This world teaches a lot of things that go against what God says. Some are so ingrained in us that we accept them without thought. For instance, when I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to hear people talk about getting even. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of my friends took it a step further. He would say, “I don’t get mad. I don’t get even. I get ahead.” Now in these cases they weren’t talking about paying back kindness with more kindness. They were speaking of repaying hurts and wrongs with more hurts and wrongs. As the years have passed I’ve seen a lot of attempts to get even or get ahead. It rarely ends well. It starts when one person hurts another, intentionally or not. Then the other person retaliates. And then there’s a retaliation for the retaliation. This goes back and forth and there’s usually one of two ways it ends: either the relationship is broken or both sides have suffered enough pain that they mutually call a halt to the hostilities. Even in the case where they call a halt, the relationship may still be damaged. Case in point, one of my friends told me about how his father had committed adultery, a very selfish and sinful act which devastated my friend’s mom. His mother, in retaliation, committed adultery right back. In the end, both his mother and father were miserable. They still have a relationship today, but needless to say, the relationship isn’t what it could have been. While the first act should never have happened, the second act certainly didn’t help matters any. And because they were slinging sinful actions at each other, my friend got caught in the crossfire. So their actions had the unintended consequence of hurting him. This is not the way God wants it to be.
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, NASB
Certainly examples like I just gave are but one reason God would have us take a different approach. But another reason is that when a wrong is visited upon us and we don’t seek to retaliate, we stick out. We attract attention because we’re different. And what we’re showing is what God showed us by saving us: He could take appropriate actions for our sins, but through His Son we receive grace instead. So when we don’t get even, we are emulating God. Now some may be thinking that at some point God will bring judgment on those who rejected His Son. This is true. But there’s a wide ocean of difference between our understanding and ability to assess fairly a situation and God’s. To put it in perspective, it would be liking asking a newborn what the next play to send in should be to try and win the Super Bowl. We’re that newborn babe with respect to our wisdom and understanding when compared to God. Also, when God delivers punishment, He does so in ultimate goodness and perfect justice. We cannot say the same. There is always going to be some personal, fleshy bias. There is always going to be some measure within ourselves which rejoices at the retribution we’re dealing out. In other words, we may have the intent of perfect justice, but intermixed in there is some measure of evil. This is not so with God.
One last point I’ll close on and it’s the last part of verse 15: all people. Paul’s words indicate quite clearly that our loving conduct should not be restricted to just other Christians. All people means everyone and other translations render it as everybody or everyone or “for all” or “to all men.” So our love and kindness should be extended to anybody, believer or not. We’re not to repay evil with more evil, period. Think about how the view on Christians might change if we always followed this set of Scriptures. That if and when we were opposed and attacked, rather than responding in kind, we instead responded in love and caring? Imagine how opinions and attitudes would be changed. And consider how much more effective our witness to those who do not know Christ would be. If we continually demonstrated love, even in the face of evil done to us, that would certainly cause folks to pause and some would seek out why we could respond in this manner. And that would give us the open door to introduce them to our Savior. Now wouldn’t that be something?