You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.Matthew 5:38-48
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;Romans 12:17-20
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
I was thinking about these passages last night. The first, from Matthew, was straight of the mouth of Jesus. The second, was written by Paul to the Romans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they’re not my favorite passages of scripture. They go against everything in my nature, which is obviously the point. To say I always follow them would be a blatant lie. I don’t. I struggle to pray for those who hurt me. I struggle not to set them straight. I struggle to not have the last word and win every argument. I struggle hugely. But that doesn’t mean I’m right in seeking to avenge myself. According to these passages, I’m totally and completely going against what God’s word instructs me to do.
Here’s the thing, I don’t think God typically wants us to wade headfirst into horrific, abusive situations. I believe He gives us wisdom and discernment. I do believe, in a lot of instances, boundaries are biblical, and I think we need to do what we can to give ourselves the space to be safe. But the reality of this world is, at some point, we will find ourselves in a situation where we are being persecuted, sometimes without provocation, other times because we set ourselves up for it with our choices and behaviors. Regardless of why, how we respond, as followers of Christ, matters. Just a few verses earlier, in Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We live in a culture, even within the church, that wants to throw down. We want to set everyone else straight. We want revenge. And no one is going to stop us. Confession: I have been guilty of wanting to see people taken down a notch (or two). I have been guilty of wanting to exact revenge of those who’ve hurt me or my loved ones. I’ve wanted to be both judge and jury and to be the one to dole out consequences and punishment. There are people in this world I do not want to like much less love. Not my proudest and finest moments, but I’m not about to sit here and tell anyone that I’m getting it all right all the time. Or even a little bit of the time. Human nature, sin nature, is a beast, and even as followers of Christ, we sometimes have to wrestle with the desire to sin. We hide it behind righteous indignation, but the reality is we’re not walking in the Spirit.
Jesus never commanded us to get revenge. He commanded us to love those who “spitefully” use us. Ouch! Oh, I want to argue with God on this one. I mean I really want to justify my bad behavior. But here’s the other thing. Often times, I can only see the fault of the other person. I cannot see my own fault in the situation, and it’s only through seeking Him, that the full truth is revealed in my heart. One of the most oft quoted scriptures in the Bible is “Judge not lest you be judged”. The problem with that is there’s a whole lot more to that passage. Also, from Matthew. Also, straight from the mouth of our Savior.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:1-5
We judge sin, not by our own standards, but by the standards set by the Word of God. However, so often, when we are ready to jump in and judge those around us, we really need to stop and look at ourselves. We all have major blind spots. We all fail to see our own sin in light of the sin of others. And as Jesus said (obviously I’m paraphrasing here), we often have a 2×4 in our own eye, while we’re trying to call out the tiny splinter in the eye of another.
We’re coming to the end of Easter week. We’re a full week out from Good Friday and almost a week out from Resurrection Sunday; it’s funny, how leading up to Easter we spend a lot of time in reflection, but once Easter Sunday has passed, we go back to business as usual. As of late, I’ve been really convicted about my attitude toward others. It’s easy to slip into being critical, angry, and judgmental, and pride is a sin we often cover up with how “spiritual” we are. I’ve been thinking about Jesus on the cross. In Luke 23:34 it tells us Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” He wasn’t just talking about the Jews that had yelled “crucify Him” or the soldiers that drove the nails through His hands, He was talking about me. I am not without sin. I am so thankful that instead of making sure I suffered for my sins, He chose forgiveness. He chose mercy. He chose grace. I am so thankful He loves me in spite of how unrighteous I am in my own right.
I think it’s time to talk less and pray more. To stop trying to win and let God handle things. To walk in mercy and grace. To remember that everything I do and say matters. That my witness matters. To use my words and my mouth to bring healing rather than hurt. To ask Jesus to help me to love and see others as He sees them. We live in such a broken and hurting world, where broken and hurting people don’t know how to do anything other than hurt those around them, but we have a Savior who brings healing. Let’s let Him heal us.