Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
We sing a song here that says, “All I have is Christ.” The implication is “All I need is Christ.” I have sung that song many times and I would guess you have too. Every song that we sing, while we may believe the lyrics, we do not hold to them all the time, in every situation. I know in my head that all I need is Christ, He is my all, my everything. Without Him I’m hopeless and dying in every way. With Him I have every spiritual blessing, I have a sure future in heaven, I have strength here and now, I have purpose and I have a friend in Jesus.
I wonder what our lives would be like if we always carried with us in our hearts and in our minds and in our walk the truth that “All I need is Christ?” I think I would be more gracious, more giving. I think I would hold on to the things in this life more loosely. My treasures would be more spiritual than physical. I would work differently, I would relate to you more patiently, more lovingly. And I would approach my enemies in a whole new light, love them more than hate them, care for them more than wanting to harm them, I would be softer and not harsh. What about you?
In our passage today, Jesus gives us remarkable teaching that will challenge how we not only relate to difficult people but will give us insight into how we view the material things we have in our possession. He continues to turn both ancient and modern day thinking upside down. The One, the Christ with all power begins to teach on moderating and controlling the power that we may have. He does this and He teaches this to us. He begins teaching in the area of rights and what we do with our rights. He gives us, in a sense, direction on how to love, to be different through self-control, how to just let some things go in order to show the world that we love and trust God more than we desire to prop ourselves up and make ourselves look strong and powerful in the eyes of others. I think all of this is in our passage today and in the few verses that follow.
Let’s take a look at verses 38-42 of Matthew 5. Jesus begins with another “You have heard that it was said” statement. This time what follows is a direct quote from the OT which is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Exodus 21:22 When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Leviticus 24:19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.
One more instance:
Deuteronomy 19:21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
The first example is that of a pregnant woman whose baby is harmed, the second is injuries to a neighbor and the last was in the case of a false witness. If someone bears false witness to another person then that false witness was to receive as a punishment whatever he intended toward the one about whom he lied.
In each case it is stated or implied that these are judgments to be handed down by a court or judge in a case that is being heard. These are stiff penalties that kept a judge from being too lenient with the offender. In none of these instances is direction given as to an individual but to a court or to a community who might sit in place of a court.
Now Jesus has stated that He did not come to do away with the Law. He does not do that here either but Jesus is rebutting the rabbis’ interpretation of the Law or even popular use if it. In this case the religious leaders were distorting the Law in order to use it as personal vengeance rather than as guides for judges in cases of law. It is personal vengeance that Jesus is attacking here. The Law was not intended to justify personal revenge.
Sometimes our thoughts and even actions say, “I’ll give to you what you deserve!” And we somehow feel good and justified in whatever follows. Why do we feel justified? Because in our own personal trial and sentencing, you know the one that takes place in our hearts, sometimes in a matter of seconds, we know they deserve the punishment that we deal to them! We say, we quote from the Bible in our hearts, “Vengeance is mine!” Is that what it says? NO! It says, “Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord!” Sometimes that vengeance, that punishment will come from God through a court or Law as God himself directs as in the OT writings. But it is not our place as individuals to seek revenge for wrongs done to us.
When speaking to someone in anger, speaking rudely, giving the silent treatment, failing to serve someone, in all these actions and more we really need to stop and ask, why am I acting this way? Why am I treating this person poorly? What is going on in my heart? What we may find is an active pursuit of punishing that person in order to give them what we think they deserve, in order to seek revenge. Again, hear what Jesus said:
Matthew 5:39 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.
This is an often quoted passage and an often misquoted passage. As I was studying this passage last week I heard a talk radio guy on the radio say, “Well, you know, as Christians we are taught to turn the other cheek and we should but eventually, we have to fight back!” What was he saying? He was saying that what he believed Jesus was saying was only good to a point, but at some point we have to deviate from what Jesus says and do what we think is better! I think this guy didn’t understand the passage and maybe we haven’t understood it well either. Let’s see what Jesus meant and maybe what He didn’t mean.
Jesus says, do not resist the one who is evil. Let me say broadly, that Jesus tells us that all people are our neighbors and that we are to love our neighbors, right? One thing this does is it prevents us from having “personal” enemies. We are to relate to all people in loving ways. So we are to avoid seeking vengeance against an evil person who mistreats us through some kind of an act of violence. Now, how does this apply?
Jesus first applies it to a violent insult—a slap on the right cheek. A slap on the cheek would be particularly painful and insulting. This would most likely be a backhand, open handed slap since most people are right handed. This had two main effects. First it hurt, more slowly than a slap on the left check, the back of the hand would hurt more; and the second effect is the insult of being slapped. The rabbis taught that this type of slap would be particularly harmful to a person’s honor, that the fine should be doubled.
How were Jesus’ disciples to respond to this type of slap? Turn and offer the left cheek to the violent person. This response shows a willingness to endure further insult and pain and would show great strength by not retaliating. Jesus certainly modeled this when he was slapped and abused. Never are we more like Jesus than when we respond to attack with grace. Now, having said all this, let me carefully qualify some of my statements.
Jesus’ command is for us to refuse to respond with sinful anger or even resentment. We are not to seek out retaliation and revenge. Again, that is God’s job, not ours. Jesus does not explicitly command or does not even seem to suggest that we must avoid defensive or evasive action to protect ourselves or others from serious harm or death. In John 18:22-23 Jesus endured a slap but also questioned and protested it. Jesus also evaded serious harm when at times he withdrew from a crowd seeking to kill Him.
And so protesting and evading are not necessarily acts of disobedience. In addition, the type of slap that Jesus says should be taken graciously is not the type of injury that would cause permanent damage or death, it was not life-threatening, nor would it be intended to be life-threatening. Jesus used an example of a slap. He did not use and example of a sword or a spear or any kind of stab through the body. He did not say if someone slices you open with a blade to turn the other cheek. He did not say if someone cracks your skull with a brick to turn the other cheek. Nor did He say if someone does one of these things to your wife or your child to turn the other cheek. Jesus was careful with His words and His example.
Or even given what was said in verse 38 regarding an eye or a tooth. Jesus did not say if someone gouges out your right eye then give him your left. No the discussion, Jesus’ words about turning the cheek, was significant and specific. The shift implies that a person can defend himself when in a life threatening situation or a very dangerous situation.
Loving one’s neighbor also does not prevent seeking prosecution if a violent act has been committed, if it is properly motivated. Victims of violent crimes should press charges against the one who assaulted them, this should be done quickly. If there is a case to be made and a chargeable offense has happened, then so be it. Why? For the public good, for the protection of our neighbors, again not for personal revenge.
If all we need is Christ, if that is the mantra of our lives, then we can take a slap, even painful one, an insult, an attack on our honor; we can take it without seeking personal revenge because a slap and an insult do not affect or take away what we treasure most, we still belong to Christ and He is all we need.
Jesus give more examples.
Matthew 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Verse 40 is a legal attack. We move from a personal violent attach to a legal one. There is probably a strong connection with this verse and verses 25 and 26 which say:
Matthew 5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.
In both cases Jesus speaks of a legal issue prior to it being heard by a judge, prior to a judgment being made. Jesus encourages reconciliation quickly and even restitution.
Frivolous lawsuits were rare in the first century. So most likely the disciple that Jesus speaks of here as being sued was probably guilty. Cases like this were decided by a three judge panel. These were not professional judges but peers of the accused and the one bringing the suit. Each party to the suit picked a judge and then they both had to agree on the third judge. The third judge could break the tie if needed. The judges would also decide on the penalty. The judges voting would not be revealed. With this system there were not many frivolous suits. In Jewish law, the inner garment was fair game in a law suit. This would be the most expensive piece of clothing and was frequently used for bartering.
As is today, it would be highly unusual to give more than what a person was required to give in a lawsuit. But we are not called to live like the world, right? Jesus says, go ahead and give your tunic and your cloak (or outer garment) as well. What is the teaching? Rather than retaliating against an opponent, pay what is fair as would be required by the court of judges plus give something in addition to make amends, earning the respect of the other person. Radical behavior, right?
But if all we need is Christ, then why not give material things away in order to live at peace with other people? It is not, all I need is Christ and my favorite tunic, my favorite shirt. No, all I need is Christ.
Jesus now moves to the area of abuse of authority. He teaches how not to retaliate against the abuse of authority.
Matthew 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
In the days of Roman rule, a Roman soldier could force a regular citizen to help out in a variety of ways with their duties. For instance, if a soldier needed something moved form point A to point B he could force a citizen to move it for him. There were limits to those though. Limitations were implemented in order to not enrage the citizenry by asking too much of them. So one limit was a person could only be asked to go one mile, that was the limit. What does Jesus do? He says, go two. Serve more than you were asked to do. Give more, do more, go two miles instead of one. No Jew wanted to help the Romans so this would have been a really big deal. Don’t retaliate against being asked but do more than what you were asked. Do you see the pattern? So while the general population is grumbling, complaining, trying to get out of helping the Romans, Jesus' disciples are being shown a new way, serve others with your resources.
If all we need is Christ then we are free to serve others with our time and our resources. This is really a walk of faith, this is faith believing that the Lord will care for us so we can care for others.
Lastly verse 42:
Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
We as followers of Jesus are to be charitable. Assist the poor, give to those in need. It is assumed that those who asked were truly destitute. It was deemed so shameful to beg in those days that unless one had no other option he would refuse to ask. Supporting the slothful is not in view here but helping those who had legitimate and even desperate need.
We are so bent on holding on so tightly to our things, our time, our money, our possessions, our ideas, our comfort, our leisure—so bent on protecting all of these things that we may look just like…well, just like everyone else. But we aren’t called to look and act like everyone else. Jesus wasn’t like everyone else. As His followers we aren’t to be like everyone else. Instead of demanding this or that, instead of wanting more for ourselves, instead of constant self preservation and protection, instead of all these things, we are to replace all of this with hearts of service in devotion to and trust in our Lord.
These verses can be summoned up from Proverbs 25:21:
Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink…
This was the new way that Jesus taught, it was not really new only explained differently. This is to be our way.
Here is the thing. This is so much about Jesus. What has Jesus done for us? We insult Him with our sin and he turns the other cheek, He does not harmfully slap us down. Jesus gives to us more generously than we could ever deserve. Jesus gives Himself to us, He serves us, He goes with us, stays with us even when we childishly demand things from Him. He meets our needs, we are destitute without Him and He freely gives to us. Jesus is our all, He truly is all we need. Do we believe that, does this truth show in how we live, what would others around us say about us in this regard? He is all we need.