GIVING THOUGHT - Week of January 10th

By Judy Nichols

January 10, 2016


The old adage to count to ten before responding to something that offends you or makes you angry is a good one, but Paul offers a better one in Romans 12:17. "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." This is a sound and pithy piece of advice, and one that has more to it than might first meet the eye.

Not repaying evil for evil is the clear teaching of Scripture. Even the Old Testament "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" was not meant to endorse retaliation, but to limit it. And Jesus said, "Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two" (Matt. 5:39-41).

These things are easier said than done, of course. Striking back is what our flesh wants to do immediately. The self-preservation instinct is built into us, but our fallen human nature expands actual physical preservation to preservation of our perceived dignity and even of our thoughts and opinions.

Paul’s advice tells us not only what to do, but how to do it. The second clause of the verse says, "but give thought to do what is honorable." Taking time to think about our response is never a bad thing. Ideally, that’s what counting to ten would give opportunity for. Proverbs 12:16 says it is fools who show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlooks an insult. So what should we think about when we "give thought to" how to respond to evil?

Without putting words in Paul’s mouth, I offer my thoughts as to what he might have had in mind. First, was it intentional? Did the person clearly mean to offend or harm us? Or is it just that our personalities clash or we find another’s ways irritating? Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As we rub up against one another, we are bound to have our rough edges nicked now and then by someone else’s rough edges. In such situations, our call is to "bear with one another and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Col. 3:13).

Which brings me to my other thought, namely, to ask, "Am I innocent?" We may or may not share any blame in the present situation, but it is always well to remember how much God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ when we consider how much we should forgive others. The point of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35) is that because God, the Master, has forgiven us the equivalent of the national debt, we should be willing and ready to forgive the smaller debts others owe to us.

Forgiving others who have done evil to us might seem foolish to some. But God is "slow to anger" and if we are to grow in Christ-likeness, we should imitate that. The Apostle James says, "everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James.1:19-20). Moreover, our command from the lips of Jesus is to "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34). And Peter reminds us that "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

We are to give thought to do what is honorable "in the sight of all." What other people think of us is secondary to what God thinks of us. It is in His sight that we want to be found doing the honorable thing, for "all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).

Taking the time to think, thinking about what is true about the other person, about our own forgiveness, about Who it is we want to emulate and why, is better than counting to ten any day of the week.

© Judy Nichols 2015

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