“But whoever slaps you on the cheek, turn to him and give the other”. In any culture the above behavior is an insult and demands a human response. In what we like to think are more gentlemanly times, this slap led to a duel to the death. I think this analogy is not far off the mark. Jesus is essentially telling us when we are insulted, don’t return fire and amplify the trouble, give your attacker the other cheek in submission. Make no mistake His words declare in their original context, “I will be your servant”. This gets right down to gut level pride in every one of us, yet Paul declares this is part of the gospel message, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants, for Jesus sake”. This does not mean we simply do what we are told, it means we do what Jesus told us to do (preach the gospel) in love. They may not receive it, hence “turn the other cheek”, yet we are serving them never-the-less. We must understand that love will win over hate, and doing good to your enemies, understanding Jesus will take vengeance (should they not repent), is what brings conviction (heaps coals of fire on their head) as Romans 12:19-21 states.
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?
In part #1 if this series we dove into what Jesus meant in his commanding resist not and evil person”. Given the context of Matthew 5:39-46, He did not mean for us to lie down and do nothing or submit to evil intentions. When considering Romans 12:19-21 we can surmise we are to overcome evil with His good. In essence we can resist the evil person only in the supernatural way Jesus commanded us. His way is not common-sensical or humanly creative. Below we will examine His way of resisting evil, with GOOD. If you have not read part 1, please do so now.
“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also”. Luke’s gospel also includes this command, without the words to indicate suing. In any case the command is very descriptive as it refers to the unlawful (in false lawsuit) and forcible removal of ones tunic like undergarment and the giving of one remaining outer garment or coat. The latter served as ones robe at night as well. Jesus is commanding us that if one forcibly seeks to remove your under clothing give them your outer as well. What purpose could this serve, in basically making oneself naked before an aggressor? As ridiculous as it sounds, Jesus words mean so much more when considering what He says in the very next chapter of Matthews Gospel…
Matthew 6:25-32 (NKJV) 25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Thereforedo not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
In delightfully turning over that which covers our bodies, we are declaring Gospel truth to our enemies. In these cases where we let vengeance stay with whom it belongs, those who unjustly persecute us see those who have faith in the promises of God to supply what they need through the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. This is yet again an example of heaping coals of fire on our enemies as we overcome evil. Perhaps we would rather go to court and duke it out for our right to own property. Perhaps we would rather keep what we think is ours, instead of giving what has freely been given to us.
“And whoever compels to you go one mile, go with him two”. At first glance this one seems almost a colloquialism in our culture, one we say often yet don’t fully understand. The word “compel” brings our subject into vivid living color. The same word is used to describe the burden legally placed on Simon of Cyrene, when he was compelled to carry our Lord’s cross. In provinces governed by Rome the occupied could be required without prior notice to carry a Roman military pack for a Roman mile (1000 paces). This was disdained by the Jews, who had 1000 paces measured off to the shoe lace. To Jesus followers and the society they lived in his words were more than radical. When taking His word with Matthew 5:43-46 they come to life overflowing with Kingdom purpose. Our Master tells us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who spitefully use you and pray for those who persecute you. All of the evil behaviors the Jew saw in the Roman against them, yet Jesus had a twofold purpose for instructing His followers in these behaviors. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”. The first purpose was that we would have the reward of God’s favor and blessing upon us as His children, for our Father loves His enemies, and when we obey Him He blesses us. The second purpose is to reveal God in Christ Jesus to our enemies and this cannot be understated for “it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Is this possible to do with a willing heart? Yes if we are truly filled with the Spirit, yet that takes a surrender so absolute, we are willing to lose all we have and possess to glorify God, even our good names, relationships, human contact and our lives if our Father so intends.
“Give to Him who asks you… from him who wants to borrow… do not turn away”. In order to understand this part of the passage we will not take a look at a companion passage in Luke 6:34-35…
Luke 6:34-35 (NKJV) 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
I believe it is appropriate to ask how the above outlined behavior overcomes evil. To behave this way is to dsiplay we, who have been recipients of mercy we did not earn or deserve, are those who freely give what was freely given. Remembering that the goodness of God leads to repentance enables us to understand how his overcomes evil. The unjust (sinners) are those who have a sin debt still to be dealt with before our Holy God and Father. When they are in need and we give making no request, or establish a criterion for repayment we are extending grace: an unmerited free gift. We are in essence preaching an illustrated sermon on what God did for us all in Jesus Christ. It is His goodness towards His enemies that overcomes all evil, especially that evil which separates all men from Him.
In wrapping this up, it is astounding to me how clear Jesus words are. It is equally astounding how very little we Christians in America follow them as He intended. Although gathering together and working through constitutionally guaranteed rights is at times appropriate, it is not His first call to His church. We have not been called to redeem a culture run amuck and antithetical to our good Christian morality, no matter how biblical it is. We are redeemed and called to overcome evil with the greatest good—the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This good news is focused on preaching Christ crucified, risen and returning and it is the only program He blesses with His power. The time has come for us to examine why we are trying to recover a historical past that has often times been romanticized as America’s founding being a Christian Utopia. This view is at best a caricature of true historical fact, and at worst reeks of the error of revisionism. It seems the call today is to reclaim what we once had, all the while forgetting our current temporary home is not the kingdom eternal in the heavens for which the saints of old wandered about destitute, living in caves and wearing sheep skins and suffering persecution to obtain (Hebrews 11:9-10, 13-16, 35-40). Let’s face it, the American democracy, as wonderful as it has been around, will not last forever. As all nations, it too is a drop in the bucket to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lord’s (Isaiah 40:15). Since this is the case, why do we spend so much time worrying about how laws and culture are waxing more wicked? Why do we spend so much time, man power, economics and energy resisting this evil essentially with human means, when we should be overcoming it with His GOOD?
I believe the answer lies in our diminished view of the Kingdom which is to come in Christ’s return. I believe if we truly desired the King and His Kingdom as much as we proclaim we do, it would be shown in how we love our enemies and deny ourselves. Let’s remember there is only one Kingdom which will not be shaken and will stand forever. Resisting that Kingdoms advance is truly futile…