aforethought.” (Deut 19:5,6) That does face us with the recognition that humanly speaking at least, it is sometimes incredibly difficult to overcome the desire to respond.
The fact is that Jesus came teaching another way: “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Mt 5:38-40) If someone comes against you, as one of my followers, go along with him, don’t resist, give what they demand.
How can you possibly do that? Three ways:
1. Remember it is God’s heart in both the Law in the Old Testament and the teaching of the New Testament.
2. God’s grace is sufficient for you to help you put aside all your desires to strike back and instead respond in love.
3. Realise that striking back opens a cycle of offence – revenge – retaliation – greater revenge. That is how long term feuds arise.
Elsewhere Paul is concise: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” (Rom 12:17) while the apostle Peter adds a positive touch: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet 3:9) Wow! When people insult you, bless them! Why? Because God says so and behind His instruction is the desire, coming out of His love, to do good to them. That may not be possible at this moment but in the long-term He desires to draw them to Himself so they may enter into all the good He has for them. Whether they will ever respond only He knows, but the person who insults you, speaks badly of you today and does you down, may be next years candidate for an Alpha Course and may coming knocking on your door as a new brother or sister seeking your forgiveness. Don’t spoil the future. (That’s the fourth way you can be motivated to do the right thing in our list above).