39 But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person;
Literally, this says:“you are not to set yourself against one who does evil”. We are not supposed to seek our own retribution against them, or insist on it (Rom 12:17-21). How we exceed the requirements of the law is by doing good for those who’ve wronged us.
Unless someone is “poor in spirit”, understanding their need for a savior, “mourning” for their low spiritual state “meek” and in submission to God”, “hungering and thirsting after righteousness”—unless they really are a Citizen of Heaven, then they’re not going to be able to follow Jesus’ command.
We will sometimes be called by God to allow our personal rights to be infringed upon by another person in order to exceed the righteous requirements of the law. In each of Jesus’ examples today, we’re going to see this call to His disciples to lay aside personal rights in order to purposefully make a difference between ourselves as Citizens of Heaven, and those only interested in fulfilling the minimum statutory requirements of the law. Jesus gives us a choice to either follow the flesh and insist on our rights, or obey Him.
but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also.
First, Jesus addresses an attack on our dignity—a slap on the face. It’s about offending pride. In our society, it’s much more likely that you’ll be attacked verbally, demeaned or bullied publicly, isolated or excluded from friends, family, or a work or social environment. It demands a choice on our part. Will we insist, or will we swallow our pride, and ask Jesus for help in obeying Him and turning the other cheek? It’s up to us. To obey or not. By turning the other cheek, it forces the person persecuting us to acknowledge that we have made the decision not to seek our own revenge. By turning the other cheek, we are forcing the person to re-consider beating up on someone who is not resisting them—and only the most calloused people enjoy being bullies. Usually the conflict would stop there, and the person would learn that Christians behave differently than others—which would get them thinking about the self-control and wisdom displayed by the Christian. It’s not about how much abuse we can endure, it’s about giving a powerful witness of a life transformed by Christ that is difficult to deny.
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
This addresses our reaction in an attack against our physical security. The idea here is that you’re so poor that the only thing that someone can legally sue you for is the shirt off your back. Anyway, Jesus is saying even in this extreme situation if you’ve done something wrong and deserve to be sued, it’s better that you give him not only what’s due to him in payment, but go above and beyond, and give him your cloak too. So, for Jesus to say this is the same as saying if necessary, give up your security rather than taint Christ’s name. Go above and beyond the provisions of the law.
41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
A third attack on our basic human rights, can be to deny us our liberty. In Jesus’ day there was a law that a Roman soldier could lay his sword upon someone’s shoulder as a sign that he was compelling them to carry their burden for them. Most often when a Roman soldier did this, it would be to carry his heavy pack. But the law said that he could never ask any one citizen to carry it more than one mile. And you can bet that any Jew compelled to carry the hated Romans’ pack would be just looking to make sure that they didn’t carry it one inch farther than a mile. The soldiers were the ones killing their brethren and enforcing the awful Roman laws. And then Jesus says “go two miles”. I wonder how many talks about salvation began after a Christian “went the extra mile” and the Roman just had to ask him “Why?”
42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Lastly, Jesus says, don’t be concerned about your property. When there’s someone who has a need and they ask, we ought to consider their need. James 2:15-16 says 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” By meeting their needs you demonstrate your faith in God to provide for you.
Now, as we consider these 4 examples of Jesus aimed at helping us walk in the
Spirit, not in the flesh, we realize that the only way that we’re going to be able to do what Jesus tells us to do in these verses is to take up our cross and follow Him. (see Gal 2:20-21; Rom 6:1-3).
In other words, when insisting on our rights interferes with the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ, we lay aside our rights so that Christ may be glorified (1 Cor 9:4-7). We have rights, we have liberties as Christians, but we should never insist on those rights if it gives Christ a bad name, or if they cause another to sin (Rom 14:13 ). If we indulge our freedoms, and insist on our rights, and end up putting a stumbling block in front of someone trying to follow Jesus, then we’re not walking in love.
Compare and contrast 2 biblical opportunities to turn the other cheek, and see how they turned out for the Glory of God: In Acts 23:1-5. Paul is slapped and gets angry, and he loses his temper, and he also loses the moral high-ground. But in nearly same situation in front of the Sanhedrin and the same high priest Ananias (also called Annas). We look to our supreme example Jesus during his illegal trial in John 18:20-23. Jesus did not insist on his rights, he did not repay evil for evil, he did not resist an evil person, he just gave them an answer that would make them think about the miscarriage of justice that was occurring. Notice that He did not apologize either, because He had done nothing wrong. Even though these people were in the very act of arranging for His murder, He continues to point them to God, and to doing the right thing.
This is what it means to die to self. To allow ourselves to become less so that Jesus is magnified. We must decrease so that He can increase. When you’re insulted, ridiculed, offended, or excluded it is an opportunity to show the difference that Jesus has made in your life. Your heart can be happy, since you have been counted worthy to suffer for Christ, because He can trust you to deny yourself. When your good is evil spoken of, when you are thwarted, when evil people oppose you, remember: they have rejected God, not you. Keep the faith–that is dying to self. And when you lovingly and patiently bear any injustice any provocation, you can endure it, just as Jesus endured it, by turning the other cheek, and dying to self.