Summary: Does Jesus advocate absolute passivity in the face of oppression?
I. The Old Testament Injunction
A. The Limitation
1. Mosaic Law allowed this treatment
2. Principle: The punishment must fit the crime (Judges 1:6-7)
B. The Administration
1. It should be noted that in each of these passages the context is one of civil justice. The law was not designed to be discharged by individuals who were caught up in personal vendettas.
2. The judicial powers that be are ordained of God and they are to be His instruments for preserving law and order (Romans 13:1-4).
II. The New Testament Instruction
A. Prohibiting Retaliation
1. Jesus prohibited any acts of personal retaliation when He said "resist not evil." However, these words of the Lord do not prohibit us from exercising good sense in defending ourselves, our families, or any others who may be in danger of harm.
2. Our natural reaction when we have been wronged is to get even. Whenever anyone threatens our rights or takes what we think belongs to us, we are inclined to retaliate. If men were left to themselves to meet out judgment and justice as they saw fit, sooner or later the entire world would be blind and toothless.
3. As Christians we are called to a higher standard of conduct than that which is so commonly displayed in the world. This standard of conduct is clearly set forth in the Word of God. We are not to requite evil for evil in thought, word, or deed.
a. Proverbs 20:22; 24:29
d. 1 Peter 2:21-23; 3:8-9
4. Not only are we to refrain from returning evil for evil, but we must return good for evil, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44). A good rule to live by would be that we will not desire or do anything which we could not, in good faith, ask Christ to be a part of.
B. Practicing Restraint
1. Self-Control (39)
b. Colossians 3:12-13, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do”
2. Self-Denial (not demanding our rights)
3. Self-Sacrifice (41-42)
III. Not a Society Function
A. It should be noted that the Lord is not promoting some type of Christian passivity in these verses. What Christ is dealing with are actions that are directed at us as individuals and our response to such actions. He is condemning a response that says "I must be concerned about myself first. I was struck, therefore I must defend myself and my honor." It is an improper concern for self that the Lord is condemning.
B. On the other hand, we are not to excuse the abuse of power or the unrestrained and unrestricted practice of sin that permeates our society. The principle of "turning the other cheek" does not mean that we turn away from sin as if it were not happening. For example, if we are witness to the ill-treating or abusing of a child, we are to restrain the one doing the abusing.
C. As a Christian we ought to be outraged at the misuse and abuse of the law in our society. Consider John 18:22-23 and Acts 16:37. When Jesus was unjustly smitten on the face He immediately protested. When Paul was unlawfully treated he insisted that the officials responsible come to him personally. Neither one of these cases are examples of individuals demanding their personal rights, but rather they were protesting the breaking of the law. As Christians we are not to be too concerned with our rights, but when it is a matter of righteousness and truth we must take a stand. Our stand should not be taken as a matter of personal interest or as a means of protecting ourselves, but as a matter of protecting the interests and well-being of others.
D. In the matter of giving to others, we are to use discretion. John tells us that we are not to withhold anything from those who have a legitimate need (1 John 3:17-18), but that does not mean that we are to give to every person who asks. There are some instances in which our giving may very well lend to that individual’s laziness and vice. Such is the case with professional beggars and drunkards.
E. At the center of the Lord’s teaching in this passage is the denial of and dying to self, a practice that is all too often ignored by those who call themselves children of God.