Proverbs 3:30 reads, “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” But what if someone does you harm? Are we free to avenge ourselves on someone who hurts us? As has been shown in previous articles, the scribes and Pharisees hijacked for personal use the instructions God gave to magistrates to administer justice in Jewish society.
In a recent conversation, the subject of the death penalty came up. Many people in the name of love sincerely believe that the death penalty is wrong because it is seen as revenge. Would it not be better to let the murderer live with the memory of the crime, hopefully regretting the deed? Also, what if the one being executed was really innocent of the crime? Is injustice to be the norm in this fallen world?
While sincere people may have good reasons to oppose the death penalty, the plain teaching of Scripture must override all arguments to the contrary. Sinful humans are not in charge of justice because even sincere people are affected by the deep corruption of their sinful natures. The very ones who protest the injustice of the justice system have no qualms about seeking personal vengeance on those who have wronged them. True, justice ought to step in and right wrongs, but, sadly, we live in a world full of injustice, much of which must wait until Judgment Day.
Believers have a higher calling. We represent the King of righteousness in a fallen world. Therefore, nothing is be taken personally by us even when it personally affects us. Thus, Jesus focuses on how His own are to respond to wrongs even when there is little hope of justice. Do not resist the evil, but rather love the evildoer. That is a revolutionary thing. When seeking the good of those who harm, people notice. It reveals sons of the Heavenly Father, who makes the sun to shine on rebels and sends rain on those who hate Him. Should we not do good to our enemies as well?
We are to be perfect (v. 48), the word meaning end, goal, or limit. It does not mean that a human could possibly attain the absolute perfection of God but is here used to encourage the relative goal of one who aims to be like God in moral character. The term is often used of the relative maturity of children as compared to what is expected of adults.
God placed Israel among the nations to demonstrate how wise and good God’s laws were compared to those of their Gentile idol-worshiping neighbors (Deuteronomy 4:6). The response expected would be, “What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law” (Deuteronomy 4:8). The moral example Israel failed to be God has called His church to be. “You are the salt of the earth . . .. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). If believers merely respond to wrongs in a normal human way, even in a good way, God gets no glory at all.