Matthew 5:38-42 Devotional Commentary

Not the person, but evil: Devotional Commentary for October 25-31

Matthew 5:38-42 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

And Jesus continued:
5:38-42
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.
40"If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
41"Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
42"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Once again, Jesus recalls a specific provision of the Law and reminds the crowd the stipulations regarding retribution. That is, a proportional punishment against an offender who perpetrated any wrongdoing against any person. So Jesus reiterates that the Law prescribes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is, the Law subjects the perpetrator to the same painful experience the assailant inflicted upon the injured person.

Jesus does not directly expound on the meaning of the Law. It is obvious. The Law is retributive in its intent and proportionate in its assessment. However, being absolutely knowledgeable about human nature—for He is our Creator, Jesus proceeds to expound on the appropriate response to evil by declaring the divine principles for Christian behavior, especially in times of hostile encounters.

Jesus' teaching strongly implies that our response does not flow from the stipulations of the Law which particularly deals with evil and the deeds of an evil person. Our responses and behaviors directly flow from the Grace of God. As children of Grace, our behavior, conduct, actions, and responses are not governed by the stipulations of the Law intended to redress wrongdoing. Nor should evil, or the deeds of an evil person, or the actions of an offender influence or commandeer our responses and behaviors. So Jesus strongly implies, while the offender's lot is determined by the Law, our perspectives, decisions, and actions are shaped and guided by Grace.

Jesus gives us a series of instructive exhortations on how to remain unsullied by the vengeful attitudes of our natural inclinations or by the antagonizing aggressions of evil. First, He exhorts us to refrain from resisting an evil person or an offender, i.e., from responding in kind. To be sure, this is contrary to our human nature. The need for self-preservation and the deeply felt sense of pride and self-respect strongly urge us to defend ourselves from harm.

But Jesus' Words teach us neither to surrender or allow evil to prevail over us, nor to defend ourselves by responding in kind. His divine principles furnish us with the righteous and godly attributes that cultivate in our redeemed heart the right response for every situation according to God's supreme Wisdom. These divine principles inspire us to respond with attributes that are unnatural to our human nature. They come from God, from the Spirit within, from God's living Word. These attributes directly flow from the right Source.

These divine principles can be described in two powerful godly expressions: Peace and Generosity. Jesus says, when the enemy slaps us on one cheek, turn the other side. This precept is often misconstrued as a command to get into a better position for more beating. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The idea of turning the other cheek is actually removing one's attention, gaze, or focus from the enemy and walking away from the hostile environment. Evil must be denied the attention it craves. Evil must be starved with attention deficit. We do not react to evil, but we respond with a peaceful departure by leaving the scene.

Our human nature would insist that we should not be cowardly and run from an aggression we did not initiate. But the Holy Spirit brings the Words of Jesus to our spirit and exhorts us to leave the matter in God's hands. Let the Law deal with the perpetrator while the Peace of Christ dictates our response.

Jesus also says that we should be generous with our attitude toward people who seek to take advantage of our kindness. While the unscrupulous and the ruthless seek to take advantage of us or compel us into fulfilling their wishes, we respond wisely, responsibly, and generously as children of a gracious God. We leave their evil intentions to God and let Christ do His work in and through us.

To those who fight us for our shirt, we give them our coat as well. To those who demand that we accompany them for a mile, we go an extra mile with them. To those who wish to have what we have or borrow from us, we treat them with a responsible and generous attitude. We grant them what they need.

In other words, we operate in the Peace of Christ. We relate to all as givers in Christ, wisely and responsibly discerning the need and diligently distinguishing it from the evil intent with which it is presented. Christ dealt with each one of us in His Grace, Mercy, and Peace. He gave us new life through His redemption. Leave the matter of our enemies to God. Vengeance are His. Let His Law apply its stipulations to their evil deeds. We are the children of Grace and the servants of peace. Our responses and behaviors should be sourced from our Father's Love and Grace. Never from our natural inclinations which are chronically bitter and vengeful.

Notes/Applications

The text in the passage before us is unique in many ways. For starters, it seems that Jesus is exhorting us to passively tolerate hostile actions against us. To be sure, our natural inclinations appear to be incompatible with such admonitions. What do we do? Are these not the Words of our Lord and our God!?

Then, Jesus goes on to strongly urge us to exhibit peaceable and generous behavior toward others regardless of their intentions or actions. And we exclaim why!?

Addressing a somewhat similar foundational dilemma, Paul reasoned in his writing to the troubled church in Corinth, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside." The same is true in the issue before us.

When we were still lost in sin, we talked, thought, and reasoned with our unregenerate mind and acted from our unredeemed heart. That was who we were. That was how we behaved. Our depraved human nature was the source for our decisions and actions. But now that we are redeemed and belong to God, Christ is our wisdom and His ways have become ours.

Now, we operate with divine principles. We do not react in the flesh. We respond in Christ. We are no longer impulsive and foolhardy. We conduct ourselves as forgiven sinners not as angry avengers.

Our decisions, actions, and opinions are informed by God's living Word. We are wise and responsible. We trust God, therefore, He keeps us in His perfect Peace. We discern the Spirit's guidance from within. The living Word is our lamp. It is the sword of truth for us. We live by faith and walk circumspectly.

We are the children of the living God and the servants of the LORD of lords and the KING of kings. We are no longer slaves to the sin-nature. We are the light of Truth at the top of the hill. We are the salt of Truth bringing godly savor to the world around us. God Himself wills and creates in us the desire and obedience to do His Will in all things for His Glory and for His Pleasure.

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

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Matthew 5:38-42
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