"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." (Rom 12:17)
My question when I look at that verse is this: Then why are there so many rules in the Law of Moses that require the death penalty as punishment for a particular sin? Is it one of those cases where we see a different nature of God from the Old Testament to the New? ("The God of the Old Testament would repay evil for evil, but the God of the New Testament says not to.") As far as I know, that's never a valid distinction. So then how do we explain the severe payback given to so many crimes when the same God would say, "Repay no one evil for evil"?
The answer is a fairly simple distinction. God's law through Moses didn't repay evil or evil; It repaid justice for evil.
And that's a distinction that's important for us to know too. Because there are times when someone in the church does what is evil, and there must be punishment for it (cf. 1 Cor. 5). And it is plenty right for governments to wield their power to punish evildoers (cf. Rom. 13:1-6). But these things are about accomplishing what is objectively right—not just what feels right, and certainly not just about accomplishing personal vengeance of some kind.
That's the warning that Paul gave to the Roman Christians. It's not about vengeance or "personal justice." We, as the people of God, ought to be in pursuit of the same kind of objective truth, righteousness, and justice that defines God's good nature. That, in the grand scheme, is what will prove to be honorable in the sight of all.
- Dan Lankford, minister