In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been explaining several Old Testament passages and explaining God’s original intention when He made these commands. Jesus explained what real righteousness would looks like, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus taught that an internal righteousness that changes the heart of man is what God requires, rather than the external religion of ritual and self-effort. Jesus wanted an internal attitude of love for Him and for others instead of just empty external religious behavior. This was clearly the intent of the verses we are about to study now.
These verses are some of the most misquoted passages in Scripture. They are misunderstood and misapplied by many people. The central verse in this section of Scripture is, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” I would venture to say that the vast majority of people today have no idea what this verse actually means! So, let's consider what Jesus had to say about these words. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”
What did Jesus believe was the true intent of the law, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” The first thing to do is to read the context of this law. As you do, you realize that this law was an instruction to the judges of the land that would give them direction in meting out justice. God gave this law to keep judges from meting out punishment that did not fit the crime. God wanted to take vengeance out of the hands of individuals who had been hurt or defrauded. He appointed judges and civil authorities in order to reduce and restrict revenge by the offended parties. This law was given so a judge would not give a death sentence to someone because they put out someone’s eye. If someone knocked your tooth out in a fight; a judge could not sentence them to life in prison. Therefore, this law was given to restrict the judges from unjust or excessive judgment. The punishment had to fit the crime.
However, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes taught that this law justified personal revenge. Yet, the original intent of the law was just the opposite. God wanted to stop people from taking personal revenge by taking punishment out of the hands of angry people, and giving it to civil authorities. The Lord wanted a judge who was not personally affected by an offense to measure out justice to the accused. We all know that when you are directly offended by someone sometimes your emotions can take over and you are not as objective as you should be. Emotions sometimes clouds objectivity. The Pharisees missed the entire point of this law as do people today. This law was to promote mercy, and restrict revenge, which would prevent injustice. As proof of this fact, simply look at the four examples that Jesus gives to explain how this law should be applied. Jesus spoke of someone who slaps you, wants to sue you, compels you, and wants to borrow from you. These examples deal with the issue of mercy and restricting a person's vengeful or unloving response. Therefore, if you want to truly simplify this passage, write next to it, Vengeance versus Mercy. This is the point that Jesus is trying to make.
Resisting an evil person.
What does Jesus mean by this phrase, “I tell you not to resist an evil person?” This command is critical to understanding all that He is teaching. When most people read this statement they think to themselves, I can’t do that. I must resist an evil person? Is that really what Jesus is teaching? The solution to these questions is solved by looking up the word resist. When you look up the word resist in the Dictionary of Biblical Languages all becomes clear. The word resist means to become aggressively hostile towards an individual. In other words, Jesus is teaching the disciples not to become aggressively hostile towards someone who offends you. If you look at each one of the offenses that He refers to, they are all minor offenses. If someone slaps you in the face, that is a minor offense. Jesus was not talking about somebody coming at you with a knife or a gun to kill you. He was not talking about somebody compelling you to do something that is evil. He used the example of someone compelling you to walk an extra mile. Someone wants your tunic, this is a minor offense. Therefore, in minor offenses don’t get aggressively hostile with people. Try to resolve the issue without more conflict. Make every effort to keep an emotionally charged situation from becoming explosive by remaining calm.
Now let me show you two passages of Scripture where this word resist is used, so that you can have a better understanding of it usage. In 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul said, “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth.” These two men were the magicians that Pharaoh brought in to mock and with hostility, resist Moses. There were people in Timothy’s church that were resisting him in a similar manner. In 2 Timothy 4:15. Paul warned Timothy about Alexander the coppersmith whom he declared, “did me much harm, for he has greatly resisted our words.” Alexander with great hostility and aggressiveness, resisted and fought against Paul’s ministry.
How did Paul understand Christ’s instruction?
Let me give you several examples of how you should look at evil from the Apostle Paul’s perspective. He wrote in Romans 12:9, “Abhor that which is an evil. Cling to what is good.” God clearly wants us to hate evil. In Ephesians 5:11, Paul taught, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Therefore, wherever you see evil you should hate it and expose it, because that's what a believer should do. In 1 Corinthians 5:13, notice what Paul taught that we should do when someone is practicing evil in the church. He commanded, “Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person.” This particular individual to whom Paul is referring to was a man who was committing incest in the church of Corinth, and he was boastfully declaring his freedom to behave in this manner. My point is this; the Bible declares that we must resist evil and evil people, but not in a hostile way. This is clearly how Paul understood this particular instruction by Jesus. In addition, Paul also taught in Romans 12:17-21, “Repay no one evil for evil.” In fact, this is exactly what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. These four examples that Jesus uses to illustrate His point are simply teaching you not to respond with evil for evil. Paul said, "Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.” And then Paul adds this little qualifier, “If it is possible,” which implies that sometimes it is not possible. But, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Therefore, Paul taught the same thing as Jesus. You need to have the correct attitude to overcome evil with good. You are not to take vengeance upon others! You are to leave vengeance to God who has perfect knowledge; He will repay justly in all cases. You are not to take vengeance especially in minor issues. You are to let them pass and let them go. You are not to avenge yourself.
Now before I leave this word resist, I want you to see what the Scripture teaches about where you should resist in a hostile and aggressive way. I know you are thinking to yourself, But, you just told me to not be hostile and aggressive. I did, but here is the balance. In James 4:7, it declares, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The same Greek word resist that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount is also used by James. Consequently, James is teaching us that we must be hostile toward and aggressively resist Satan and his lies, his temptations, and all his work in our lives. This is exactly the intent of Ephesians 6 when Paul talks about the wrestling match that goes on between believers and the spiritual hosts of wickedness that are seeking to destroy us. He declares in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” The word withstand is the same Greek word for resist we have been studying in Matthew 5:39. My point is this; many Christians struggle and fail in their lives. One of the reasons this occurs is because they fail to resist Satan and his temptations with hostility and aggressiveness. I would venture to say that we all need to become more hostile and aggressive toward the work of the enemy of our soul. As Paul said, if you want to stand in the evil and difficult days in your life, then get more aggressive in your battle and fight the good fight of faith. You may be in one of those difficult days right now, or that day may be coming this week. But, the question is will you resist and fight? Or, will you be passive and think, I can’t win. Will you try to resist Satan in your own strength or by your willpower? If you do, you'll lose. You will stumble and fall. What you need to do is resist aggressively with hostility towards him, in Jesus' name. When you come against him in Jesus' name, you come against him with faith and prayer. Believing prayer is your most powerful weapon, and you need to use that weapon with hostile aggression. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). We are way too passive when it comes to fighting that spiritual battle that is going on around us every day. Many times as Christians we just lay our swords down, and we are run through by the enemy’s sword. Don't do it. You need to aggressively fight. Submit yourself to God. Fight in faith! Fight in prayer! Fight in the name of Jesus! “Resist him, and he will flee from you.”
How does Jesus illustrate the principle of not taking revenge?
In Matthew 5:39-42 Jesus gives you four examples of how to respond in minor offenses. First, Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.” This command is misquoted, misunderstood, and misapplied more than any other of Christ’s commands. Remember, each of these commands applies to an attitude in your heart. Don’t misapply this command by simply making it into an external behavior. It is the attitude of turning the other cheek. If I turn the other cheek but I want to kill someone in my heart, I have missed the point. This is what the Pharisees did. Suffer the injustice instead of seeking revenge. He's encouraging forgiveness, not revenge. Seeking revenge is the first thought every one of us has in our hearts when we are offended. We are all alike. I know it is my first thought. I want to punch them back. I want to strangle them. I want to give back exactly what they gave me. That is the wrong response.
Turning the other cheek is having a totally different attitude of the heart. But, does turning the other cheek mean that I should never speak up for myself? I should never speak up against evil? I should never defend myself? Not at all. Remember the way Jesus responded when struck on the face in John 18:23. Jesus was standing trial on that last night before his death and He is slapped in the face by one of the high priest's officers. Scripture declares, “Jesus answered him, 'If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?'” Jesus reproved this individual for striking Him unjustly. Why didn't Jesus just turn the other cheek and say to the officer, “Here is a better shot at this side of my face.” If you think that Jesus should have done that, then you are missing the point. Jesus did not seek revenge, He spoke against the evil which is exactly what you must also do. Speak out against evil.
In Matthew 12:14-15, here is another example, “Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him how that they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there.” So how did Jesus respond to those that were seeking to destroy Him? He withdrew Himself from this circumstance. Therefore, you must speak against evil, and at other times, if that is possible, withdraw yourself from the circumstance.
Another example of Christ’s attitude towards evil is when He first went into the Temple at the beginning of His ministry in John 2:15. It says, “When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.” So, what happened to Jesus the pacifist? Doesn't sound like a pacifist to me! And He is not. Why did He overturn the tables? Why did He drive the money changers out of the Temple? Jesus saw this as a great evil. People were ripping off God's people and using their desire to worship God to do it. When people came to offer their money to God, the money-changers told them they could not give their currency, but must use Temple coins. So, they had to change their money and were charged a high rate of exchange. Also, if the people brought a sacrifice to God the officials would always find something wrong with it and make them buy one of their sacrificial lambs or goats. This was a royal scam! They were gouging God's people. Jesus was not happy with this evil. He told them to get out! Leave these premises! Jesus went through overturning tables, taking their money and pouring it out on the ground, driving them all out of the Temple. It is a powerful image. When people think that God is a pacifist, or that Jesus specifically is a pacifist, they do not understand Him. They are not considering the whole context of Scripture. Jesus is not a pacifist! In Revelation 19:11 it declares. “I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” He is coming one day in judgment and justice, and He will judge and make war.
I know you are thinking, “Look I'm really confused. How do I balance turning the other cheek and not taking revenge with the Jesus who makes war? With minor issues you must be willing to suffer injustice and not seek revenge. However if a conflict escalates into a major issue you must protect yourself. Let me explain. If someone slaps your face, don’t response in a hostile manner. But, if someone pulls a knife or points a gun at you, or tries to kill you or someone you love, do anything and everything in your power to stop them. If you say, “No that’s not right I should turn the other cheek,” that is a misapplication from a misunderstanding of this passage of Scripture. If God never wanted you to protect yourself or others why would He stir up men and women of faith to rescue those in perilous circumstances in the Bible? One great example of this truth is when the Ammonites came to enslave the people of Jabesh Gilead. The Spirit of God came upon Saul to stir him up to resist this evil and rescue the people (1 Sam. 11). Also, consider Abraham rescue of Lot when he was taken captive by the kings of the North (Gen. 14).
In addition, Jesus also instructed His disciples to buy a sword before He left them. In Luke 22:36, Jesus taught His disciples before His own arrest and trial, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” You must answer the question of why Jesus would tell them to buy a sword? This is the direct opposite of a previous instruction that He gave to them when they first went out to preach the Gospel. Remember, He said, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece” (Luke 9:3). Why didn't He want them to take a bag when they first went out? He wanted them to trust Him completely for their provision. But now He tells them to take a money bag because they were going on a long journey. If you don't have a sword, buy one. Remember, this is Jesus speaking here. If owning a weapon or self-defense is wrong for a Christian, why did Jesus tell them to buy a sword? We know that Peter had a sword in his possession from John 18:10. It says, “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear.” So we know at least one of the disciples had a sword strapped to his waist. Obviously Jesus did not want Peter to use it in that context, that's why He said, “Put it up.”
Another instructive verse on this same topic is Luke 11:21. There Jesus taught a parable concerning spiritual warfare. He said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” Again, if possessing a weapon or self-defense were sinful, Jesus would never have used this analogy, that a man could be fully armed or guards his house. This is another example of why it is not wrong for a Christian to be a police officer or be in the military. Young men and women ask me this question all the time. Is it biblically acceptable for me to join the military or go to the police academy? I answer them, yes! Then I explain to them the difference between the civil kingdom of man and the spiritual kingdom of God. In Romans 13:1-4, Paul declared, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God. And the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resist the ordinance of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? “Do what is good, and you will have praise of the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Note that the word resist in this passage is the same Greek word we have been looking at in our present study of Matthew 5:39. People who are hostile and resistant to the duly ordained authorities, such as our government and police, are resisting the ordinance of God. Therefore, police officers and our military bear the sword for a reason. They are ministers of God to protect us from evildoers. They are to protect us in the civil arena from evil people or nations.
Now, for those of you who think we should get rid of all guns and disarm as a nation, think this through. If the United States decided to unilaterally disarm and we got rid of all of our nuclear weapons, all of our tanks, all of our guns, all of our bullets, and said, “We want to live at peace with everyone in the world.” How long do you think that we would exist as a nation? Not long, because you know the heart of sinful man. You know the testimony of history. We would be conquered in a very short time. But, did you know that the Scripture talks about a nation preparing for war? Proverbs says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but the victories are of the Lord” (Prov. 21:31). God told His people that they had better be prepared, but just remember you have to trust in Me for the ultimate victory.
Therefore, always remember that in God’s spiritual kingdom He wants to promote love and forgiveness, not retaliation for minor offences. He wants us to do all in our power to live at peace with all men (Rom. 14:19). However, when there is overt evil and harm done by others this is a civil issue and dealt with by civil authorities. When someone wants to do evil to you or your family you have the right to defend yourself until you can ask the civil authorities to intervene on your behalf.
A second example
The second example given by Jesus is in verse 40. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” Notice again that this is a minor issue of someone wanting your coat. Jesus said, instead of getting into a confrontation, just give it to them. Now you may be thinking to yourself, But what happens if it's a major issue like someone is lying about me at work and wants to get me fired, or suing to take my house? Am I still supposed to let them take my job and livelihood or my home? No, not at all! That is a major issue. Remember, Jesus is after the attitude of the heart. He doesn’t want you to be vengeful toward others, or getting into petty conflicts over small things. He doesn’t want you to sue people at the drop of a hat. Isn’t that where we are in this country today? People sue others over the smallest things. Our courts are clogged with frivolous lawsuits. People spend thousands of dollars to recover some minor thing that is worth pennies compared to what they are spending. You should just say, “Forget it. This is not worth it.” The only exception is if it is a major issue where someone wants to take away your house or take away your livelihood. If you choose to obey Christ’s command in this passage and take the wrong done to you, remember, you have a great attorney who stands at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus is called our Advocate or our Attorney in the presence of God. He sees it all and will deal justly.
One last example of balance you should remember. God is the one who set up the civil government and legal system in the Old Testament. He set up a system of laws, magistrates, and judges to make just determinations. Jesus makes reference to this fact as well. Jesus said in Luke 12:58, “When you go with your adversary to the magistrate,” not if you go, He said, when you go. “When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.” Notice that little phrase, “make every effort.” This is the same truth taught in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” In other words, try to settle the issue out of court and as much as depends on you, live at peace with others. Go and make every effort to try to resolve the issue first. Remember, Paul also taught the same thing when he reproved the Corinthians for going to court over the smallest matters (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Paul asked them, “Can't you find somebody in your fellowship to sit down with you and try and work this out?” He said in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8, “It is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong?” This is the same principle in our text in Matthew concerning suffering wrong done to you in these small matters. Clearly the Bible gives a perfect balance to these issues.
The third example
Jesus now gives a third example in verse 41. He taught, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” In those days under the Roman Empire, the magistrates or the military had the right to compel any private citizen to do whatever was necessary to enable them to fulfill their job. This is the reason why they took a man out of the crowd to carry the cross of Christ, because Jesus was unable to make it to Golgotha due to His weakened state. They compelled this man to carry His cross (Mark 15:21). So when you are compelled or required by your boss to do extra work, what should you do? Do it with joy, serving the Lord. Again, this example is a minor issue to be compelled to go one mile. However, Jesus said to give two miles. We all use this phrase “Let’s go the extra mile with them.” What does that mean to you when you say this? It means to go out of your way to serve or help someone beyond what is required, even when it is inconvenient in order to keep the peace. This should always be our first response.
The fourth example
Then in verse 42 we have a beautiful extension of the previous command. “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” This is another very misquoted and misunderstood passage. What is Jesus commanding His disciples to do? Be givers! Have a heart that is willing and ready to give when people around you are in need. You must learn how to give of your time, your talents, and your treasure. Throughout your life people are going to ask you for help, they will ask you to give, and they will want to borrow from you. We all need to learn how to become givers and not just takers. You will need to learn this in your family, your job, and at your church. How are you doing in this area of your life? Are you generous or stingy? Are you a giver or just a taker?
However, there is a great need for understanding and balance regarding this issue of giving. Is there ever a time when should not give or allow someone to borrow something? Should you ever say, “No?” Yes, absolutely. I know what you are thinking right now, Wait a minute, that can’t be right! You are directly contradicting what Jesus taught here. Look at the whole counsel of God on this subject before you reject what I am saying. First, remember Jesus is after an attitude of giving inside you. He is not giving you a new law to externally fulfill. That would be missing the point of the entire Sermon on the Mount.
Let me ask you one question? Is God a giver? Yes! He gave us His most precious gift - His Son. He did not withhold His best from us. But, is there ever a time when God Himself does not give to His people when they ask? Absolutely! Notice what God said in Isaiah 1:15. He said to His people, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.” Notice God said that it is not that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear. Why? God said, “Your hands are full of blood.” In other words, these people were coming to worship and spreading out their hands to God in prayer, but they were playing a game with Him. They were offering their children at the same time to the god Molech and the god Baal. This is what He means by, “Your hands are full of blood.” He is declaring to them that He is not deceived and that He is not going to respond or give to them. So, when God sees that He is being used by someone, He does not play along. He is not a fool, and neither should you be. If you believe, and you have evidence that someone is trying to use you, or they misuse what you have given them, you should not give. I remember, years ago when I was first a believer, I learned this lesson. A heroine addict came to me one time and said, “I'm hungry. I need some help. Can you give me some money? I said, “sure,” and I gave him some money. That afternoon he went out and got high, and I found out about it. I said to myself, “Wait a minute the Bible says I'm supposed to give to anyone that asks.” But, should I have done that? No. What should I have done in that circumstance? I should have said, “Let me take you to the store and buy you some food.” Or, you could give him some food, instead of handing cash to someone. Giving this man money was the wrong thing to do. Or, if someone takes what you buy them, and they turn around and sell it or return it, so they can get that cash so they can go buy drugs or alcohol, don't give again. You have to be wise. This is also what the Scripture declares in Psalm 112:5. The Psalmist taught, “A good man deals graciously and lends,” sounds exactly like what Jesus taught here in the Sermon on the Mount. But, notice the rest of the verse, “He will guide his affairs with discretion.” The word discretion is a Hebrew word that means with discernment or wisdom. So you should look very carefully at the circumstances and goals when you are asked to give. This makes good sense for the correct way to handle it.
Another passage to consider is Proverbs 3:27. Solomon taught, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so.” When someone is using you or misusing what you do give, then that is someone who is not due help. Wisdom and discernment must be exercised as you give or someone wants to borrow from you. What should you do when a person is in major debt and they want to borrow more money from you? This person is in debt for a reason. Most of the time they have spending habits that need to change and your money will not help the situation. You need to encourage this person to get some financial counseling and sell things to pay their debt off. When you give to any organization, you should ask for an account of where your money goes on a yearly basis, so you can see how your money is used. If they won't give you that account, I would not support them. This is financial accountability, discretion, and wisdom on your part. It says in Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives.” However, Scripture also says, “Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts” (Proverbs 22:26). Also, “A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge, and becomes surety for his friend” (Proverbs 17:18). The word surety refers to becoming a cosigner on someone’s debt.
Let me sum up this passage. Giving is a demonstration of mercy. That is the theme of this section of Scripture. Instead of revenge, show mercy. If you consider each of these examples where Jesus is asking us to show mercy, they are given for a reason. Notice that each of these examples is exactly where He has shown you mercy. When Jesus was struck on the cheek it was my sin that wounded Him. You struck Him on the cheek, but He showed you mercy. He was smitten for our iniquities. Did He forgive when this was done? Oh yes! He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Sinful man made their complaints against Him, charged him, sued Him, and pursued Him to death by the law. Our sin compelled Him to carry His cross where He did not want to go. And He definitely went the extra mile. Take these principles and examples that Jesus has given, but don't make them a law unto themselves. Take the principles and apply them, in the wisdom that God gives you, to the circumstances of your life.
Let's go to Him in prayer. Father, we thank You today that You have shown mercy to each of us. You have not taken vengeance upon us. You have demonstrated Your heart of forgiveness and Your heart to take the wrong done against You. I pray that You would give us that heart of forgiveness and mercy toward those who have offended us. Give us wisdom and discretion in our giving to others. Make us like you!
If you have never committed your life to Christ, or you are not sure if you truly are a Christian, I want to give you an opportunity to be forgiven and to experience the mercy of God. God will bestow His mercy on you right now if you will ask His forgiveness and invite Him to take over your life. He will cleanse your heart, if you will acknowledge your sin and be willing to turn from your sinful lifestyle to follow Him. If you want to receive Him right now, I would suggest praying and say, “Lord, forgive me. I acknowledge my sin. I have broken your law. Forgive me. Jesus, come in and take over my life. I receive you by faith right now. I want to be your disciple. If you just prayed this prayer, confess your faith to someone today. Send me an email at