Counter-Cultural Christians, Part 1 (Matthew 5:38-42)

WW2015-wk36What do you do when you are personally attacked? How do you respond when treated with contempt by another? Often our natural response is retaliation. We say, “They have it coming to them!” Our culture reinforces this view and tends to applaud those who take vengeance. Scripture takes a different perspective. As Jesus continues to discuss the heart of relationships, He calls for His followers to act and live counter-culturally. Instead of taking justice into their own hands, Christians need to extend grace and show kindness to those who oppose them. That is the point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:38-42. He starts off citing the phrase “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (v. 38). This is a reference to the Old Testament law (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). It is interesting, then, that He moves beyond this and seems to speak in contradiction to what the Old Testament has said. Up to this point, Jesus has just heightened the Old Testament commands. Therefore, it is important to address what the issue is here. Two things can be said. First, the Old Testament command is not in contradiction to what Jesus is saying. The Old Testament command was a public law and what Jesus is condemning here is personal retaliation. The good law had been distorted and was morphed into some type of affirmation for personal revenge. Case in point, theologian Dan Doriani says, “Society needs justice, but we do not need to exact justice with our own hand. As individuals we can entrust justice to God and the state, and act in mercy” (Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple, 87). A second note regarding this Old Testament command is that its purpose was to restrain anger and to stop the conflict. Without that purpose, retaliation would be about revenge and would only carry things further along. This is why Jesus tells the people, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (v. 39). It may seem odd He tells His followers to not resist evil people. It does not mean they engage in sin but that they turn the other cheek when they are insulted. When their honor takes a blow, they are not set to defend themselves but they turn the other cheek. In other words, they live counter-culturally. This counter-cultural living not only involves extending grace by turning the other cheek; it also calls the Christian to show kindness and go above and beyond (vv. 40-42). To be sure, Christians are not doormats people take advantage of and walk over. But, they are to be a people who give grace as they have been given grace by God. As Christ-followers, we must walk in a counter-cultural manner. When we are insulted and our honor takes a hit, we should not be quick to defend ourselves. Rather, we should turn the other cheek and extend a kindness that only comes from being born again by the gospel. We see Jesus turned the cheek and absorbed the wrath of God so that we, who were still sinners, could be saved (Romans 5:8). The challenge to live this way is not easy. It is only by the grace of God as we are enabled by the Spirit of God to live it. So let us be counter-cultural Christians!

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