Matthew 5:38-42 – You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Jesus wants His followers to be free from their behavior being determined by the way others treat them. Every interaction can come with a temptation to be conformed to the character of the person before us or to stand firm in the character of Christ. Jesus is speaking in the context of personal matters: He does not mean this to prohibit self-defense, or the actions of a government to restrain evil (Rom. 13). He’s once again speaking to the heart’s intentions.
The Old Covenant idea of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was to try to limit vengeance, but with Jesus comes the highest expression of God’s will, to always act in the other person’s best interest regardless.
The Jewish culture of the first century was a high honor culture and to slap someone on the cheek was the ultimate insult. Jesus is teaching us that when someone tries to add insult to injury, we are not to avenge ourselves but leave it to God instead. The strongest person is the one who can remain under the control of love when being insulted. Personal attacks provide believers with an opportunity to demonstrate God’s strength and goodness.
Jesus then speaks to a scenario in which someone is bent on going to law with us. In dealing with petty litigation that disturbs peace, it is wise to give more than is being demanded outside of court, calming our spirit from wrangling and debate while convicting our opponent of their greed (1 Cor. 6:7).
Roman soldiers could enlist their subjects into the forced labor of carrying their equipment for one mile. The Jews hated the Roman occupation of their land. Jesus says to his disciples, offer to carry the equipment a second mile out of love. Imagine the impact if Christians were known for finding ways to freely bless those who tried to humiliate and insult them. Talk about leaving a soldier speechless in Jesus’ name!
Lastly, Jesus teaches us an attitude of service and generosity to those who ask. Many in Jesus’ time, as in ours, would charge interest to lend or would only give to get. Jesus is once again reminding us that God is looking at the heart behind our actions. Are we being ruled by love?
Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that our love will overflow more and more in real knowledge and all discernment for every circumstance we find ourselves in. Establish our hearts in your supernatural love we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.