See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:15
I’ll never forget the day when a man who had been recently saved in our church came to me and said, “Pastor, just say the word, and I’ll send someone across town to eliminate the man who has tried to hurt you and our church.”
Before coming to Christ, this man had been heavily involved in the Russian mafia, and in that capacity, he had done a lot of dark deeds in the name of loyalty for his former boss. Still newly saved, the only kind of loyalty he understood at this point was retribution — and he viewed me, his pastor, as his new “boss.” So when he heard that a man had deliberately abused the church and tried to harm our reputation, he responded the only way he knew to respond. He was so incensed with anger that he was ready to “get” the guy and thereby send a loud signal that no one dare touch his pastor and his church — or they would pay for it!
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
“Pastor,” this man told me, “I have connections. Just say the word, and I’ll make sure that person never bothers you or anyone else ever again!”
I had to explain to this man that retribution is not the way we do business in the Kingdom of God. “If there is any retribution,” I said, “that is something God would deal with, not us.” I continued by telling him that we are in the business of redeeming lost men, not killing them when we get angry!
Nevertheless, when this newly saved man presented me with his sincere offer, I inwardly chuckled because I had never heard anyone be so blatant about his desire to “get” someone. But as I thought about it, I wondered how many times Christians have wished they could render some form of justice against someone they were upset with because of something that person had done or failed to do.
Any of us can be tempted to be vindictive from time to time — especially if someone has seriously disappointed us, harmed us or our families or friends, or tried to hurt our personal reputation. But no matter what evil others have done to us, we must remember what the apostle Paul wrote in First Thessalonians 5:15: “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”
The Greek tense in this verse is not a suggestion but the strongest form of a command. When Paul wrote, “See that none render evil for evil,” it could be translated, “I am unquestionably commanding that none of you renders evil for evil.…” It is absolutely clear that Christians are commanded to abstain from all acts of retaliation and self-vindication. The word “none” is all-inclusive, letting us know that this order is categorically directed to every single person. This means that regardless of the circumstance, no one who calls Jesus his Lord should be involved in the practice of rendering evil for evil.
The word “render” in this verse is from the word apodidomi, a compound of the words apo and didomi. The word apo means back, as to return something back to its original owner or to send something back to someone. The word didomi simply means to give. When these two words are compounded into the word apodidomi, as we find it in this verse, the new word means to send back, to return, or to pay back. In other words, it is never our task to retaliate, to get even, to get revenge, to make someone pay for what he did, or to settle the score with someone we think did evil against us.
The word “evil” is the Greek word kakos. It describes an action that is harmful, hurtful, or injurious or something done with an evil intent. These are the actions of a person who intentionally acts to cause some kind of damage or ruin in someone else’s life. But this verse talks about “evil for evil” — the Greek phrase kakon anti kakou — which carries the idea of a person who thinks, You did wrong to me, so now I’m going to do wrong to you. I’m going to do to you exactly what you did to me! In God’s view, such vindictive behavior is completely unacceptable for committed Christians, even if someone has grievously wronged them.
Instead, Paul wrote that we must “…ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.” The word “ever” is pantote, a word that means always, at all times, or constantly. The word “follow” is the word dioko, which in historic Greek literature meant to hunt, to pursue, to chase, or to track down and kill. It is the picture of an outdoorsman who is so determined to hunt down an animal that he will stop at nothing to pursue, chase, track down, and ultimately get his game!
Do hunters accidentally bag their game, or do they strategize and plan to get a good kill shot each hunting season? Hunters strategize! They talk to other hunters about the best places to hunt. They dress in camouflaged clothes. They often perch themselves high up on tree branches and wait for hours upon hours for an unlucky deer to walk into their path. Once the deer comes in range, they shoot to kill! They hunt, hound, and stalk that animal until they finally get their game. Then they throw the big catch in the back of their truck and head home with their trophy — and the prospect of many good venison meals in their future! That is exactly what Paul meant when he told us to ever “follow” that which is good.
The fact that what is good must be pursued means doing the right thing does not always come easy! But regardless of how hard it is to do it, you and I must always be committed to doing what is good and right. The word “good” in this verse is the word agathos, the Greek word that means anything that is good, beneficial, or profitable.
You may be tempted to resist being a blessing or to do nothing for someone you feel has done wrong to you. But as I’ve noted, it is never your job to pay someone back for what he or she did to you, or to withhold a blessing when you are able to give it.
Paul plainly taught that it is God’s will that we “ever follow that which is good.” That means we must be dedicated to pursuing that which is good, beneficial, and profitable. But must we really do good to all men? Must we seek to do good even to those who have done wrong to us?
Paul answered that question when he wrote that we must behave like this “both among yourselves, and to all men.” The phrase “among yourselves” in Greek is eis allelous and it unquestionably refers to the relationships that existed between the brethren in church. But we are not to be in the occupation of doing good only to our fellow brethren. Paul also went on to say “to all men.” This phrase “all men” would include those outside the Church, or those who are outside of Christ and therefore non-Christian.
If you feel that someone has committed an injustice against you or simply treated you badly, and you find yourself wishing you could “get back” at that person for what he or she did, that is a moment when you must take charge of your emotions and remind yourself that vindictive behavior is never God’s will. Regardless of the evil others have committed against you, it is imperative that you remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in First Thessalonians 5:15: “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”
An interpretive translation of First Thessalonians 5:15 could read:
“I am commanding you that not a single one among you should be involved in the business of retribution or revenge. It is not your task to retaliate, to get even, to take revenge, to make someone pay for what he did, or to settle the score. Your assignment is not only to pursue anything that will be beneficial and good for your Christian friends, but also for people who are outside of Christ.”
Never forget that retribution is not the way we do business in the Kingdom of God. If there is any retribution, let it be something taken care of by God and not by you or me. Let’s remember that we are in the business of redeeming the lost, not taking revenge or getting even with people when they upset us!
To consistently do good to others who haven’t treated you right will require your commitment and dedication to obey Jesus. Achieving this will take your utmost concentration, undivided attention, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Commit yourself to following God’s command not to render evil for evil, but to ever follow that which is good. As you do, the Holy Spirit will stand right alongside you to help you carry out this act of obedience. Leave retribution in God’s hands, and make it your business to do good to all men.
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to help me have a right attitude and heart toward people, including those who have hurt me and let me down. You know how deeply disappointed I have been in people that I expected to behave on a much higher level. Help me recall the many times I’ve let You down, yet You have never forsaken me, rejected me, or cast me aside. In spite of my personal failings, You continue to show Your love, mercy, and forgiveness to me — and Your blessings continue to abound in my life. Just as You have been steadfast in Your love for me, I ask You to help me have a steadfast heart filled with love, mercy, and goodwill for others.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare that I am filled with the love of God and never want to do harm to anyone. God wants me to be a blessing to everyone I know and meet. Therefore, I am determined that strife, vengeance, and retribution toward others are not, and will not be, a part of my life. Jesus has called me to walk the high road, and I am committed to getting on the road of love and forgiveness. I will be a blessing to my Christian brethren and even to those who are without Christ. I will obey God’s Word and always seek to do good to people I know and meet. Other people’s lives will be more richly blessed as a result of being around me and knowing me.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- In this Sparkling Gem, I related the story of a man who wanted to “get” someone who had wronged us and our church. Did you identify with that story? Have you ever secretly wished you could pay someone back for the wrong you perceived he or she did to you?
- Have you ever felt like the brunt of someone’s efforts to “get back” at you for some wrong he perceived you did to them? When that happened, were you shocked to find that this person thought you had deliberately tried to mistreat him?
- If you look at the people in or near your life right now, in what ways can you begin to reach out to benefit and bless them?