January 18 I Friday
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” —Matthew 5:39
There was an Irish boxer turned evangelist who conducted a tent mission some years ago. In one town, while setting up the tent, he was heckled by locals wanting to drive him out. One heckler came up to the evangelist, punched him in the face and knocked him over. The evangelist got up, turned to him the other cheek and was knocked down again. When the evangelist got up a second time, he said, “The Lord has given me no further instruction,” and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of the heckler. The irony is that by holding to the letter of Jesus’s words here, the evangelist adopted the very attitude this principle was challenging.
Jesus’s instruction to turn the other cheek is part of a larger discussion on vengeance, the attitude behind the fifth commandment in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reminds the people, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’” (Matthew 5:38). This principle is found throughout Old Testament Law, but always in the context of justice and the courts. For example, Deuteronomy 19:15-21 explains that only after a legitimate hearing of at least two witnesses and a thorough investigation could punishment equalling the crime, “an eye for an eye,” be meted out. By the days of the New Testament, however, the Jews had come to view these laws as permission to pursue personal or vigilante justice rather than as a restraining principle—
doing the same back and no more and only as administered by the courts.
Paul writes of vengeance, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). Out of context, we might think this means to let people get away with everything, but he continues. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1, 4). Though our governments and the courts are not always in the right, they are God-ordained, and it is their right and responsibility to ensure that justice is done.
As Christians, it is sacrifice, not vengeance, that should define our actions. We uphold the law and its enforcers, but the attitude that is to characterize us is love. As recipients of Christ’s grace, He makes us into gracious people, enabling us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile or give to any who ask of us—even those who do us wrong.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, thank You for ordaining a system where earthly justice can be sought, but I pray that the attitude that characterizes me would be love, not vengeance.