DUNCAN/God’s law vs. human tradition: Part V
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5:38-42. This passage has been party to many common misunderstandings. It was in Jesus’ day, and it is also in ours. I would like us to attend for a few moments what Jesus is, in fact, saying in this passage. In fact, we find three great truths that Jesus sets down. First, that personal vengeance is not justified in God’s moral law. Second, that we must be guided by a spirit of love, not revenge. And third, we must be people of love and kindness even towards our enemies.
I. Personal Vengeance Is Not Justified in God’s Moral Law.
In verse 38 Jesus is attacking the false teaching, the false interpretation of the Pharisees on the law. And He teaches us in the passage that we must not justify personal vengeance by appealing to God’s moral law. In verse 38, we read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth and for a tooth.’” Jesus knows that that passage was being quoted by Pharisees and they were using it to argue that personal vengeance was a command allowed for by Moses. The original intent of the Mosaic legislation in Leviticus 24 of what we call the lex talones, the law of the talon, the law of the claw is not a law promoting personal revenge. It was intended to do several things. It was, first of all, designed to discourage people seeking personal revenge. The law of Moses all along was designed to prevent personal revenge from taking over. The second thing the law is designed to do is to administer justice through the courts. You see, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a counsel on giving proportionate punishment. In fact, that is the next thing that this law is designed to do. It is designed to make sure that penalties for crimes are just and proportionate. Notice it says, an eye for an eye and a tooth and a tooth. Not a tooth for an eye and an eye for a tooth. Whether it is a monetary fine, or some sort of other fine. The penalty ought to fit the crime. In other words, the penalty should neither be too lax, nor too severe. That is not a call to vengeance, it is call to equity, to justice in the punishments which are signed by the judge. And that is designed to promote Israel’s safety. Notice also, that this law is designed to put the fear of God into people who work wickedness. Those who work wickedness ought to fear the swiftness and the severity of the punishments that will be meted out under this law.
II. We Must Be Guided by a Spirit of Love, Not Revenge.
Jesus comes to tell us, in contrast to the Pharisees view of this command, what He says the command means. And we learn that in verse 39, and this is the second thing Jesus teaches us in the passage. That we must not be guided by a spirit of revenge, but by a spirit of love and of peace. In verse 39 He says, “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.” Jesus here gives His interpretation of the law, and He condemns the spirit of lovelessness, of hatred, a spirit that yearns to have revenge. He enjoins us as believers to have in our attitudes, and in our words, and in our deeds a desire to show that we are filled with a spirit of love and not a spirit of animosity and hostility. Christians bear witness to the love of God implanted in them when they respond to wickedness with love.
III. We Must Be People of Love and Kindness Even Towards Our Enemies.
Jesus teaches in verses 39-42 that we must positively be people of love and kindness even towards our enemies. He says in verses 39-42: “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Jesus applies the real meaning of the law to four different situations in human relationships. In verse 39, for instance, He is talking about how we should respond to those who threaten to injure our bodies. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. Notice in verse 40, we see Jesus tell us what our response ought to be to those who would rob us of our belongings, of our estates. How should we respond to them? Jesus says if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Christ is not telling you that Christians may not resort to a court of law. That is not His point. His point is to detect an attitude in us. Are we quick to demand our rights, are we quick to press our interests despite the needs of others, are we willing to forebear and to forego our rights for the sake of the kingdom? Notice in verse 41, He speaks there of how we ought to respond to those who want to rob us of our liberty. Those who want to press us into service that we don’t want to be in. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Notice also in verse 42, he says to us, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” There he speaks of how we ought to respond to those who are in distress, those who are in need of assistance. Do we respond in our giving, in our charity with generosity, or are we grudging? Do we give to charity, grudging every step of the way? Thinking of how much fun we could have had with that money, how much better we would spend it if we had that money to ourselves? Do we lend in time of need for selfish reasons, for the gain of interest, of excessive interest? Or do we lend selflessly, for the benefit of others? You see, the whole thrust of Jesus’ teaching here, is us abdicating our rights for the sake of the kingdom and for the good of others. What is your heart like today? Is yours a heart filled with love, or with bitterness? If it is filled with bitterness, you will never be able to extract yourself from that bitterness by your own strength. You need the grace of Christ. May we now trust in him and rest in him.