“We Can’t Let Him (or Her) Get Away With That . . .”

But if you are a believer in Christ, and if you are seeking to follow Jesus Christ as Lord in your life and his Word as your inspired guide to life, you may have to ask to be excused at this point.

This is one of the lines that is often used by some people to try to involve others in trying to punish what they deem as reprehensible conduct by others. The person who is being solicited may in fact not have been affected adversely by the person seeking to instigate the punishment. Usually it involves no honest discussion of whatever happened with whoever had committed that conduct. Usually the person trying to instigate some kind of punishment against that person starts either to try to outline a plan of attack or to brainstorm a plan of attack against the offended person. Often enough, there is no statute of limitations either on the offense or the length of the punishment.

Scripture gives several reasons why the believer needs to avoid being caught in this vengeance scheme.

First, scripture forbids believers to pursue private vengeance, but to leave vengeance to the Lord. “Do not return evil for evil to anyone . . . do not take vengeance for yourselves, beloved, but give way to wrath, because it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:17, 19, Dale’s sight translation).

Second, scripture calls taking up the quarrels of others folly, and advises believers not to go down a path where they will suffer the consequences as meddlers in other people’s business:

“Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” (Proverbs 26:17, New International Version).

“ . . . don’t let any of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a wrongdoer, or even as a meddler in other people’s business,” (I Peter 4:15, Dale’s sight translation).

There are usually some viable alternatives that the believer can suggest. The first is to suggest that the offended person speak to the person who may have caused the offense. Next, if that person is a believer, reminder of the scriptures that forbid vengeance, command private correction, as well as forgiveness and patience, is in order.

Two Articles on Tim Tebow and Their Significance

I’d like to draw your attention to two articles recently shared on the Wall Street Journal’s online site that deal with the recent publicity about Tim Tebow, the forthrightly Christian quarterback for the Denver Broncos pro football team.

The first article, Does God Care Who Wins Football Games?, is by Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton is a former pro football quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, and is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL that never won a Super Bowl. He puts a wonderfully positive spin on what has been happening this season with the attention that Tim Tebow and his outspoken Christian faith has received. That Tim Tebow finds reason to praise God in a touchdown pass is wonderful; that he finds time and joy in visiting death row inmates and sharing the gospel with them should encourage every believer in Christ. 

The second article, The Secrets of Tebow Hatred, by the conservative Jewish commentator Michael Medved, has some more sobering thoughts. It reminds us that if we follow Christ, we may attract envy and hatred from others, especially if we show Christlike purity in our lives, and remain faithful to him even under intense scrutiny. In some people it comes down to Schadenfreude – the desire to see an upstanding, virtuous person fall, and to gloat over that person’s misfortune, especially if that person seems too good to be true. Medved mentions the discomfort that someone who seems to have so much going for him can do to make people who feel their imperfections and limitations more strongly.

This kind of schadenfreude is something that believers also need to be aware of as they live and work in this world. Certainly it’s possible for some believers to have been blessed with physical and intellectual capabilities that others do not have, just as some receive adversities. Certainly it is possible for some believers to excel and to prosper in this world, especially in the Western world, and  especially if they work hard and act with financial wisdom, and escape such financially ruinous situations as divorce and addiction. But just as certainly, we need to make sure that this kind of Schadenfreude does not infiltrate our churches and our relationships with other believers. And here’s why.

If I am a believer in Christ, Tim Tebow and I are both members of the body of Christ. His prosperity is in some way mine also, and any scorn or rejection heaped on him is mine also.

It was the same way also with the scorn and hatred that came to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as part of the Don Imus controversy. I listened to the coach and the women on that team express their strong Christian convictions as the controversy heightened, and I realized that what they experienced affected me in some way also.

So this also applies to the brothers and sisters in Christ in our church fellowships. What they go through in either blessing or suffering is in some way that of us all. And this is a reason why when there are social competitions and jockeying for position, rivalries and guerilla wars in our churches, they are so cancerous, and why even those who are not directly involved are affected. And this is a reason why when something happens that signifies honest blessing to one of us, that it also blesses the rest of us. “And if one member suffers, all the other members suffer together. If one member is glorified, all the other members rejoice as well” (I Corinthians 12:26).

Present Enemies, Ghosts and Scapegoats: Those Whom We Love to Hate

Present Enemies: those from whom we receive hostility, or those toward whom we feel hostility and anger, the desire to hurt or hit back for hurts received, for ourselves or those whom we desire to protect, such as family members and close friends.

One of the most lurid examples of vengefulness is the boastful song of Lamech, Genesis 4:23-24:

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech,  hear my words;
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

(God promised to avenge Cain seven times if anyone would take his life in vengeance for his murder of Abel. Lamech is boasting that his vengeance accomplished more than God for less provocation.  This is an example of the extreme defiance of God that the Bible depicts among mankind before the Flood.)

  • Write down one time that someone hurt you and how you responded.
  • How typical is that of how you normally respond to hurts?  Very typical or often or sometimes or rarely?
  • How would you say that you normally respond to someone that hurts you?              
  • How would someone who knows you well say that you respond to hurts? Ask one person.

Ghosts: Former Enemies who still affect us

Midnight, July 16, 1943: a powerful force of United States Navy battleships, cruisers and destroyers was eighty miles southwest of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. General Quarters was sounded after several large ships reported radar contacts eight to twelve miles away. So the Japanese Navy was going to oppose them after all! They were ready for them; the Japanese would not be able to use their expertise at night tactics to win a quick victory!

The battleships and cruisers began to fire their big guns at the reported targets. During the next few minutes lookouts reported the wakes of torpedoes headed toward the ships. Others saw the flares and searchlights from Japanese warships. Men below decks felt the concussions of  shells that exploded beside their ships. One neurotic sailor had a nervous breakdown under the stress of battle.

No Japanese ships were within miles of the US force, though. The radar contacts were return echoes from islands from one hundred to one hundred fifty miles distant. All the visual sightings and perceptions of torpedoes, flares and searchlights, and explosions from near misses were from the wakes and gunfire of the other ships in the force. The power of suggestion made them appear  to be from enemy warships.

The “Battle of Kiska” gives a chuckle to old sailors, but something like it occurs in those who still continue to fight old battles with enemies long gone, separated by the circumstances of life or no longer the substantial threat they once were. Sometimes people continue to fire their guns and perceive opposition when the enemies are not there, and the others in their lives suffer the consequences.

Is there a former enemy who continues to rule the way that you act? (Ask someone close to you also if you seem to be fighting old battles.)

Scapegoats: Those on Whom We Heap Our Own Sins

The objects of blameshifting and smokescreening:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

One of the most insidious ways that some deal with a guilty conscience is to accuse others of the sins that they themselves commit. This is a form of diverting the attention of others and one’s own conscience which Jesus here exposed.

Much of the needless criticism and gossip that some professed believers indulge in is actually of this nature, and the sin is sometimes deepened when the claim is made that these unrighteous accusations come from the Holy Spirit. But the truth is that no one has ever made himself look good by throwing mud at others, and the true conviction of the Holy Spirit does not work through slander and insinuations.  Indeed, it means that one is acting in the way of ‘the father of lies’ and  ‘the accuser of the brethren’ rather than of Christ.

The gossip needs to go to the scriptural method of dealing with his or her sin before God and man through repentance and receiving the forgiveness of Christ rather than the indulgence of a hateful spirit.

The objects of envy:

Spiritual envy:

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous . . .  “ (I John 3:12).

Spiritual envy is the envy of another believer more mature in Christ, consistent  in his walk with Christ or seemingly prominent among fellow believers in ministry. It is begrudging another person what he has in spiritual gifts, experience and attainment by a false comparison with one’s own.  It is the reason why some professed believers try to bring down others who might seem to have more than they in their spiritual lives.

Material envy:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”
(Psalm 73:2-3).

Material envy is the begrudging of another a superiority in material prosperity without regard to his or her spiritual standing.

The Christlike Way to Win: I Peter 2: 21-23 and Romans 12:17-21

The Example: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

`He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  — I Peter 2:21-23

The Command: “Do not return anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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.” –Romans 12:17-21

Step 1: Avoid making enemies in the first place. Plan to do what is right and honest the first time; avoid doing anything which would appear to be harmful to another person.  Determine to admit when you are wrong, to tell no lie, and to give no one a reason to be angry with you. Many problems with others would neither begin nor continue if you determined to be honest, courteous, respectful and humble.

If you find yourself taking offense at the actions of another person, ask yourself whether another person intended hurt, or there was simply unexpressed or unreasonable expectations on your part. Misunderstandings may be at the bottom of some perceived hurts. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and be more ready to listen than to react: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Personal vendettas from misunderstandings interrupt what God is really trying to do in your life and the lives of others.

Step 2: Plan not to try to hurt and punish those who do anything to hurt you. It is wrong for anger at someone else to lead you into sin (Ephesians 4:26).  Plan and rehearse your  godly reaction. Make it an immediate reaction to the situation. Too often lingering resentment comes when some people, particularly the unassertive, clam up when they become angry. Others escalate the situation when they blow up in response to someone else.
Scriptural examples of godly reactions:

  • The soft anwer: “A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word turns away anger.” — Proverbs 15:1
  • Blessing and prayer: ” . . . bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” — Luke 6:28.
  • Gentle rebuke: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” — Galatians 6:1
  • Forgiveness: “When you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him,  so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” — Mark 11:25

Step 3: Let God be the Judge. If the other person has truly transgressed his will, God will enforce the consequences. Give the situation to God in prayer and ask him to be your Defender.

Step 4:  Plan to do something good simply out of obedience to God’s Word. Loving actions must come even if there are no loving feelings. The consequence may be a change of heart by the perceived enemy. The “Love Feedback” can turn that grudge around, and has the potential of strengthening the relationship rather than destroying it, and turning the potential enemy to a friend.

See also Matthew 5:43-48, for additional teaching from Jesus in accord with this passage. Ephesians 4:1-3 and 4:29-32 also describe Christlike actions, replacing hypersensitivity with patience and resentment with forgiveness.

Take the previous example of how someone hurt you and write out a reaction more in line with what Christ would do in your situation.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.”
— Matthew 5:9

“Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.”

— Psalm 34:11-16

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.