Matthew 5:38-46 (NKJV) 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person”. I must admit Jesus words bring me to the point of confession. It is absolutely true, as a child, teen and young adult I loved watching “Star Trek’, not just the original series, but also “The Next Generation”. In fact I loved “The Next Generation even more than the original, because of the Borg. These characters were a mix of living organisms and synthetic parts, kind of like what we call cyborgs, yet the true “Star Trek” nut… em’ purist may become queasy as that definition. The Borg were tough, powerful and just about unstoppable. They were very limited conversationalists, saying very little other than “We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile”. I must admit, when I read Jesus words from verse 39, I hear “don’t resist an evil person, because resistance is futile”. On the surface, Jesus words seem pretty clear, but upon digging further we shall find the depth of what He meant.
If read verse 39 outside the context of the entire passage, Jesus words would seem to instruct us to lie down and submit to evil. Of course that is not what He is saying, for although we are to be subject to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-10; I Peter 2:13-18), there does come a time when we are to resist evil. In fact Romans 12:21 instructs us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with… GOOD. Since the kingdoms and governments of this old world will wax more evil, as His return draws near, we will have ample opportunity to overcome evil with good. Throughout the world, the blood bought children of God, are persecuted, marginalized, litigated against while being surrounded by perversion and death. In multiple contexts we see good overcoming evil. It would seem to me this means resisting evil, but what does that look like according to Jesus?
This is a question the church in the United States of America needs to answer. We must be careful to not define Jesus statement inappropriately, for He meant something often missed in our day. We tend to see overcoming evil with good, as speaking against wickedness with truth in love, gathering together for positive evangelical political action, peaceful or non-violent protests or exercising boycotts; all in an effort to effect legal or societal change. We have become very fond of philosophical statements such as “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. It is true that the above behaviors are effective. In any reading of recent history in the U.S. (the past 50 years) one can find any number of non-violent protests, boycotts, and political action working to effect changes. In fact if we look deeper in to the past we can see the prohibition years as a seemingly effective use of evangelical political power and action. The only problem is that these changes are hardly permanent. As we count the cost we can see the man power, energy, economics and logistics behind these endeavors and arrive at the conclusion, is it really worth the effort and is it what the church is called to be busy with in order to overcome evil with good? In the first stead it may be worth the effort considering how a person defines effectiveness. Yet I scripture does not affirm it as the thing we are too busy ourselves in.
Our calling in Christ is found in the Great Commission not the redemption of civil governments (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20). In these passages where Jesus gives us our final command He tells us to make disciples of all nations by preaching the gospel everywhere. This activity was and is to consume the church of Jesus Christ. In our day we must consider how much of our energy is truly devoted to making Him known. We can use the Word of God as a barometer. In Mark 16:20 we find this truth “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs”. Translation: The early church majored in preaching the gospel and God confirmed those efforts with supernatural outpouring. According to the word of God our efforts are not being affirmed supernaturally, therefore we must consider our focus.
If one were to explore when the church finally began to become movers and shakers in government and culture, they would see it was shortly after general persecution was ended around the year 325. Satan in all his hateful zeal to kill and steal and destroy could not snuff out the church in almost three centuries. You can almost see him recalibrate his scheme… “Let me give them a voice in my world system. Perhaps this will keep them so busy and inflated in their pride that His work will cease”. Forgive my indulgence into the enemies mind, but it was precisely the voice given to Christians and the prosperity and relative peace they attained, that led to the corruption and forgery of the Romish church. In our day we have lost sight of this sad chapter. We have also lost sight of how Jesus dealt with intrusions by the religious of His day, who rejected the immoral government of Rome wanting their own way… “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. Our Lord’s way of overcoming evil with good is not what we often default too; His way is described in Matthew 5:38-44.
In simplicity Jesus begins by saying “Do not overcome evil or and evil person with more human force (no matter how good it seems) or evil”. He furthers this by explaining what it is that is the means of overcoming evil… 1) If receiving a physical insult, offer yourself for another 2) To whomever demands something from you unlawfully, give them beyond what they are asking 3) Whenever demanded to follow the law, go beyond its written intention 4) Give with no requirement, modeling grace. Some would suggest Jesus words are, merely poetic or allegorical, because He did not intend for us to be door mats. Let me be clear: Anyone who would suggest this line of thought needs to read the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even when Christ was speaking against the Pharisee’s, this He did in love to reveal the truth, if perhaps they would repent. For his GOOD, He was persecuted, yet He returned with more GOOD. We know this for as He was being crucified He said “Father forgive them for they know no what they do”. Jesus Christ was a door mat, and that was what God ordained for Him as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. The Romans cleaned their sinful hands and feet on Him as they beat Him purple—Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. The Jews spewed hate upon Him as their spittle found home on the door mat Messiah—Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. Even His followers wiped off their self-deceit on Him as they professed they would go to death with Him, only to run—Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. Jesus is the door mat, between our old life and the new creation life, on which we walk into eternal blessing. Jesus displayed how we overcome evil with Good… by loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors (even those bent on our destruction) as ourselves. In the next instalment we will examine further the four commands Jesus gives us to overcome evil with good.