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2006-07-09_Do Not Resist_Matthew 5.38-42

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Do Not Resist

Matthew 5:38-42   |   Shaun LePage   |   July 9, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   The Hatfields and McCoys

1.     Three years ago this week, the Hatfields and McCoys shook hands. CBS News picked up on the story and reported, “The actual fighting between the Hatfields and McCoys has been long over. But representatives from both families decided to sign a truce…The two families became embroiled in one of the longest and most infamous family feuds in the history of America. Although they ended the feud in 1891, Saturday, June 14, 2003, marked the official end to the Hatfields and McCoys’ feud when the families signed a truce, in an event broadcast by the The Saturday Early Show” on CBS.

2.     The famous feud started in the late 1870’s, but it burst into full fury in 1882, when Ellison Hatfield, brother of “Devil Anse” Hatfield, was brutally murdered by three McCoy brothers, stabbed 26 times and finished off with a shot. The brothers were themselves murdered in turn as the vendetta escalated. Between 1880 and 1891, the feud claimed more than a dozen members of these families. The Hatfields claimed more lives than the McCoy’s did by the time order had been restored.

3.     How did all this start? The first recorded instance of violence in the feud occurred after an 1878 dispute about the ownership of a hog: Floyd Hatfield had it, and Randolph McCoy said it was his. But in truth, it was over land or property lines and the ownership of that land. The pig was only in dispute because one family believed that the pig was theirs because it was on their property. The matter was taken to court, and the McCoys lost because of the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families. In June 1880, Staton was killed by two McCoy brothers. From that point on, the families began a cycle of retaliation against each other that escalated out of control. Dozens of people died because of a dispute over a hog and some land.

4.     There’s an interesting footnote to this story: In the 1970s, the popular television game show Family Feud reunited descendants of the two families for a week of competition with the overall winning family taking home a pig representative of the original creature at the center of the initial dispute. (Wikipedia.org, Hatfield-McCoy Feud).

B.    Well, it all ended nicely and it’s become a joke in our culture, but the truth is, the Hatfield and McCoy feud is a tragic story about the destructive nature of revenge.

C.   In the first twelve verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus described what a disciple of His should look like. The Beatitudes—as they are now called—describe a kingdom-minded person. A person whose heart is a reflection of the God in whom they trust. Among the qualities listed there are “gentle” or “meek,” “merciful” and “peacemaker.” The very opposite of one who seeks revenge. Completely different than the one who would retaliate in violence.

D.   In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus gave several practical examples of how His disciples should have a surpassing righteousness. A righteousness that surpassed the scribes and Pharisees of His day. Their righteousness was a shallow righteousness that was mainly concerned with looking good, not being good. In verses 38-42, Jesus explains what this surpassing righteousness looks like when we are faced with an evil person.

II.   Body

A.   Matthew 5:38-42 (NASB95): “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat 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.

B.    “You have heard…”

1.     Direct quote from the Old Testament:

a)    Read Exodus 21:22-25

b)    The same principle is repeated in Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19.

2.     The Law of Moses was civil as well as moral.

a)    In other words, Exodus 20 lays out the moral law—the Ten Commandments. The chapters that followed laid out specifically how the Ten Commandments were to be applied to the new nation of Israel—the civil laws of that nation.

b)    “Eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is what is known as the lex talionis—that’s Latin for “the law of retaliation.”

(i)   Scholar J. A. Motyer writes in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “This is often unthinkingly criticized as if it were a license for savagery, but reflection establishes that its intention was to secure as exact an equation as is humanly possible between crime and punishment” (p.247).

(ii) What that means is, “eye for an eye” was and is a good law. Though it has been misused by the vengeful and ruthless and the vigilante, it is the basis of any good system of law.

(iii)    The point of the lex talionis or “an eye for an eye” was to make the punishment fit the crime. In other words, we don’t give someone the death penalty for stealing a Snickers, nor should we give a slap on the wrist to rapists and murderers. Any society, any government must be fair. We must develop a reasonable way to punish those who break the law.

c)    Here is the key:

(i)   The lex talionis was designed for government—for those in authority. In Exodus, for example, these laws were specific instructions for judges (21:22)! Judges, who were given the task of deciding how to punish lawbreakers, were not to give excessive and harsh punishments. In this example in Exodus 21:22-25, if two men were fighting and they strike a woman and she gives birth prematurely, but baby and mama are not “injured,” the man was simply to receive a fine—“as the judges decide” the text says. But, if the mama or baby died, the men were to give “life for life.” The judge could give the death sentence to one or both of the men. The punishment was to fit the crime. This—in theory—was to protect the citizens of the nation from being treated unjustly by her leaders.

(ii) As we continue to read these laws, we find that it wasn’t a strict system of retaliation either. There were other concessions to be made if there was an injury. For example, if you knocked my tooth out, it wouldn’t do either of us much good for me to knock your tooth out. It might make me feel better, but I’d much rather have some cash so I could go down and have Angela Wilson fix me up. So sometimes there was a fine rather than a strict “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” system. In fact, the very next example in Exodus 21 involves a slave. Listen to Exodus 21:26: “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye.” So the slave didn’t get to poke his master’s eye out, but he was given his freedom. The principle was still the same, though: The punishment should fit the crime.

(iii)    By the time Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the scribes and Pharisees had taken these laws out of the court of law and began applying them to personal relationships. “Lex Talionis” was being used for personal revenge rather than judicial restraint. They were misusing these laws to try to justify personal revenge. But this was never the point in the Law of Moses. Listen to Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” Personal vengeance—getting even or striking back—was never condoned by God’s law. It is not acceptable. Nor is it a good idea as the Hatfields and McCoys demonstrated. This is what Jesus was addressing. His disciples were to rise above this system of personal revenge.

C.    “But I say…”

1.     “Do not resist an evil person.” This is the main command. The rest of this section is a list of examples—what this looks like on a practical level. But before we look at those examples, what did Jesus mean by “do not resist an evil person”?

a)    Jesus was speaking again in hyperbolic terms—exaggerated terms. Jesus could not have meant “do not (ever) resist an evil person.” If He meant “(never ever) resist an evil person” then take the locks off your doors. Those locks are there to resist an evil person. They’re there to keep evil people from coming into your home. If He meant “(never ever) resist an evil person” then it’s wrong for us to defend ourselves. It’s wrong for a society to have a police force. It’s wrong to have people checking luggage at airports so we can keep terrorists from sneaking bombs on the plane.

b)    Again, when we are attempting to interpret the Bible, we must look at the context. We must understand the history behind the immediate context. Why was Jesus saying this? Also, we must look at the greater context of Scripture. When we do this, we find that we are commanded to resist evil in some very significant ways.

(i)   We are commanded to “resist evil in our personal lives. Listen to James 4:7: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This command is repeated by Peter regarding Satan. The devil and the evil he generates must be “resisted” by every believer.

(ii) We are commanded to “resist evil in the home. If parents would live up to their God-given responsibility to resist evil in the home, the police would have nothing to do but hand out candy to children.

(a)  Wise parents pass on their wisdom to their children. Why? To keep their children from wickedness—to “restrain evil.” Listen to Proverbs 3:1-7. That’s a father—a parent—teaching and pleading with his children to “fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Parents, your child’s natural bent is toward evil and you must—as a steward of God—use your time with your children to teach them and plead with them to choose the way of wisdom—“the fear of the Lord”—or they will most likely choose the path of the wicked. We cannot ignore the rebellion of our children. We must “restrain evil” by teaching them.

(b) Wise parents use the rod to discipline their children.

1.     If they do not, the Scriptures say you “hate” them. Listen to Proverbs 13:24. “I do not hate my children! I love them—that’s why I don’t spank them!” No, no, a thousand times no! If you don’t spank your children when they clearly disobey you, you’re teaching them that there are no serious consequences to evil. You’re not restraining the evil in their hearts and you’re “hating” them. You’re saying—in essence—“I don’t really care what path you take in life. I don’t love you enough to teach you what is right and wrong. It’s just too much trouble for me.” They’ll end up self-centered and rebellious. They’ll choose evil instead of the “fear of the Lord.”

2.     What does the rod accomplish? Listen to Proverbs 20:30. It “scours away evil”! What does the rod accomplish? Listen to Proverbs 29:15. It “gives wisdom.”

(c)  Here’s my point: Parents are the first line of defense in “resisting evil” in our society. One of the primary ways you can be the “salt of the earth”—and preserve society’s moral standards—is to teach and discipline your own children.

(iii) We are commanded to “resist evil in our church.

(a)  Jesus taught in Matthew 18 that if a brother is in sin (i.e., practicing evil), one person, then two or three persons then the whole church is to try to win him over and turn him from his evil. If he refuses to listen, then the church is to “restrain evil” by disfellowshiping that brother. That kind of accountability to each other “restrains evil.” We don’t “restrain evil” by ignoring someone’s sin and gossiping about it. We just make it worse.

(b) The apostles taught the same thing—that the church is to “restrain evil” among its membership, including the leadership of the church. Listen to 1 Timothy 5:19-20: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all (why?), so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.

(c)  The purpose of church discipline is two-fold: 1) to win over the sinning brother; 2) to “restrain evil”. Christians are saved sinners who are more than capable of choosing an evil path. Church discipline is a necessary means of restraining evil in our midst. This is one of the reasons why we must have some type of formal membership. You and I need the God-given accountability that church discipline provides. If I’ve never clearly committed myself to a local body of believers, then I do not have this accountability.

(iv)    We are commanded to “resist evil in our society. The government is given this task—by God! Listen to Romans 13:3-4: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” God has given man the authority to govern. Part of that authority includes “the sword” or the authority to punish “the one who practices evil.” A government is commissioned by God to punish evildoers, not rehabilitate—punish. The idea is to serve justice so that others will be fearful of “practicing evil.” When a government does not punish those who practice evil, they are failing or disobedient. Worse yet, when they punish those who do good and reward evil doers, they have become evil themselves. God remains the ultimate authority, and those who hold the power in a governmental position will have to answer for how they “bear the sword.” The point is, the “rulers” of a given society are commissioned by God to “restrain evil.”

2.     So, Jesus could not have meant “(never ever) resist an evil person.” But what did He mean? Remember that He was addressing the misuse of “eye for an eye.” That misuse was personal revenge—vigilante justice. In that context, I believe Jesus meant, “Do the opposite!” What’s the opposite of revenge? Love! What’s the opposite of standing up for your rights? Love! This passage is very closely connected to the passage we’ll look at next week in which Jesus tells us how to deal with enemies. What did Jesus say to do for your enemies? “Love your enemies and pray for” them (Matthew 5:44). That’s what Jesus did! He loved his enemies so much, He died for them. He prayed for them as they were driving the nails through His hands and feet. Look at the four examples Jesus gave:

a)    Verse 39: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

(i)   The key to understanding this is that little word “right—right cheek.” [ Illustrate that this is an insulting slap, not a punch. You hit someone on the right cheek with the back of your hand. ]

(ii)      Jesus was talking about not retaliating for a personal insult. But even this is so counter-cultural few people can stomach it. If someone slaps us, we slap them back! It’s the American way! A real man stands up and retaliates if anybody messes with him.

(iii)    John Eldredge, in his book, Wild at Heart misses the point entirely. Now, I enjoyed this book and I think Eldredge has some good ideas. He’s right to exalt Jesus as the ultimate example of what it means to be a man. But on this, he got it wrong: Listen to this story from chapter 5 [Read pages 78-79 through “You cannot turn a cheek you do not have.”]. Does John’s teaching reflect the teaching of Christ? No! It reflects the teaching of the Pharisees. “Eye for an eye.” Get personal revenge! Was his little first-grader more of a man because he went to school and punched out another first grader? No! Did you notice what Eldredge said there: “Jesus was able to retaliate, believe me. But he chose not to.” That’s strength! That’s a real man. Any thug can retaliate. A real man—a real disciple of Jesus Christ—has the strength and the self-control not to!

(iv)    Jesus says, “turn the other cheek.” Why? It’s the opposite of retaliation. It’s love—the radical, kingdom-minded love Jesus demands from His disciples. It’s the kind of love that comes from the “pure heart” of a “peacemaker.” It’s the kind of love that comes from someone who is “gentle or meek”—which really means “controlled strength”. That kind of love shuts down evil and promotes righteousness. That kind of love is a bright light in the midst of a dark, insulting world.

(v)      The next three examples are similar:

b)    Verse 40: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” This is the issue of legal rights. If someone sues you and wins—that’s the implication—they take your shirt. You have a right to countersue and try to get your shirt back. Jesus says, “Let him have your coat also.” Why? Love! It’s the opposite of retaliation. It’s the kind of love that comes from someone who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness,” and who “mourns” when people attack each other. That kind of love will shut down evil and promote righteousness. That kind of love is a bright light in the midst of a dark, combative world.

c)    Verse 41: “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” Roman soldiers—the oppressors of Jews—had the legal right to force anyone they came across to carry their gear one mile. Jesus says, “Don’t just drop the gear at the one mile mark, but go the extra mile. Go with him two.” Why? Love! It’s the opposite of retaliation. That kind of love will shut down evil and promote righteousness. It’s the kind of love that comes from someone who is willing to be “persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” That kind of love is a bright light in the midst of a dark, oppressive world.

d)    Verse 42: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Jesus was talking about being generous to those in need. Our natural tendency is to cling to our stuff—to “turn away from” anyone who wants some of our stuff. Jesus says, “give to him who asks.” Why? Love! That kind of love is so different! Disciples of Jesus Christ should love people more than their money. Now, it is not always love to give someone cash. You might be enabling their alcohol or drug addiction. Love might be buying them a meal. Love might be giving time or counsel. Bottom line: Love—the kingdom-minded kind of love; the kind of love that comes from someone who is “merciful”—gives generously! That kind of love is a bright light in a dark, materialistic world.

III. Closing. Let me give you three things from this passage to take with you:

A.   Trust in the goodness of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires great faith. Look at Romans 12:17-21. Vengeance belongs to God. That’s a matter of faith! If we don’t trust that God is good and is going to deal with evil in His time in a just way, we’ll try to take matters into our own hands to get justice. If we don’t have faith in God to bring good out of our own particular struggles and suffering, we’ll try to take matters into our own hands to bring about a good result. If we do have faith in God, we can have the right perspective on petty insults and silly personal attacks and even on oppressive authority and our earthly possessions.

B.    Grow in the love of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires supernatural love. We can’t live the kind of life Jesus calls us to without His supernatural help—through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re given those resources at the moment we trust Christ. Then, as new creations in Christ, we must daily surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is Lord—I am His servant. I don’t understand the wisdom of everything He asks me to do, but I’m not in charge—He is! When we surrender to His Lordship, we begin to mature. As we mature, we become more like our Lord—Jesus Christ. As we become more like Jesus, He fills us with love—His kind of love. The kind of love that is required to turn the other cheek when we’re insulted—just like Jesus. The kind of love that makes it possible for us to not attack when attacked—just like Jesus. The kind of love that makes it possible for us to deal with oppression—just like Jesus. The kind of love that makes it possible for us to give generously—just like Jesus.

C.   Remember the suffering of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires suffering. Listen to 1 Peter 2:21-24. Let’s be clear: Christ calls us to a life of suffering. Following Christ will include suffering and that that suffering will all be worth it in the end. I close with Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

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