I grabbed the back of a rolling chair and pulled it into the group of high school seniors that were already seated in a circle. Looking around, I observed the twenty or thirty kind faces around me, all glistening with sweat from Georgia’s summer heat. This weekend was reserved for us to learn Scripture and worship together at one of my favorite places, Camp Highland. So, there we sat, waiting for our leader to say the first word and begin her lesson. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” she read, and I became absent-minded. Thinking I knew where she was going, I assumed this was the lesson that I had already heard many times. Vengeance is the Lord’s; we are called to love our enemies; and do not repay evil for evil. It’s a message that urges us not to take revenge on even those who have hurt us the most.
However, sandwiched between those familiar verses was a statement that caught my attention. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight,” she quoted, “Repay no one evil for evil.” It seemed to me that some random verses about humility had been misplaced in the passage about revenge. Yet, I knew that every word of the Bible was placed to serve a valuable purpose. So, why does Romans 12:16-21 tell us to be humble and lowly in a message about revenge?
There began a lesson that the Lord has continued to teach me ever since that hot day in August. He used our leader, Mallory, to show me that there is a direct correlation between haughtiness, pride, and seeking revenge. Haughtiness and pride create an attitude that anyone who has hurt us should feel equally as bad as they made us feel. Haughtiness sneers, “How dare they hurt me,” as if we are superior to others. Pride produces a mindset that we are too “good” to endure hurt from others. On the contrary, to view yourself as lowly is to recognize that you are going to get hurt by people who are just as sinful as you.
However, lowliness is easily mistaken for passivity and I struggled to find the difference. Looking back at Romans 12:16, I realized that I’m not being encouraged to be a doormat or to shy away from reconciliation. Rather, this verse about lowliness says, “Never be wise in your own sight”. Lowliness is not being passive, it is realizing that you cannot know the best way for someone to feel the wrong they have done. We are not wise like God is wise. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. For this reason, vengeance is the Lord’s, and we should not seek to repay others for their wrongs. He is far more capable in His abounding wisdom to deal with us.
Going to Camp Highland, I knew that I would have a whole lot of fun and face my biggest fears on the ropes courses. I knew I would see the Camp Highland staff, who I love so much, and worship with them loudly. I expected s’mores, sweat, and to hear the gospel. However, I did not expect to hear the gospel in a new way that week. The gospel informs everything we believe and the way we act, including the way we view conflict and revenge.
The truth is, none of us deserve to be treated fairly. In sin we deserve death. Still, Christ ensured that we would not have to endure God’s vengance when He died on our behalf. That is the gospel. When we realize our lowliness, our own capability to be terribly evil, our own need for Christ’s death, we stop condemning others for their offenses. I knew that if everyone were to take revenge on evil people, someone would have to take revenge on me. I am so thankful that, because of the gospel, I received abundant grace in place of the vengance I deserved. In such lowliness and sin, I was undeservedly forgiven. From this truth, God reminded me that I am in no place to withhold forgiveness from other sinful people. Realizing this, I understood why God might have decided to put the verse about lowliness in the midst of Romans 12.
Other scriptures that are encouraging to me on this topic are Romans 5:8, Hebrews 12:12-17, and Ephesians 2. Through these verses, God has continued to teach me my lowliness and to help keep me from judging other people with an unforgiving spirit.
Olivia Clement recently graduated from The Westminster School at Oak Mountain and will be attending Auburn University in the Fall where she plans to major in rehabilitation and disability studies with hopes of going to Occupational Therapy school after college. She and her family have been an active part of our faith family since 2009.