Do you believe that everything will turn out Ok in the end? Our answer might depend on the subject under discussion. Some situations may seem more hopeless than others. But my question is intended to draw our attention to the focus of our study in the promises of God. The promise we are looking at in September is God’s promise of justice. One scripture that reveals that promise is found in Romans 12, verse 19 – in the context of a command.
Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Paul’s admonition presupposes one of those circumstances when we might be yearning for things to be made right in the end. A time when one would be tempted to seek personal vengeance or retribution for some wrong. A time of injustice.
Back in 2008 we spent an entire year studying Romans 12. In those studies we noticed that the overall context of these last verses of Romans 12 was very important to this particular admonition. The directive to not seek personal vengeance, but rather return evil with good, ran throughout this text:
- Verse 14: Don’t curse those who persecute you.
- Verse 17: Don’t return evil for evil.
- Verse 18: live peaceably with all.
- Verse 19: Do not avenge yourselves.
- Verse 21: Don’t be overcome by evil.
Taken in the context, Paul is giving clear emphasis to an element of spirituality that we may not give much attention to. How do you react to evil, especially evil people? How can the Christian get justice when he has been mistreated?
We will consider this scripture in view of the promise that it contains. God promises that HE will repay. What does that promise involve? How should this promise impact our lives? Let’s look at basis of the promise first, and then we can understand the command to be obeyed.
I. “Vengeance is Mine, I Will Repay, says the Lord” – what is vengeance?
A. The verb avenge, and the noun vengeance, have a certain connation to us in the English language, and in our culture. Vengeance is associated with unbridled retribution (a Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson movie). A person seeks to balance the scales through violence or personal punishment for a wrong done to them.
B. Paul obviously presents vengeance here as a characteristic of God. HE says it belongs to God. He uses the O.T. as his source. This seems to be a quotation, or allusion, from Deut. 32:35. Deut 32 contains what is often called the Song of Moses, a prophetic look at Israel’s future. Israel is presented as a rebellious people who abandon Jehovah, who is their Rock and Defender. Verse 35 depicts Jehovah as the One who possesses vengeance and recompense, and will therefore judge His people for their sins.
C. The Hebrew word (naqam) used here is found 87 times in the O.T. (root and derivatives), most frequently in the 5 books of law, Isaiah and Jeremiah. The idea of God’s vengeance occurs early in the statement following Cain’s murder of Abel – “Whoever slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Its use points to God’s personal execution of justice against evil.
D. Vine’s says “the Lord reserves it as the sphere of His own action”. He alone has full rights to balance the scales and seek vengeance for wrongs committed.
E. The Law of Moses forbad personal vengeance (Lev. 19:18). The people were to commit their case to Jehovah as David did in his struggle with Saul – 1 Sam 24:12 – Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you”
F. God did use men to execute His vengeance, as Moses was commanded to avenge Israel of the Midianites in Num. 31. Notice in Number 31 that this was God’s vengeance to be executed by Moses and the Israelites at His command (31:3)
G. The O.T. scriptures often refer to God as a God of vengeance. Nahum 1:2, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” Deuteronomy 32:43, “He avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries.” Isaiah 59:17, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” What does this tell us about God?
1. God’s vengeance against evil is woven into the fabric of reality. God has an absolute commitment that justice be done. It is the vindication of His own glory that is at stake.
2. The N.T. (Greek) word for vengeance (ekdikesis – ek-dik-ay-sis), as found in Romans 12, is also translated as vindication or retribution.
a. Vines says that this word means “that which proceeds out of justice.” It comes from a root word (dike – dee-kay) that is translated justice. Now there is a word that we like. Justice simply means “what is right”.
b. The KJV translates dike as vengeance in Acts 28:4 – When the pagans on Malta witnessed Paul being bitten by a poisonous snake they were convinced that he was a murderer and some force of justice was at work and he was getting what he deserved, what was right). If we would understand these verses correctly we need to think of vengeance as justice.
c. God is a God of justice – He gives people exactly what they deserve.
d. “I will repay” reflects the absolute certainty of God’s judgment against evil. He WILL make everything right in the end!
II. “Avenge not yourselves”– The promise of God’s justice is connected in Romans 12:19 with a command. Do not seek your own justice. This is more than just a prohibition against vigilantism. It is a call for us to understand the just character of God, and the value of the cross.
A. Someone does you wrong – personal evil with all its pain. You did not deserve it, but there it is. You desire justice (vengeance) but God says here, Do not avenge. Does that mean there will be no justice? Does it mean there is no vengeance?
B. No. We can and must “Leave it to the wrath of God.” (leave room for God’s wrath – NIV) He will avenge for us. Those who do not understand or recognize the “wrath of God” against all evil have not ability to comply here. They also can have NO absolute expectation of justice. We cry out for social justice, economic justice, criminal justice, racial justice, etc., and yet deny the existence of a God who can or will punish evil. What hope do we have that we will ever have justice? Proverbs 29:26 – “Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that man gets justice” He will set all things right. How will God provide justice for me? I see a few ways:
1. In the very next chapter Paul says that the civil authorities are Gods’ agent for the distribution of His wrath against evil. Rom 13:3-4 – For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. God has given human governments the right to execute justice here on earth. Those who do evil should fear the punishment that God Himself has sanctioned. But some crimes do go unpunished here.
2. If my adversary escapes vengeance here on earth, he does not escape justice. If he refuses to repent and turn from his evil, God will punish him in an eternal hell and he will pay his debt there. Rom 2:4-6 – 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: God’s wrath is real (whole lesson in itself). It is coming.
3. But if he does repent& trust in God, justice is still served. God will forgive him because Jesus will pay for his debt on the cross. Rom 3:24-26 – 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. All wrongs will be punished. God’s justice is comprehensive. Forgiveness does not mean some sins receive no punishment. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We will see our worst adversary in heaven, if he repents and obeys God.
a. Without God’s commitment to avenge all sin there would have been no need for the cross, and there would be no hell. But there was a cross and there is a hell, and they are a testimony to God’s justice, and the strength of His promise.
b. Although this command against personal vengeance is difficult, God is not asking us to abandon justice. He has adequately provided for what we seek and we can count on Him. I must trust Him. That is the real spiritual challenge in these verses.
C. Tonight we will consider the rest of this command – a command to be merciful to those who have done me wrong. This is an enormous challenge of spirituality that has much application today. My ability to obey this command is dependent on my faith in the promise of God to provide justice.
Conclusion: The cross is the greatest act of mercy we will ever see. There was nothing unjust in Jesus. There was no call for God’s vengeance in Him. That came from me. I was the one for whom God’s wrath was stored up. But His sacrifice on Calvary satisfied all of God’s wrath against my sin. Romans 5:6-9 For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”