Tag Archives: revenge

How Should I Respond When a Fellow Christian Wrongs Me?

Matthew 18:15-17 provides the “ground rules” for the resolution of conflicts between Christians. It applies to peer relationships, not sexual abuse or other offenses that fall in the category of criminal law. Although this is a brief passage of Scripture, it is more than a simple formula. It needs to be obeyed in the spirit of wisdom and compassion that should mark all Christian relationships. The purpose of any confrontation is spiritual healing and restoration of relationship, not revenge.

As verse 15 states, the first step in resolving a damaged relationship is for the one who feels sinned against to confidentially confront the one who has committed the offense. Unfortunately, this first private step is often overlooked. Instead of taking the initiative to personally speak with the one who has offended us, we are inclined to look for allies by sharing our side of the issue with uninvolved people. This failure to face our offender in person allows the offender to go unconfronted, and it increases the distance and distrust between him and us.

If the offending brother or sister does not accept our correction, that is not the end of the matter. It then becomes appropriate to involve two or three other people as witnesses to our problem. While continuing to protect confidentiality, these witnesses are to join us in a second attempt at confrontation and reconciliation.

If the one who has harmed us expresses no repentance or change of heart, even after this confrontation with two or three witnesses, the authority of the whole church is required. Jesus declared:

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

This means that if the offending party will not accept the authority of the church, we are no longer to fellowship with this person as a brother or sister in Christ. Instead we are to love him or her in the way Jesus loved tax collectors and public sinners who desperately needed spiritual conversion.

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Should Children Be Taught to Fight Back or Be Told to “Turn the Other Cheek”?

By word and example, parents should teach kids from an early age to treat others with respect, to be kind and fair, to exercise self-control, and to suppress the impulse to seek revenge.

1 Further, children should be taught how to cooperate with authority whenever possible to defuse situations. But it would be dangerous to teach a child that it is always wrong to protect himself and defend his interests.

Jesus understood children. We can be sure that when He took them in His arms and said that we all need to become like them to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16), He wasn’t naive about how cruel they can be. The playground, in its own way, is a jungle as ruthless as most spheres of adult life.

It’s likely that a child trained to unconditionally defer to others will develop a crippling pattern of avoidance and an unhealthy fear of conflict. An immature mind can easily be shaped to think that it is “loving” to back away from confrontation—to be a coward when courage is called for. If we follow the “golden rule”—”So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)—we won’t always allow aggressors to carry out their aggression successfully. If we do, we encourage behavior that brings harm.

Kids should be taught restraint—the ability to discern just how much force is needed, and to apply no more force than necessary. This may involve “turning the other cheek.” 2 But children are sometimes confronted with bullies who leave them no choice but to resist or be abused. Sometimes a bully will leave without a blow being thrown, merely at the recognition of a child’s unwillingness to be dominated. On other occasions, a fight may ensue that ends with little real damage to either child, but which will result in a major boost of status and self-esteem for the child who refused to be dominated.

Children aren’t miniature adults. Adults may have the maturity to understand the deep sayings of Jesus, though they struggle to live in accordance with them. We shouldn’t expect children to understand things beyond their spiritual and emotional development. To do so would likely provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4), or to cause them to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). We need to protect them when it’s possible, but we also need to allow them to develop the tools they will need to understand and effectively respond to the challenges of adult life.

  1. Sometimes adults can successfully intervene and guide children through difficult situations, teaching valuable spiritual lessons in the process. Back To Article
  2. See the ATQ article, What Did Jesus Mean When He Said to Turn the Other Cheek (Matthew 5:39)? Back To Article
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Should Christians Pray for God’s Wrath on Their Enemies?

Depending on our motives, praying for God’s wrath can be a legitimate cry for justice. That is the cry of the heart you see reflected in such psalms as Psalm 94:1-2:

O LORD, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.

While the desire for God to set things right is valid, Jesus introduced a new attitude to have toward our enemies.

Jesus didn’t teach us to pray against our enemies. He didn’t encourage us to request bloodthirsty revenge or the judgment they deserve. Instead, He called His followers to actually pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). This was nothing short of revolutionary for his Jewish listeners. In a time when the Jewish religious leaders touted radical vengeance as a virtue, Jesus introduced a whole new way of doing business. He taught that true sons of God are not only concerned for their neighbors, but for their enemies as well.

This seemingly outrageous mindset was an important part of the new era Jesus’ death and resurrection would establish. His willingness to give up his life for a world of people at enmity with their Creator (Romans 5:6-10) and His resurrection from the dead would make it possible to have a restored and better way of life with others—friend or foe. Praying for our enemies also reflected God’s ultimate plan to rescue and to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to Himself.

It’s a mistake to assume that praying for our enemies means we are to be passive and to let them take advantage or walk all over us. There are times to take a stand and strongly oppose our enemies like the day Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove them out of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). And the writers of the New Testament call us to appeal to civil authorities to enforce laws that are meant to hold evildoers accountable and keep them in check (Romans 13). Holding others accountable for their actions and seeking justice, however, are not the same as praying for and pursuing revenge.

Though we should never stop longing and working for justice, Jesus took praying for vengeance off the table. By word and example, Jesus urged his followers to replace a heart for revenge with a heart to see our enemies reconciled to God and us. His life, death, and resurrection empowers us to envision the glory of God restored in others, to seek peace and reconciliation when possible, and to leave the matter of vengeance up to a holy and wise God who will mete out revenge in His perfect time and in His perfect way (Romans 12:17-21).

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Should a Christian Pray for God’s Vengeance?

Jesus brought a deeper spiritual principle to bear upon the attitude of people towards revenge and retribution. In Matthew 5:38-42, He made three radical statements. First, He said that a person should turn the other cheek when someone strikes him. Second, He declared that His followers should give those who sue them more than they are asking. Third, He said that a person who is conscripted by a Roman officer to carry a load for one mile should offer to go two.

Does this mean that we cannot resist when somebody attacks us? Should we let everyone take advantage of us? This can’t be what Jesus meant. After all, Jesus denounced the Pharisees who attacked Him (Matthew 23) and objected when He was struck by one of the officers of the high priest (John 18:22). Further, He advised His disciples to take measures to defend themselves (Matthew 10:16), and He declared that they shouldn’t “meditate beforehand on what you will answer” to an enemy’s charges because He “will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14-15 NKJV). Similarly, the apostle Paul aggressively defended himself against his enemies on occasion (Acts 23:1-3), asserting his rights as a Roman citizen and making it clear to his attackers that there could be consequences if he were unlawfully harmed (Acts 25:14-27).

What Jesus asks of His followers is not passivity but surrender of the right to personal revenge. His three radical examples make His point about the attitude we should have toward those who wrong us. Rather than getting even, we should be willing to go to the opposite extreme. We need to be ready to humble ourselves for the kingdom of God. We need to understand that vengeance isn’t ours, but the Lord’s (Romans 12:19).

The natural human tendency has been to seek the emotional satisfaction of revenge for perceived injury (Genesis 4:8). Our instinctive response to any kind of injury is hatred and desire for vengeance. This is why Jesus made it so clear in His Sermon on the Mount that not only outward murder, but also inward hatred is subject to God’s judgment (Matthew 5:22-23). Consequently, the Old Testament Law placed limitations on vengeance (Exodus 21:23-25). Although the “eye for an eye” provision of the Mosaic Law has often been misunderstood as requiring vengeance, its actual purpose was to place limitations upon it. The law wouldn’t permit murder out of revenge for an insult or a minor injury. If an eye were put out, only an eye could be taken; if a tooth, only a tooth.

Jesus went much farther than the law, making it clear that He wasn’t merely calling for more limitations on vengeance. In Matthew 5:38-39, He implies that we must give up personal vengeance altogether. But as illustrated above by Jesus and Paul’s examples, there is a difference between confronting evil and seeking personal revenge. It is possible to confront evil with a desire for the redemption of its perpetrator. We can love a sinner while confronting his sin, but when we seek vengeance we are (always) motivated by hatred.

If Matthew 5:38-42 were taken literally at all times, we would have to let everyone take advantage of us. Turning the other cheek would become an encouragement for evil. This isn’t what Jesus had in mind. His vivid examples illustrate His disciples’ need to give up any sense of entitlement to personal revenge, to be purged of the motivation of personal vengeance. By asking them to “turn the other cheek,” Jesus meant that His disciples should be motivated by love and a desire for the redemption and forgiveness of offenders—even when opposing their actions.

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When Is a War Just?

Most Christians agree that it is sometimes right for Christians to serve in the military. This consensus is based on the fact that the New Testament declares the legitimacy of government, the necessity of its use of force against evil (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14), and the responsibility of Christians to cooperate with the legitimate power of government (Matthew 8:5-9; Luke 3:14; 6:15; 14:31; Acts 10-11).

During the church’s first 300 years, very few Christians served in the military. The obvious reason for their reluctance to serve was that the Roman government was corrupt, and the military was often used to persecute their own fellow believers. The questions of the degree to which Christians should support war, or the standards by which they should determine whether any particular war is just or unjust only became major issues after the conversion of Constantine and his endorsement of Christianity as the empire’s dominant religion. Following the Edict of Milan (ad 313), Christians began to share in the power of government, and the church’s association with political power soon brought corruption. Rather than continuing to view the teachings of Jesus Christ as their ethical model, many Christians began to look to the Old Testament for analogies that falsely identified Rome with Israel and viewed its wars against pagan enemies as a continuation of Israel’s wars against the Canaanites.

Thoughtful Christians like the influential Augustine of Hippo stood against such rationalizations and declared: “War should be waged reluctantly and with tears in one’s eyes.” Following Augustine,1 the church fathers carefully developed a set of standards for a “just war” based on biblical principles. Here is a summary of these principles:2

Just War Principles

War cannot be just unless all nonviolent options have been tried and have failed.

Just war can only be waged by legitimate authorities, not private individuals and groups.

Just war can be waged only in response to an injury suffered (e.g., an enemy attack) with the motivation of appropriate compensation for the wrong suffered. (In other words, an aggressive war of conquest is by definition unjust.)

War can be just only if there is a reasonable degree of likelihood of victory. To shed blood in unwinnable conflicts is never just.

A war can be considered just only when the peace it seeks to establish will be better than the peace that already exists.

A war is just only when violence committed against the enemy is proportional to the violence suffered at the enemy’s hands. Excessive force is never just.

Just wars never target civilians. The deaths of civilians in a just war must be the unavoidable consequence of attacks on military targets.

Just war principles have always been violated in war. Soldiers caught up in the emotions of battle and hatred of the enemy have murdered, pillaged, and raped. However, Christian just war principles at least tempered the effects of war in the West until modern times.

Tragically, with the rise of secular national states, “just war” theory was swept aside on a massive scale, first in Europe during the Napoleonic conquests, and then in North America during the Civil War. The scale of national violence continued to mount through the 20th century, and Christians have become accustomed to participation in wars that have little concern for justice, proportionality, and safety of civilian populations.

The writer of the epistle of James stated:

What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:1-4).

Christians must guard against allowing earlier Christian collaboration with unjust war to serve as a precedent for their own support of unwarranted violence. Great wars have always involved the tragically flawed decisions of men who turned away from peaceful options, and the violations of just war principles that occurred in these wars always set the stage for further escalation of evil.

It is tempting for Christian citizens of powerful nations to shrug their shoulders and say: “Times have changed. Modern weapons and terrorism have made the principles of just war untenable.” Tragically, many evangelicals have become so accustomed to “total war” that they assume any war their government initiates is necessary.

As we exit a century that has been savaged by human violence and atrocity on a scale far greater than anything the world had seen before3 and enter a new century with even more potential for conflict and destruction, it is high time that evangelical Christians repent their blind nationalism and worship of Caesar and return to their calling as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; Philippians 2:15; James 3:17-18).

Genuine patriots have never offered unquestioning, unqualified support to leaders who lead them into war. Jesus’ simple statement to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane still applies to individuals and to nations of our day: “Put your sword back in its place, . . . for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

  1. In his treatise Against Faustus the Manichean, Augustine declared: “The real evils in war are the love of violence, the cruel passion for revenge, the blind hatred of the enemy, the sometimes insane uncontrolled resistance to attack, the lust for power and other things of this sort.” Back To Article
  2. “The just-war tradition is as old as warfare itself. Early records of collective fighting indicate that warriors used some moral considerations. They may have involved consideration of women and children or the treatment of prisoners. Commonly they invoked considerations of honor: some acts in war have always been deemed dishonorable, whilst others have been deemed honorable. Whilst the specifics of what is honorable differ with time and place, the very fact of one moral virtue has been sufficient to infuse warfare with moral concerns. The just war theory also has a long history. Whilst parts of the Bible hint at ethical behavior in war and concepts of just cause, the most systematic exposition is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologicae, Aquinas presents the general outline of what becomes the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war. Aquinas’s thoughts become the model for later Scholastics and Jurists to expand. The most important of these are: Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546), Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767).” (“Just War Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Back To Article
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski estimated that during the past century, 167,000,000 to 175,000,000 lives were “deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage.” See the Discovery Series booklet, Violence: Why It Happens Back To Article
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