Have you ever felt like you were wronged or felt like you were cheated by someone? Have people ever said things that were not true about you? Have you ever been made a fool? Maybe treated unfairly? How did that make you feel? Did you want to correct people? Did you want to find out who said those lies and get back at them?
I’m sure we’ve all felt these things sometime in our lives. We’ve experienced what it’s like when things seem so unfair. It’s this feeling of injustice. Abuse. Violation. Even oppression.
The question I want to ask today is, how did you respond when those things happened? How do you usually respond?
An Amusing Story of Unfairness
Recently, I’ve been going on many road trips. As a part of college ministry, I’ve been visiting students and ministries in different states. Two months ago, I went to Pittsburgh and last month, I went to Boston. And my wife has been getting worried about my health because I like to eat junk food when I drive long distances.
So, when I came back from my recent trip to Boston and I ate something unhealthy the next day, my wife got frustrated at me. She was even more upset because she had prepared a healthy and delicious meal but I had gone out to eat with my friend.
You know, she gets upset because she cares about me. She really wants me to be healthy. So I do try to control how much I eat and I am conscious of the food I eat. And the most important detail to know is that I didn’t eat any junk food when I went up to Boston and when I drove back.
But in her frustration, she says, “I can’t believe you ate out and wasted the food I prepared.” She says to me, “You never eat what I cook you!”
This isn’t true at all but you can feel her anger in her words. But then she also blurts out, “And you ate all that junk food on your Boston trip too.”
She was not with me during the trip so she didn’t see whether or not I ate junk food. And before up to that point, I was in general agreement with her. I didn’t want to fight about it and I didn’t want to defend myself.
But the moment I was falsely accused of eating junk food during the Boston trip,
I was hurt. And I began to retaliate. I began to tell her that she should not be assuming things and defending myself for not eating any junk food on the Boston trip. I just reacted with a harsh and negative tone.
How do you respond to unjust accusations?
In today’s passage, Jesus Christ is continuing his Sermon on the Mount by addressing more issues on how we should live as God’s people. If you’ve read the Beatitudes and the following messages Jesus shares, I’m sure you’ve recognized that so much of the Sermon on the Mount is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It shows how Jesus fulfilled the law completely and he just cuts through to the heart of the law and pierces the heart of the people. And today’s passage is no different.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Jesus already spoke on anger before in verses 21 to 26. He equated anger with murder. But what if it was justified anger? What if it was in keeping with the law?
Because the law allowed certain acts of revenge.
The law which says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is about taking revenge that is justified by the law. It was okay to take an eye if they took your eye and to do to people what was done to you was an acceptable response and it was the appropriate response.
This law of “an eye for an eye” can be found in multiple places in the Old Testament. (Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:17, 19-22 and Deuteronomy 19:19-21)
It was a helpful law because without this law, if someone cut your brother’s arm and out of anger you went and cut that person’s head, their family could take even greater revenge and soon, it could be an all out war. Instead, by having this law, the revenge was controlled. It limited revenge so that the revenge was not excessive. If someone cut your brother’s arm, and you went and cut that person’s arm, it would be considered an acceptable revenge and the fight against each other would end.
But over time, this law, like many other laws became more “how far can I go” and the law was abused without regard for things like grace, love and forgiveness.
Jesus is not only concerned about making sure we are justified in what we do, He is also more concerned about why we do it. Jesus sees the core issue is in our hearts.
Reactive versus Proactive
Seeing the core issue is in our hearts, Jesus responds to the law of revenge by saying in verse 39 “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” Here, Jesus implies that revenge, the “eye for an eye,” is ultimately a “resistance” to those who harm you. As we look at the examples Jesus gives us of not resisting, we can see that Jesus is rather saying we should “embrace” those who harm you. But we have to also understand that Jesus is not merely giving us instructions to follow simply on face value. As Jesus is pointing to the issue of our hearts, he is challenging us to take responsibility to see the situation further.
He is calling us to stop being reactive, just face value, and start being proactive, with wisdom and grace. To start being proactive to stop violence from escalating and to start being proactive in ways that bring benefit, rather than more harm and ultimately, glorify God. It’s ultimately God’s work in us that we begin to see as you start being proactive instead of reactive. So he’s the one who gets the glory.
That means that being proactive has value in two ways. It has value because of the substance of what it accomplishes, and also because the manner by which you do it says something about what you believe about God.
Well, let’s look at the substance of what’s been accomplished, if someone acts violently at you, by not returning the insult and by not returning the violence, you are stopping the violence from escalating. But not returning the violence does not mean you do not resist all violence. That’s not what Jesus means here. The substance is to stop the violence from escalating. If we respond back in anger, it further perpetuates the violence. But being proactive means taking steps to prevent someone from attempting to attack further and resisting attacks to stop it from becoming even more serious abuse. That’s the manner in which you accomplish the substance.
Same goes for giving to the one who begs from you. The substance is to help those who are in true need. But help does not always equate with just giving. Being proactive means understanding the difference between helpful giving and foolish giving. Giving to a lazy person who doesn’t have a need but simply begs you is foolish giving. Giving to a person where the giving would cause more harm to that person is foolish giving.
Jesus is more concerned with why you do something instead of just what you do. For God, it’s not just the outcome that is important. Sometimes, the outcome can be terrible. You might think you failed miserably. But God can still be honored and glorified. When you act out of obedience to God. Your intentions matter. Your obedience matters more than your results.
Results versus Faithfulness
The world around us makes decisions with the goal of securing specific results. And as you read the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, You can begin to do the same for these things as well. The Sermon on the Mount is not some upgraded rules to follow. It’s actually so much more. It’s actually just foolishness to do what Jesus says in order to simply accomplish something.
As a Christian, I make these decisions to obey, not in order to secure the results— but to take responsibility in every situation to express my faith and be faithful to God. Our value as Christians isn’t found in the results you gain or don’t attain. It’s not about just turning the other cheek or going two miles or not refusing to give. It’s how faithful you are to God in the proactive choices you make to show the glory of God. Our proactive responses and decisions are valuable mainly because of how it shows off God’s work in us.
A person motivated by results will live in constant frustration because if value is found in results, then their joy will always require results. But a person motivated by faithfulness will understand that regardless of the situation, their joy does not rely on the results. Instead, they use their results as a means to display their joy in Christ.
We can see this play out in the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in chapter 7. And here, Jesus begins to describe multiple dichotomies. A contrast between two things. And it is through these contrasting images that Jesus is teaching us the principles to live out our lives that will guide us through every situation in life. Even with issues of revenge and retaliation.
- Wide gate vs. narrow gate.
For the wide gate vs. narrow gate, it’s not about how successful or how much you accomplish in life. It’s about where you are headed, no matter how slow you are going.
- Good tree with good fruit vs. bad tree with bad fruit.
For the good tree vs. bad tree, it’s not about producing a lot of fruit, doing things. It’s about being a healthy tree which will automatically make good fruit.
- People that Jesus knows vs. people that Jesus doesn’t.
For the people that Jesus knows vs. people that Jesus doesn’t, it’s not about just doing what Jesus says. It’s about being known by Jesus.
- House built on the rock vs. House built on the sand.
For the house built on rock vs. sand, it’s not about simply building a house. It’s important where you are building!
It’s these principles that guide us and that also helps us define how we should be proactive and faithful to God.
As we are being proactive and faithful to God, how should we actually retaliate? How should we actually respond to unfair and unjust harm against us? I’d like to highlight three main ways.
- Respond Gracefully
- Respond Gratefully
- Respond Generously
You can be graceful in your response by putting God first before your own rights and entitlement. We often fail to be graceful when we are stuck being focused so much on ourselves. Being graceful will allow others, even your enemies, to have an open heart to God.
You can be grateful in your response by highlighting the goodness of God rather than in judgment. Remember that Jesus died for you while you were still enemies of God and deserving of wrath. Being grateful will help you keep injustice of this world in perspective and not be overtaken by anger or hopelessness.
You can be generous in your response by giving people another chance and building a relationship with them. We have the freedom to be generous because God has been generous in His grace to us. When we are generous in our response we are providing an opportunity for people to respond to God’s grace.