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When I work with students I frequently find that conflicts between them are really one-upmanship. Here’s what I mean: one student intentionally or unintentionally tweaks another student, that student then responds with a decidedly intentional verbal or physical shove, which is responded to by the initial student with a louder and more intentional reprisal. And on and on it escalates until someone steps in to stop it.
I often ask these students who are upset with each other, “What did you think was going to happen when you treated the other person that way?” The quick response is almost always, “I don’t know.” And I believe that because most of us don’t think through the counter-reaction to our reaction.
So I will ask a follow-up question: “Did you think that by shoving him in response to his insult that he was going to say, ‘Oops, my bad. I’m sorry for that and I won’t do it again’?”
Usually, the student answers quite honestly, “No, I didn’t think that would happen.” They were just so upset that they wanted to let the other person know that they had been hurt.
This idea of getting even is the longing of so many of the psalms: How long until we see victory? (see Psalms 6, 13, 35, and 94 as examples). It’s the cry of the martyrs before God’s throne: How long until we see justice? It’s the desire of every Christian wrongly accused and condemned: God, how long until Your truth prevails?
Matthew quotes a passage from Isaiah 42:1-4 that is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. Part of that description says, “A bruised read He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He leads justice to victory. In His name the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:20-21). Notice this key word: till HE leads justice to victory.
Jesus is Justice and Truth, and He does ultimately triumph. But notice how Jesus accomplishes this because it is to be our model too:
- No quarreling
- No shoving back on those who have hurt us
- No attacking those who have attacked me
Victory comes only through Jesus. I have to relent trying to balance the scales of justice—this is never my place. If I try to make things right on my own, my so-called justice only sets off a one-upmanship shoving match that continues to escalate in very ungodly ways.
Vengeance is God’s. Justice is God’s. My hope—my immovable hope—is only in what Jesus has accomplished. Remember what Matthew quoted: “In His name the nations” [and all those who have been persecuted, wronged, and martyrd] “will put their hope”!
Let’s all ask the Holy Spirit to remind us of this the next time we want to shove back the person who just shoved us.
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