About Kathleen PetersenI love digging around for scriptural nuggets of God’s truth with our devotional team and being amazed how many facets of meaning we discover. Thanks for reading!
by Kathleen Petersen
“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 evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42 NET
If you or someone you love has been a victim of an oppressor, you may be forming arguments against these words right now. Please take a deep breath.
Since Jesus is our primary example of how to live our everyday lives, one of my spiritual practices is to match Jesus’ teachings with his actions, especially if a teaching is difficult to grasp.
With this passage, my mind jumps immediately to the persecution Jesus suffered during the few days he was on his way to his death on the Cross. However, those days are unique, because they are the source of our salvation and will never be replicated. So the Cross should not be conflated with the persecution Jesus speaks of in today’s passage.
Here are questions that come to mind when contemplating how Jesus practiced “do not resist the evildoer” :
Was Jesus a passive doormat in the face of persecution? Earlier in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus established that, just like him, his followers will be persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:11-12).
Was the kind of persecution Jesus described in today’s passage a feature of his public ministry?
Here’s an example that intrigues me:
Jesus assigned the important role of treasurer to the avaricious Judas Iscariot. The other disciples were deeply troubled when they observed Judas stealing treasury money — especially the portion set aside for the poor (John 12:4-6). There is no record that Jesus ever confronted Judas’ theft. What puzzles me is that “Jesus knew what was in a man’s heart” (John 2:25).
Jesus’ failure to confront Judas is remarkable since there were many incidents where he confronted and challenged sinful attitudes and behaviors of Jewish religious leaders as well as other disciples.
During and after his Last Supper, Jesus made sobering disclosures about Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25, John 13:27-30, and Mark 14:43-50) and Judas’ role in fulfilling prophecy. Judas’ habit of obtaining material advantage had escalated to the level of reckless betrayal of his long-suffering teacher.
This is one example of Jesus not resisting an evildoer. As you think about today’s passage, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal more examples including those in the lives of the apostles and other disciples.
Are you or is someone you love experiencing injury under an oppressor? If God has not yet provided a way of escape from the situation (as described in
I Corinthians 10:13), ask him to reveal his greater purpose for the oppression as well as his strength to endure in the midst of righteous suffering.
Continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer as you meditate on “do not resist the evildoer”.
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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30 NET
The word desire (also translated as lust) that Jesus uses in this passage, is an intense longing, not just a passing glance. If these cravings persist, Jesus warns that this heart attitude has tangible, negative consequences, including the possibility of sliding into sexual relations with a person who is not a marriage partner.
Perhaps you’ve seen a billboard that flaunts a claim similar to the following: “Porn is cheaper than dating”. This sexual pleasure package implies that an instant, temporary, and relatively inexpensive option is able to provide the same emotional satisfaction as a loyal, long-lasting, human relationship which includes Biblical marriage. Lazy people consistently choose inferior but seemingly easy options.
What does scripture say about the lazy person’s destiny? Here’s a sample:
The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway. Proverbs 15:19 ESV
Let’s compare that porn billboard offer with a financial investment promising a return of 100% in two weeks without any risk to the investor. It’s not difficult for a discerning person to ascertain that both proposals are too good to be true.
The lure of receiving something incredibly valuable or exhilarating for very little effort is sneaky. Indulging desires for such sudden jackpots is guaranteed to corrupt hearts and minds. The person who gives in to the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:24-26) also jeopardizes future rewards.
Read again what Jesus says about capitulating to lust in Matthew 5:30 (above). Do the consequences of lust really include hell? Jesus’ warning is dire regarding ungodly sexual glances, cravings that corrupt us. If in the short-term we fall into being lazy about sexual matters, we risk losing the good and truly satisfying experiences that God has designed for us.
Have you fallen for “cheap date” style schemes? It’s time to repent; (observe Jesus’ drastic language regarding offending eyes and hands above). Ask God to redirect you as you take the more difficult road of cultivating godly trust and intimacy in the marriage or relationships you already have or hope to have.
If you’re already following Jesus in this critical area of sex and marriage, what a blessing! You are experiencing human flourishing in the midst of a corrupt and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15-17).
Consider the impact of Matthew 5:27-30 on your life as you again make your way through the Lord’s Prayer.
“Do not suppose that I come to dismantle the Law or the Prophets. I do not come to dismantle but to fulfill. For truly I say to you until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota or letter stroke will ever pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever loosens the least of one of these commandments and teaches the same of men, he will be called least in the kingdom from heaven. So, whoever does and teaches them, this one will be called great in the kingdom from heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses more than the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom from heaven.” Matthew 5:17- 20 ESV
The Beatitudes are the preface to the Sermon on the Mount and the above verses are the launching pad into Jesus’ explanation of portions of the Law and the Prophets that had become most convoluted by interpretations and practices of the scribes and Pharisees. Elsewhere Jesus calls those interpretations and practices the “traditions of men” (Mark 7:13 and Matthew 15:9).
Jesus rightly anticipated that his audience might misconstrue his statements, believing he intended to dismantle the “Establishment” religion to start his own sect. Jesus did not intend to deconstruct the foundations of faith found in the Law and the Prophets — he merely clarified what scribes and Pharisees had obfuscated. Instead he reinforced and built on the Old Testament (the selected and recorded revelations, interactions, and conversations Jesus had as the * preincarnate Messiah with those who followed him over the previous centuries.)
* John 1:15, I John 1:1-2, John 8:58, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:1-11 and many other passages
In our era, the suggestion that Jesus was a revolutionary or a deconstructionist has gained traction. As prominent Church leaders follow that model, they almost always propose that the Old Testament is passe or should primarily be selectively gleaned for only its rich narratives.
Just recently, a visible American preacher –- apparently a cowboy –- said Jesus’ followers should “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament. When trusted leaders so glibly dismiss Matthew 5:17- 20, it seems all too likely they are “grooming” their hearers to detach from culturally uncomfortable or unpopular subjects to replace them with the “traditions of men”.
Of course, dismantling, deconstructing and dismissing Matthew 5:17- 20 is not a recent development; the enemy of our souls has been infiltrating the Church since its inception.
Hopefully, you will take this introduction to the Sermon on the Mount as words of the Master Builder of our faith.
With Matthew 5:17- 20 in mind, continue ingesting the Lord’s Prayer.
…“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”