Do I not destroy an enemy when I make him my friend?

Becoming a Christian is not brought about by subscribing to a list of Do’s and Don’ts and yet we are required to be different from those around us.

St Paul writing to the Church in Rome provides a rather daunting list of characteristics and behaviours that he expects of Christian believers which sets us apart from others. Some of them are stand alone simple exhortations,

Do’s and don’ts stated as a single idea.  For example:

1.Love must be sincere

2.Honour one another above yourselves.

3.Be faithful in prayer

Others are written using traditional forms of Jewish rhetoric, for example parallelism when he emphasises the same concept, by using different or   contrasting ideas. For example:

1.Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour

2.Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

3.Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Each of exhortations, nearly 20 in total warrant an entire sermon on their own, but I want to reflect on the last three verses today under the theme of ‘Vengeance.’

How many of you have read the Roald Dhal children’s story ‘The Twits’ ? If you haven’t then it features a revolting old couple called Mr and Mrs Twit who are for ever playing nasty practical jokes on each other.  First of all Mrs Twit places a glass eyeball into Mr Twit’s beer glass after which for revenge Mr Twit puts a live frog into Mrs Twit’s bed.  The feud continues with Mrs Twit digging up earthworms which she then covers in tomato sauce and serves them to Mr Twit as spaghetti. In response Mr Twit gradually adds slivers of wood to Mrs Twit’s walking stick and the legs of her favourite chair to give her the impression that she is shrinking.  He then remedies the ‘alleged’ shrinking by chaining her legs to the ground and attaching gas filled balloons to her hair to stretch her back into shape.  Finally their pet monkeys who they keep in awful conditions escape and play a nasty trick on both of them which puts an end to the revolting pair once and for good. It’s a great story, but the truth about ‘Vengeance’ is very different as we shall see.

I need two volunteers to help me with an experiment.  I have two tins of cat food which I think you might enjoy. Mmm let’s try some (the mixture though apparently from a tin with a cat food label on is really chocolate mousse and fruit salad mixed up).  Mmm it is really delicious come on you first.  I will even give you a clean spoon.

What do you think?  It really is delicious isn’t it?  So (turning to the next volunteer) how about you it’s your turn….stop it really is cat food!!!!!!!!!!

Now imagine that it was his/her idea to get you to eat the cat food as a nasty practical joke.  How would it make you feel? A bit cross and wanting to get your own back? Well I have provided you with a water pistol so that you can do so!!  Hee hee! Here’s another one!

Some people claim that revenge tastes sweet and as Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, an

18th Century French Diplomat said “Revenge is a dish which must be served cold”  But, many psychologists agree that revenge is not such a dainty dish after all.  In an article published in ‘The Science of People’, Vanessa Van Edwards comments:

Even though the first few moments feel rewarding in the brain, psychological scientists have found that instead of quenching hostility, revenge prolongs the unpleasantness of the original offense. Instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation.” She quotes the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon who said: “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.” 

Van Edwards continues: “Revenge re-opens and aggravates your emotional wounds. Even though you might be tempted to punish a wrong, you end up punishing yourself because you can’t heal.”

We have seen this in action with the rioting and subsequent fatalities in response to the brutality of Police in America. The death of George Floyd has sparked violent protests across the globe. The wounds are deep and the desire for revenge and just keeps them fresh.

Further to Vanessa Van Edwards’ article are the words of exhortation from St Paul on the subject which gives us a further 3 reasons why Christians should not indulge in vengeance:

 Firstly v 19 – Vengeance is God’s business and not ours. Whenever we take matters into our own hands we will always be motivated by self-interest and as we know ‘red mist clouds judgement.’  We have no right to take revenge. The right to vengeance rests with God alone.

The second reason Paul states is found in v 20: Practising generosity and kindness to our enemies is far more effective than exacting revenge.  It moves them to ‘burning’ with shame.  Now this passage does not mean we relish the thought of ‘heaping ‘burning coals on the heads of our enemies’ as a passive form of revenge. Jesus’s principle of turning the other cheek in Matt 5:38-40, like Paul’s exhortation ensures that we maintain control of the situation.  We do not escalate the hostility and it allows conscience and human decency to prevail.

The final reason Paul offers is in v 21: The moment we stoop to exact revenge we are overcome by evil.  Evil wants to proliferate violence and discord between people.  Paul says we must not, in fact we cannot overcome Evil with evil.  Recent history has shown again and again that using terror tactics against terror groups only serves to foment further hatred and breed more terrorists.  The cycle of revenge is unbreakable.

Let’s return to our practical jokers this morning.  It would seem that water pistols at dawn has failed to resolve the conflict and so they have decided to settle the matter in the boxing ring instead.  

If my two volunteers would like to come out to the front to put on their boxing gloves.  

Now I want a clean fight with no hitting below the belt.

In the red corner we have the offending extreme light feather weight champion ………..Johnny Diablo.  (wait for the claps and applause)

And in the blue corner we have offended extreme featherweight champion (wait for the claps and applause)

Before the fight starts let’s hear what each ring coach says to their respective champs.  First of all let’s hear the advice to Johnny Diablo.

“Okay Johnny, remember:

Act Aggressive. Make your opponent FEEL that you want to hurt him

Come in fast.  Use the combos I showed you. 

Box with your head not your hands.

Don’t brawl too early. Box center, brawl along the ropes.

This isn’t sparring…go for the kill.  Got it?

Let’s now listen to the coaching tips for Bobby Christian:

“Okay Bobby remember:

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Do not be proud

Do not be conceited

As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone

Do not take revenge

After each round “If your opponent is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink”

Finally don’t forget”

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Got it?

Brothers and sisters, I ask you this morning who you think will triumph in the end?

My main key message to you this morning are not my words, but those of the late Abraham Lincoln who said in a speech”

Do I not destroy an enemy when I make him my friend?

We overcome evil by doing good.  Do you want to be like Mr and Mrs Twit who are so overcome by a thirst for revenge that they are blind to the cunning of their monkeys who arrange a sticky end for them both?  Or do you want to be like our Lord Jesus Christ who cried out from the Cross amidst the awful ordeal He suffered “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”?

Not only is vengeance harmful to our souls it is contrary to the example of our Saviour.  A Christian does not have the right to vengeance only the duty to forgive.


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