When I was in college, I endured what seemed at the time to be an enormous injustice. I was taking a class in karate—something that I had always wanted to learn—and I thought that I was doing well and advancing in my skills.
One day I was called to the front of the class along with three other students. We were promoted to the next rank, and I was elated—until most of the rest of the class was promoted to the rank after that. Even worse, four students were promoted to the rank after that. That meant that rather than being among the four best students, as I had initially thought was the case, I was apparently singled out as one of the four worst.
This is a somewhat frivolous example, but that’s kind of the point. In a thousand ways every day, we have opportunities to feel hurt or offended. Sometimes the offenses are big, and we think others would agree that we are justified in reacting as we do. But if we’re honest, the offense doesn’t have to be big. We are perfectly capable of being offended over the smallest of things.
Our pride, our sense of self, can be bruised and battered as people denigrate us, disrespect us, or don’t treat us as we think we deserve to be treated. These moments are a challenge and an opportunity. How will we react? Will we become angry? Harbor ill will? Become bitter? Withdraw from the relationship? Plan our revenge? These are all temptations offered by our sinful flesh, and they threaten to destroy relationships.
Paul addresses these tendencies in Romans 12 and urges us to resist them:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (vv. 14–19)
Paul is telling us here about the shape of the Christian life. Negatively speaking, Christians are not vindictive or spiteful and do not hold grudges. Indeed, as Paul states, they leave the judgment of others to God (v. 19).
In its exposition of the sixth commandment (Q&A 134–36), the Westminster Larger Catechism includes among the sins forbidden “sinful anger, hatred, envy, [and] desire of revenge” (Q&A 136). Christians are not to lash out or take vengeance; they are not to nurse grudges or be thin-skinned. Such behavior is unbecoming of followers of the One who “was oppressed, and . . . afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).