"Live at peace with everyone, do not take revenge" was the entreaty that Apostle Paul made to Christians 2,000 years ago. It's the same plea that evangelical pastor Alistair Begg made to the church on Sunday.
"Ask yourself this question, whether in all honesty, we can say that the picture of whatever is evangelical Christianity in the public arena is a picture of people who apparently are taking seriously the phrase 'loved ones, never avenge yourselves,'" said Begg, senior pastor of Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
"Essential Christianity" is the name of the Scotland native's new message series. Though he did not specify to the congregation what prompted the message on revenge on Sunday, he expressed several times his disappointment with Christians involved in litigation and how they handle themselves in court.
He mentioned that a local mediator in the Cleveland law courts told him that the worst cases she has dealt with involved Christian pastors.
It's not easy, he admitted, to heed Paul's plea (as revealed in Romans 12).
In fact, Begg believes not taking revenge and being at peace with everyone "is one of the hardest things in the whole of Christian living because it is completely antithetical to the way in which things work."
"The natural instinct of men and women is retributive," he said.
Yet the Bible is so clear on this matter and Paul is so straightforward in his statement that it's impossible to misunderstand, the senior pastor underscored.
"If this is simply a call to moralism, it's beyond our ability to cope with," Begg noted. "We are aware of the fact that we cannot do this. We neither have the desire nor the will to do it."
Essentially, this is a call to radically different thinking.
And that's what Christianity is about, he pointed out.
"There's no question that Christianity is a mind-altering reality," he acknowledged. "No minds are being manipulated; our minds are being renewed, transformed. We are no longer simply buying what the news broadcasts tell us ... [or] the lifestyle of our culture ... [or] the views of sexuality that are provided by the prevailing thought forms of our day.
"We are being conformed to the image of Jesus and that conformation is directly tied to the transformation of our thinking."
Rather than letting one's heart rule one's head, Christians are to bring their hearts under the jurisdiction of their minds, he added.
Unfortunately, the courts of suburban Cleveland are filled with professing Christians who refuse to do what the Bible says and who bring "a slur" on the testimony of Christianity itself, Begg said.
Speaking to the congregation as a corporate body and not as individual Christians, Begg asked them to think about what Christianity looks like in the public and "whether it is a picture of people who have decided to sidestep that (to never avenge yourself) and take matters into our own hands."
"I'm not making a judgment. I'm just asking you to think."
"Are you going to embrace the most litigious society in the western world – America? Or are you going to be a Christian?" he asked.
As Scripture states, leave it to God to right the wrongs, Begg told the church.
"Leave it to the wrath of God," he preached.
While noting that governments were put in place to prevent anarchy and punish evil, at the end of the day, "God will right the wrongs," he emphasized.
"Only God is perfect in His judgments and in His justice."
But leaving the judgment to God doesn't mean expecting God to punish the evildoer the way the Christian expects.
"[It's] never ever ever right for us to wish anything other than the salvation of our enemies," he stressed. "Pray for their salvation, not for their damnation."
Begg has been pastor at Parkside Church since 1983 and has a radio program called Truth for Life. He is also a council member of The Gospel Coalition.