“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5).
These words from the Father are His endorsement of the Son’s words. The scene presents Moses and Elijah, who were key instruments of divine revelation in the Old Testament. The Father’s words, however, tell us whose words really count.
The Sermon on the Mount consists of three whole chapters—Matthew 5–7—of Jesus’ teaching. Though many have shied away from these chapters because they seem to present some interpretive problems, I believe they provide some important secrets that, once understood, will help those living in the shadow of the Rapture live a God-honoring and effective life. As usual, the Lord Jesus Christ shares some amazing insights into human nature, plus insights that will help us deal with some issues in human relations.
“Agree with Thine Adversary Quickly”
Social scientists have often commented that we are living in “the age of litigation.” Get into an argument and before you know it, the other party says, “I’ll see you in court.” Issues that could have been settled in a friendly matter now turn into a lawsuit. Why? Because people are insisting they are right and they want what’s due them, no matter how long it takes.
Jesus has a different idea. “Agree with thine adversary quickly,” we read in Matthew 5:25, “whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” The emphasis in these words is not on proving that you are right, but on resolving the issue quickly. Make solving your disagreement quickly your goal. If you don’t, you could end up in jail.
We’ve all seen arbitration-based reality court shows like “Judge Judy” who adjudicates real-life, small-claims disputes. As each party makes appeal to the judge, her eyes begin to gleam. She soon has an insight that no one had ever seen. Before you know it, the party who thought he was sure to win ends up looking like a criminal.
Surprise. This is what Jesus is talking about. Try to win and you may lose. Jesus is giving good advice. The website www.fightingforyou.com says a person can often pay a smaller penalty for their offense by seeking an out-of-court settlement rather than seeking to win by bringing the issue to court. Such settlements are time and money-savers because they halt the dispute process. For the average person the mere prospect of going to court can be intimidating.
Turn the Other Cheek
We live in a fight-back, talk-back, cuss-back world. Today it is even shoot back. I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment, but guns are for self-defense of life, limb, and property. On all too many occasions, even a road rage incident ends up with someone shot. The Second Amendment was not intended to help us resolve petty squabbles.
In Matthew 5:39 Jesus taught the people and said, “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.”
First, let’s look at the words “that ye resist not evil.” Certainly this is not an absolute prohibition, calling us to total non-resistance and total pacifism. Jesus’ whole ministry on earth was one of resisting evil. He said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus was resisting demons, Pharisaical legalism, spiritual ignorance, and darkness. He condemned the Jews for their shallowness (Matt. 23) and forcibly threw the moneychangers out of the Temple (John 2:14–17).
Jesus said we are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16). Salt resists putrefaction; light resists darkness. We certainly see this in Paul’s ministry. In Acts 26 Paul is telling King Agrippa about his dramatic meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road and about God’s calling on is life. The apostle was called by Jesus to do what? Verse 18 tells us: “To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
In fact, we must all resist evil. The Apostle Paul described the Christian life as a wrestling match (Eph. 6:12). Paul wrote to Titus that a bishop must “hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (1:9). This involves resisting evil with sound doctrine and teaching.
We all have a duty to resist evil. But the evil that Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 5:39 is “petty” evil. A slap in the face equals an insult. We all face those every day. Careless words from others. A complaining spirit. Don’t even give it a second thought. It means nothing. Let that person slap you on the other cheek. Insults of this sort need to slide off your soul like water slides off a duck’s back. In his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 1, p. 281, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains that …
It means that we must rid ourselves of the spirit of retaliation, of the desire to defend ourselves and to avenge ourselves for any injury or wrong that is done to us. Our Lord starts on the physical level. He imagines a man coming along, and, without any provocation, striking us on the right cheek. Immediately, the instinct is to hit back and punish him and to have vengeance. The moment I am hit, I want to retaliate.
Indeed, to be struck in the face is humiliating and insulting. Insults, however, can come in many forms. Especially for people who are easily insulted, insults are everywhere. A word, or even a look can be perceived as a slap in the face. Jesus has words for all of us: Let it pass. Don’t retaliate.
A slap in the face is not a major issue and you don’t have to fight back and win. This is good advice from Jesus. I can testify to that. There are some dear saints in churches who major in minors. There is some little insignificant thing that troubles them. That’s the slap in the face. They take it very seriously. They won’t let it go. It becomes a BIG issue with them.
“Let Him Have Thy Cloak Also”
In Matthew 5:40, Jesus follows with, “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” This sounds something like “turn the other cheek.”
Jewish law permitted an opponent to sue for possession of an offender’s inner garment, a “coat,” which is similar to a long-sleeved shirt. It was typically a sleeved tunic that extended to the ankles and was made of wool or linen. The outer garment was a robe or a wrap (KJV “cloak”). It was much more essential since it provided necessary warmth and was also used by the poor as a blanket.
Based on texts such as Exodus 22:26–27 and Deuteronomy 24:12–13, texts that mandated returning a neighbor’s garment taken as a pledge before sundown when the temperature lowered, Jewish law stated that the outer garment was exempt from seizure by the courts, because that was too severe a punishment and could lead to extreme misery, or even the death of the one from whom this coat was taken. Here Jesus is saying, if someone sues you and wants your shirt, give him your coat as well.
Going the Extra Mile
One of the most “troublesome” Scriptures in Jesus’ sermon is Matthew 5:41: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain,” or “go with him two.”
The Roman occupation of Israel in biblical times was very grievous to Jews. The Romans were polytheists who did not really understand Jewish religious sensibilities. They did not get along well, but Jews did not have much of a choice. Rome had a mighty army and they were calling the shots.
It was Roman practice that a Roman soldier on a journey could command a Jewish civilian to carry his weapons and his rucksack a mile. This was a case of the oppressor oppressing the oppressed and doing it with joy. Jews were insulted by this practice, but here comes Jesus with what might seem like outrageous advice: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him the second mile.” I can imagine a Jew saying to Jesus, “You want me to carry the oppressor’s weapons and rucksack a second mile?” “That’s right,” Jesus would say, “Go a second mile.”
A very serious trend in our society—one that is also becoming more evident even among Christians—is that people are insisting on their own rights. Yet, Jesus Christ is the supreme example for all of us. He did not demand His personal rights. In fact, this is supposed to be our attitude. “Let this mind be in you,” we read in Philippians 2:5, “which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” In other words, Jesus surrendered the prerogatives of deity.
When Scripture says, “Let this mind be in you,” it doesn’t mean brain surgery or a brain transplant. Rather, God is telling us that this is how we ought to think. This is how we ought to deal with personality issues in church, in marriage, and in the office.