Return Evil for Evil to No One
1. Why are these “critical times hard to deal with”?
WHEN we are reading reports in the daily newspapers these days it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that men are lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power. There appear to be many wicked men going from bad to worse. In making such a realistic appraisal of world conditions you are not being negative in your thinking but, rather, are facing up to the facts of our day. You may be surprised to know that you are not the first to make such an appraisal. A man who lived nearly 2,000 years before this time was inspired by Jehovah God to write prophetically about the days in which we live. This man, the apostle Paul, called these the last days and said: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here,” and then went on to describe the attitudes and actions of people of this day using the words mentioned before.—2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13.
2. What conditions in the days of Noah were similar to today’s, and what did Jesus have to say about them?
2 Was there ever another time in history when the badness of man was so abundant in the earth? Yes, the history of man, Genesis 6:5, 11 and 12, reports: “Consequently Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. And the earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” It is comforting to note that the Almighty God Jehovah did not let all this badness go unnoticed but stepped in to take action and rid the earth of such evildoing. This and other statements in the Bible comfort those who hate evildoing because they prove that God takes action in such evil times. For us living now, these critical times are one of the evidences of the presence of Christ Jesus as a heavenly king ruling in the midst of his enemies. When on earth, Jesus prophesied, in Matthew 24:37-39: “For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” In the same chapter (Mt 24 vs. 34) Jesus also said: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” So since the end of this wicked system of things is near at hand, we can see why the apostle Paul called these the last days.—Ps. 110:1, 2.
3. How do world events now affect some people?
3 With the conditions mentioned by the apostle Paul prevailing and advancing from bad to worse, there are many evil influences abroad in the earth, with much suffering among the people. Many injustices are carried on and great injury or harm has been done to many people. In this troubled age of violence people react in different ways according to their feelings and their knowledge. There continue to be warring, strikes, protests, riots, demonstrations and efforts at retaliation for actual or supposed mistreatment. Nationalism causes many difficulties too. Some men band together for the purpose of violence. Others try to organize ways to reform this system of things. Each individual is faced with a decision as to how he will react and what course he will take.
4. What is the Christian reaction to present world conditions?
4 There is no doubt that the events we may hear about or even personally experience can cause indignation, but one who is really a Christian has to take into consideration the fact that true Christians are in the world but no part of it and are not like it is. (John 15:17–16:4) The Christian reaction is to give even more serious consideration to the Scriptures, watching the unfolding of world events in harmony with the Bible prophecies recorded centuries ago and at the same time not getting sidetracked from following the course of action and work that true Christians were destined to perform in this particular time. It helps us to keep our balance when we remember the example of Christ Jesus, who saw many wrongs and much evil in the system of things, even including the unjust beheading of the good man John the Baptist, but he did not try to reform the world in his day. He did the work God sent him to do. He kept on preaching the Kingdom message.—John 9:4.
5. What is the basis for loving one’s enemies?
5 Jesus practiced what he preached. One of the early teachings as recorded in the sermon on the mountain showed good reasons why sons of God will show love even for their enemies. “You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48) Obviously, doing this requires a great amount of mature thinking and self-control, plus being long-suffering, but it can be accomplished with the help of God’s spirit; in fact, as the apostle Paul stated in Galatians chapter 5, self-control and long-suffering are fruitage of the spirit of God.
6, 7. What are some examples of Jesus in his exercising of self-control under suffering?
6 Christ Jesus had the ability to think calmly and dominate his actions; even when he was personally abused and persecuted he did not retaliate. When he was going to be unjustly arrested and one of those with Jesus cut off the ear of a slave of the high priest, “then Jesus said to him: ‘Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matt. 26:52, 53) Thus, although he had the opportunity to call for the aid of at least 60,000 angels, he continued to exercise self-control.
7 Later, after having experienced much humiliation and pain, when dying on the torture stake Jesus did not show hatred. “But Jesus was saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Furthermore, to distribute his garments, they cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But the rulers were sneering, saying: ‘Others he saved; let him save himself, if this one is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ Even the soldiers made fun of him, coming close and offering him sour wine and saying: ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was also an inscription over him: ‘This is the king of the Jews.’ But one of the hung evildoers began to say abusively to him: ‘You are the Christ, are you not? Save yourself and us.’ In reply the other rebuked him and said: ‘Do you not fear God at all, now that you are in the same judgment? And we, indeed, justly so, for we are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this man did nothing out of the way.’ And he went on to say: ‘Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.’ And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’”—Luke 23:34-43.
8. What may followers of Jesus Christ expect?
8 In the same chapter where Paul wrote about the last days he said concerning Christians:. “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) So it is part of the life of a real Christian to have some personal experience with reproach and persecution or suffering, and that is why it is so important for us to take into account the example of good understanding and self-control of Jesus. Peter tells us: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”—1 Pet. 2:21-23.
9. What is the counsel in Romans chapter 12 for those living in an evil time?
9 Those who followed Christ as God’s servants in the first century of our Common Era experienced considerable ill-treatment as a result of the activities of evildoers. The Roman Empire was notorious for its persecution of Christians. Christians living in those days became quite numerous, but, when they were persecuted, they did not follow the course that sinful men think is “natural,” namely, to retaliate. They had to overcome such reaction, making their minds over, as the often-persecuted apostle Paul explained to them: “Consequently I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. And quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Rejoice in the hope ahead. Endure under tribulation. Persevere in prayer. Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing. Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’ But, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.’ Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Rom. 12:1, 2, 12, 14, 17-21.
10. How can we avoid committing the sin of retaliation?
10 Acquiring the same mental attitude Jesus had is the only way to avoid committing the serious sin of retaliation. It is a kind of armor that serves as a protection. Peter advised: “Therefore since Christ suffered in the flesh, you too arm yourselves with the same mental disposition; because the person that has suffered in the flesh has desisted from sins.”—1 Pet. 4:1.
11. (a) What happened to Dinah, and why did she get into this trouble? (b) What sin did Simeon and Levi commit in reacting to the abuse of their sister? (c) What resulted to Simeon an Levi because of this retaliation?
11 As we study the Bible, we can learn reasons why this is good counsel for evil days. For example, there is the case of Dinah recorded at Genesis chapter 34. Very unwisely this daughter of Jacob set out to have association with those who were not worshipers of Jehovah God or keepers of God’s law. This led to her being sexually assaulted by a young man named Shechem. Thus evil was done to Dinah. Her father Jacob did not show the spirit of retaliation, but his sons became very angry and made a plan to take vengeance on the people of Shechem. Simeon and Levi killed all the men of the city where their sister Dinah had been violated and were joined by their brothers in plundering the city. Simeon and Levi in particular brought bloodguilt upon themselves, which displeased their father. Later, when Jacob was dying and the time came for him to give his sons blessings, Jacob said this about them: “Simeon and Levi are brothers. Instruments of violence are their slaughter weapons. Into their intimate group do not come, O my soul. With their congregation do not become united, O my disposition, because in their anger they killed men, and in their arbitrariness they hamstrung bulls. Cursed be their anger, because it is cruel, and their fury, because it acts harshly. Let me give them a portion in Jacob, but let me scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:5-7) In the case of Simeon and Levi, returning evil for evil was a sin that brought no good.
12. (a) While Jacob did not speak well of Simeon and Levi, what blessing did Joseph receive from him? (b) What course of life did Joseph pursue to merit such a blessing?
12 On the other hand, Joseph showed a different spirit and received a blessing from his father: “The blessings of your father will indeed be superior to the blessings of the eternal mountains, to the ornament of the indefinitely lasting hills. They will continue upon the head of Joseph, even upon the crown of the head of the one singled out from his brothers.” (Gen. 49:26) Prior thereto Joseph had been done great evil by his brothers who sold him into slavery that brought him down to Egypt. Because of Jehovah’s blessing, Joseph gained great prominence and power in the land of Egypt. When famine came, his brothers traveled to Egypt in search of food. Powerful Joseph did not show a spirit of vengeance against them. He did not return evil upon them, but showed love and a spirit of forgiveness. “Then he fell upon the neck of Benjamin his brother and gave way to weeping, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he proceeded to kiss all his brothers and to weep over them, and after that his brothers spoke with him.” (Gen. 45:14, 15) The results of this course of action were very good. The entire family were reunited and with the help of Joseph were able to survive the famine period.
13. (a) In ancient Israel, what class of people suffered much evil? (b) What experiences of David well illustrate this? (c) In the light of those experiences, what is the counsel of James?
13 Descendants of Jacob did not all take the same course when it came to evil. Some caused evil, but others suffered evil. Among those who suffered the most evil were the prophets of Jehovah who spoke in his name. Their suffering originated mainly from those of their own nation who had lost the spirit of Jehovah and yielded to the inclinations of the flesh. Highly honored among men of the nation was Saul, who became the first king. He had opportunities to do much good, but instead acted foolishly, did not keep God’s commandments and so did not enjoy the favor of Jehovah. His contemporary David proved to be blessed by Jehovah with victory over Goliath. So Saul was afraid of David, came to hate him and schemed to have David die. Personally, Saul tried to spear David, but David escaped. Time and again Saul endeavored to do evil to David. Nevertheless, David showed the spirit of God and would not let himself be provoked into returning evil upon Saul. David felt sorry for Saul and determined to leave the settling of matters in the hands of Jehovah God. (1 Sam. 18:15, 25; 19:10, 11; 24:4-15) David was but one of the prophets who suffered evil; there were many others who have also left a good example for us to copy. It is evident that those who were patient with evildoers are the ones who gained the favor of God. Let us do likewise: “Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah. Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—Jas. 5:10, 11.
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Joseph’s brothers had done evil to him; yet after becoming lord of all Egypt he did not return evil for evil