In my Bible reading this morning, I came across Matthew 5:38-42. This is a difficult passage to swallow.
To theologians, it’s known as the lex talionis. To the rest of us, it’s known as the law of non-retaliation.
“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.”
(Matthew 5:38-42 / ESV)
We can see the power in these words, can’t we? We are called to behave in a way that is diametrically opposed to how the unbelieving world acts. When someone wrongs us, they expect us to retaliate. When we respond with kindness and love, they are jolted to their core. They may feel guilt and shame for what they have done to us. And it provides an opportunity for the Gospel.
(There are other questions about this text that need to be answered at another time: 1) was Jesus saying that we must always lay down our rights or was He saying that we simply have the right to lay down our rights? or 2) should we lay down our own rights but fight for each other when their rights are violated? These are questions for another blog post.)
Matthew 5:38-42 is easy to read. Putting it into practice is quite another thing!
After all, it is often ingrained in our thinking by our culture that we are to fight for our rights. But, in this text, Jesus is saying that as His followers we are often to lay down our rights.
How can we do this? God has put an innate sense of justice in our hearts (Romans 2:15). We know right from wrong and we desire that the right is rewarded and the wrong is punished.
So, how can we live with the incredible tension that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-42 create? How can we yield our rights, experience injustice, and be OK with it?
The answer to those questions is found in Romans 12:17-21. In this text, we realize that our innate craving for justice can be satisfied. While presently yielding our rights and being mistreated, we can look forward to a day when God will exercise justice. Since He is going to administer justice in the future, we can deal with wrongs in the present.
“Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
(Romans 12:17-21 / NLT)
This isn’t easy – and we shouldn’t be surprised by that. We were told that following Jesus would be tough (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 16:24; John 15:18; etc.). That’s why the follower of Jesus is dependent upon the Holy Spirit within us to enable us to live the Christ-honoring life.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
(Philippians 4:13 / ESV)
So, will you fight for all of your rights today? Or will you yield some of your rights, endure injustice, and use the opportunity to draw attention to the Jesus who tells you and enables you to act that way?
(If you have some questions about this topic or have further input, feel free to leave a comment below. I will try to reply in a timely manner.)