If a new TV ad for Tooheys beer is to be believed, the Australian economy runs on Tooheys New. It’s the official currency of the BEER ECONOMY.
Beer is the solution to the problem of what you OWE people. What do you owe a mate who helps you move? You owe him SOMETHING. But you can’t PAY him – he’s A MATE. So you pay him a case of Toohey’s New.
What do you owe a mate who helps you move A GRAND PIANO UP FOUR FLIGHTS OF STAIRS? SIX cases of Toohey’s New.
What do you owe a mate who helps drench the sheep? ONE case.
What do you owe a mate who helps collect semen from your bull for artificial insemination? TEN cases.
We’re very concerned with what we OWE people? If someone does us a favour, we’re quick to pay them back. To return the favour. We don’t like being in someone’s debt.
It’s what this section of Romans is about. It’s answering the question “What do you OWE people?”
First, what do you owe people who treat you BADLY?
Then, what do you owe THE GOVERNMENT?
And finally, the debt you owe EVERYONE. Paying the debt of LOVE. A debt you can never pay OFF.
You DON’T owe revenge to evil-doers (12:17-19)
But FIRST, what do you owe people who treat you badly?
A Current Affair or Today Tonight sometimes has a story about a neighbourhood squabble gone bad. About Bill who grabs a few lemons from over Bob’s fence. And then Bob trims a branch from Bill’s tree. And then Bill knocks down Bob’s letterbox. And so on and so on.
And by the time the cameras arrive, it’s World War 3. All because Bill and Bob insist on getting REVENGE. On getting EVEN. On handing out their own JUSTICE.
And I’m sure you’ve experienced exactly the same impulse. You may never have DONE anything about it, but you’ve THOUGHT it.
A few Saturday nights ago there was a loud party in the backyard of the house a couple of streets away. The music was so loud, and the bass was so booming, we could feel our back windows rattle. I managed to get to sleep with earplugs. But by 1am Caron had had enough, which is when I woke up. Finally, after 3 phone calls to the police, the noise eventually stopped.
Bright and early Sunday morning, I was heading off to the office before church. What did I feel like doing? Getting even! Driving past the house blasting my horn!! THAT’D show them! That’d teach them a lesson!
I DIDN’T. But I FELT like it. Which is just as bad.
But here God’s saying (v17) “DON’T get even. Don’t repay evil for evil.” Instead, be careful to do what’s RIGHT in the eyes of everybody.
This chapter began with the command that in view of God’s mercies to us, we should RENEW OUR MINDS (that’s v2 of ch 12). Renew the way we think about things.
So last week we looked at how we’re to think differently about OURSELVES. And how we’re to think differently about OTHER CHRISTIANS.
Like v3. Don’t think of yourself MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT.
Or down in v16, live in HARMONY with one another. Don’t be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Don’t be CONCEITED.
That’s CHRISTIANS. Now Paul turns his attention to renewing your thinking about OTHER PEOPLE.
And when it comes to people who’ve done the wrong thing by you, how should you treat THEM? Should you get even? Do you owe them some JUSTICE? No, says Paul (v17). Don’t repay evil with evil. Do what’s RIGHT in the eyes of everybody.
It SEEMS simple enough. But as most of us know, it’s sometimes NOT that simple. Sometimes our GOOD behaviour does NOTHING to change the other person’s BAD behaviour. Sometimes, even when you DO respond graciously, people REFUSE to accept it. They’ll keep treating you badly. And so Paul adds a piece of realistic advice (v18).
18 IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.
Peace is a two-way street. So sometimes it may NOT be possible to get on with someone. Sometimes no matter what you do or say. How well you treat someone, they’ll just keep up with the snide comments, the rude treatment.
In which case, what should we do? Give up? Switch to retaliation and revenge instead? Is it “All bets off”? That’s what Peter was thinking when he asked Jesus whether SEVEN TIMES was enough to forgive his brother.
And how did Jesus reply? No! Not SEVEN, But 70 times 7. In other words, you NEVER STOP forgiving. You KEEP turning the other cheek. Keep refusing to repay evil for evil. Keep doing what’s right. Even if it doesn’t lead to a change in the situation.
Paul’s probably thinking about our relationships with NON-CHRISTIANS. Because Christians shouldn’t do EVIL towards other Christians. And a broken relationship shouldn’t continue between Christians.
But unfortunately, it HAPPENS. For one reason or another.
But it SHOULDN’T. It’s nothing more than DISOBEDIENCE if a Christian refuses to be reconciled with another Christian. God says live at peace, so we’re COMMANDED to do it.
I wonder if, with Christians, it’s more often not open warfare. More GUERRILLA warfare. Hidden battles. Just bottling up the issues. There’s misunderstandings, assumptions of the worst motives. And even sinful behaviour and attitudes that require repentance.
Things are difficult between you both. But you won’t make things OBVIOUS. No yelling and screaming. After all, Christians don’t behave like that!
So, you just refuse to deal with the issues. You just wallpaper over the cracks. There’s surface conversation. Greetings given through gritted teeth and forced smiles. We gravitate to the other side of the room when we get the chance. There’s unresolved tension, and no real relationship.
Is THAT acceptable? Is THAT living at peace? I don’t think so.
You’re COMMANDED to do something about it. Be a bridge-builder. Make the first move.
It may take difficult conversations, it may take swallowing your pride, it may involve apologising, it may involve getting a third person involved to help. But that’s what we have to do.
Live at PEACE with one another. How can we accept God’s offer of reconciliation while we hold grudges against our brother? Jesus says it’s the wrong attitude to come to God for forgiveness while we REFUSE to forgive a brother. Mt 5:23
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift .
Live at peace with your brother. And do what’s right to EVERYBODY. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t take revenge.
That’s basically the lesson for today. It’s pretty simple.
It’s easy TO SAY. Harder to DO. Especially when it comes to THINKING about revenge. I would be very surprised if sometime in the last week someone hasn’t done or said something to you, and you’ve thought about getting revenge.
It might have been making fun of you, or hurting your feelings.
It might have been someone restricting your rights in some way. Cutting you off at the lights. Pushing in front of you in a queue.
I was waiting at the doctor’s surgery on Tuesday, and the medical receptionist came and knocked on the door of the consulting room to deliver a file to the doctor. And a little old Filipino lady said, “You have to wait your turn.” She thought the receptionist was pushing in! We ALL want to say that, don’t we?
It might have been someone, perhaps even in your family, who’s been thoughtless in some way towards you, and you’ve taken it personally. Been insulted. Felt worthless. And you’ve wanted to get even. To defend yourself.
Perhaps you’ve RESPONDED. Maybe with words. Perhaps with an action. But even if it’s just that THOUGHT of revenge, then it’s as bad as DOING something.
It’s a simple lesson. Easy to teach. Easy to understand. But hard TO LEARN. And so Paul offers us some HELP. Some HINTS for how NOT to get even.
1. The FIRST thing is IT’S HARD, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE. With the help of God’s Spirit, we ARE ABLE to live according to God’s requirements. Back in Romans 8 Paul says (v4) that God
condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be FULLY MET IN US, who do not live according to the sinful nature but ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT
He goes on to say that if we belong to Christ, then we have the Spirit of Christ living in us (v9). And that means (v12) that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit. If, by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will LIVE (v13). We can live the life that’s pleasing to God.
2. Second hint. Remember what you’ve been forgiven. Chapter 12 begins, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES, offer your bodies as living sacrifices. When we recognise what we’ve been forgiven of. What we’ve been saved from. What we DESERVED, and what we RECEIVED INSTEAD, how can we judge others? How can we decide that THEIR sin deserves punishment from me?
Recognising our own sin, and the grace shown us/ makes it easier to accept OTHERS, and show THEM grace.
3. Third hint Paul gives us is there in Ch 12 v19. Leave the revenge up to God. V19.
19 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.
In other words, don’t do God’s job FOR him. God sees everything. He hasn’t forgotten you. He knows what this person’s done. He’s all powerful, he’s perfectly just. Leave the justice up to him. He’ll do a much better job of it than YOU.
To turn the other cheek is a display of FAITH. NOT repaying evil for evil is evidence that you TRUST the God who’s promised, one day, to set all things right.
Do you TRUST GOD ENOUGH to leave it with him?
4. Fourth hint Paul gives is there in v20. Treat your response as an opportunity for evangelism. Rather than taking revenge,
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
The first part of the verse is easy enough to understand. Repay your enemy by HELPING him. Probably the BEST way to take the SECOND part is that your GRACIOUS behaviour will cause your enemy to be ASHAMED AND REMORSEFUL about his BAD behaviour. And the burning coals are a sign of his repentance.
Prem Pradhan was a Nepalese Christian converted in 1951 in India where he served in the Indian army. He returned to his native Nepal, and began evangelising, even though it was illegal to change your religion.
In 1962 some believers he’d taught were arrested and sentenced to a year in prison. He was sentenced to SIX for baptising them.
At that time, Nepalese prisons were terrible. Many died of cold or sickness or malnutrition. But Prem used the opportunity to teach the other prisoners about Jesus, and many were converted.
When the other prisoners were released, the guards decided to finish off Prem. He was place in a tiny cell used to store the dead bodies of prisoners until their relatives collected them. His hands and feet were chained. The cell was so small he couldn’t stand up, or lie down straight.
He was there for three months. Then a new guard came on duty. One day he heard Prem praying. “Who are you talking to?” the guard asked. “Jesus,” Prem replied.
“I’m on guard here. How did He get in there?” “Well, He’s here,” answered Prem.
The guard opened the door and shone his flashlight around. “I don’t see Jesus,” he said. “You won’t find Him that way,” Prem said.” Let me tell you how you can find Him.” The guard squatted on the floor, and Prem led him to the Lord. Not long after, Prem was released from the solitary confinement.
The jailers were afraid of the man who’d survived their torture chamber. So they sent him to another prison. There Prem led others to the Lord. He was transferred again, and the same thing happened again. And again.
Between 1960 and 1975 Prem spent 10 out of 15 years in a total of 14 different prisons. All up, he won to the Lord and discipled men from 12 different Nepalese tribes. When they got out, they went as witnesses back to their people. And so the gospel spread in Nepal.
This perhaps won’t be OUR experience, but your grace under fire can still be a powerful witness. When the boss gives the credit to someone else. Or when he blames you for someone else’s mistake. Or when you’re ridiculed for your Christian stance. Or you’re overlooked because you’re misunderstood. People NOTICE the way you respond with grace. It can have a POWERFUL EFFECT.
5. Fifth hint is there into Ch 13. LEAVE THE JUSTICE UP TO THE AUTHORITIES. It’s God who’s placed them in charge. And he can USE them to bring his just purposes about. See it there halfway through v1?
The authorities that exist have been ESTABLISHED BY GOD. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and THOSE WHO DO SO WILL BRING JUDGMENT ON THEMSELVES.
In THIS life God brings justice through the governments he’s established. And in the LIFE TO COME, he’ll bring ULTIMATE justice himself. So don’t seek revenge yourself, leave it up to the courts and the police. They’re God’s instruments.
Five hints on how NOT to seek revenge on those who do evil. We DON’T owe them payback.
You owe submission to the authorities
Next Paul moves on to what we owe AUTHORITIES. And his answer is, we owe them our SUBMISSION. Because God’s ESTABLISHED them. V3.
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to SUBMIT TO THE AUTHORITIES.
We can give thanks to God that this is a fairly easy thing to do in Australia. But it becomes much more difficult in places like Nepal.
Although Paul says we’re to obey the authorities – to pay them our submission – our FIRST submission is to God. We’re to keep the laws of the government right up to the point where, to do so, would be disobeying GOD.
At SOME point we may be forced to DISobey the authorities. Jesus said, Give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s, and to God what’s God’s. Israelite women refused to kill their baby boys at Pharaoh’s orders. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel continued to pray despite it being illegal.
And Prem Pradhan refused to stop evangelising in Nepal, even though it was illegal, and was jailed for it.
But Paul’s command is that, unless you’re forced to disobey God, you owe submission and obedience and loyalty to the authority God’s placed over you.
And part of that SUBMISSION means you pay TAXES. You owe TAXES to the authorities, because they GOVERN you. V6.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
You owe love to one another
“Pay your debts.” Paul says. And then he goes on, INCLUDING the on-going debt to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
We owe ALLEGIANCE to the authorities. And we owe LOVE to one another (v8).
And it’s a debt you NEVER pay off. When a friend helps you move, or helps concrete your driveway, you can pay them with a case of beer. And then you can feel you’re even. The debt’s paid.
But for the Christian we can NEVER say that. We are ALWAYS called to CONTINUE paying out love.
If you think a 30 YR MORTGAGE has got an extended repayment plan, it’s NOTHING compared to the debt we owe to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
In fact, the whole law is SUMMARISED with the law “Love your neighbour as yourself.” V9. Love does what’s GOOD for our neighbour. And love resists doing EVIL to our neighbour.
How are we GOING at paying that debt off? As a church? Are we showing love to each other in practical, sacrificial, real ways?
Or are we content to just TALK about love? To rest on our laurels? To consider the debt paid. A case of beer, and everything’s fixed up!
Perhaps we need a little incentive. Paul seems to think the Roman Christians are sleeping on the job and need a bit of a wake-up call. Look at v11.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Jesus is coming back. Soon. Let’s make sure when he does, he finds us paying our debts. In particular, the debt to LOVE.