Reading through Jesus’s commands about retaliation didn’t initially hold the sting that I have come to feel over this passage. I’m certainly not gouging out people’s eyes and I don’t balk at the idea of being the bigger person. But as I came to really, prayerfully study this passage, I realized the fullness of what Jesus is asking here and the tension that comes when this plays out in my life every day. He is calling for us to lay aside our rights and resist our innate desire to protect our time and money and reputation in order to show His love to a world that needs it.
Jesus’s original audience was an honor-culture; their reputation determined their worth. Even though His sermon was 2,000 years ago, it isn’t hard to see the relevance for us today. Sometimes we attempt to define ourselves and prove our value through social media! But as believers, our true value isn’t determined by the opinions of others. We learn to embrace the truth that God sees us as forgiven, adopted, righteous new creations! We learn to treasure the fact that our identity is fully dependent on Christ’s work on the Cross. The result? We find we are free of the burden to constantly prove our worth to other people. We find that our focus begins to shift to extending to others the mercy we have received, with little regard for the cost or inconvenience. We recognize that as His children, God’s reputation and ours rests on loving others well.
But what about when my four-year-old blatantly and repeatedly disobeys me? Is it merciful to hug and hold and overlook the offense? Sometimes. But sometimes it’s merciful to discipline, knowing that God’s main concern isn’t keeping the peace. He is concerned with changing our hearts. Even good things like generosity, giving counsel, and going the extra mile can be detrimental in the life of those we are trying to help—and that can mean that we are actually taking the place of their real Savior. So, how do I draw the line between speaking up and turning the other cheek? When does giving without limits make me an enabler of behavior that doesn’t bring about God’s best in another’s life?
When I look through Scripture, I see that God is calling me, above all, to seek His good for the other person, knowing that He is glorified and well-represented when I follow that path. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, “So, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble. . . even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
So I press on to more fully understand and represent His character—that is what He deems good. I pray for wisdom and discernment (which may come through Godly counsel). And, ultimately, I examine my heart with this question: “Am I acting out of concern for what the Lord calls good for this person or out of concern for myself and my reputation, time, or money?”
Written by Holley Chapman