Summary: Jesus refutes the Pharisee’s false teaching regarding retaliation.
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.
This passage from the sermon on the mount is one that is most often misinterpreted and taken out of context.
It has been misconstrued to mean that Christians are to be “sanctimonious doormats”
It has been used to promote pacifism, conscientious objection to military service, lawlessness, and anarchy, all of which are simply not supported by this passage.
Jesus has already been careful to make it clear that he did not come to eliminate the law to even the slightest degree. The law of God includes respect for and obedience to human law and authority.
Now Jesus is first speaking against the unrighteous interpretation and practice of the Pharisees and scribes.
They had developed a tradition that had twisted God’s law to serve their own selfish purposes.
First let’s look at the law of God which the Pharisee’s were misusing.
“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23“But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
‘If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him
A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. 16“If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18“The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20“The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21“Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Simply put, the OT required that punishment matched the crime.
The purpose first was to curtail crime.
Deuteronomy. 19:20 …then the rest will hear…
The second purpose of this law was to prevent excessive punishment based on personal vengeance or retaliation.
Punishment was to match but not exceed the harm done.
So this law was both just and merciful.
God’s intent for the law was to limit punishment. The Pharisees used it as a mandate for vengeance.
They viewed it as a license for revenge.
Jesus is speaking against personal resentment, spite and vengeance.
It’s the same truth that Paul was teaching in his letter to the Roman Christians.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Jesus establishes the principle of not allowing personal resent or spite to build up in your heart.
Over reaction is a natural response of sinful human nature.
American society has always held high the principle of personal rights. Our Declaration of Independence states the value we place on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Now the “rights” claimed by people continues to expand. Movements develop for civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, prisoner’s rights, so on and so on.