Matthew 5:38-41 (NIV) “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 someone 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.”
In the Old Covenant, God set limits on retaliation for legitimate wrongs suffered. A people among whom snowballing retaliation exists will eventually destroy themselves from within. So God set limits. The most that could be done in retaliation was to even the score. If an eye was destroyed, an eye could be destroyed in return – no more. If a tooth was knocked out, a tooth could be knocked out in return – no more.
With the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus, God took things to the next step. Agape love was to take the place of anger and retaliation, not just to keep things from escalating, but to stop them in their tracks.
In God’s kingdom, if someone strikes me on the right cheek, instead of retaliating in kind, I am to respond in love, even to the point of allowing myself to be struck again. If someone sues me for my shirt, I am not to retaliate, but to respond in love, offering them my coat as well. If someone forces me to serve them, I am not to retaliate, but to respond in love, offering to go the extra mile.
None of this is to be done to make a statement. All that is described here can only be accomplished out of a transformed heart that is overflowing with God’s love, and that does not seek its own “rights.” Jesus Himself flawlessly demonstrated this in His own life when He did not retaliate against those who arrested Him, beat Him, insulted Him, and ultimately killed Him. Instead of lashing out that them, even if it went no further than evening the score, He prayed for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34).
Refusing to retaliate, responding in love instead, is not being a wimp. Ask anyone who has tried to do it! Instead, it is the supernatural response of a person inhabited by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the supernatural response of those who are so consumed by the priorities of God’s kingdom that they respond in divine love in every situation, in order to further the progress of the kingdom even at their own expense, rather than to retaliate and halt its progress right there.
Father, I agree that there is nothing natural at all about such a response. Our natural selves are motivated by self-preservation, which makes striking back the most natural response. But, through Your Spirit, we can respond supernaturally instead, counteracting hatred and animosity with patience and love, and seeking always the good of the kingdom rather than our own good. Help us keep that focus strongly and powerfully in our lives today. Amen.