Have you ever been offended by someone? Have you ever been taken advantage of by someone? Have you ever been verbally or physically abused by someone? Has anything ever happened to you that thought was a violation of your rights? Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach on such questions (the audio is usually posted by Tuesday HERE).
They are tough questions! Our natural instinct when things do not go our way is one of spite, anger, or retaliation. But Jesus says that if people do things against you, you should not return in kind to them. You should return with forgiveness. In Matthew 5:38-42, we read that Jesus tells His followers how a person of the Kingdom should respond to personal offenses that are done to them. Jesus is calling us to extend forgiveness to those that offend us!
This passage starts with a very familiar statement. If you grew up in a church, you have probably heard of "eye for eye" or "tooth for tooth." These were statements in the OT Law (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20) that were known as the Law of Retaliation. This Law was given so that those in authority would know what was fair punishment for certain deeds that were done to others. But it was primarily given so that people would not seek their own retaliation. They were to trust the governing authorities to take care of the person, not respond by knocking out their friends tooth. The principle of the Law was justice, but it was also grace and mercy. And our calling today as a person of the Kingdom is and has always been forgiveness and love.
Jesus says in vs. 39 that while you have heard "eye for an eye," He wants us to understand our heart should be so sensitive that we do not resist an evil person. This is not calling us to become a passivist, but wants to know if we are willing to give up our perceived rights for Him and for others. He then launches into four illustrations of the impact an evil person may do to us and wants to know how we will respond to them.
1. How To Respond To Insults (vs. 39b)
Turning the other cheek is not turning away from violence, but turning away from an insult or mockery. To hit someone on the right cheek would have signified a back handed slap, which was a very serious insult. Some even say it was an insult that was used when someone was condemning you of heresy because of your faith. Maybe it was that, or maybe it is just an insult because of your intellect, looks, status, or some dumb thing you have said. Whatever the case, when someone comes at you in a spiteful way with an insult, how should you respond? By turning away and not responding in kind.
Isn't that what Jesus did? How did Jesus respond to insults? First Peter 2:23 says that "while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats."
2. How To Respond To Injustice (vs. 40)
The imagery Jesus uses is that of courtroom where someone receives a verdict against you for some reason (most likely a bad reason, because of the context of the evil person). Jesus says that you should be willing to give up not only the shirt off your back, but also the coat that would have kept you warm at night. That means, that you should be willing to radically respond to make things right, even if you think you are being ripped off.
How did Jesus respond to injustice? Well, just about everything about the arrest, trial, & crucifixion of Jesus was against the law of the day. And while hanging on the cross, He uttered those words, "Father, forgive them . . ." (Luke 23:34).
3. How To Respond To A Lack Of Freedom (vs. 41)
A Roman soldier could command anyone at anytime to carry their personal luggage for a mile. Think about that. How would you respond if someone forces you to do something that you do not want to do? How would you respond if you were forced to give up your freedom? Jesus says to take it an extra mile. He says that because that is what He did. He sacrificed His freedom to come as a man, go to a cross, and die a death of criminals . . . for us!
4. How To Respond To Those In Need (vs. 42).
The last illustration is that of a person who needs something and they come to you and ask for help. I think most of us would be willing to give to a friend in need, but remember the context. It is to an evil person. Would we be willing to lend to those that we think have done us wrong?
Yet that is the heart of our Savior. Wasn't He willing to help those who had offended Him (Romans 5:8)? Because of Jesus, we can let go of our desire and lure for fairness. Because of Jesus, we can forgive those who have done us wrong. Because of Jesus, we can not hold grudges or retaliate in kind. Why? Because of the cross, we don't get what we deserve anyways, do we? That is why He calls those who are part of the Kingdom to extend forgiveness to those who offend us.