Vengeance is wrong, right? After all, Paul states: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18, NASB). Yet, when we see a great injustice, such as the slaying of innocents, terrorist bombings, the killing of children, our hearts cry out to see vengeance done. Is that sin? Actually, I don’t think so. The problem isn’t vengeance, but who dispenses it.
In the very next verse, Paul says: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Paul recognized it wasn’t possible to live at peace with some folks: “If possible,” he said. Usually it is; sometimes it isn’t. Some people in France just announced that they don’t want to live at peace with us. So, do we whip out a can of … vengeance?
No, vengeance is due, but it is not ours to dispense. “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Vengeance and wrath belong to the Lord and He dispenses it.
“Oh, here we go”—is what some of you are thinking. “Judgment Day is a too far away. What about now? Is nothing done?” We should not miss Paul’s point, just because a chapter division is in our way. Paul mentioned, “leave room for the wrath of God” (Rom. 12:19). Our Bibles have a chapter end and a new section heading. Paul didn’t have chapters or headings. He is still talking about the wrath of God, when he starts talking about government in the next verses.
In Romans 13:4, Paul states: “for it [government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Paul hasn’t changed subjects. The word “wrath” bookends his discussion. (The technical term is an inclusio.) God has appointed governments to be the agent of his wrath. God uses government to be his sword, to bring his judgment and wrath upon evildoers.
As an individual, it is not my job to be the agent of God’s wrath. (Some of you are soldiers and you may be an agent to carry the sword of God’s wrath but only in an official government role.) So, what is my individual role? What Paul said at the beginning: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Most of the time it actually is possible. Paul reminds us to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). On rare occasions, evildoers do arise. For those, God has established government authorities (Rom. 13:1-3).
God established governments to maintain law and order. But as individuals we need to guard our hearts. When my heart laughs with glee over news footage of planes dropping bombs on evildoers, I am a long way from loving our enemies. When we want to bomb them all to h-ll, we are not reflecting the Gospel. Governments have a necessary role to play. God ordained them. But, friends, which of these is going to change the hearts of men?