Retaliate with Love
One winter day a man went shopping at a local mall. When he returned to his car he noticed a foul odor coming from under the hood of his car. When he popped the hood, he discovered a dead mutilated cat that had slept on the warm engine and had gotten caught by the engines fan belt.
The man felt terrible. He found an extra plastic shopping bag and began to scrape the remains of the dead cat into the bag. He then closed the hood of his car and left the bag on top of the hood while he went back into the mall to wash his hands. As he was returning to his car, he noticed a woman was suspiciously eyeing the plastic bag on the hood of his car. She looked both directions, grabbed the bag from the hood, and rushed off with her shopping cart towards the mall.
“Well this is too good to be true!” The man thought as he laughed at the bag snatching woman. So he decided to follow her and see what would happen next.
She went into a restaurant in the mall and proceeded to open the plastic bag to see what she had stolen. As she opened the bag, she let out a blood curdling scream, and then fainted, hitting her head on the floor.
The management of the restaurant went into a panic and called the paramedics. They quickly arrived, strapped the woman on to a gurney and started to load her into an ambulance parked outside of the mall. But the man couldn’t resist just one more dig.
He ran after the woman on the gurney carrying the bag she had left in the mall restaurant. He shouted, “Hey lady! Don’t forget your package!” And with that he gently laid the bagged cat corpse on the lady’s chest as she was loaded into the ambulance and driven away.
There is something in our fleshly human nature that just loves to get even. When we have been bullied, or injured, or mistreated, or attacked, our emotions well up inside of us and all we can think of is revenge or retaliation. You hurt me and I’m going to hurt you back. You mistreat me and I’m going to be mean and nasty to you. You yell at me and I’m going to yell back at you. Our flesh takes over and we often make matters only worse.
Jesus did not act this way. And He challenges his followers, sons and daughters of the kingdom of God to follow and entirely new way of handling those who mistreat and harm us. We can find his words beginning in Matthew 5:38
He challenges us not to seek revenge, but to retaliate with love!
"You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ’If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
1. The Law was given to restrain revenge!
What is often misunderstood when we read these words is to think that Jesus opposed what the Law of Moses had instructed the children of Israel to do. Of course He would not oppose His Father’s Law. God had given these instructions to the Israelites, and Jesus had said that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.
So why was the command given to extract and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?
We must remember several things.
- The world was a lawless and godless place, where revenge was carried out without any sense of justice or fairness. Someone could steal from you and you would act as judge and jury, pursue the thief and murder him for what he had stolen from you.
- And so God instructed the Israelites to be balanced and fair in their court of law. The punishment should fit the crime.
- This was not always understood as a literal payment for sin. But the value of the crime must equal the value of the payment. If you in anger injured a man’s eye, then you must pay that man recompense for the crime you have committed against him. He would have lost wages, or suffered for his injury. You must understand this, and make restitution.
- This served as a deterrent and prevented people from wildly mistreated someone who had committed a crime. There were to be no lynch-mobs in Israel.
I am reminded of the extreme ways the law can so easily be mistreated in the hands of a tyrant. Remember the story of Les Miserable? In the story, Jean Val Jean must suffer in prison for nearly 20 years for simply stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sisters family. When he has paid his dues, it is not enough for the legalistic Jalvert who hounds the man all the days of his life. The Constable Jalvert does not understand mercy or compassion.
The law was given by God to prevent such extremes of justice.
So Jesus is not speaking against laws. We have laws in our country. If you speed, you pay the ticket. If you rob a bank, you must do the time in prison. If you murder someone, then based upon motive and degree, you may have to pay with your own life or with a lifetime spent in jail. These are the laws of our land, and they are to be obeyed.
But what do we do on a personal level when someone has injured us or harmed us? How do WE treat those who mistreat us?
To this Jesus calls us to a higher way. We are not to retaliate. We are to show restraint, and even beyond that, we are to show forgiveness and mercy. If the person slaps you, don’t hit back but turn the other cheek. If you are dragged into court unfairly and the judge rules in favor of the person who sues you, give even more than the judge orders you to give. We must remember that Jesus turned his cheek when he was struck by the guards of the high priest.
In the times of Jesus, a Roman soldier could grab anyone off of the streets and demand that they carry the soldiers gear for up to a mile. This is what happened when the cross of Jesus was carried by Simon on the road to Calvary. But Jesus says: “Go above and beyond what is expected or demanded. Offer to carry the soldiers gear twice as far. Be a generous person who gives freely to others when asked.
Why? Why should we act this way? Won’t we be in danger of getting walked all over? Won’t we be taken advantage of?
2. Jesus calls upon us to treat our enemies as He has treated us.
The first thing we must learn to do is to control our anger and to give over control to God. The scriptures say: “Vengeance is mine!” The Lord sees when we are mistreated. He knows when we have suffered under the hands of another, and He will take care of us. We must learn to trust in Him.
Romans 12:17- 21 says:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.
Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written,
"I will take vengeance;
I will repay those who deserve it," says the Lord.
Instead, do what the Scriptures say:
"If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink,
and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you."
Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Some translations say that you will heap burning coals upon their head. That phrase refers to an ancient Egyptian tradition where a person would carry a pan of burning charcoal on their head as a public act of repentance.
You see, how did God change us? Was it by beating us up? Was it by retaliating for our sin? No! “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It was the love of Christ that compelled us to change.
Luke 6:28 says:
Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.
When we encounter those who mistreat or harm us, we must ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” How would He respond to this situation, and what does He ask me to do?
I would like to suggest three things based upon these verses in Matthew 5:38-42
a. We must learn to restrain ourselves from seeking revenge!
One summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. He was tired and he was hungry. The waitress had just served three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclists. They looked like they could be “Hell’s Angels”. These three men decided to give the truck driver a hard time.
They started to verbally abuse him. One grabbed the hamburger off of his plate. And another took a handful of French fries. The third picked up his coffee and started to drink it.
The truck driver calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front door, put the check and his money on the register and left. The waitress put the money away and watched the truck driver drive off.
When she went back to the table of the three rowdy bikers, they sneered and said: “Well, he wasn’t much of a man, was he?”
The waitress replied: “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know he wasn’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over your three bikes on his way out of the parking lot!”
Some of us can restrain our anger for awhile, but eventually it starts to bubble up to the surface and we end up doing something we deeply regret. So we need to apply the second lesson from this passage.
b. We must keep our eyes on God’s goal of redemption!
Richard Weaver was a part-time pastor and a part-time miner. Richard loved Jesus and he loved to lead people to the Lord and one of his primary goals was to share Christ with his fellow miners. Most of the men were indifferent with his witnessing, but one became indignant and said:
“I’m sick and tired of your constant preaching. I’ve a good mind to smack you in the face!”
Richard responded by saying: “Go ahead if it will make you feel better.”
The miner smacked him hard on the cheek. But he was surprised by Weaver’s response. He expected Weaver to get mad and hit him back, but instead Richard turned the other cheek towards his assailant.
The miner swung away and knocked Richard off his feet as he struck him on the other cheek. As the miner walked away in disgust and calling our curses, Richard called after him: “I forgive you, and still pray that the Lord will save you!”
The next day the miner showed up in the mines and when he saw Weaver he asked: “Do you really forgive me for what I did yesterday?” Weaver said: “Of course I do”. And he began again to tell the miner God’s plan of salvation. God opened that man’s heart and He put His trust in Christ.
Where did the strength come from in Weaver’s life? It was because His eyes were not own his needs, or his rights. They were upon the plan of God that no one should perish, but that all should have eternal life. He saw Himself as a part of the Kingdom of God, and that meant that God might use Him to win another person to the Lord.
c. We must move beyond forgiveness to kindness!
One day, Hudson Taylor, the first missionary to China stood on the bank of a river. He was dressed in Chinese clothes, and he was waiting for a boat to take him to the other side. While he waited, a wealthy Chinese man came and stood beside him. He was also waiting for a boat. This wealthy man did not know that Taylor was a foreigner. He mistook him for a peasant, and struck him on the head knocking Taylor into the mud.
Initially Taylor felt like fighting back, but God’s love held him back. When the boat arrived, the wealthy Chinese man looked at Taylor for the first time and noticed that he was not a Chinese peasant, but a foreigner dressed in Chinese clothes. He said to Taylor: “You are a foreigner, and yet you did not strike me back when I hit you. Why?”
Taylor said: “This boat is mine, but I will be glad to take you where you want to go. I do this because God loves you, and so do I.” Taylor then began to share the story of Jesus with this man as they traveled together across the river.
This leads to my third and final point. Read with me the words of Jesus found in Matthew 5:43-48
"You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ’Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
3. Christians are to move beyond restraint towards love!
Notice that Jesus begins by saying: “You have heard!’ We must remember that the people of Israel were for the most part illiterate. They depended upon their religious leaders to tell them what the Word of God said.
Their leaders had been preaching to them, hate your enemies. But no where do we see the Law encouraging them to hate.
We know that David spoke of hating the enemies of the Lord in Psalm 139. We also know that those who were zealous for the Lord hated the deeds of those who were idol worshippers and who mocked God.
But God never instructs us to hate our enemies. In fact, we are to do the opposite. From the beginning, God’s heart has been that of the heart of a missionary. He promised Abraham that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through his children. Israel was to be a blessing to the world.
In fact, one of the Jewish laws found in Exodus states that if your enemies Oxen or donkey wanders off, you are to be sure and bring it back to them.
When God sent the children of Israel into Canaan and told them to destroy the people that lived there, it was not to be out of hatred or revenge. The land was to be cleansed from idolatry, and God’s judgment had come upon the Canaanite nations after 400 years of immorality and rejection of God.
But somewhere along the way, the Jewish leaders had taught their people to hate all those who don’t know the one true God.
Anyone who wasn’t a Jew was to be hated.
It was in this context of incorrect interpretation of scripture that Jesus speaks of the true heart of God. God, who sends His own Son as a Savior to those who are His enemies, is not a God of hate but of love.
God gives good gifts to everyone on the earth, regardless of their faith. He gives rain and sunshine to people in Iran and Iraq just as He does to our country. He blesses people who bow down and worship Buddha food on their tables, and clothes on their backs. He blesses Hindu marriages with children and with happiness. God so loved the world that He gave!
Therefore, since we are called his sons and daughters, we are to love in the same way. If we only love those who are nice to us, or those who are like us, then we are no different from everyone else and there is no witness of Christ living in us. But if we are a believer in Christ, then the love of Christ indwells our heart and we will love others as He loves others. His love will flow through us. We are to show the love of God to everyone, including those who oppose us.
It is Christ loving in and through us, not us trying to muster up love for mean people in our own hearts. We don’t have the ability to do that. We are flesh and blood. But the indwelling spirit of Christ has an unlimited supply of love. When we yield to Him, His love flows through us!
Let me read from Corrie Ten Boom’s book: “The Hiding Place”
“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s (her sister’s) pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing.
“How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.
Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?
“Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “Forgive me and help me to forgive him.”
I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer.
“Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while in my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His.
When He tells us to love our enemies He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Now before you say, that this is impossible for you, let me tell you that it isn’t. I am a weak person. I struggle with feelings of resentment and anger. I want to hurt those who have hurt me. My initial reaction to pain is to strike back. But God has been so good to me, how can I harm anyone else. God has forgiven me of so much, how can I hold a grudge or withhold love from another.
When I was 10 years old I was repeatedly abused by a teenager on my street. I lived in terror of this young man, and I suffered a great deal of mental and emotional torment for decades from his abuse.
Then one Christmas Eve I had been asked by a church in my community to come and sing “O, Holy Night” for the service. As I stood to sing, I saw seated in about the 4th row of the church, the man who had abused me. It was first time I had seen him since I was about 12 years old.
My mind flooded with all of the terrors I felt as a child. I felt the anxiety rising in my heart. I felt anger as well. I wanted him to hurt as I had been hurt. I wanted him to know how much damage he had down to my childhood and my early adult years. I wanted him to suffer as I had suffered.
But then my heart and mind turned towards the words that were coming out of my mouth.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name;
Christ is the Lord,
Oh, praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
When the service was over I felt the strength of the Lord in me to go down and to greet this man. I went to his row and I shook his hand. I asked how he was doing, and I thanked him for coming.
God had filled me with His love and forgiveness. God’s love had set me free.
Our love is to be demonstrated in acts of kindness, in forgiveness, in mercy and in compassion. Not only are we to actively love those who hate us, we are to also pray for them. We are to pray that God will bless them, and that the Holy Spirit will soften their hearts to know the Lord.
I don’t know if this man has or ever will come to know the Lord, but I do know that I have shown Him the love of Christ.
Love your enemies. Pray for those who bully you. Find ways to show them the kindness and compassion of the Lord. As much as it depends on you strive to be at peace with all men.
Remember, love is a supernatural testimony to the reality of our faith in Christ!