1 Corinthians 13:6 RSV
[Love] does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Ever want revenge against someone else? I think that one of the innate human emotions is the desire for one’s persecutor to suffer as much as they have caused suffering (or more). I think that many of us, at one time or another, fantasied about that horrible person being humiliated or hurt like they humiliated or hurt us.
It’s simple human nature.
But Paul tells us that we, as Christians, deny ourselves, deny our nature and choose love. We refuse to rejoice at wrong, even the suffering of our enemy, are rejoice in right. That we have a higher calling: to trust God in everything.
The fundamental concept of revenge is two-fold. First, it is “an eye for an eye.” It is that idea that if you cause me to suffer, then I should be able to cause you to suffer back. It’s the playground mentality of children. “He hit me first!” (That common excuse on why two kids got into a fight.) And as sophisticated and mature as we would like to consider ourselves, the fact is, there is that child still living within us. If we are hurt by someone, we naturally want to hurt back.
The second motivation of revenge is our desire to change that person. We somehow think that if they suffer like we have, that suffering will change their perspective and they will change.
Ain’t necessarily so.
Just think about it. How often does suffering—without the presence of the Holy Spirit—change us? The fact is that while we are often motivated to seek change when we suffer, it isn’t the suffering in itself that promotes the change. It’s our willingness to submit to the Holy Spirit. It’s our desire to be within the will of God.
Thus, it follows that if we want that other person to change, our course of action should be to pray for them and minister to them, to allow the Holy Spirit Himself to choose the method necessary to promote change. Paul wrote in Romans:
“Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon 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.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:17-21 RSV)
Notice that Paul here calls vengeance being “overcome by evil” and in 1 Corinthians tells us that “love does not rejoice at wrong.” As Christians, our concern shouldn’t be about our own welfare or if we are treated fairly. But rather, our concern should be about the eternal welfare of that other person. And what are we told to do about that? We are told to minister to them, to meet their needs.
Ugh! That is a very difficult thing. One obviously only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. And do you want to know a truth? That person may not even appreciate our efforts. But that’s not our concern. Our Lord Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, to love them:
“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 RSV).
As difficult as it is, when we are abused, when we are harmed, when we are persecuted, our response is two-fold: (1) to pray for them, and (2) to love them by doing good to them. In that way, we can rejoice in the right, for what is right? Better yet, we might ask who is right? For God Himself is righteousness. And it is He that we should seek in all situations, learning how to love as He loves.