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by Jules Cseszkó

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:
but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat,
let him have thy cloke also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away."

Matthew 5:38-42

Here lies a unique truth to Christianity that sparkles like a diamond - to suffer evil gladly for the principle of love and sacrifice in the interest of another's welfare. (Who else teaches this?) When western society teaches us the pleasure principle - to hate pain and do what is pleasurable; Jesus asks us to do the absolute opposite here (thus violently clashing with the normal code of human conduct). God teaches us this to tame our aggressive and selfish spirits, so that we can be His children in the kingdom of heaven - we must learn that going the extra mile and giving to those who ask is far superior to the worldly tendency to seek revenge.

V. 38 "Ye have heard that it hath been said" Jesus says this kind of phraseology several times (also vs. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) - but why? "The ancients"(v. 21) were their forefathers who were taught the then established religious traditions commonly accepted by the Jews; but were these laws truly understood as God intended them to mean? Some were, (vs. 27, 31, 33, 38) some weren't (v. 43 - a mixture of God's law and man's opinion, devaluing God's law here to a lie)! What they understood from the Scriptures quoted was the true meaning of the Law obscured and nebulised by years of man's tradition.

This contrasting of what was commonly accepted to what He was to say, must have sounded as boldly radical to those Jews who first heard, but in fact, all He did was go back to the Law and re-explained it in its true light, the way it should have been understood - to be from the heart. Note the action here: what Jesus did was peel back the mask of man's culturally influenced, preconceived ideas, to reveal the true face of God's will - the work of any faithful preacher of the gospel today!

"An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" What does this divine saying usually mean to the ignorant world today? It means revenge! (this philosophy is reflected in the Hollywood movie scripts, "Don't get mad-get even"). But what does this Old Testament Scripture really mean? See Exodus 21:22-25; Leviticus 24:17-23; Deuteronomy 19:21. It is clear that in the handing down of retributive justice, a civil judiciary was to be involved here (Ex. 21:22); this Scripture is not giving sanction to personal vengeance. The Jews were using this Scripture to justify punishing those who offended them, out of hate.

"But I say unto you" Here, Jesus not only challenges the established but fabricated religious traditions of the day, but regards His words on the same level as the word of Yahweh (Matthew 24:35; please note that Jesus words are recognised by the apostles as "Scripture", John 7:38; 12:48-50; For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18 is quoting from "Scripture" - what Jesus said in Luke 7:10)!

Jesus here teaches a principle with 3 practical applications, then another principle.
      A. The principle, "do not retaliate [return evil for evil]" (instead, suffer evil gladly)
- with 3 illustrations,
               1. Suffer indignity without retaliation (e.g., turn the other cheek),
                2. Be willing to part with more than asked and (e.g., be sued at law)
                3. Be willing to do twice as much as demanded. (e.g., go the extra mile against our will - cheerfully!)
      B. A second principle - Give without expecting any return and to anybody.

V. 39 The principle, "do not retaliate (return evil for evil)" (instead, suffer evil gladly, "cop the flack", take the "rubbish" from people)."Do not resist him who is evil..." Jesus corrects this misconception of the Law, now teaching them not to lash back in hate, but to look into the intentions of their own heart. What does "resisting" refer to? Isn't this a contradiction? Shouldn't we resist evil? (Same Greek word found in Galatians 2:11; Ephesians 6:13; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9).

This Scripture refers to those people who attack you personally. PERSONAL REVENGE IS FORBIDDEN! (Matthew 26:52, 53; Romans 12:19; 1 Peter 2:23).
i. Suffer indignity without retaliation (e.g., turn the other cheek), (v. 39)
"but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Self preservation is a basic instinct of man - to defend himself, protect himself from harm - to survive. Jesus asks us to resist that instinct: but how can this be? Are we not to look after ourselves, so that we can serve God? Or does serving God mean allowing Him to care for us as we suffer indignity and unjust treatment from others?

To be slapped in the cheek was a common mode of insult and injury (Acts 23:2), an open hand was culturally interpreted as a greater insult than being punched. Should we allow this today? The Lord and His disciples did not resist people, and suffered indignity (Matthew 26:67; John 18:22 and 19:3; Acts 5:40, 41; 7:58; 16:22-24; 19:29; 21:30, 31, 32, 35; 2 Corinthians 11:20). What did they do instead? They prayed for their persecutors (See verse 44, also Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60; 2 Timothy 4:16). They appealed to God for mercy and entrusted God to judge (Romans 12:19; 1 Peter 2:23).

Many godly people have been mistreated at the hands of evil doers, yet did not lash out, Hebrews 10:32-34. Retaliation of any kind is forbidden - to do so would make us just as guilty as the one committing the evil act (Romans 12:21; 1 Peter 3:9). We must infinitely forgive, (Matthew 18:21, 22), and suffer the indignity (disgrace or dishonour, undeserved bad treatment).

The trouble is that we live in a society that on the one (judicial) hand punishes violence, but on the other (media and sport) hand exalts violence (Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are enshrined as heroes, even violent sports are encouraged, like boxing). This gives rise to "copycat" crimes - what is our response to this? Proverbs 3:31, "Do not envy a man of violence, And do not choose any of his ways". (Application - e.g., observe the ratings on your videos). We must learn "gentleness" (Gal. 5:23, a fruit of the spirit) - when the world encourages violence and aggression.

Question: In a world of increasing violence, does this mean that it is ungodly to defend oneself or one's family from harmful attackers?

Answer: There are indeed situations where one has responsibility to defend oneself and family from harm (Luke 22:36, 38), but be careful of your intent (see vs. 49-51, compare Matthew 26:52) that it is not revenge (Romans 12:19, 21)!

ii. (v. 40) Be willing to part with more than asked and (e.g., be sued at law) "And if one wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat as well"

To sue is to "dispute by a law suit (litigate)" Clothing in those days was expensive and the poor only wore what was on their backs (that's why John the Immerser said what he did in Luke 3:11). They lived and slept in these garments (Deuteronomy 24:12,13). Jewish courts permitted your tunic ("chiton" - the inner garment) to be confiscated as compensation, but not your cloak ("himation" - outer garment). Jesus is saying to let then have that as well! (All you'll be left with is your loin cloth, John 21:7). Why should we let people do that? We must believe that God will provide (Psalm 37:1-5; 7-11 and verses 23-26). Let yourself be defrauded and be willing to part with more than asked even if it means great self sacrifice (1 Cor. 6:7).

iii. (V. 41) Be willing to do twice as much as demanded. (e.g., go the extra mile against our will - cheerfully!) "And whoever will force you to go one mile, go with Him two."

"To force" comes from the Greek word that originally meant "a Persian courier or messenger who had authority to press into his service men, horses, etc." (from New Analytical Greek Lexicon.) This word came to mean, "to press or compel another to go somewhere or to carry some burden" (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21). Roman law also made it possible for a soldier to compel a civilian to carry his pack from one milestone to the next (1 Roman mile = 4,850 feet). Take for example Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21). This was distasteful to the average Jew as they despised the oppressive Romans. Jesus uses this to teach us a lesson that we must be willing to do twice as much as is demanded.

The principle here is doing something willingly that is against our personal will - people in the world don't like to do something they don't like doing (when it doesn't serve their personal interests), even less do it cheerfully, but the Christian is asked to work wholeheartedly, as if for God himself (Col. 3:23-25, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality."). There is a tendency for people to be content in getting by with a minimum of effort (e.g., the mentality that the Scriptures teach that we only need to be at church on a Sunday morning reflects this) but with God, no commendation for someone who does only the minimum required, so let's not get cocky or complacent about our service to God, Luke 17:7, 10.

V. 42 A second principle - Give without expecting any return and to anybody. "Give to him who asks of you, and do not torn away from him who wants to borrow from you."

Giving is unconditional and to anyone who asks you, because we must learn that everything we have is from God (1 Chronicles 29:12-15), and we mustn't covet these things (Exodus 20:17) for ourselves. (Note the parallel Scripture in Luke 6:30!). But remember this; as God gives all good things to those who ask Him, but does not give us everything we want (2 Corinthians 12:8,9) because we do not ask for the right thing (James 4:3). Similarly, Christians give with the best intent for those who ask, yet realise that giving people what they want is not always what is best for them. Our attitude should be to give to be pleasing to God (Proverbs 19:17) therefore thoughtful giving is needed, but it must be cheerful (2 Cor. 9:7) in order to be pleasing to God.

Conclusion: Love is the motivation (vs. 43-48),
                  "If you do not love, you will find an excuse,
                  but if you do love, you will find a way".


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