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Thessalonians 5 v 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Please read Romans 12

Do you remember how it was at school when the school bully pushed you over in a puddle and laughed at you; or when he or she did something worse?

Do you ever find yourself feeling incensed and angry when you are the subject of an injustice?

Have you ever sided with someone else who has been treated unfairly and then felt glad that the perpetrator has had something bad happen to him – and you feel that there has been some kind of poetic justice?

And what do we feel about those whom we desire should get what we like to call, ‘their just rewards for their evil behaviour’?

I believe that there is no one in this building this morning, except perhaps the very young, who could not testify to having some experience of wanting to get revenge – of saying, if only under the breath, “I’ll get my own back”, or “I’ll get even with him or her!”

And yet as Erroll Hulse said once “All experience must be subservient to the discipline of scripture.”

In our studies of 1 Thessalonians 5 we come this morning to 2 more practical exhortations from the pen of the Apostle Paul. They are the next 2 imperatives in the series of 15 between verse 14 and 26 following on from verse 14 where there were 4 – look at verse 14 –

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

1. Warn them that are unruly.
2. Comfort the feeble minded.
3. Support the weak.
4. Be patient toward all men.

We have been challenged in this area of practical relationships that involve the whole church, and not only the leadership. This ministry reflects our belief in the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers – a distinctive of our Reformed Heritage and position. We will first take a moment to review that Doctrine which is rooted in the Scriptures.

1. The Bible teaches that all members are equal under God in the fellowship of the church. Galatians 3 v 28 tells us this –

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

2. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and His believing children –

1 Timothy 2 v 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

3. Every believer has direct access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ –

Hebrews 7 v 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. 26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. 28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

Therefore we can go directly to the Lord – we do not need a priest or anyone else to communicate on our behalf.

4. Every Christian is his or her own priest in that he or she is authorized to go directly to God for forgiveness of sins

Hebrews 4 v 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

5. Every Christian can search the scriptures

2 Timothy 2 v 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Such personal study of the Word of God can be carried out with the confidence of being guided by the same Holy Spirit that inspired those who wrote the Bible.

2 Peter 1 v 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

6. Every Christian is a priest to others in that he or she is a member of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2 v 9) and responsible to Christ for ministering to others

1 Corinthians 12 v 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

This doctrine places a responsibility on each one of us who have been saved by God’s grace, to be active in ministering to others in the church. It is in this very context that Paul sends these exhortations to the Christians in the Church – which are as relevant to us today as they were then.

And when Paul says (1) Warn them that are unruly, he means all of you take the responsibility for each other and work together.

When he says (2) Comfort the feeble minded; he means all of you be active in encouraging the downcast and despondent brothers and sisters.

When he says (3) Support the weak, he means all of you stick close to those who are weak in their Christian faith – hold them up and help them.

And when he says (4) Be patient toward all men, he means all of you exercise long suffering and forbearance with each other and be as patient with others as God has been with you!

This is the practical application of Paul’s Doctrine – and it is applied to us as a church, and to every believer in whatever church they are – to be priests towards each other.

And Paul continues this very necessary word to the Church members at Thessalonica –

(5) See that you render no evil for evil.

(6) Follow that which is good.

Verse 15 has the substance and the verse breaks down well into two sections.

1. Revenge is prohibited.

15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

The prevailing philosophy of life today is that everything must be fair! The increase of litigation against any in public life with responsibilities, or those providing some kind of service, who get something wrong, make a mistake or deliver a bad service – this increase underlies this belief – if you fail or come short – then you will have to pay!

However have you noticed the basic hypocrisy in all this? The very same people who insist on their rights and their just desserts would deny the Living God His rights and justice when He proclaims that a human being fails to keep His holy standards they should pay – with their lives! The wages of sin is death!

Oh No, they say – that’s not fair. God is not fair – but I want my satisfaction and revenge – he cannot have His.

So we go back to our opening thoughts about the basic human desire to retaliate when we are hurt, offended or injured in some way. It is natural to want to repay someone when he hurts you. In our text

See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

the word ‘render’ is a Greek word APODIDOMAI – which means give back, pay or recompense.

Paul says do not pay back when evil things are done to you. “But Paul – don’t you know how things are? Don’t you know that what you are saying is in direct conflict with one of the strongest impulses in our human souls? Don’t you know we all have an instinct for revenge especially when we are under stress?”

And Paul replies “I do understand all that – but retaliation and revenge is prohibited for the Christian.”

I wonder if we can see how contrary to prevailing opinion this verse is? It is a particularly Christian virtue – non retaliation. We cannot say that it is unique to Christianity because there are other groups, religious and non religious, who would list non retaliation as one of their practices.

What are the scriptural texts that teach non retaliation?

1. There are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself –

Matthew 5 v 38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

The point must be made immediately that the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles are forbidding the exercise of PERSONAL REVENGE. In doing this they were laying down a new and contrasting teaching from that of the Old Testament. Exodus 21 had clearly taught

24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This was repeated in Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19.

But the Lord Jesus Christ said that this commandment relates to the PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION of criminal law – it had the express intention that personal revenge might be discouraged! Of course what the Lord was opposing was not the rule of law – but the pharisaical misinterpretation of the law.

Have you heard people who are critical of Christianity and the Bible make this claim – that the Bible contradicts itself? They point to the Exodus 21 passage and its parallels and then say that Jesus contradicted them.

What they fail to note is that the Old Testament law ALSO calls for the discouragement of personal revenge. For instance

Leviticus 19 v 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

And

Deuteronomy 32 v 35 To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence;

The Lord Jesus Christ came to fulfil the law. And in His teaching in Matthew 5 He takes the Old Testament law one step further – there is an advance – there is progress – love not only those who amongst your own people have wronged you – but also love those OUTSIDE of the community of faith – those who are called ENEMIES!

15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

MEANS JUST THAT. It is not only for the Christians in society, whether local members or national or even international – but it is also to any other human being.

The Teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is a strong teaching!

15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

2. Paul. We read from Romans earlier – more of Paul’s inspired teaching –

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil.

We can see how consistent the Apostle is with these words to the Christians at Rome – they are the same as those before us to Thessalonica.

3. Peter. In 2 places in Peter’s letters we find this –

1 Peter 2 v 21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Peter points us to the Lord’s example. The Lord Jesus Christ taught what He did in Matthew 5 knowing what He would do during the events surrounding His atonement for sinners at Calvary and all that led up to it. Therefore Peter applies it to his readers –

1 Peter 3 v 8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

The Thessalonian Christians and all who love the Lord Jesus Christ are therefore called never to be provoked to acts of retaliation towards those who act towards them in a hostile fashion. Since the Lord Himself led the way enduring patiently the insults and injuries of wicked men; since he died the just for the unjust – surely it means that if we are to follow Him then we have to be prepared to endure the same kind of treatment. Patience under provocation.

We cannot say that it was easy for those believers back in the first century. On the contrary they were subjected to constant harassment from both Jews and gentiles in their city. How easily they could have become embittered and perhaps even gone back to their heathen ways because the pressure was so great upon them!

Leon Morris helpfully says this “The great precepts of the Christian faith have always been addressed not only to those who find them easy – but to all.” My friends we do not suffer such harassment as many Christians have down through the past 2000 years. We do not live in fear of the police bursting in this morning to break up our meeting! We need not be overly worried about a gang of people waiting outside to taunt us on our way home from Church. Perhaps if there was such persecution today then it could be the means of us making more of an impact on our community than we do at present. Practical non retaliation gets itself noticed.

But what about the situations that we do face today? Some who live in a home where not everyone is a believer are faced with snide or even vicious taunts at times – is there not the temptation to render evil for evil? Some who find themselves lone Christians at work often have to face a barracking of teasing or criticism – or even have to face disadvantages in their careers because they love the Lord. May these also find it hard to suppress the desire to bite back and retaliate?

15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

As ever, when we are exhorted by the Holy Spirit through His word to obey a precept, it is never in isolation from the grace of God. Whenever God commands us to keep a precept He provides the power to keep it. We have to trust the Lord to help us hold our tongues; to hold back our tears when we are stung with unjustified criticism. To hold our tempers when we are aroused – all this needs a supernatural power to overcome our natural desire to fight back.

May the Powerful saviour the Lord Jesus Christ help each one of us to

See that none render evil for evil unto any man;

Revenge is Prohibited.

2. Right should be Pursued

but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Here then is the positive side of Paul’s exhortation with the next imperative – FOLLOW! Pursue earnestly what is good. All resentment is to be extinguished by the love that eagerly seeks to repay evil – not with evil in return – but with good!

Some would think that the opposite of non retaliation is PASSIVE SUBMISSION to wrongdoing. That would be a mistake. It is not the answer. Rather what we must do is to expend every ounce of our energy to return good for evil – and not only within the Christian congregation – but to everyone! We are obliged to display a forbearing spirit to even the most hostile of enemies – and only the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can enable us to do this.

Philippians 4 v 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

How helpful the Apostle is! Instead of confronting us with such a tall order that this earnest pursuit of goodness seems so unattainable, he uses language that is positive and helpful.

but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

There are many GOOD things in the New Testament that we can FOLLOW. Here are some of them.

1.

Romans 12 v 13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

What you may ask has this to do with following or pursuing earnestly? Simply the word GIVEN here in Romans 12 v 13 is the same as our word follow in verse 15 – pursuing earnestly hospitality.

2.

Romans 14 v 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

Pursue earnestly peace so that others may be built up – strife tears down – peace edifies.

3.

The next verse adds to this –

Hebrews 12 v 14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

1 Peter 3 v 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

Ensue also means to pursue and follow after – again it is the word DIOKEO.

4.

1 Corinthians 14 v 1 Follow after charity, or love.

5.

In this verse in 1 Timothy 6 v 11 there is a list of things to follow after –

But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

How practical! How helpful! Follow these things – pursue them with every ounce of effort – that is Paul’s exhortation to us.

And not merely amongst ourselves as a church. We are to follow these things amongst all men and women!

Can we believe this?

Paul says that we are to be hospitable, peaceful, prepared to build others up, loving, righteous, godly, faithful, patient and meek.

Can we do this?

My friends this verse in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians sets the highest standard of human behaviour that can be expected of anyone. It is awesome in its scope. It is exacting in its extent. And who of us are sufficient to meet the requirements of such behaviour – towards brothers and sisters in Christ, let alone the society outside of the church’s walls!

If all these things are followed after, then we would see great benefit to the quality of church life AND to the quality of contacts with everyone else. The Lord Jesus Christ calls us as His children, His saints, His believing representatives on earth to set such a high standard.

Contact with Christians, by unbelievers, should leave such unbelievers better off – and at least none the worse in any way!

Oh my friends and fellow Christians. Let us look back for a moment. Have there been times when we may have left people the worse off by our contact with them?

Have we been rude? Have we been selfish? Have we barged to the front of a queue of waiting people? Have we lost our temper with someone, or spoken ill of someone in our circle of acquaintances?

Have we precipitated a disturbance of some kind amongst those whom we claim to love?

Have we behaved badly in some way and then tried to excuse ourselves saying that we can’t help it – that it is the way that we are?

These are challenges to each of us in this church today. They apply to all of us. The Saviour expects His followers to follow after His standards of behaviour. He has every right to such an expectation – because He followed them Himself while he was here and set us the supreme example.

Paul, inspired by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, is laying down the standard of goodness for us in the face of provocation to evil. It is not merely “always try to be kind to each other” as the insipid rendering of one modern versions goes.

No matter how we are provoked, or when or where, there is an obligation on each of us to follow good without swerving.

Are we ready for this my friends?

Are we prepared to listen to the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ and never retaliate when provoked?

Because revenge is prohibited.

And are we prepared to return good for evil when we are treated badly? Because Right should be pursued.

May the Lord gives us all the necessary grace, power and strength for these things – so that He will have the glory and His church will be built up.



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