By Leah Hinton
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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them 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
I saw a meme the other day that read: An eye for an eye and the whole world will be blind. When it comes to turning the other cheek, many people – even many Christians – simply don’t get it. Like other instructions given to us by Jesus, this command is hard. It requires that we fight against our selfish desire to retaliate against someone, and instead requires us to show them grace, love and forgiveness.
What does retaliation do? It does a great deal of nothing and a great deal of something.
To start with, retaliation does absolutely nothing to help a conflict or difficult situation. Whatever problem may be at hand is rarely ever solved through retaliating against another individual. Yet this is probably not news to any of us - we all know that problems aren’t ever solved this way. So why is it still our initial reaction? Well, we all want justice, and we want to see justice on our own terms. Romans 12:9 reads, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. This tells us that God is the King of Justice, and that He will make things right – not us. This doesn’t mean that you can’t stand up for yourself or someone else, but it does mean that you need to step back and examine your motive(s) for wanting to “teach them a lesson”. Our motive should be a desire to see them understand the wrong, and to therefore change their actions and words regarding the wrong. But there are good and bad approaches to helping them get to this. Ever think that instead of retaliating against someone, that showing them love might be a better solution? Love your enemies – pray for those who persecute you (Mat. 5:44). Why? We all know that everyone faces an overwhelming number of decisions, conflicts, challenges, and tough situations each day. But we also know that everyone handles and deals with these differently. Sometimes when people are going through something tough they “act out” or take it out on someone else. There is always a reason for someone’s actions. Try to discover that reason and assist in helping to solve the problem instead of lashing back at them. Pray. Ask helpful questions. Get to the root of it. By doing this, you will be showing them the love and heart of Jesus. Isn’t that a better option than fighting or saying harsh words that you regret later? It might be more difficult, but in the end, the fruit is so much greater.
Secondly, retaliation does a great deal of something. It hurts your ability to look and act like Christ towards someone else, which is a great deal of something. By retaliating against someone, you are proving to be no different from anyone else – which is probably exactly what he or she doesn’t need from you. Your mission as a follower of Jesus is to model your life to look like Christ and to show others how to do the same. Retaliation hinders this mission. What if Jesus had allowed the disciples to fight and protect Him instead of willingly going to the cross? What if Jesus himself had retaliated against the onlookers while He was hanging on the cross? But He didn’t – because He saw the greater mission and the good that would come from the unbearable pain and suffering that He would have to endure. Your motives have to be bigger than those of your flesh. You have to look at your mission and see that as greater and more important than getting even with someone.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (vs. 39). This is telling us that when someone wrongs us or hurts us, we are to turn the other cheek – to forgive, give another chance, and love them through the pain. “Why should I do that?”, you ask. So that…you may be [children] of your Father in heaven (Mat. 5:45) For this is what He does for us. This should always be our goal and our motive – imitate Christ. Show others the love of God. If you don’t do this, what are you doing? How are you living differently than the world and living for Christ? We are told that we are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world (see Mat. 5:13-16). We are called to be different. We are called to stand out. If we don’t strive to sincerely be salt and light, we are only blending in with the world and are disobeying God.
A wise pastor once said that retaliation is overreacting in pain. Instead, the goal should be to overreact with grace. If we each did this, imagine how our relationships would look, and how we would inspire others to live out their relationships. When Christ gives you a mission of ministering to someone and you show them retaliation, your witness and the witness of other Christians is less relevant in their lives, because now they don’t believe you. They don’t believe that Christ changes you and makes you a new person. Yet, responding and showing that person grace and love emphasizes Christ and how He changes us.
This is the ultimate reason that we should turn the other cheek: emphasize Christ and imitate Christ. This is how He acted and what He did. You can’t follow Christ if you’re too busy following yourself, your own motives, and how the world tells you that you should act and respond. Follow Christ. Don’t give people what they deserve, give them love. Don’t give people retaliation, give them grace.
Leah Hinton is a Worship Team Lead and a Community Group Leader at Renewal Church.