Sermon On The Mount Devotional Blog 18

Sermon On The Mount Devotional

That Extra Mile of Love

Read Matthew 5:38-42 (ESV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

What rights do we have here in America that we love? First and foremost, might be the right to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. We love to talk about that one. What else comes to mind? The right to bear arms, the right to peaceful assembly (giving us the right to worship where and when we want to), the right to vote, the right to super-size anything, (maximizing our flavor and caloric intake to near death levels)? We love to talk about our rights. But what rights are we willing to put aside to help someone else? We all at times give up our rights to time and energy to serve and help other people that we like. Sometimes we serve people that we don’t know, and we love the response of gratitude that we receive. It makes us feel good. But what about serving those who have hurt us or even worse, who hate us? Are we willing to give up our rights for these people?

Our passage here is talking about Christ calling His followers to be willing to give up their rights so that others might know and experience the love of God and come to know Him. As we talk about this, let’s remember a few things that might help to explain this passage better. First, these are some of the best known verses in the Bible but also some of the most misused and wrongly quoted/applied. Second, remember the audience. Christ is talking to believers, those who have given their lives to the Lord, trusting in His work in their lives for salvation. Third, these verses and commands here are for the individual to follow and apply in his or her daily life, not for the government. Often these verses are cited as a justification of how the judicial system is supposed to work. This is false. These were meant for the individual to apply to their life and responses to others. Fourth, Christ is talking here to believers who were being persecuted. A persecuted Christian is to respond to abuse and attack in this way so that the persecutor might see a radical kind of love. Fifth, the end goal is that a watching world might be so stunned at an a-typical response that they might be drawn to this kind of radical love and to the Radical Lover, Jesus Christ.

This is the second to last section that starts, “You have heard it said…” Remember that this is Jesus’ way of saying that what you might have heard in the past or been taught in this area is either totally wrong or misleading or incomplete. Now when He says, “But I tell you…”, this lets the hearer know that Jesus is about to bring new light to this topic. He is about to reestablish a principle or teaching that the Pharisees and Scribes have changed or watered down.

Our passage, Matt. 5:38-42, starts with an exact quotation from three Old Testament passages (Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21), “…An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was instituted to ensure justice would be done. This was given as a guide for the judicial system that punishment or recompense might be equal to the crime. Perhaps you have heard of the “Lex Talionis”- the Law of Retaliation. This is perhaps the oldest law in the world. This law was intrinsically merciful because it limited vengeance. The typical primitive blood feud in ancient times knew nothing of equity. (Sermon on the Mount by Kent Hughes, pg. 135) Again this idea was meant for a legal system. We need a limiting factor on judgments and penalties.

The Pharisees and the Scribes had taken this (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”) out of the judicial realm and put it into the personal realm.  They and others used this as a justification for retaliation or revenge, and we often do the same today. Jesus in this next section highlights four possible scenarios (headings borrowed from Kent Hughes) that introduce a person (in the context a person who in some sense is “evil”) who seeks to do us an injury. One person (the believer) is being persecuted and the other is the persecutor. While the Jewish leaders in a sense sought to limit and put boundaries to their love, Christ is calling for a higher and more extensive love, shown to all peoples. He gives here, a number of ways we are called to respond when wronged.

Responding to Insult: Turn the other cheek

In Ancient times to be struck with the back of the hand was an extreme insult. When this verse says, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek…”, this implies a backhanded hit, since most people are right handed. For a person to hit you on the right cheek (and they are right handed) they would have to hit you with the back of their hand. The back of the hand meant “calculated contempt, withering disdain. It meant that you were scorned as inconsequential - a nothing” (Hughes). Jesus is saying that for the sake of the person who is hitting you and persecuting you, that you might not only absorb the insult but also turn your other cheek to them. What an amazing expression of humble love to do this.

Responding to a Rip-off: If prosecuted through the law, give more than required

What is your favorite piece of clothing that you own? How many pairs of pants or shoes do you have? In ancient times people did not have huge closets full of clothes. They did not have to spend time each morning trying to decide which pair of pants they wanted to wear and which shirt or top matched and what pair of shoes looked best with the outfit. In the New Testament times the average person had very limited clothing. The tunic or the inner garment was like underwear or an inner layer. The cloak was all important as it was multi-functional. It served to keep the person covered during the day, protecting from sand and wind and the sun. At night it was slept under like a blanket. Jewish law limited what a person could be sued over and limited what they could lose if damages were required. You could take someone’s tunic or inner garment as payment and could sue for the cloak, but the cloak had to be given back at the end of the day so important was this item to their day-to-day survival. What Jesus is saying here, (again for the purpose of another experiencing a radical love) was, if you are sued by a prosecutor, give them not only your inner garment but your outer one as well. Give in a sacrificial way so that they might know Jesus.

Responding to Forced Labor: Go the extra mile

The Israelites at the time of Jesus’ coming were a conquered people, living under Roman rule. At any time, if a Roman soldier saw you and had need of your “help”, he could force you to carry his load for up to a mile. Jesus is saying here, “Go the extra mile”. This is where that phrase comes from. No one at this time would have served in this extra, non-begrudging way! This would have been a radical, humble, extra-mile type of service.

Responding to Borrowing: If lending or giving, give and give freely

How willing are you to lend someone something that is important to you? An Ipod or a phone or your car? To lend out these we would really need to trust this person. What about someone you don’t know? What about someone who has been hateful to you at school? We wouldn’t dream of lending or giving that person something that is important to us. Christ is telling His followers that this kind of radical giving is what might be used by the Spirit to bring this other person to a saving relationship with the Lord. So, give and give freely with no expectation of refund or reward, that they might know Jesus. (Sermon on the Mount by Kent Hughes)

So, What Now?

We have a deep sense of what is fair in our country and in our own lives. None of us wants to be taken advantage of and we certainly don’t want to be unfairly used. Today Jesus wants to remind us that He was willingly treated unfairly for our sake. He allowed Himself to be rejected and abused, spat upon and wrongly convicted, and then hung on a tree for you and for me. He now calls us to be willing to be mistreated and misunderstood for the sake of the Gospel. Is there a person you can think of, one that you might even call an “enemy,” whom you are being called to reach out to, even at the expense of your rights and what we might call “fairness”?