You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38–42)
If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. (Luke 6:29–31, NLT)
The parallel passages in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 share a difficult command for our human natures to absorb. We exist in an upside-down kingdom where sometimes the commands of Jesus seem not to make sense. His followers are to fight back when they are mistreated, not in anger or retaliation, but by giving kindness and forgiveness. All the way through these passages, Jesus is saying that Christians should give more than what can be taken by force. Revenge is a selfish, carnal reaction. Treating others as we would like to be treated, even though we are often mistreated, should be in the heart of every believer.
There is an extraordinary story about overcoming evil with good in R. Kent Hughes’s book Romans: Righteousness from Heaven, volume 45: During the Revolutionary War there was a faithful preacher of the gospel by the name of Peter Miller. He lived near a fellow who hated him intensely for his Christian life and testimony. In fact, this man violently opposed him and ridiculed his followers. One day the unbeliever was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Hearing about this, Peter Miller set out on foot to intercede for the man’s life before George Washington. The General listened to the minister’s earnest plea, but told him he didn’t feel he should pardon his friend. “My friend! He is not my friend,” answered Miller. “In fact, he’s my worst living enemy.” “What?” said Washington. “You have walked 60 miles to save the life of your enemy?
That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your request.” With pardon in hand, Miller hastened to the place where his neighbor was to be executed, and arrived just as the prisoner was walking to the scaffold. When the traitor saw Miller, he exclaimed, “Old Peter Miller has come to have his revenge by watching me hang!” But he was astonished as he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon which spared his life.”
The story doesn’t say how Miller’s enemy responded or if he turned his life to Jesus, which emphasizes that likely our reward for overcoming evil with good may come only in eternity. Yet, it is always possible that by following the example of Jesus, who suffered on the cross rather than inflict suffering, eternal reward will come sooner than expected. Even so, a true disciple will obey Christ, whatever the consequences.
Lord, it takes a lot of faith to let You fight my battles for me. Give me that faith and help me to make up my mind ahead of time that I will not retaliate when I am wronged. Empower me through Your Spirit to respond to others as You would respond to them. Give me wisdom to know what is appropriate in each situation from Your perspective.
–Adapted from Encountering Jesus: Praying the Commands of Christ into Your Life by Norval Hadley. This book is available at prayershop.org. Use the code CONPSP3 at checkout to receive an additional 10% discount.
Extra Commands to Pray. A FREE PDF DOWNLOAD that goes along with the book, Encountering Jesus: Praying the Commands of Christ into Your Life. It includes content for additional commands that the book does not cover.
Praise God for his deep compassion for the poor, the suffering, the lonely (Isa. 58:5-7). Give thanks for the times when God has lifted you out of the pit of depression or loneliness or from the mire of circumstances (Ps. 40:2). Confess any times recently when your ears have been deaf to the cries of the poor in your area (Mt. 25:31-46). Commit yourself to becoming more aware of their needs. Ask God to show you his heart of compassion and how it can be revealed in your life (Isaiah 58).
Pray that oppressive governments may learn to respect the rights of all people and that true justice and mercy will prevail in courts and government decisions.
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