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Returning GOOD for EVIL

by Alex Wilson

Matt. 5:39-48

E. Stanley Jones observed: “A Christian is more likely to sin by his re-actions than his actions.” He is not likely to start a fight, but may seek revenge when others wrong him. She is not likely to tell lies about others, but if someone gossips about her she’s tempted to try to get even–and to dig up all the dirt she can find about that gossiper. Let’s be on guard regarding our re-actions, not just our actions–and seek the fullness of Christ’s Spirit.

How to Interpret this Sermon

Here is an important lesson about interpreting the Sermon on the Mount (and other teachings of Jesus, too): Christ taught principles of conduct, and then illustrated them so we can see how to apply them. He gave a principle, Don’t resist an evil person, nor seek revenge. Then He gave four illustrations, one of which was, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

But the illustrations are not laws, nor a detailed code of conduct. (If they are, then He violated His own code!)

We often prefer definite lists of detailed Do’s and Do-Not’s, to save us from thinking and so we can obey mechanically and outwardly. Thus we can feel self-satisfied when we keep those outward rules. But such a list of laws to cover every possible situation would require a 9000-page book. And obedience of that kind is not what God wants anyway.

He gives us general principles, which we must then pray and think about and continually apply to various situations as we face them. This makes obeying the Sermon on the Mount harder, not easier. But as we go thru the process we will grow spiritually, morally and mentally.

Here’s an insight I’ve found very helpful. This author is not trying to water down Jesus’ commands, nor make our obedience easier. Rather, as just said, it will be harder–but very worthwhile! Bernard Ramm wrote,

In some statements it is the spirit of the statement that is to be our guide…. This is true for Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, to yield the second garment, etc. If we take the inner spirit of these commands, they teach us lessons of [self-control, forgiveness,] kindness and helpfulness. Rather than being covetous we ought to be generous; rather then being goaded by a spirit of vengeance we should be prompted by a spirit of love; rather than being tight-fisted we should be merciful to the destitute.”

Examples of Living by the Spirit of His Commands

“Our Daily Bread” told of a Christian woman who owned two prize chickens. One day they escaped from their coop and attacked a neighbor’s garden. In his ire, the neighbor wrung their necks and threw them back over the fence. Of course the woman was upset. But instead of berating the man she took the two chickens and made two delicious chicken pies. Then she gave one of the pies to that neighbor, along with an apology for the damage to his garden. He was speechless with shame and amazement at her demonstration of Christian love.

We mentioned that a backhand slap was often intended as an insult more than an injury. How do we react if someone insults or slurs us? Gen. Robert E. Lee was heard to speak highly of the skill of one of his officers. The man to whom Lee spoke was astonished because he had heard that very officer make malicious remarks about Lee. So he replied, “General, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”

Lee replied, “I do know. But you asked me my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

When do we need to turn our cheek? To just “take it” when others trample our rights?

And to return good for evil?

The SECOND Mile

Last month we considered what our Lord said about the struck cheek and the unjust lawsuit. After that He gave a third illustration about our reaction to unjust treatment or inconvenient intrusions.

3) v. 41, If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. This was based on the former Persian govt.-messenger service. (Compare the Pony Express in the U.S.) The law said that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or act as a guide to guarantee that the messenger would not be delayed. Thus “compel” came to mean to forcibly draft someone to serve whether he wanted to or not. In Christ’s day the Roman army could do the same thing. If you were a Jew, a soldier on duty could make you carry his load by means of your donkey or your own muscle. (They made Simon of Cyrene carry the cross for Jesus).

William Barclay makes the application: “Christ says, If someone demands from you the most distasteful and humiliating service, if someone compels you to do something that invades your rights, if you are treated like a defenseless victim in a land ruled by enemy troops, don’t let it eat you up with resentment. Do what you are asked and do even more, and do it with good will, for such is my way.”

A poet, Joseph Harvey, imagines it like this:

“Come here, you dog, and bear my pack a mile,”
So spoke a Roman soldier to a Jew;
“The day is hot, and I would rest a while,
Such heavy loads were made for such as you.”

The Jew obeyed, and stooping in the path,
He took the burden, though his back was tired;
For who would dare arouse a Roman’s wrath,
Or scorn to do what Roman law required?

They walked the mile in silence; at its end
They paused, but there was not a soul in sight;
“I’ll walk another mile with you, my friend,”
Spoke up the Jew. “This burden now seems light.”

“Have you gone mad,” the angry Roman cried,
“To mock me, when you know that but one mile
Can I compel such service?” By his side
The Jew stood silent, but with kindly smile.

“I used to hate to bear a Roman’s load,
Before I met the Lowly Nazarene,
And walked with Him along the dusty road,
And saw Him make the hopeless lepers clean.”

“I heard Him preach a sermon on the mount;
He taught that we should love our enemies;
He glorified the little things that count
So much in lessening life’s miseries.”

The soldier tried to speak; as he began,
His head was bowed, his eyes with tears were dim.
“For many years I’ve sought for such a man;
Pray tell me more; I, too, would follow Him.”

This command involves our Reaction to Authority – government, or our parents, boss, teachers at school, or leaders at church.

Do they sometimes seem to treat us unreasonably? Ask us to do unpleasant duties, or not to do something we want? If you can convince them to change their minds, o-k. If not, then obey: God tells us that except in certain rare circumstances, we should obey those over us, so do it for His sake. Comply with the requirements cheerfully–why be miserable?

In fact, Jesus says to go beyond obeying. Go “the 2nd mile.”




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I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13