Faithlife Sermons

Living Gracefully (3): Turning the Other Cheek

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Intro – Luke 6:29 reads, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” An Irish boxer who was saved and became an evangelist was setting up his tent when a couple of thugs walked by. They began to mock him, but the boxer/pastor continued his work. One of the thugs took issue, and finally took a swing that glanced off one side of the ex-boxer’s face. He shook it off, and stuck out his jaw whereupon the thug hit him on the other side. At that the preacher took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions.” With one punch he felled the other guy – a biblical literalist. He was clear on his understanding; for most, it’s not so easy.

Keep in mind, this sermon is primarily given to disciples! Jesus’ followers are to be different from the rest of the world. A key phrase is found in v. 32, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” “If we’re like everyone else – loving those who love us and hating those who hate us – there is no benefit – no grace – to us.” Default settings for disciples should change from “natural reaction” to “graceful reaction.” To help us to that He gives four precepts (vv. 27-28, 32-34 = Love your enemies; Do good to those who hate you; Bless those who curse you; Pray for those who abuse you), four prototypes or examples we’ll look at today (vv. 29-31), and a 3-fold purpose.

Two issues of context are important here. The first is found in v. 27 which introduces the section – “Love your enemies.” The governing principle there was, “No revenge.” This is hard, but Jesus teaches grace living rejects revenge. We trespass God’s territory when we do that.

The second contextual point is found in v. 31. We have the 4 examples of gracious living in vv. 29-30, but v. 31 summarizes with what we often call the Golden Rule. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Any child can get this summary: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

There are many ancient version of this, but all are negative in tone. The great Jewish rabbi, Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not to another.” The Jewish philosopher, Philo, said, “What you hate to suffer, do not do to anyone else.” Confucius: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not to others.” They are fine, but negative in tone. Jesus requires more. Refraining from revenge is good, but gofurther. Do positive good! So we have an overriding principle: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

So – the context of these four examples emphasizes two ways our default setting must change – No revenge on the negative side. Do good on the positive side. No Revenge, and Treat others as you wish to be treated.

II. The Prototypes

A. Turn the Other Cheek

V. 29, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Serious animosity is in view here. So, does Jesus mean if someone hits you, you must invite him to hit you again? Does He really mean that if someone sucker-punches you, you are now obligated to give him a freebie? Is that His point? We’ve all seen the old Westerns where some pacifist refuses to defend himself. But is Jesus saying, “If the guys hits you once, give him another go?”

Let me put your mind at ease. That is not what Jesus is saying. You say, “Shouldn’t we take the Bible literally?” Yes! But remember literal interpretation recognizes figures of speech and exaggeration to make a point; that’s what we have here. Jesus is using hyperbole – an exaggerated example to make a point. He is not saying we should invite further physical abuse. We know that because He did not do so.

Jesus was no milquetoast. On the night he was arrested Jesus encountered Annas, a former high priest so corrupt even the Romans could not stomach him and put him out of office. However, he was the power behind the throne of son-in-law Caiaphas, and so he questioned Jesus about His teaching. Jesus told him, “Look, Annas, everything I’ve done has been out in the open, in the synagogues and temple. I’ve had no secret agenda.” Jesus knew Annas was just building a case. Now John 18:22, “When he (Jesus) had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” Jesus is struck; He challenges the integrity of the action – if what I said was wrong, prove it, but if it was right, why are you hitting me? He challenged the action. What He did not do was say, “Okay, you’ve earned another go!” Paul reacts similarly when he was struck in the mouth in Acts 23:2. So, this is not a prescription against self-defense. Jesus himself instructs His followers in Luke 22:36, “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”

So, it is clear that Jesus’ words are not to be taken absolutely literally. But, what is required? What is required is that we not seek revenge for personal attacks, but rather seek the good of our attacker. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Don’t retaliate. To do so is to enter into the same sin as your enemy! Jesus refuses to be drawn into that trap. He does not literally offer the other cheek, but neither does He seek revenge. Rather He seeks the best good for Annas and the soldier by giving them truth. Jesus is not requiring that we invite second shots; He is requiring that we absorb rather than impose physical or mental abuse for the good of our abuser. {Repeat}

When struck, Jesus did not physically offer the other cheek, but He did so figuratively by not seeking revenge of any kind. In fact, He fixed the damage when Peter cut off the ear of one of the servant of the high priest in a failed attempt at revenge. But He went a lot further than that. Shortly after this, Jesus was illegally tried, crowned with a crown of thorns, mocked and spat upon, had his beard ripped out, was savagely beaten and finally crucified with two common thieves. You say, “He had no choice. He was under their power.” I beg to differ. In Matt 25:53 Jesus told Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Jesus could have ended this abuse and taken revenge instantaneously, but He knew there were bigger stakes than defending His rights. So He chose to absorb abuse rather than inflict it. Living gracefully. His death provided the possibility of salvation for His own murderers. And now He’s asking us – for my sake and the sake of your enemies, would you turn the other cheek. Don’t look for abuse, but absorb it rather than impose it.

Peter Miller was a Baptist pastor and good friend of George Washington during the Revolutionary War who lived in Ephrata, PA. Michael Wittman was an evil-minded, scornful man hated the gospel and opposed Miller every chance he had. One day Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Miller knew that profane as he was, he was no traitor. He traveled 70 miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for Wittman’s life. Washington insisted the evidence was strong. He said, “I regret that I cannot grant you the life of your friend.” “My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.” Washington realized immediately Miller would never have walked 70 miles to save an enemy if he knew him to be guilty. He granted the pardon and Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home, no longer an enemy but a friend. That is what Jesus means by turning the other cheek. Do not seek retaliation; seek the good of the other. Absorb abuse rather than impose it to get even. In the words of Paul in Rom 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That’s living gracefully.

B. Do Not Withhold Your Tunic (29b)

What is that about? The “cloak” was the outer garment – the robe or toga worn by most people. It sometimes doubled as a blanket at night. Exodus 22:26-27 shows its importance: “If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” That’s the cloak. The “tunic” was an undergarment, worn for warmth and hygiene. So, the instruction is, if someone robs your shirt, give him your t-shirt as well.

To be taken literally? No! If it were, believers would soon be a nudist colony in the midst of a society of thieves who had robbed their cloak! This is hyperbole again. Same point as before. Don’t retaliate. You can see it’s not literal from another version in Matt 5:40, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” This time someone is being sued for the inner garment, and Jesus is saying, rather than retaliate, give him the outer as well if need be. His point is not that we should be doormats for anyone strong or rich enough to take advantage, but that if it came to it, we should suffer further loss rather than take revenge.

Charles H. Spurgeon’s friend, Dr. Newman Hall, who wrote a book Come to Jesus. It was ridiculed in a review. Hall bore it patiently for a little while, but eventually wrote a letter of protest – factual but aggressive in tone. Before mailing, Hall sought Spurgeon’s advice. Spurgeon affirmed that the comeuppance was accurate and richly deserved. "But it just lacks one thing." He paused: "Underneath your signature you want to write the words, 'Author of Come to Jesus.'" Hall got the point, realized he was thinking more of Newman Hall than he was of Jesus, and tore the letter to shreds. What just happened? Someone stole Hall’s cloak. He gave up his tunic as well. Do you see the point? He chose to suffer loss rather than take revenge.

C. Give to Anyone Who Begs From You (30)

Hyperbole again. If taken literally, there would soon be a world full of believing paupers, owning nothing, and a world full of prosperous idlers who had only to ask to get. Is that Jesus’ intent? No. He’s saying His followers must be willing to give – often, generously and sacrificially. If you’re not into that, you might want to check your Christian credentials. Followers of Christ have a desire to give that stems from the heart.

Note, the word translated “beg” is translated “ask” 64 out of the 70 times it is used in the NT. That is best here as well. Notice the parallel reference in v. 34, “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.” Jesus has in mind someone asking for a loan, and His instruction is, “Give it.” That’s the general command. But the general command has qualifiers. For example, elsewhere in Scripture, laziness and indolence are condemned in certain terms. Solomon warns the lazy person in Prov 6:11, “and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Paul adds in II Thess 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Not only don’t give them anything, but let them go hungry – facing the consequences of their laziness. God is not into enabling people who can help themselves. Sometimes that is a hard line to identify, but we have an obligation to do so.

Neither is Jesus asking us to give or loan when it would put our own families at risk. They are our first priority. R. C. Sproul tells of a time when he was a young pastor living in a depressed area. On one occasion his home was filled with homeless people needing a place to stay the night. Shortly there was a knock on the door – another man, down on his luck and clearly inebriated. Word had gotten around that the young pastor was an easy touch. He found that he had to develop some guidelines to qualify his good intentions which he did without impacting his generous heart. And that is what Jesus is commending here -- a spirit of generosity that would give or lend, expecting nothing in return – that is willing to help when the capability to help exists.

D. Don’t Demand Payback

End of v. 30: “and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” Another bombshell. So, if we are robbed are we literally to just let it go? This is exaggerated to make the point. The assumption is that this “someone” is in desperate need. Can we defend ourselves, our property and our country? Absolutely. Jesus indicates one might buy a sword for protection, as Jesus answered the high priest and as Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen for an audience with Caesar when he was falsely accused (although he clearly had ulterior motives – to share the gospel). If this command were taken absolutely literally, word would soon be out, rob the Christians; they never fight back. That is not what Jesus is demanding.

Jesus’ point is as we have seen before. No revenge. Better to be deprived than to harm another. Our rights now belong to God, not to us and we are to give up all thoughts of retaliation, including a full willingness to be deprived when God so leads. Prov 24:29 says, “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’” Christians are specifically instructed not to go to court against other believers. Why? I Cor 6:7, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” God is saying, “Take a loss rather than seek revenge. Remember, revenge is my domain. I’ve got your back. Believe it and live it.” Peter takes this instruction even further in I Peter 2:20, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God (see the graceful living – accepting unfair treatment – that’s when grace turns on. Peter goes on to use Jesus as example in v. 23) 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Are you seeing the point, Beloved? Graceful living is not to go defenseless, but it is to develop and live out a willingness to take a beating of whatever nature and let it go rather than imposing a beating – a willingness to let God be the avenger. Someone might even get saved if we can live this way.

Conc -- After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, no person in East Germany was more despised than the former Communist dictator Erich Honecher. He was of all his offices. Even the Communist Party rejected him. The new government couldn’t wait to kick him out of his villa and deny him housing of any kind. The Honecher’s were homeless and destitute – a situation that he fully merited. Pastor Uwe Holmer, director of a Christian help center just north of Berlin became aware of the situation. He felt it would be wrong to give the Honecher’s a room meant for even needier people – so he invited the Honecher’s into his own home. This despite the fact that Margot Honecher had ruled the East German educational system for 26 years. Eight of Holmer’s 10 children had been turned down for higher education due to her anti-Christian policies. They’d been robbed of opportunity, figuratively struck on the cheek. But now they were caring for the most hated man in Germany who was their enemy. They turned the other cheek, gave their tunic also – did what they would have wished the Honecher’s to do for them.

The Honecher’s later fled to Chile where Erich died of liver cancer in 1993. There is no indication that he came to know Christ. But the benefit, the grace, went the Holmer family who found a way to do exactly what Jesus is requiring of those who are his followers. They showed what it means to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, to give up the right to demand their right to vengeance. By God’s grace, let’s do the same. Let’s pray.

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