An Eye for an Eye
When you go through the Sermon on the Mount keep in mind Jesus was showing the Pharisee’s the full impact of the Law. They had perverted the Law’s meaning and made it a means of attaining self-righteousness. The purpose of the Law is to drive us to Christ and this passage shows us Jesus had a very different ethic than the worlds’. As Christ lives through us won’t that be true of us as well?
Matthew 5:38–42 “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.”
You have heard that it was said, The contrast between what had been taught and actual truth continues. We live in a personal rights culture. Jesus is leading us to the place where we give up our rights; our right to retaliation, our right to things, our right to our own time and our right to money. We are stewards of all and hold all in trust for the advancement of His kingdom.
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ This saying comes from Deuteronomy 19:21. The main intent of the Mosaic legislation was to control excesses. In this case, in particular, it was to control anger and violence and the desire for revenge. There is a principle of equality in justice and punishment. So, if a man knocks out another man’s eye, he must not be killed for that, rather, take an eye. Or if he knocks out the tooth of another, the victim is only entitled to knock out one of his teeth. The punishment must fit the crime and not be in excess of it. The purpose was not to promote retaliation but to control it. The legislation was primarily for the judges in executing justice.
Jesus calls us to forsake revenge. The first right Jesus teaches us to forego is the right of retaliation. We tend to justify retaliation as “evening the score” or “giving the other man what he deserves.” Instead of insisting on our rights we are to yield them. We are followers of Jesus who yielded up all in order to advance His Father’s kingdom. We are called to the same path.
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. When wounded we can often only think of revenge and Jesus is saying to not resist; instead give up the right to take after those who have wounded us. We can only understand this correctly if we keep it in its context. It’s an “eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” until the spirit of Christ enters into us; then, something higher is expected of us. This teaching relates to us as individuals and not as nations nor our responsibilities as citizens of a nation. This teaching, which concerns the Christian individual, applies only to his personal relationships and not in his relationships as a citizen of his country. This is the whole crux of the teaching.
Yield your legal rights against your enemy. The word resist is an explicitly legal term and might be translated “take to court” or “give testimony against.” Do not stand on your legal rights as Christians and bleed this law and others for all they are worth. Do not make your “rights” the basis for your relationships with others. Be prepared to take a lowly position as a humble servant; and be prepared to pay the price of imitating the example of Jesus. Jesus never said, “How can they do this to me?” He only said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. To receive such a blow was more an insult than a violent crime. It was a blow with the back of the hand, something still regarded as grossly offensive in the Near East. It was an insult for which the only recourse was to take a man to court, as people might do today for libel or defamation of character. Jesus is reminding his disciples to yield their rights and not seek to preserve their reputation and the respect of men.
Make yourself of no reputation. Jesus humbled Himself and gave up the right to a good reputation. Jesus said, “Let the insults come” and show by your response that you feel no need for retaliation because as God’s child, your reputation is secure. Let your response to insults be gracious.
Jesus’ gospel is counterintuitive. According to Jesus, the gospel is counterintuitive to the natural man. It is only possible for those who have died in Christ to live out this gospel and give up their rights. Jesus says whoever slaps you on your right cheek, don’t protect yourself – keep yourself vulnerable.
Deny yourself and follow me. We prefer to practice self-denial but God’s call is much deeper. We are called to be a people who deny self and follow Him. When someone strikes me on the cheek and I want to retaliate, Jesus says, “deny yourself.”
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. It doesn’t matter if the insult comes as a slap, sharp words or a nasty look. Our Lord wants to live through us because His life in us doesn’t take offence easily. This has to do with personal insult and not someone trying to do physical harm to us or our loved ones.
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.The coat of the Jew was virtually sacred. If it were taken as a financial pledge it had to be returned before nightfall. If a man’s cloak and coat were taken from him as the result of a lawsuit, he could get the loan of the coat to sleep in at night. Jesus’ point is that when His followers meet with opposition and persecution, they should not stand on their legal rights. Instead, where the sins of others abound grace in them should abound much more.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. The Roman army that occupied Palestine had the right to force people to assist them. When you are drafted, Jesus says, and have walked the one thousand paces required by the Roman regulations, keep going. Carry the load one more mile. Do it voluntarily, so others may see you have another Emperor, and belong to another Empire, with principles that are infinitely stronger than the laws of Rome!
Go the second mile freely. Jesus Christ says, if you are My disciple, you will always go the second mile, and you will always do more than your duty. You will go the second mile, not for their sakes, but for Jesus Christ. It would have been a sorry outlook for us if God had not gone the second mile with us. The first thing God requires of a person is to be born from above and then when he or she goes the second mile for others it is the Son of God within who does it. The only right a Christian has is the right not to insist on his or her rights.
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Only God incarnate would speak such words. We may say we do not know what Jesus Christ means. However, we know perfectly well He means something impossible for us unless He remakes us and it is then possible. We are called to be gracious in our giving. Then they will understand our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. “Give to him who asks you,” not because he deserves it but because I tell you to. The great motive in all giving is Jesus Christ’s command. When Jesus died for us on the cross, he did not do it to defend our right or his. It was grace that took him there. Now, as his children, we are called to the same life of self-sacrifice and Christ-like service.
God wants you to yield your common sense to His command. The way Christians wriggle and twist and compromise over this verse springs from infidelity to the ruling providence of our heavenly Father. We enthrone common sense as God and say, “It is absurd; if I give to everyone who asks, every beggar in the place will be at my door.”
These truths come only through transformed living. If we try to apply these principles of Jesus Christ’s literally without the indwelling Spirit, there will be no proof that God is with us but when we are rightly related to God and are letting the Holy Spirit apply the words to our circumstances, we shall find the restraining hand of God, for if ever God’s ruling is seen, it is seen when a disciple obeys Jesus Christ’s commands.
I hope you’ll let the Holy Spirit illuminate your understanding as you apply these truths to your life. Never forget Jesus is calling us to live a counter-cultural life in this world and we will as we yield to His indwelling life. Have a great week.
We are always in need of volunteers with our children’s ministry. We specially are needing someone who would feel called to lead the children’s church during the 10:40AM service. If you would be willing to serve in one of these capacities please contact Sally Chollar at 210-445-3223.
You are loved!