Teaching About Vows
You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
Teaching About Revenge
You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
Teaching About Love For Enemies
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:33-48 NLT
I love the clarity of these last three sections in chapter five! Well, I thought it was clear, and then God started talking to my heart about the last two sections. Let’s take a look at what He said to me about everything:
Vows: Jesus is stressing the importance of telling the truth because many people were breaking promises or being too casual about their commitments. I would say that describes our world today too, wouldn’t you? Although oaths or vows were (and still are) common, Jesus says we are not to use them—our words alone should be good enough. He says keeping promises without an oath is important because it builds trust, which strengthens relationships.
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” James 5:12 NLT
Are you known as a person of your word? If so, there is no need to back up your words with an oath.
Revenge and Love:
Revenge and love, you ask? Why in the world would I put these two topics together? I didn’t plan to, but then God began to unfurl how closely related they can be when our emotions are involved.
How many times have we dreamed of doing something in retaliation for a wrong or perceived wrong? (Guilty!) However, the Lord says:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 NIV
“”Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.”” Romans 12:19 NLT
Did you immediately say or think: But you don’t know…., did you see what they did…, yeah but…?
Yikes! I can’t deny that these very words have been in my heart or come out of my mouth during a deep time of hurt. But I learned a very valuable lesson about revenge—and love—that I want to share with you.
Several years ago I spent the day with two children who had been traumatically impacted by domestic violence. They had witnessed their dad abuse their mother one too many times. To say their little hearts and souls were damaged is an understatement.
Their mother had some important business to attend to when she decided to remove her family from the abusive relationship, so my husband and I immediately offered to care for her children. To take their minds off of what was happening we entertained them with movies, games, laughter, fun snacks, and lots of positive words.
At one point the children started sharing their fears and hurt with us. Some of their feelings were wrapped around how they felt he should be hurt for how he had hurt them (revenge). We stopped everything and we listened. The overriding theme from their little hearts was they felt helpless and their lives felt out of control.
We told them we understood how they felt and that we wished we could make all the hard things go away. I told them the most important thing they could do was pray. Without realizing it, I asked those children a very important question:
“Do you know who I am praying for the most through this?”
They both answered, “Momma.” Then one added, “Us too.”
I replied, “Yes, I am praying for all of you, but I am on my knees praying like crazy for your dad.”
It shocked those children to hear me say that and one lay her head down on the table and wept. Between her sobs she thanked me. Why? As terrified and confused as those children were, we saw they still loved their Dad. They just couldn’t process or understand why he was being so mean.
I’d like to say I was wise that day, but I know better. My prayers for the whole family were simply me admitting to God that I didn’t know what else to do or say. I believe God put those words in my mouth because He wanted me to share the power and comfort of prayer with those children.
As I was recalling and typing this story for my blog, God pointed this out to me: isn’t what happened to all of us that day really the best answer? What if we all prayed, with reckless abandon, for our enemies to seek and find the Lord instead of seeking revenge? The end result of our prayers could mean the reception of love, grace, and mercy from Jesus and that would bring light into broken lives. Revenge…, well, how does that do anything more than make us like our enemy, which creates more sin and more turmoil?
I am certainly not making excuses for what that dad did to his family. But I also knew what type of childhood he had and he was proof that ‘hurt people, hurt people.’
My husband and I prayed with those children for their protection, and their mother’s protection and wisdom. Then we prayed for their dad to seek the Lord with all his heart, and to repent and turn from his poor behavior. Those children received comfort for their broken hearts.
No, this couple’s story did not have a fairy tale ending, but it did have a safe ending. In addition, I know we will never forget what we learned that day, about the value of choosing love and mercy over revenge, and to give the rest to God.
Closing Prayer: Father God, we thank You for the power of Your words that remind us how important it is to speak in honesty and truth, without vows, so we can be men and women of integrity. We are also grateful for this powerful lesson about the importance of showing and extending love, even in times of difficulty. Father, I pray that we all walk in Your mercy and grace and mirror love over attempting to satisfy our selfish desires to seek revenge. I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.