How To Respond When You’ve Been Treated UnfairlyOctober 3, 2015
Last month I sensed in my heart I should share with you about doing everything you reasonably can to live at peace with others, even those who are difficult to get along with. If you missed that letter based on my studies of Romans 12:18, you can access it here. I believe it will really bless you and set you free in some areas where you perhaps have struggled.
This month, I want to talk to you about a similar subject that I am also certain will bless you. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t experienced some kind of injustice in his life that could potentially cripple him and his walk with God. Denise and I have certainly seen our share of people motivated by a wrong spirit who have tried to hurt us and the ministry over the years. As we determined to obey God in a foreign land and break new ground with the Gospel, we have encountered many obstacles, and most of those challenges have come from people who were, quite frankly, motivated to stop us dead in our tracks and send us back from where we came.
And I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I said I never spent time contemplating revenge on some of those people who wounded us so deeply. Please pay close attention as I share with you a part of one such story.
Many years ago in Moscow, there was a man who tried to do damage to our ministry. Some people in the church knew of the situation. One man, newly converted, heard about it. This man 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 involved in the Russian mafia. In that capacity, I’m certain he had done some dark deeds in the name of loyalty for his former boss. Newly saved, the only kind of loyalty he understood at that 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 in 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 anyone who dared touch his pastor and his church would pay for it!
This new believer continued: “Pastor, I have connections. Just give the word, and I’ll make sure this person will never bother you or anyone else 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 handle, not us.” I continued by telling him that we are in the business of redeeming lost men, not harming them when we get angry!
Nevertheless, when this newly saved man presented me with his sincere, albeit misguided offer, I inwardly chuckled. I had never heard anyone so blatant and outspoken about his desire to “get” someone.
Then 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 one 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 damage or destroy our personal reputations. 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 rather the strongest form of command. When Paul wrote, “See that none render evil for evil…,” it could be translated, “I am unquestionably commanding that none of you render 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. This word describes the actions of a person who intentionally or carelessly 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 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 onto their path. Once the deer comes within range, they shoot to kill!
Hunters hunt, hound, and stalk their prey until they finally get their game. Then they throw the big catch in the back of their vehicle and head home with their “trophy” — and the prospect of many good venison meals in their future!
That is exactly what Paul means when he told us to ever “follow” that which is good: We must hunt down “good” until we’ve “bagged it” and obtained the desired outcome.
The fact that what is good must be pursued means that 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 Greek word agathos, which means anything that is good, beneficial, or profitable.
You may be tempted to resist being a blessing to — or to do nothing at all for — someone you feel has done wrong to you. But as I just noted, it is never your job to pay someone back for what he or she did to you — and that includes withholding a blessing when you are able to give it.
Paul plainly teaches 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 answers 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 exist among the brethren in church. But we are not only to be in the occupation of doing good to fellow brethren — Paul also goes on to say, “…to all men.” This phrase “all men” includes those outside the Church, or those who are outside of Christ and are therefore non-Christian.
If you feel someone has committed an injustice toward 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. You must remind yourself that vindictive behavior is never God’s will for your life. Regardless of the evil others have committed against you, it is imperative to remember that retribution is not the way to do business in the Kingdom of God.
It is a good reminder for all of us that we are in the business of redeeming the lost and ministering to the broken — not getting even with people when they upset us! At times, that will require us to dig our heels in and reaffirm our commitment to obey Jesus despite what our emotions are trying to dictate to us. But by the grace of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, this is possible to do — or He would not have inspired Paul to write these compelling words!
How can Denise and I and our team be praying for you this month? We pray for you and all our partners every day, anyway. But when you contact us with your needs, it helps us know how to best pray for you. We love hearing from you, and we value your trust in us to be your prayer partners and to stand with you concerning the challenges you face.
Rick and Denise Renner
along with Paul, Philip, and Joel and their families