My family loves sitting down and watching a good movie. And I must admit that a good movie needs to have a lot of action to hold my attention. Often these adrenaline-packed media experiences often come full of the very perverse language and living that our Lord tells us a believer shouldn’t even have a hint of. Fortunately, technology has also given us services like “ClearPlay and “VidAngel” that allow us to filter out the bad and still get to enjoy some of the good.
But one challenge that I have as a man and father of many children is noticing that there is still one thing that can’t be filtered out. One thing that happens to be in most every action film produced. It’s something that our Lord told us numerous times throughout Scripture to be very careful to avoid. Have any ideas on what I might be referring to?
When the hero of our favorite movie is wrongfully treated by his enemy, what do we hope and expect him to do next? You guessed it. We get excited because we know he’s about to “take revenge”.
He’s going to storm the gates of the enemy and do whatever necessary to destroy the enemy and win the day. To make things right again. To be sure justice is served.
Now, there’s definitely a time when good needs to stand against evil, even if it involves physical conflict. Our country has a long history of brave men and women who stood up against evil when freedom was being threatened. But sadly the line has been greatly blurred between what is an appropriate time to engage in battle, and when are we simply engaging in one of the most natural forms of human expression. Taking revenge.
In our family we see it every day. Our children don’t have to think to take revenge, it just naturally happens. When a brother or sister gets in their way, takes their seat, eats their candy, pushes them, or even looks at them funny, it happens. That sinful desire to take revenge blurts out. And as they grow older, if they don’t learn how to control that desire, vengeance will become the victor of their life. And they will lose everyone and everything that stands in the way of this vicious vice.
Revenge might make a great movie. But it will destroy your heart and home if you think it works the same way in real life.
Romans 12:19 commands us,
“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.”
What’s refreshing about children when they are young, is that they don’t know how to hide their vengeance. They cry, scream, pinch, hit, kick, and so on. And a loving parent is able to help them learn that their choice to “take revenge” always brings a consequence. After they experience loving discipline, they can be freed from this vice to live again in unity with their God and their brother or sister.
As they grow up, they will join us in learning how to veil their vengeance. To hide it from plain view. And while it might take the form of many vices in our life, there seems to be one that our Lord knew would be the most attractive. He spoke about it several times in His brief earthly ministry. And when His disciples asked him to teach them how they should pray, He gave them more than just “The Lord’s Prayer”. He told them that their prayer life would be greatly endangered if they didn’t confront this vice for vengeance head on. At the end of a prayer that even most unchurched people are familiar with, we read in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Familiar words that really sound good, especially when the entire church recites them together on Sunday morning. But in the next two verses he reveals one of the primary ways that the evil one will lead us into temptation.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
While the news headlines might be full each day of folks who took revenge to the final step of murder, most of us will spend our lives in trying to restrain our revenge to the privacy of our minds and hearts. As we fail to pass on to others the very thing we desperately needed ourselves. Forgiveness.
Jesus is not saying in these verses that our failure to forgive impacts our eternal destination. Scripture clearly assures us that the blood of Jesus paid the price for our sin, including unforgiveness.
What Jesus is teaching us here is that unforgiveness impacts our fellowship with the Father. He wants us to know that our natural passion to exact vengeance through unforgiveness must be taken seriously. Or it will hinder our ability to enjoy the very thing our heart desires. Unity of fellowship with our Heavenly Father. Unity that will be broken when sin enters in. Not because of God’s choice, but because of ours. When we choose to hold a grudge, we are choosing to enjoy that fleshly feeling and we instantly close off the life-giving forgiveness that our Father wants us to receive from Him.
One of the reasons that we often find it so hard to forgive our enemy who has sinned against us, is the feeling that if we don’t keep holding them hostage through our grudge, then they just might get away with it. And this just doesn’t seem fair. They must pay. So often one of the ways that we might be coaxed into extending them a form of forgiveness is to be sure they know when you do. We might send them an email, text, or even tell them, “I forgive you for hurting me when you…..” Sounds good right, but it’s not good. All we have done is succeeded in telling them how bad they were, and how good we were in “forgiving” them.
On the contrary, forgiveness is perfectly modeled by our Lord on the cross when He looked at humanity who was rebelliously and self-righteously crucifying him, and said to His Father, not to his enemies in Luke 23:34:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
In one statement we are given a powerful arsenal for how we should guard our heart and home from the vengeance of unforgiveness.
We see that true forgiveness means:
- We are willing to pray for their forgiveness from God instead of being sure they know how much they need our forgiveness.
- We are willing to pay the price of letting them “get away with it” because we know that God’s vengeance alone is virtuous, and not ours.
- We are willing to offer them fellowship again without them ever needing to know how badly they didn’t deserve it
- We actually care more about our enemy’s soul then we do about our feelings.
So today when you bow your head to pray, ask the Lord to take you deeper. Ask Him to reveal where you have let unforgiveness hinder your prayers. Then let His Grace and His Example lead you to a place that offers your enemy total forgiveness. For when we do, we will discover the life-giving blood of Jesus is able to once again circulate through our heart and home. Fellowship is once again restored. With our Lord, then miraculously with even our greatest enemy. All because we chose forgiveness over vengeance.