See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good
to one another and to everyone. – 1 Thess 5:15
We know from experience that this imperative is easier to flout than follow. Yet these words, penned by the Apostle Paul, are a command and not just fine advice. It is an injunction with universal application to personal relationships in every culture and period of history. Below are several reasons we should be anxious to heed the admonition of this scripture.
• The first reason is that we really have no right of payback. God says explicitly: vengeance is mine; I will repay says the Lord (Romans 12:19). Retribution is the sole responsibility of God. And He will judge each person, either in this life or when Christ returns to judge the world (Acts 17:31; Rom 2:16). But by taking matters into our own hands, we usurp a prerogative that is God’s alone (Deut 32:34-36; 1 Samuel 24:4-7; Proverbs 20:22; 1 Pet 3:9-12).
• The second is that this is how God has dealt with us and still deals with sinners today. At one time we rejected His authority and spurned the love extended to us by Jesus’ sacrifice, which canceled all our sins. We also refused God’s righteousness, given to all who believe in Jesus. But the Lord looked past our pride, independent spirit, and impudence. He pursued us with re-exposures to the message of Christ and the gentle might of His Spirit, who moves sinners to repent and trust God to deliver them from the enslavement and guilt of sin.
• A third is that repaying good for evil heaps burning coals on (Prov 25:21; Rom 12:20-21) the one who has harmed us. This is another way of saying that as we return grace to someone who has wrong us, it may soften their heart toward God. Perhaps such a spark of godly kindness (Rom 2:4) will move them to repent and place faith in the same Savior we worship and love. If God uses us in this way, we will have made a friend out of a former enemy!
• A fourth reason is for our own spiritual well-being. Any time we “can’t” forgive someone in our hearts, we hold a grudge, or we take revenge, we hurt ourselves spiritually and psychologically. Forgiveness will do us even more good than the one we forgive.
• Finally, when we forgive an offender and return a blessing for some wrong done to us, we are imitating God – And this is what Christ has called us to do. It is the main purpose of our lives: that we should be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1) and so be conformed to the image (likeness) of His Son (Rom 8:29). If the glory we seek is reserved for us by God (1 Peter 1:4, 13), then we can think of this ‘glory’ as our attainment – entirely by God’s grace working in us (1 Cor 15:10; Php 2:13) and by the power of Christ instantly transforming us upon his return for the Church (1 John 3:2-3) – of the moral and physical perfection that belong presently and eternally to our Lord Jesus. To such a “glory” God has destined each person He has redeemed through His Son.
May each of us have a forgiving spirit toward others, just as God forgave us; being assured that He wants the best for us and for those we love – and even for those who may have wronged us.