Romans 12:17-21, 13:8-10 – Let Love Be Your Only Debt

Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others and do your best to live at peace with everyone.

Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says,

“I am the one to take revenge
    and pay them back.”

The Scriptures also say,

“If your enemies are hungry,
    give them something to eat.
And if they are thirsty,
give them something
    to drink.
This will be the same
as piling burning coals
    on their heads.”

Don’t let evil defeat you but defeat evil with good….

Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands. In the Law there are many commands, such as, “Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others.” But all of these are summed up in the command that says, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” No one who loves others will harm them. So, love is all that the Law demands. (Contemporary English Version)

Not everybody is likable. We all have others that drive us crazy on the inside with their annoying habits or ungodly ways of life. 

Sometimes we might experience much more than being irritated. Raging vitriol that results in verbal persecution; becoming the targets of evil intent; and, in some cases, finding ourselves victims of violence done to us or a loved one can stretch our Christian sensibilities to their maximum. It is understandable that in such cases we would be upset, angry, in grief, and desire justice.

As we reflect back on Reformation Day and the great truth that we are justified apart from any work of our own but by grace alone through faith, this helps to give understanding as to why we do not take vengeance into our own hands. 

We are clearly exhorted in today’s New Testament lesson to repay no one evil for evil because vengeance belongs to God alone, not us. 

If justification is a work of God to rescue and redeem sinners from their plight, then wrath is also a work of God. Just as justification is initiated and made possible through Christ by faith, so vengeance belongs to God, as well. Our part in the whole affair is to trust God to take care of judging the world. Judgment is way above our pay grade.

Our responsibility is showing love, even to those whom we consider enemies. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will leave plenty of room for God to do what God does best: either show mercy to sinners or execute judgment upon them. It’s all God’s business what happens with humanity. Our business is coming under the lordship of Christ and allowing God’s new creation to work itself out through us. 

We are to work for the kind of justice that provides others with what they need, not what they deserve. The world cannot become a better place if we keep insisting on playing judge, jury, and executioner. Sometimes the best way to show love is to sincerely pray for the person for whom we have such difficulty loving. 

Who do you need to love today? Here is an excerpt from a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on November 17, 1957:

“Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you.

Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them.

And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.”

Just and merciful God, you are the rightful Judge of all the earth. Help me to trust in you so that I can give room for you to do whatever you want to do in others’ lives. I pray you will grace many people with the repentance that leads to new life in Jesus. Amen.

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