Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. - Romans 12: 14-18 (ESV)
There are many in American churchianity today that try and turn the teachings of Christ into an angry, retaliatory, aggressive religion. We constantly see stories of Christians defying the world, casting stones of sin accusation, and using the Gospel as their defense. We have seen Christian defenses for war and guns. Moral outrage and condemnation. The true teachings of Christ are the opposite however. The true nature of Christianity is clear for those willing to see it in the pages of the Bible. It is contrary to the way the world thinks and behaves. The problem is so much of the modern church has embraced the carnality of the world that it is no wonder that they embrace the anger and hatred the world possesses as well. The key verses however cannot be clearer. We are to bless those who persecute us. We are not to curse them. We are not to protest them. We are not point our fingers and wag our wicked tongues at them. We are not to be haughty. Haughtiness is actually one of the seven things the Lord hates. We are not to consider ourselves better than the lowly. We are especially not supposed to use the Bible to defend being as such. Far too often we are wise in our own sight, refusing to live in harmony. Refusing to give thought to what is honorable. Refusing to live peaceably with all. But preacher! They started it! That is usually the cry of a fourth grader and it is now the rallying cry for many political-Christian causes in this country. Yet we are not called to repay evil with evil. As we wrap up the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus still teaching from the Sermon on the Mount as He addresses these volatile topics:
"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. - Matthew 5: 38-42 (ESV)
This first set of verses deals with our human desire to retaliate. We live in a world that celebrates retaliation. Entire movie genres base their success off of casting the retaliator as the hero. If we remember how this exposition of chapter five began though we would remember the Beatitudes and how much higher are the ways and thoughts of God to our own. As we progressed through the chapter we saw Jesus raise the bar on the consideration of sin; dealing with the root causes instead of the end results. Now however, He turns some beliefs completely on their ear. He does not raise the bar on and eye for an eye, He eviscerates that notion altogether. We are not to behave as the world does. In the world, if someone gets slapped there is going to be a fight. Unfortunately these days it seems the church is not only ready for the fight but seeking it as well. Here is today's deep theology. We are not sinners because we sin. No beloved. We sin because we are sinners. It is our nature. Those in the world cannot see it because the things of God remain foolishness in their darkness. So what is Jesus teaching here?
First of all, we are to turn the other cheek. This has almost become a trite saying in Christianity. I have heard people dismiss this teaching by claiming we are not supposed to be doormats. Sorry, but that is not what Jesus is saying here! When someone physically, emotionally, or spiritually slaps us we are not to retaliate. We are not to pay them back in kind. Our flesh wants to; no question about that. We are to be ruled by our Spirit however:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. - Galatians 5: 16-24 (ESV)
Look at what is in the middle of this list of flesh offenses. Strife, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and fits of anger. The very kind of reactions one would have to being slapped. It gratifies the flesh to respond in kind. Instead we are to defer to the Holy Spirit. We are to respond in peace, gentleness and self-control. The truth today is we do not crucify our flesh at all. We justify it. We explain it away by blaming the offender. After all - they slapped me! They're the one to blame! Ahh beloved, not according to God! Why? Because we ought to know better. They do not. They still stand in the judgment and condemnation of the law. They will answer one day for their lives and they are still on the outside of salvation looking in. They do not understand what it is that they do! What Did Christ say on the cross! What did Stephen say as he was being stoned to death! Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do! Is turning the other cheek difficult? You bet it is. We spent our whole life however, slapping God. Our very lives and the ways we led them was an offense to God. Yet while we were still slapping Him, He sent His only Son to die for us and we will not turn the other cheek for some petty temporal offense? Seriously?
If anyone sues us for our tunic, we are to give him our cloak as well. That means we are to go above what this world might deem as fair in how we treat people. We are not value our things above the people we are charged with leading to the cross. If someone is begging, we are to give them what we can, not call them lazy or tell them to go get a job. If someone is to borrow from us we are not to refuse them. We are not to place the things of this world above the value of eternity. It is really that simple. Ever wonder where going the extra mile came from? Here it is. It is Jesus teaching us metaphorically to always see how we can exceed the minimal expectations of this world when we deal with people. This is the true nature of Christianity. Not the whiney, judgmental knock-off being promoted today. It seems today we go the absolute minimum distance to make us feel as if we have done our Christian duty and then blame the blind for walking into a ditch. We are more concerned about who is elected president than who is coming to the cross. God is in control! The fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel now ends: