************ Sermon on Proverbs 24:17-20; 25:21-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 15, 2017
Proverbs 24:17-20; 25:21-22
"Do Not Seek Revenge"
How are we, as God's people, to respond to someone who makes life miserable? How are you to respond to whom Proverbs calls an enemy?
God tells us today how to graciously respond to such persons and such situations. And, let me stress, we need to respond graciously. Consider the opposite: If you have spent much time around someone who is eaten up with the desire for revenge, someone nursing an attitude of resentment, you know how tragic it is. Resentment corrodes everything it touches, breaks out of containment, and eventually poisons its host. And to make things worse, innocent bystanders get hurt when resentment explodes.
Before we start, let me give a warning. Don't ever forget that we are all works in progress. Meaning what? Meaning that sometimes we are the person who needs to respond graciously. And, other times we are the difficult, miserable person.
I Do Not Gloat
A "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice" (Prov 24:17).
The word for "enemy" means someone who is hostile to you, who treats you as an enemy. This person has either harmed you in the past and has not repented or continues to take every opportunity to harm you now.
Solomon's advice, which is God's advice, is don't delight in that person's downfall. God is disgusted with those who gloat over someone’s failure. Gloating over the disasters experienced by the poor is condemned earlier in Proverbs (17:5); in our Bible reading, gloating is not even permitted when an enemy has a problem. Don't gloat when they stumble and fall. For that reveals your heart to be full of a bitterness and resentment that would love the opportunity to take revenge.
B The next verse explains why we must release this resentment and avoid taking pleasure in the pain of the person who has caused us harm:
(Prov 24:18) or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
Note the words, "or the LORD will see." See what? See your resentful attitude. See your desire for revenge.
"And disapprove." The LORD disapproves of a resentful attitude. The LORD is distressed and disturbed if we seek revenge.
"And turn his wrath away from him." The focus of God's wrath shifts away from the one who sinned against us and instead shines on our own sinful attitude.
C Do you struggle with resentment and revenge? You have lots of company. There isn't a culture in which revenge hasn't left its scars. Stories about revenge aren't urban legends. They are real stories about real people.
One such story is the Hatfield McCoy feud in the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia. It began with a disagreement over wild hogs. The years that followed were filled with blood, fear, death, and sorrow. Years of open shooting, ambush killing, threats, and house burnings made every minute a question mark for every Hatfield and McCoy. As many as 100 men, women and children died.All because of resentment and revenge.
Do you struggle with resentment and revenge? Let me offer an alternative. Instead of resentment and revenge, strive to be like Jesus hanging on the cross. Is there anyone Who has more of a right to seek revenge than a perfect and holy Jesus filled with suffering and pain? Yet what was His prayer for the enemies out to get Him? Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).
II Leave Justice to God
A Resentment is a toxin we cannot ignore. Revenge is a poison we need to remove. So, how do we get rid of them? Listen to what is said in the next two verses:
(Prov 24:19-20) Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of the wicked, (20) for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.
What is the "lamp of the wicked"? Lamp refers here to physical life. When a lamp goes out in the Ancient World, the tent or room or house is plunged into darkness. Solomon is thinking here of the darkness of death. Someday, when the wicked will die, theirs is no future hope. Therefore, "do not fret because of evil men or be envious of the wicked."
Do you hear God's answer to the sin of resentment and revenge? Don't fret. Don't worry. For sure, don't be envious. Instead, God is telling us to trust Him to handle justice on our behalf. This frees us to leave past hurts in the past.
B Earlier in this worship service, in response to God's forgiving grace, I read from Romans 12. Let me read verses 17-19 again:
(Rom 12:17-19) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. (18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (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.
The first step to get rid of the toxins of resentment and revenge is to surrender your right to pursue justice. I repeat, surrender your right to pursue justice.
Justice is a beautiful thing. In acting justly we image God. God believes in rewarding good behavior and in punishing evildoers. Nowhere in Scripture is the concept of justice declared bad. Neither will you find any condemnation of those who desire justice for themselves or their loved ones. For this reason, justice is one of the mandates God has given to earthly rulers.
Having said this, God calls us to surrender our right to obtain justice for ourselves. Instead, God calls us to entrust Him to establish justice.
C Surrender your right to seek justice when someone has harmed you. I am not going to pretend this is an easy thing to do. Doing this takes wisdom, courage, and faith. You aren't simply letting the matter drop; you are handing this person and your suffering over to God, trusting Him to do what is right.
To make this concrete and real, one of my commentaries suggests a prayer. For every person who has hurt you, say this prayer:
Lord, today, I hand over to You my right to seek justice against (NAME OF PERSON) for how they have hurt me. I will neither seek revenge nor delight in their misfortunes because justice is Your responsibility. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Don't rush the process. You may need several days or weeks before you can pray this sincerely.
III Leave Mercy to God
Let's say you turn a matter over to God for justice. But as the days and weeks go by, nothing happens. No fire. No brimstone. No heavenly payback. In fact, you come to realize our sovereign God has chosen to show mercy to the person who hurt you -- mercy in this life as well as in the life-to-come. We need to realize the truth of what Paul writes to the church at Rome: God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and hardens whom He wants to harden (cf Rom 9:15-18).
In this situation, we need to be able to say two things. We need to be able to say that vengeance belongs to the Lord. And, we need to be able to say mercy belongs to the Lord. We need to leave justice to God and we need to leave mercy to God.
IV Showing Grace
A Do not gloat when your enemy falls. Leave justice to God. Leave mercy to God. We end with showing grace. I pick the word "grace" because this is something you are to show regardless of whether or not the other person deserves it. In the same way, undeserved grace is something God shows us.
Filled with wisdom from above, Solomon shows us the shape of the grace-filled life:
(Prov 25:21) If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Cf Rom 12:20)
In the Ancient World, it was customary to extend hospitality to travelers -- whether they were friends or strangers. God, however, called His people to show hospitality to enemies, to those who have harmed them without repenting. Be kind. Give grace. In the words of Jesus,
(Lk 6:27-28) Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, (28) bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
This teaching of Jesus runs counter to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. They said: "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (cf Mt 5:43). That was actually what they taught. They further said only an Israelite is a "neighbor" and all others are the "enemy." So they taught the Jews to love the Jews and to hate all others. Indeed they went so far as to suggest that it was their right and their duty to hate all those who were not Jews. Many zealous Pharisees and scribes thought they were honoring God by despising everyone who was not a Jew.
Where did the Pharisees and scribes find this in the Old Testament? Is there anywhere in the Old Testament a statement that says, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy"? The answer, of course, is "No." Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." In fact, the Old Testament teaches the opposite. For instance, we read in Exodus, "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him" (Ex 23:4). Our Bible reading from Proverbs says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov 25:21). And, as already mentioned, it was customary for strangers at Israel's gates to receive a warm welcome. God's law, in other words, commanded "love" rather than "hate."
We are called to show grace to enemies. We are called to be like God, to imitate God. Jesus tells us that God
(Mt 5:45) ... causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.There are people who are evil, foul, and unjust; nevertheless, God sends rain upon them and causes the sun to shine upon them. Their crops are blessed in the same manner as the crops of a righteous man. They experience what is called "common grace."
What is true for God's common grace is especially true for His special grace. God shows love to His enemies:
(Rom 5:8) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Rom 5:10) ... when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son ...
Like God, we are to show grace and love to those who oppose us. That's what Jesus is saying to us this morning.
We are to love like God does. We are to love even our enemies. How can we possibly do this? After all, they are unkind and cruel. They hurt us and attack us. They gossip about us and say untrue things about us. They rejoice when we have troubles and trials. So how can we possibly love them?
Think of God loving us while we were still sinners. Think of God loving us when we were enemies. God's treatment of us does not depend on what we are or what we do. For if that were the case we would get only judgment, drought, and flood from His hands. God acts the way He does regardless of what we are or do.
What makes God act the way He does? Was it something loving, or lovely, or lovable in us or in the world? Was it something about us that stimulated His eternal heart of love? No. No. No. Nothing whatsoever. It was entirely and altogether in spite of us. What moved God was His own eternal heart of love.
We are to love our enemies the way God loves His. We are to love them regardless of what they are or do. We are to love them in spite of how they hurt us.
B Did you notice how Solomon ends our Bible reading. He tells us to imitate God and show grace to those who hurt us and oppose us. And then he gives us another reason for acting this way:
(Prov 25:22) In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Cf Rom 12:20)
In the Ancient World it was important keep your household fire going all the time in order to insure heat for cooking and warmth. If the fire went out, you had to go to a neighbor for some live coals. These would be carried back in a container on the head. The person who would give him some live coals would be meeting his desperate need and showing him an outstanding kindness.
What are we being told? Grace can melt the hardest of hearts and turn enemies into friends. It doesn't always work, but there is nothing like unmerited kindness to disarm one's enemies. Hopefully, our good conduct will bring about a change of heart in the other person.
C Returning good for evil is not a complicated concept. It's very simple. Unfortunately, it is also very rare. It's one of the most difficult tasks we can ever undertake. Let's be honest. Showing grace is much easier when the guilty person is contrite and has asked for forgiveness. But when the offender takes delight in our suffering, choosing to treat him or her kindly defies everything we want to do and feel.
However, it is possible in Christ. In Christ, we who have been given grace can show grace to others. In Christ, I delight to do every kind of good. In Christ, I am wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to give and show grace.
How are we, as God's people, to respond to someone who makes life miserable? How are you to respond to whom Proverbs calls an enemy? The wisdom of Proverbs -- which is the wisdom of Christ -- gives us four points this morning:
-Do not gloat when your enemy falls
-Leave justice to God
-Leave mercy to God
My prayer is that we all will strive to be Christlike at all times.
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