Monday, January 26, 2009

Matthew 5:38-42 Revenge is a dish best…NOT served

I really wish that I didn’t believe in verse by verse exposition sometimes. When I was preaching through some of Paul’s epistle’s and I’d get to the last few verses, I’d usually think to myself “What am I going to do with this?” Or the time I preached through the book of Genesis and had to preach about Lot and his daughters after they left Sodom—man I wanted to take a shower with a Brillo pad and lye soap after that sermon. Now, I get to this verse and I’d really love to not have to deal with this. You see, I have a problem wanting to let go of stuff. When somebody wrongs me, my first instinct is to get them back. I see my sin revealed in these verses and it’s painful to look at. How’s about this—let’s just skip these verses and jump to something else. Whatcha think? That be ok?

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d let me get away with it.

Here, Jesus quotes Exodus 21:24 saying the crowd had heard that teaching of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Now, if you study where this is taught in the Old Testament, you will find that it is related to judgment in matters of law. Basically, it called for a penalty equal to the crime committed. A person who lost an eye could not demand that the guilty party pay with their life. Now this is right and makes perfect sense in context of judgment in a court of law. However, as per usual, the Pharisee’s took God’s perfect, holy word and perverted it.

They took the holy commandment of God and used it to justify personal revenge. Instead of a judge deciding the penalty of the guilty party, people took matters into their own hands. Instead of “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” it became “Vengeance is mine, says [insert name here]." Since we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, we don’t have the perspective or wisdom to judge in that manner.

Jesus, therefore, clarifies this false teaching as comprehensively as possible. First of all, He says we are not to seek revenge in personal matters. He says if an evil person “slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”. Now someone will say, perhaps jokingly, “Well what do I do after he slaps the other cheek? Can I deck ‘im?” We must remember that in the culture Jesus lived a slap on the face was not intended to physically hurt someone but rather was intended to pay the highest form of insult possible to the individual. Now, the natural reaction of some people in a case of being highly insulted is to retaliate. At least, that is my first reaction. However, what Jesus calls for is the exact opposite reaction. By turning the other cheek, Jesus means we are to be willing not only to not take revenge when insulted but to be willing to take further insult. In short, when someone does us wrong, our Lord forbids us to take revenge.

From personal matters, our Lord moves into the realm of the courts of law. If a person was too poor to pay for a judgment made against them in money, their clothing could be taken from them. Now, imagine a situation where a judge has said that a person must surrender his clothing in a judgment. The plaintiff is given legal right to the defendant’s shirt (an undergarment) and coat (an outergarment). According to Exodus 22:26-27, the defendant could say “You can’t take my coat” and therefore use the letter of the law of God to thwart the judgment of the court. Jesus says that is not an option but rather we are to be willing to submit ourselves to the judgment and surrender our shirt and our coat instead of using the law of God as a shield.

In addition, we need to be willing to bear with unreasonable demands from even the government as long as they don’t conflict with the law of God. Jesus says that if someone “forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” Government officials in that day could require a traveler to take a letter between posts on the road. The point Jesus makes is that we should be willing to bear under an unreasonable burden for the sake of peace without making a fuss or seeking redress. Again, we see a willingness to suffer an indignity and inconvenience as our Lord would later set the perfect example at Calvary.

Finally, someone might have the occasion to withhold good For instance, in Star Trek II, Kahn, the bad guy, had trapped Kirk in a cave on a barren moon. Now, Kahn could have beamed Kirk and his people out of there but he said he wanted to pay Kirk back so he left them there to suffer. He felt that, at long last, he had his revenge. Many of us dream of that day when our foe stands before us in need—desperate need. Finally, we will be able to look at their sad, tired, hungry face and refuse to help them. To see them broken in that moment will be such a sweet reward, right? Jesus says we should banish such a thought from our minds. Instead, we should be willing to be generous and “give to him who asks” something from us. Now this isn’t talking about shiftless, lazy people who don’t want to work to take care of themselves, nor does it mean that we give beyond our ability to give and put a burden on our family. We should not use the need of a person as an opportunity to exact revenge on them. Instead, we should exhibit a Christlike spirit of giving and do good when we have the opportunity.

Clearly, living in a world so filled with sin we are going to be hurt and wronged. I’ve had people say things to me and do things to me that I thought I could never forgive them for. With the help of Christ, however, I am able to make the choice to forgive and not seek to take revenge. I have to give glory to God for that. In my flesh, I cannot and would not want to do that. With God’s help, I can and you can too.


Anonymous said...

Ray Steadman, found at blue letter bible, was a serial expositor, but reserved the right to skip a couple. I have been so preaching for 4 years. I depend on prayer to ask The Holy Spirit to guide. I have been in the New Testament using the Old when needed, but not preaching based in an OT book.
I feel our church has grown more than it would have with topical sermons.

Joe Blackmon said...

I have no douubt that's the case. Thanks for the comment. said...

I too struggle with thoughts of anger and revenge. I remember Jesus's words about God forgiving us if we forgive others, but in the heat of my anger it is hard to forgive from the heart. Until I am in trouble. Until I know I am guilty before God and am very desperate for His forgiveness and His help to get out of some mess I got myself into. Then I become very forgiving towards others. Funny how the mind works.

God has put into our minds a sense of justice, and sometimes that motivates us to want revenge. But God says that justice is His perogative and that means vengence is His, not ours. He will repay with far more wisdom, justice, and mercy that we are capable of.

We are being prepared for eternity in the Kingdom of God, and in that kingdom there will be no need for us to be angry with each other or exact revenge. Our job in this life is to learn and practice the way of love that we will practice for eternity.

Joe Blackmon said...


Thanks for your insight. I agree that our perspective is too limited to be able to serve vengence on those who have wronged us. Personally, sometimes I have to ask daily for the Lord to help me with those sinful thoughts. Shoot, sometimes it's hourly rather than daily.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the article. I was sitted this morning planing on how best i was going to revenge on my husband's girlfriend when I thought to myself, why not ask God on how best i can deal with her, I was looking for a scripture and this is when I came across this article.
I have been so blessed and rebuked by the holy spirit to thepoint were i saw my sin in plain black & white. How could i hvae claimed to love the lord with such evil thoughts i was brooding. I thank God for allowing me to see my wrong.

Joe Blackmon said...


I am greatly blessed and encouraged by your kind words. I give glory to God because it's His word that helps us, leads us, and grows us as we become conformed to the image of His Son.