Revenge, retaliation, to avenge, to get even – these are all synonyms for settling the score with someone who did us wrong. And pay-back can be sweet, can’t it? Often it’s not a matter of getting even when we’ve been hurt or mistreated, in our anger and pain we want to get ahead. One wonders how many marriages have been devastated, how many families have been divided and how many friendships have been broken because someone felt they had a score to settle. How many churches have experienced friction and fracture due to settling the score syndrome?
Christians must recognize how common the tendency for retaliation is in most of our lives and exercise the attitudes and actions becoming those who truly belong to Christ (1 Peter 1:18-25). Talk about a challenge! Doing right when we’ve been done wrong can be incredibly difficult, but it still is the will of God. Scripture says, “Do not say, I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29). Listen also to Proverbs 20:22 – “Do not say I will recompense evil; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”
Jesus said, “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God’s word could not be clearer. The problem is not in understanding what God’s word says about retaliation and pay-back; the problem is doing it!
What’s so amazing is how frequently and consistently the word of God teaches this principle. Whether we are reading Paul in Romans 12:17-21 or 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Peter in 1 Peter 3:9, James in James 5:1-11 or John in 3 John 11, the message of the word of God is plain: avoid the tendency to retaliate and to get even (or ahead). Someone has wisely said, “When you are in the right you can afford to keep your temper, and when you’re in the wrong, you can’t afford to lose it.”
Does love try to settle the score? Would our Lord ever say the things some of us sinfully say in order to settle the score with someone? What about our actions? Do they really reflect the love of God and of neighbor that Jesus instructed in the Great Commandment and constantly displayed throughout His time on earth?
What about our thoughts and plans? Do we invest far more time and effort contemplating ways to skillfully get even than we do in thinking about the Lord and His will? (Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Those are the very things that occur when Christians practice the not-so-fine “art” of pay-back. What about the “Golden Rule?” (Matthew 7:12). It’s been said that pay-back is sweet, but really – it’s nothing of the sort. It dishonors our God and presumptuously puts our desires on the pedestal!
There are likely times we all would love to give someone what’s coming to them, we’d love to retaliate and to vengefully “let them have it.” Jesus, however, teaches us to love and to live on a higher and holier plane. As David treated Saul when Saul tried to kill him (1 Samuel 24:8-22), as Stephen prayed for his tormentors (Acts 7:59-60) and as our Lord prayed for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), we must rise above sinful retaliation. Settling the score is no real solution!