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How To Really "Even the Score!"

Philemon 10

John L. Kachelman, Jr. 


I. In the Middle Ages, when the great lords and knights were always at war with one another, one lord resolved to revenge himself upon a neighbor who had offended him. It chanced that, on the very evening when he had made this resolution, he heard that his enemy was to pass near his castle protected by only a few men. It was a good opportunity to take his revenge. He spoke of his plan in the presence of the Chaplain who vainly tried to persuade the lord to give up his desire of revenge. The good man explained how wrong it was and what a grave sin it would be, but the lord would not listen. Finally, seeing that all words had no effect, he said, "My lord, since I cannot persuade you to give up this plan, will you not at least consent to come and pray with me in the chapel before you go?" The duke consented and they knelt together. The mercy-loving Chaplain said to the revengeful warrior, "Will you repeat after me the prayer which our Lord taught His disciples?" "I will do it, " replied the duke, and he did accordingly. The chaplain would say a sentence and then the duke would repeat it. All went smoothly until, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." "I cannot say that, replied the duke. "Well, God cannot forgive you; for He has said so. He Himself has given you this prayer. You must either give up your revenge or give up this prayer. Go now, my lord, and meet your victim. God will meet you at the great day of Judgement." The iron will of the duke was broken. "No," he said, "I will finish my prayer." The duke now understood the tragedy of revenge! 

II. Our lesson focuses upon the emotion of "revenge." It is known by all and is common, easily expressed, and generally applauded. The "right" of a person to avenge themselves has become the basis for defense in murder trials. So lax has society become regarding the immoral nature of revenge that our younger children are being encouraged to "get even." 

1. The common attitude regarding revenge masks the heinous character it possesses. 

2. "Revenge" is a cruel word--"manhood" some call it, but it is rather "doghood." There can be no darker side to sin than man's revenge. 

III. Perhaps there is no better text to discuss this evil emotion than Philemon. A slave had fled and had stolen property of the Master. Valuables had been taken and never more were they to be returned. Upon discovery, the Master had to have experienced anger and hurt and thought of recapture and punishment had to occupy his mind. After some time the theft and thief were fain disturbances. But then, one day the thief returns and with him is a letter asking forgiveness! The very name "Onesimus" would have brought word associations as "thief, traitor, criminal, and fugitive!" The biting memories of the past wrong would be as salty water on an open wound. All of the plans and desires for punishing the slave were now a real option--think of the urge for revenge and retaliation! Here was a great chance for Philemon to really "even the score!" 

1. How would you have reacted? The issue of a runaway slave who has stolen our goods is a far and remote issue. But the desire for revenge is not so far away! 

2. We are faced with the same dilemma that Philemon faced, only our problems focus on not being promoted, not receiving some coveted award, or being the object of malicious gossip. It could center on someone who caused us to lose a ball game or someone who destroyed our lives. 

3. The issue of "getting even" is around all of us. We need to examine what God says about it. 


I. Two Directives regarding getting even. 

Each day is lived by choosing one of two standards of conduct. We choose between God and Satan. When it comes to revenge we find two directives -- one must be chosen by us. 

A. Satan's directive feed the desire for revenge. 

1. No doubt Satan kept Philemon reminded of the disloyalty and desertion of Onesimus, the stolen goods' irreplaceable value, the personal insult, and the legal justice he deserved. A steady diet of these thoughts would make a hard heart. 

2. Such a directive led David to make one of the most serious mistakes in his life (1 Sa 25:10-13,33). 

3. Satan's directive is accepted by too many today--they take it upon themselves to "get even." 

B. God's directive seeks to replace bitterness with a sweet forgiveness and understanding (v. 16,17). 

1. Philemon was encouraged to remember--he had certain "debts" that were erased by kind forgiveness and mercy (v. 18,19); his actions had far-reaching consequences on others (v. 20). 

2. This mercy is a focal point in all who follow God and claim Him as their father (Micah 6:8; Lk 6:36). 

3. This directive of God is harder to practice, yet it must be followed! 

II. Two Methods regarding getting even. The directives will lead us to choose between two methods. Philemon was faced with this choice and so are we. 

A. We can choose retaliation. 

1. We can hurt as we have been hurt (Ex 21:23-25). 

2. We can press to the legal limit and justify "revenge" without calling it that. 

3. This method promises "satisfaction" but never delivers it. "It is like the feeding of cancer: the man is restless until it be done and when it is, every man sees how infinitely far he is from satisfaction." 

4. This method is not acceptable to God (Mt 5:38-42). 

B. We can choose forgiveness. 

1. We are told by God--the world is not fair so never expect to be treated fairly by the world! 

2. There is to be another course taken that is different from that of the world (Pr 24:29; Lk 6:27-37). 

3. By choosing to admit the unfairness of another's act to us and then to permit it to have no influence upon our lives is the only acceptable option! (1 Ths 5:15). 

4. A high official in England once went to Sir Eardley Wilmot in great anger and told him a story of great insult which he had received. He closed by asking him if he did not think it would be manly to resent it. "Yes," said the judge, "it would be manly to resent it; but it would be God-like to forgive it." 

III. Two Texts regarding getting even. 

A. Romans 12:17-21 

1. The Christian is not excluded or protected from the desire of revenge. Things will happen that will stimulate this evil emotion. 

2. Knowing that situations will arise that can foster the desire to even the score, we are exhorted... 

a. To guard our thoughts lest they cause us to concentrate on revenge (v.17b; Ps. 39:3). 

b. To do whatever we can to be at peace with others; and, if not, let them alone (v. 18). 

c. To give God time to correct the wrongs done to us (v.19). 

d. To be active in helping those we are apt to be angry and resentful toward (v. 20, 21). 

B. Philemon 17-20 

Let us remember Philemon's just cause and his legal recourse toward "revenge." But let us also remember his duty to be merciful toward another Christian (Col 3:12-15). 


I. Revenge has been termed the "sweetest morsel in Satan's pantry." It is so appealing. Its seed is sown in the wound of personal injury and begins to fester in silent thoughts. It matures in bitterness and brings forth the dark fruits of anger, malice, and hatred. 

II. May all beware the destiny of the vengeful person -- Ez 25:15-17; Amos 1:11,12; Pr 26:27; Jas 5:9,10. 

III. A boy who had done wrong and confessed it was sentenced by his father to live for three days on bread and water as punishment. For two days his plate of dry bread and cup of cold water was set before him instead of the usual food. On the morning of the third day, his father asked how he liked his meals. The child replied, "I can eat it very well, Papa, but I don't like it much." After a few moments of silence the child asked, "Can't you forgive me, Papa?" "No sir. I cannot. My word has passed and you must take your three days as I said." The question was repeated, "But can't you really forgive me, Papa?" "No," was the answer, "I cannot break my word." The boy then said, "Then, Papa, how could you say the Lord's Prayer this morning?" The father was struck with the child's reproof, ordered the bread and water removed and said with evident pleasure, "My boy, you have preached me a better sermon than ever I heard in all my life."

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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