But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39)
Last week we looked at the subject of ‘an eye for an eye’ which was God’s way of protecting His people from ‘blood feuds’, tribal warfare and an unnecessary reaction to being wronged. It protects against an escalation of aggression, where things can very quickly get out of hand, which in ancient times were very prone to do.
Rather than retaliate, Jesus is going to show in the next few verses, what kingdom reaction should look like. He sets out four scenarios which we will look at in turn over the next few weeks. In the following weeks we will look at: Letting someone have your cloak, going the extra mile and giving to beggars, but this week we will start with the subject of ‘turning the other cheek’.
This is one of those phrases that has become common in our culture. It is a phrase used to support pacifism and non violent retaliation. Two classic proponents of this thinking were men such as Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Ghandi, who both lived out this virtue to promote non violent peaceful protest.
Do the words “do not resist the one who is evil” mean we should not resist any and every form of evil? Should we be extreme pacifists? This is how Leo Tolstoy, the 19thcentury Russian novelist and social reformer interpreted Jesus’ words. He believed in an absolute prohibition of all physical violence, not only personal but also on the part of the police, the military, and the government. He went so far as to insist that one must not even resist the murderer or the thief. But surely this cannot be what Jesus meant. Here are 7 reasons why I don’t agree with his interpretation:
· First, it would prohibit us from disciplining our children when they commit acts of sin or rebellion! The Bible says that we are to resist the evil in them and lovingly correct them. (Proverbs 23:13-14)
· Secondly, there are quite a few places in the bible where it exhorts us to “resist the Devil” who of course is the ultimate embodiment of evil. See for example; Ephesians 6:13, James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8-9.
· Thirdly, in Galatians 2:11-14 Paul resisted Peter to his face; he publicly rebuked and denounced him for withdrawing fellowship from the Gentiles under pressure from the Jews.
· Fourthly, in John 18:19-23 Jesus appears to resist the high priest and the “police brutality” of the soldier who slapped him. Clearly, Jesus did not turn the other cheek. Why? Because Jewish law prohibited striking an accused person before he had been legally convicted. None of us should forego the protection the law provides for us.
· Fifthly, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus commands us to resist the evil in our brothers when he talks about church discipline.
· Sixthly, Romans 13 clearly endorses the right and responsibility of human government to resist and punish evildoers.
· And lastly, note the way that Jesus “violently” and “angrily” resists the evil of the Pharisees when he cleansed the temple on two separate occasions.
So we are not to be ‘doormats’ as some cite as an excuse not to take this command literally, but there are still circumstances where we need to obey this teaching.
What Jesus is saying is this: Do not retaliate against those who maliciously oppose you personally and nothing is at stake except your pride, reputation or your so called ‘rights’. Our honour is of no significance compared to representing our Lord and standing for His righteousness and showing that we trust in Him. He would point us to the following verses:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)
Do not say, “I will repay evil” wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22)
But His statement is not meant to apply to instances when a third party is involved. If someone assaults your neighbour or your spouse or your child or someone weak and helpless, you need to go to their defence. Jesus is not saying we should stand idly by while others are being attacked. He is not forbidding us from opposing evil when it threatens our families or our society. Jesus was not prohibiting the administration of justice but the taking of the law into our own hands for the purpose of exacting personal revenge. Jesus is calling on us to resist the urge to retaliate and to be willing, if need be, to suffer additional pain at the hands of those who hate us. In these verses Jesus is talking about how His people should conduct themselves. It’s a call to radically live out the gospel as we represent God in our daily lives. I’ll finish this week with just a few reasons why Jesus wanted His disciples to act in this way and why we should continue in this way now;
(1) By turning the other cheek it is much more likely that we will limit any further aggression. When one person not only does not respond in kind, but acts in a calm, reasonable, loving manner, situations of hostility are usually disarmed.
(2) The early church were despised and persecuted in a heathen culture, their radical lifestyle was misunderstood and they had all sorts of slanderous accusations directed against them. By turning the other cheek they would show those around them that their intentions were peaceful and honourable. This would serve as a great witness to their opponents.
(3) A reaction of peace, control and kindness is exactly the opposite reaction that people would expect in a hostile situation. This reaction will cause the question ‘Why is this person reacting so differently to everybody else?’ This gives an opportunity to live out the gospel.
(4) A reaction of non-retaliation demonstrates faith in God and His justice. We do not take vengeance into our own hands because we know that God protects His children; if any retribution is deserved God will take care of it in His own time and manner.
“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay says the Lord” (Romans 12:19)
(5) To act without personal retaliation is to act just like Jesus who endured so much for us. Who took up His cross for our sakes and humbled himself
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. … 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:19, 21-23).