A Counter Culture Kind of Love (1/3)

Matthew 5:38-39

38 “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 an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

When we read the Sermon on the Mount we often read it as if it were a series of seemingly disjointed lessons for life, or a list of rules on how to live. The more I read it the more convinced I am that it has a far more coherent message than I at first thought. The overriding theme that jumps out at me is that of the heart and of the motivations behind our actions, not of the outward actions themselves. The heart of a person is who they really are and this is what Jesus is chiefly concerned with as He teaches and equips us to walk the Christian path.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; (Psalm 139:23)

Our text in Matthew 5 says that we are not to resist an evil person. Elsewhere in the Bible it tells us to “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, see also 1 Peter 5:9). Here it tells us not to ‘resist an evil person’ (5:39). So which is it, resist or don’t resist? The first distinction to make when thinking about this is the difference between the persons we are resisting. On the one hand it is our actual enemy, the Devil and on the other we have a human being, who is not our enemy (see Ephesians 6:12); but is someone made in God’s image, for whom Christ died. The most obvious difference, however, is found in the context; context is always king when interpreting Scripture. The text in James 4 is chiefly concerned with spiritual warfare: what is behind our conflict, how we should draw near to God and to be humble. In Matthew 5, the context is very different. Let’s see what Jesus was getting at.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, (5:38)

The above reminds Jesus’ hearers that it used to be normal to seek recompense when wronged, even to the point of death (Leviticus 24:17, Deuteronomy 19:21). In some cultures honour and revenge killing still takes place today. There are many detailed examples in the Law of Moses for the Jews to know how to deal with making recompense. There is no doubt that the system was aimed at what is fair and right in making good for loss or damage. But Jesus goes on to tell His hearers that this is no longer the case. If you were stolen from or have been wronged, not only do you not seek recompense or revenge, but are to offer even more to them, to go further. Seems a little extreme right?

“Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7)

Culture

We have been inexorably drawn into the claims culture. In todays culture we are bombarded with adverts: “Have you been in a no-fault accident?” We have been given to believe that someone is always to blame when something goes wrong and that someone should pay for it. This has bred into our culture the attitude which says, “I know my rights, I deserve an easy, trouble free and pain free life in my pursuit of fun and happiness, and if you interfere with that, well, then you will jolly well have to pay for it!” Don’t misunderstand me, there are occasions where it is appropriate and right to make claims, but there are many more where the claimant is purely taking advantage of the system to get whatever they can, money for nothing, in order that they may continue to pursue their innate ‘right’ to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to be happy. It is even okay to want to be happy. But where does your source of happiness come from? Are we so content that His grace is sufficient? Contentment and assurance of faith should bring us peace, joy and hope during difficult times.

Counter-culture

But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (5:39)

  • Jesus’ teaching here may seem extreme; it was counter-culture then, and still is today. The point being made is about the condition of our hearts both in regard to material things and our attitude toward other people. Namely, are we fully trusting God for our needs and do we see other people as God does, as people for whom Christ died, those who: have “no hope and are without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)?
    • As we insist upon and seek our rights for compensation, or anything else for that matter, are we failing to show a witness of our dependancy and trust in God?
      During this process do we have integrity or behave in an ungodly manner towards the other person?
      Are we missing an opportunity to display outwardly the change which Christ has made in our hearts?
      Are we being witnesses of God’s undeserved grace toward us?
      Is God’s grace truly sufficient for you?
  • Being outrageously, but biblically, counter culture could be the very thing which shows how different we are; it may be the very thing which causes a person to ask you about the hope you have in Christ.
  • This coherent theme, that of the hearts condition, continues in verses 40-42. Read about that in Part 2, The Extra Mile Kind of Love.

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