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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2017-10-08

Text: Matthew 5:38-42

Have you ever been cheated by someone? Or has someone ever taken advantage of you, or wrongfully accused you of something? Have you ever been slandered, snubbed or unjustly bypassed for promotion in your workplace? If you have, how did you feel and how did you respond? Did you do something to get even with him? This is the kind of situation that is addressed in the passage that we will be studying today, as we continue with our study of the Sermon on the Mount, which was given by Jesus to His disciples.

Jesus was addressing the abuse of an Old Testament Law which is expressed in v.38 – Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The full law is given in Exodus 21:22-25 – “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

The situation is that of a pregnant woman who gets hurt accidentally during a squabble between two men, and as a result she gives birth prematurely. The words “if no mischief follow” in v.22 means that the baby is born safe and sound and both mother and child are all right. The words “if any mischief follow” in v.23 means that the baby is hurt or even born dead, or worse still – both mother and baby dies because of complications. In such a situation, the law of God required the offenders to pay a compensation for the loss they have incurred.

In order to protect the offenders from having to make excessive payment in such compensation, God gave a useful guideline for those in authority to judge such cases – life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot. It is the principle that the compensation made for an offence must be equal to the damage that has been caused by the offence.

Now, this does not mean that if someone had injured the eye of another person, the judge must then sentence him to have his eye destroyed. The verses that follow the law in Exodus make this clear: (vv.26-27) – “And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.”

The compensation for physical abuse of a slave, is to let the slave go free. Losing the services of the slave becomes the equivalent of suffering the loss of one’s eye or one’s tooth. And that is fair and just. If the judge were to allow the slave’s master to keep the slave and just give him some money as compensation, it would not be fair to the slave at all, since it cannot make up for the permanent disability he now has to suffer. And if the judge should be so angry with the slave’s master that he sentences him to death, that would be too severe.

Thus the principle of making equivalent compensation was a very good one, ensuring justice and fairness to all parties involved in any legal case, and it is still being used in all courts of law today. E.g. if you bumped into someone’s car and damaged only his bumper, the damages you pay should not exceed the cost of a new bumper. He can’t make you buy him a new car!

However, as all good things are often abused or exploited by man, this principle also became abused. The Pharisees abused it for selfish ends. They taught that if a man killed a neighbour’s cow, that neighbour has the right to kill his cow. If a person slaps you on the right cheek, you are entitled to give him a slap him on his right cheek. If he takes your coat away, then you have every right to take away his coat when you have the opportunity. This law was turned into a convenient excuse for people to exact sweet revenge on others.

But this law wasn’t meant to give man a licence for revenge. Vengeful reactions like these are actually prohibited by the Law itself. It is found in Leviticus 19:18 – “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” This brings us to our first point. We must…

  1. Resist the Desire to Be Vindictive (vv.38-39)

Instead of being vindictive, we should be merciful, kind and forgiving toward others, and overcome our own hurt feelings at being offended. As Romans 12:19-20 tells us – “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Unfortunately vindictiveness is an attitude of the heart, which the law is unable to discern or to judge. And so under (SLIDE16) the pretext of seeking for justice, a person could fulfill his secret desires for revenge lawfully. In the ‘eye for an eye’ law of the OT, man’s sinful nature had therefore found the perfect excuse to feed his evil desire for cruel vengeance!

This terrible abuse of the Law was what our Lord Jesus spoke against in our text when He said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (vv.38,39) This is a very effective response to aggression, because it puts an immediate end to a potential chain of aggression that can go on indefinitely. What often happens when a person retaliates against someone, is that the other person retaliates against the retaliation. And this may go on and on and escalate into endless rounds of bloody and destructive feuds. The biblical way to avoid this vicious cycle is not to retaliate at all, but to return evil with good.

One example of this was Jim Elliot, a missionary to the savage Auca people who live in the rain forests of Ecuador. In 1955 he and four other missionaries tried to reach out to the Aucas, but they were massacred by them. The Aucas had also been killing each other in violent feuds between rival tribes. After Jim Elliot’s wife Elisabeth received the news that her husband had been killed by the natives, she went to Ecuador together with the sister of another victim not to seek revenge, but to tell them that the love of Jesus Christ enabled them to forgive the Auca people for what they had done to their loved ones. The natives were so touched by this unexpected response that they repented of their sins and turned to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They eventually ended their own tribal feuds with one another and so all the revenge killings of the Aucas came to an end. This wonderful result was achieved only because two missionary women had…

  1. Respond to Evil with Good (v. 40,41)

That’s the second point of this sermon. It comes from what our Lord Jesus said in vv.40,41 – “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Christ provided the supreme example of this on the cross: After being unjustly sentenced to die, and bearing all kinds of evil torment at the hands of men, He cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Christ did not only resist the urge to retaliate against His accusers and oppressors; He also loved them, and died to bear the punishment for their sins! No one has ever returned more good for evil than our Lord did on the cross!

And since we are followers of Christ, we are called to give the same kind of response that He gave. Instead of insisting on our rights against those who have wronged us, we should ‘turn the other cheek’, forego all retaliation, serve them cheerfully, and even give of our wealth to help them.

The question that arises is this: If we were to do this would we not make ourselves the easiest prey in the world for all bullies and opportunists? Because we do not mind being victimized at all, would we not invite wicked men and confidence tricksters to come and exploit us. And every time we feel that we have suffered enough of their bullying and we protest, would they not just say to us, “Hey, don’t you Christians know that you are not supposed to resist? Come on, turn the other cheek and let me slap you again.” Is this what Jesus wants us to be?

  1. It Does Not Mean Condoning Sin

Actually this is the wrong way to apply this passage of scripture. It was not the purpose of Jesus at all to teach us to condone the sins of people who offend us. Turning the other cheek, going the second mile, etc. are not meant to be acts of condoning sin. They are only meant to be personal acts of non-vengeance. In other passages of scripture, we can see that love never condones any sin. 1 Corinthians 13:6 – [Charity] Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” Romans 12:9 tells us to “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”

What are some possible ways to condone a person’s sin? When we fail to warn him about it. Sin is condoned when we tempt him to do it. Sin is condoned when we do nothing to stop him or correct him. In Israel’s history, God at times rebuked His people for doing nothing against evil men. E.g. Jeremiah 5:26 – “For among My people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.” The Lord did not approve of their toleration of such evil deeds.

We would receive the same disapproval from God if we did the same thing. If all of us were to allow all evil against us to go on and on, unopposed and undisciplined, we would actually end up encouraging more evil. And this would defeat the whole purpose of doing good to those who do evil against us. But this good response that we give is meant to overcome sin.

  1. It Means Overcoming Rather than Encouraging Evil

This point is brought out in Romans 12:20,21 – “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Here we can see that the goal of doing good to those who do evil, is to overcome evil. To ‘overcome evil’ means to conquer, or gain the victory over evil. To ‘heap coals of fire’ on a person’s head is best understood to mean giving him a burning sense of shame and contrition that will melt away all his evil intentions. The idea is taken from the melting of metals by heaping coals on fire on them. Helping rather than harming an enemy may cause him to be ashamed and penitent.

This was what happened to King Saul when David mercifully spared his life even though Saul was pursuing him to snuff out his life. When Saul realized that David had spared his life, he wept tears of repentance and said, “Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. And thou hast shewed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.” (1 Samuel 24:17-19)

Another example of this can be found in the account of how Elisha treated the army of soldiers that were sent by the wicked king of Syria to arrest him when he was in Dothan. (2 Kings 6:18-23). The important thing for us to note here is that Elisha prevented them from carrying out their wrongdoing against him. He asked God to disable them with a temporary blindness! This was not done vindictively at all, but only to render them harmless for a while. When he had brought the Syrian army into Samaria, he asked God to open their eyes. They found themselves surrounded by the armies of Israel.

It was then that the King of Israel saw his chance to take revenge on Syria. He eagerly wanted to have all the Syrians massacred. But Elisha did not permit him to return evil for evil (v.21). Instead he told him the better way – Treat them as honoured guests. Feed them well with good food, and then send them back home to Syria. The results were really amazing. Verse 23 tells us – “So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.” And so we have seen how Elisha overcame evil with good. But we have also seen that he did not at all encourage evil to be carried out. With God’s help he prevented it. And by showing God’s love he overcame it.

Let us follow the same principle in dealing with those who want to do wrong to us and take advantage of us. The response that we give should not encourage them to do more evil, but to help them repent of their evil. To do this, we may have to talk to them and tell them that what they are doing is wrong and they should not do it again.

  1. It Must Be Exercised with Discernment

The question then comes. What if they refuse to repent after all the good that we have done to them? What if they are so hardened by sin, that they abuse the goodness we have shown to them, to take further advantage of us? Then our goal of overcoming evil with good has not been achieved at all. Should we continue to do good to them? Yes, we should. But at the same time we should not tolerate further evil acts from them. And if showing further goodness to them would only make them bolder to do more evil, then that goodness should be stopped, or else we may unwittingly become promoters of their evil deeds.

Let us take, for example, a person who wrongs you by borrowing a large sum of money from you without ever returning it. You graciously forgive him for this and write off his debt. But instead of making an effort to repay your kindness, he now takes advantage of it by asking you for another huge loan. Should you oblige him? What if you don’t oblige, and he brazenly says, “Look brother, you said you have already forgiven me. So you should now forget the past and let me have the money!” He has obviously not repented of his sin. He even quotes v.42 of our text: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” This is what you can tell him, “Although I have forgiven you out of love, I cannot lend to you again as it will not help you. You must show me that you have truly changed your evil ways.”

This person will not be happy that you have refused to let him take advantage of you, and so he will try to do it to others instead. What should you do then? You should stop him from doing this by warning others not to give any loans to him, because they are probably not going to see their money again if they do this. And if he is a fellow church member, you may have to bring his case up for church discipline, following the guidelines in Matthew chapter 18. Now, you are not doing this out of a vindictive spirit at all, because you had already written off his debt to you. You are doing it merely to stop him from doing the same harm to others. This is part of your social responsibility, which is actually the outcome of‘loving your neighbour as yourself.’

By the same analogy, if an office colleague asks you to help him do his work, and you oblige but find out later on that he is  actually skiving, then you should confront him about this. If he refuses to repent, stop helping him and then proceed to lodge a complaint about him. This is part of your social responsibility. If you don’t do this, he will just continue to skive by taking advantage of others.

Please do not think that by doing this you are being very ‘unchristian’ toward him. As a Christian you ought to show love to people at all times, but your love must never encourage them to sin. And by maintaining such standards in your place of work, your colleagues will realise that you care for them, since you do not want him to take advantage of them.

But if you were to do the very opposite and allow people to keep taking advantage of you all the time, and just suffer in silence, you may soon find your colleagues talking about you like this, “It is because of kind-hearted people like her that such evil people here can thrive and take advantage of others.” And the other Christians in your office would be put in a difficult position by you. Some people would say to them, “How come you are not like her? She is so kind that she does not complain at all when others ask her for help?”Remember that whatever you do has repercussions on others. I am sure that you would feel upset if you were to see a colleague being bullied. So please be careful not to end up making it difficult for others not to be bullied, just because of you.

What all this boils down to is that as we live in this world of sin, in the midst of people who have evil intentions against us and other people, we must exercise discernment in responding to evil with good. When our Lord Jesus chose His twelve disciples and sent them forth, He gave them the instruction in Matthew 10:16 – “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” 

So please be wise and not naïve. Don’t allow yourself to be devoured by wolves. Our Lord Himself was discerning. Even though He loved all men, He did not commit Himself to everyone who came to Him. We see this in John 2:23,24 – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men.” Jesus of course has the ability to look into the hearts of men and discern their real thoughts and motives. We do not have the ability, and hence we are sometimes deceived and we find ourselves being taken in or victimised by others because we trusted them too much. Discernment is something that we need to acquire. And we can acquire discernment with more experience and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I have had my own share of experiences in learning discernment. I have been cheated before, and have been taken advantage of several times. It was painful, but with God’s help I have learned to forgive those who did those things to me. But as long as they have not yet changed for the better, my love for them cannot be expressed the same way I would express love to others. So let us learn to love all men, even those who wrong us and take advantage of us. But let our love always be exercised with holy discernment.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

January 21 & 28 - The Power of Prayer

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16