*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away
into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of
thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on
him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
(Mark 15:15-20).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!