Matthew 5:38-42, Responding to Evil
General Idea: Jesus calls us to an entirely different perspective and outlook of life. He sees the quintessential reason for life, and our being, is relationships. We see our pursuit of material goods and things as what is important in life, but Jesus calls us to see material goods as nothing. Even if we lose everything due to theft, abuse, manipulation or any wrongful means, our true richness all comes from who we are in Christ and in the relationships we develop. Jesus uses this law, and the leaders' misinterpretation of it, to point them to its true meaning, which is not about vengeance, but about restraint. This passage is also about transitioning our thinking from selfish and materialistic matters to eternal matters and relationships, which are far more valuable and important! The further point of this passage is found in verses 43-44, as love is our motivation, and unselfishness is our goal.
1. You have heard it said: Jesus is again summarizing the OT Law, this time concerning turning retribution into relationships, and bringing the people back to God's standards.
a. He challenges their misunderstanding of the law and steps it up into application (Ex. 21:23-25; Num. 30:2; Duet. 19:21).
b. An eye for an eye... Most people assume this is related to revenge, that when we are wrong we can get our revenge on those who wronged us. This was the common law of the ancient world, so people were motivated not to break the civil law or steal from their neighbor for fear of being treated the same by them. However, this is not what it meant in the OT Law. The Moses law was not about personal vengeance except in the case of murder. Even for that, cities of refuge were set up so the guilty could be protected until a trial could determine their guilt or innocence. If they were innocent, they were protected from wrongful vengeance (Nub. 35:18-21).
i. The intent of this law from the OT (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Duet, 19:21) is to restrain the people from taking revenge out of anger. It was a law that put limits on what you could do (Lev. 19:18; Prov. 20:22; 24:29). Thus, a person could not murder his neighbor for stealing his goat. This law also prevented differing punishments for differing social or economic classes, which was in wide practice in other cultures. The theme is that the punishment must fit the crime, no extremes, while still maintaining an acceptable deterrent, keeping those with bad motives from taking up crime.
ii. The story of Lamech was a person who took much more vengeance than was taken from him, thus, becoming a scorn to early humanity (Gen. 4:23).
iii. Many people in Jesus time saw this OT law to be the same as the pagan's law, as motivation for revenge. They thought that you could do as you pleased, and take vengeance. Jesus corrects them from this destructive idea.
iv. David saw the value of this law, too (1 Sam. 25:23; 26:10-11).
v. Paul contributes further by saying; it is the responsibility of civil government to seek justice and vengeance, as they are God's appointed agents (Rom. 12:19; 13:1-4).
2. Not to resist, Jesus calls us further not to seek vengeance. This phrase is attributed to court and legal manners, but in its context, also relates to all disputes. Jesus' primary concern for us is for relationships, and for our growth in Him in maturity, faith, and obedience. In so doing, we will see that relationships are the key aspect of life--not the products and things we have and seek.
a. When we cloud our thinking with vengeful mindsets, we will create unending retributions that will cause continuous broken relationships, conflict, and strife, the opposites of things God calls us to seek!
b. Slaps you on your right cheek was considered the ultimate insult and assault to a person besides murder. This was a backhanded slap to reduce a person's dignity and status in society, or to challenge them to fight or submit. This also alludes to Isaiah 50:6, where verses 7-9 tell us that God is our vindicator. Therefore, we cannot be disgraced as long as we are His children! Our ultimate honor is who we are in Him, not what others may, or may not think about us!
i. Roman law permitted prosecution for this offence!
ii. The prophets endured such harsh treatments for standing up to God's truth, and telling their society they were in the wrong (I Kings 22:24).
iii. Personal vengeance has no place in the lives of those who are the children of God (Rom. 12:17-21)!
c. Whoever compels you/forces you refers to the ordering from civil and/or military authorities to get you to do a task, such as carry their weapons, or use your house to live in while you sleep in the stable (Mark 15:21). This was unnecessary and unrighteous abuse, but we are not to look to the abuse and get upset. We should be looking to the bigger picture, to how can I learn from this, how can I build a relationship in this, how can I model Christ and build character in this. When we focus on the situation, and not Christ, we will endue hardships and suffering for no reason, it will be meaningless. When all we do is seek revenge, and become bitter over a situation, it will cause us to lose our freedom and be despondent. Freedom is also a choice; we should seek Christ and our freedom in His Grace and Mercy. Paul knew this even when he was in chains! So, Jesus calls us to volunteer even more of ourselves to the hardship as a testimony to our choice and freedom, so we are in control rather than see the 'service' with resentment. When we focus on Christ, we will succeed in growth, maturity, character, and the building of relationships. Revenge and resentment will only cause despair, stress, isolation, and broken relationships!
i. Joseph forgave his brothers (Gen 45:4-15).
ii. David spared the life of Saul twice (1 Sam 24:8-15).
iii. Elisha fed the army of the enemy, the Arameans (2 Kin 6: 8-23).
iv. Stephen prayed for his abusers and the people killing him, while he was being stoned (Acts 7:59-60).
v. The early Christians joyfully accepted the loss of their rights and goods (Heb. 10:32-34).
vi. And, of course, remember that Jesus is our ultimate example (1 Pet. 2:20-23).
3. Let him have your cloak, the 'outer garment' was one of the most valuable and important possessions a person could have. It would be like our house today, or our entire wardrobe. They usually had only one cloak due to the enormous time and expense to make. They wore it all of the time, and slept with it as a blanket. To lose it would be catastrophic, especially in the winter. They could pursue legal and criminal accusations if it was stolen, just as we could today in the loss of any valuable possession, especially, an only car that we need to get to work or school.
a. The tunic was the 'inner garment' like underwear, or a toga type garment. The person would have more than one, unless they were really poor.
i. A creditor in OT law could not take the cloak (Ex. 22:26-27).
ii. Any legal case to get back a lost cloak would be an instant win regardless of the fault, unless corruption was at work.
b. Some commentaries say this passage is 'hyperbole literature,' that Jesus is 'exaggerating' to make His point. This may be so; I do not think He would want us to lose all of our possessions so we became homeless and destitute. But, the primary focus here is the unimportance of possessions and the importance of much more valuable matters, like relationships!
c.Some see that Paul is contradicting Jesus in 2 Corinthians 11:16-20, but this is not the case. This passage is also 'hyperbole literature,' that is Paul is 'exaggerating' to make his point, so they can consider their behaviors in light of Christ's teachings. The Corinthian people were being boastful and prideful, exhibiting a lack of discernment. Outward matters and clever talk were over impressing them. These two passages balance and support each other very well! We are to always seek reconciliation and relationships, but we are not called to be doormats, either.
4. Beggars, and the poor, were everywhere; to the point people ignored them as many do today with homeless problems in most cities all over the world! Jesus calls us to respond! Again, relations are more important than material goods!
a. The Bible clearly calls us to meet their needs (Deut. 15:11; Psalm 112:5; 9; Prov. 21:13).
b. The law also forbids the misuse and the taking advantage of the poor; Jesus steps up this law and calls the church to do the right thing (Deut. 15:9)!
c. Debts in the law were to be forgiven every 7 years. However, there is no indication that this law was widely practiced, as pride and selfishness clouds the call (Lev. 25; Luke 6:35)!
5.This passage is also about the humiliation the Christian life may bring you. Because we are called not to respond as the world does, they will see us as weak. However, it takes much more strength to stand your ground in love and in Christ, and greater weakness to comply with the stands of a fallen world!
a. When we are attacked, we are not only to resist the resentment and payback; we also must seek an opportunity to build relations out of it! This is what Christ does with us, in Grace and Mercy.
b. This is what it means to imitate the nature and character of Christ! This goes way beyond doing our duty, as it is letting go of our rights, and will, and turning to the One who does understand and loves (Col. 1:24).
We are never to seek righteousness or justice in others and never cease to give righteousness and justice to others! So, whenever you are mistreated, take this challenge from our Lord. Seek ways to turn it around, to overcome evil with good, to turn unrighteousness into relationships!
1. When someone treats you wrong, how do you respond?
2. Have you ever reacted in kind to mistreatment of yourself, repaying evil with evil? Why, and what were your motivations?
3. What do you think is the proper way to respond to evil?
4. Why does Jesus call us to an entirely different perspective and outlook of life?
5. Vengeance is a popular and fun theme in movies. Why do you think that is so?
6. Does God need to bring you back to any particular standards? If so, what are you going to do about it?
7. If you lived in the OT times, would this law motivate you to stay away from crime? Why, or why not? Why would someone not be motivated by it?
8. Why would someone misrepresent it to say it is OK to seek revenge?
9.Why did God go out of His way to set up cities of refuge to protect people from wrongful vengeance, even though the law is clear on the matter? This was also one of Joshua's first duties when he went into the promise land (Joshua 20)!
10. Have you ever considered that this was a law limiting what you could do, and one that even protected people?
11. Why did the law of God and Jesus see vengeance as destructive?
12. Why do you think God gives responsibility to civil governments, who may not know Him, to seek justice and vengeance on His behalf?
13. How does clouding our thinking with vengeful mindsets miss what Christ has for us?
14. How do you feel knowing that God is your vindicator, and, therefore, you do not even need to take revenge?
15. How does knowing that our ultimate honor is who we are in Him, not what others may, or may not think about us, give you confidence?
16. Do you believe that personal vengeance has no place in the lives of those who are the children of God? Why, or why not?
17. What happens when you focus on the abuse and not the bigger picture? How can you seek how you can learn from this; how can you build a relationship in this; how can you model Christ, and build character in this?
18. Freedom is also a choice. How can you seek Christ, and your freedom in His Grace and Mercy? What would that mean in your daily life, especially in times of stress and confusion?
19. How can the humiliation you may encounter in the Christian life bring you confidence and hope?
20. How can this hard teaching from our Lord bring you closer to imitate His nature and character? How can you apply these principles to the situations you face at work, school, in your family, at church, or how people treat you in general?
© 2002, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org