Summary: As a follower of Jesus Chist in a free America, how do I understand where rights and responsibilities meet? What rights DO I have?
“What About My Rights?”
Today more than ever, we hear people insisting that their “rights” be given to them – even rights that they don’t really have. As followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot help but wonder if we have the same or different rights as others, what our rights really are, and what we are supposed to do when our rights are denied us. Do we have a right to safety, success, and wealth? Do we have a right to expect respect and common decency from others? Do we have a right to worship God in any way that we are convinced is appropriate? How about a right to a good home, a loving family, and a good name?
The people of Jesus’ day were no different than we, and He was well aware of it. Now, remember that throughout this series, we have seen Jesus teach an entirely new view on centuries of traditions and suppositions. Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, has been stretching out the accurate and precise view of God on how true children of God are to think, feel, and act. Generation has followed generation, and mankind has become ever more deeply entrenched in a flesh-view and a worldview of rights that collide with the view of heaven.
Very clearly, Jesus teaches us here in Matthew 5:38-42 that we – as Christians, as Christ-followers – have NO rights…we have no right to retaliation, no right to things, no right to our own time, and no right to money. Now, you probably find that as objectionable as I do in my flesh. You may even find it offensive and that your insides are hollering, “Yeah, but!”
As uncomfortable as it may be for us, we have to be willing to listen to the voice of the Master, allow His Spirit to teach our hearts, and seek His strength and courage to live out His truth.
Let’s look at our Lord’s words here and the perspective and historical context that He speaks from.
First, Jesus quotes from the Mosaic Law as it is recorded in several passages in the Old Testament: Exodus 21:23-25; “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Leviticus 24: 19-20; “And if a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.” Deuteronomy 19:21; “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
The “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law is part of the oldest recorded law in the world, known as the Rex Talionis – tit-for-tat. It is part of the code of laws known as The Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi reigned in Babylon from 2285 to 2242 B.C., and in his own words he states that he is establishing these laws “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak.” This became part of the Law of Moses, handed down from God. There are those that say that the Jews adapted their laws from other civilizations and nations and that these laws were not handed down from God. However, we know that all law is from God, as is all wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Is it any wonder, then, that when God called out a people to be His own that He would impart to them His laws designed to “bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak”? The fact that many of them are consistent with, though even more are far different from, the laws that civilized man has lived under throughout history, whether they know they are from God or not? Let us not forget that the law of God has been “written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” Romans 2:15.
Many have made the accusation that the Rex Talionis is a law of savagery and bloodthirstiness. On the contrary, however – it is a law of mercy. Until the Rex Talionis, it was the practice in the tribal societies that existed to exact a blood vendetta for any wrong. If a man of one tribe injured a man from another tribe, then all of the men of the tribe of the injured man set out to violently exact vengeance on all of the men of the offending man’s tribe. The vengeance that they extracted was death.