Non-Retaliation & Radical Love (Matt 5:38-48)

Here is one of the highest points of Jesus’ radical teaching on Christian character and lifestyle.  I led a Bible study on this last night, and wanted to share some notes and quotes largely taken from Barclay’s Daily Bible Study Series. Enjoy.

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

lex talionis = tit for tat, original aim was the limitation of vengeance

“Ancient ethics were based on the law of tit for tat. It is truth that the law was a law of mercy (limitation of vengeance); it was a law for a judge and not for a private individual; it was never literally carried out; and there were accents of mercy speaking at the same time. But Jesus obliterated the very principle of that law, because retaliation, however controlled and restricted, has no place in the Christian life” (Barclay, 165).

Jesus called his disciples to what Bonhoeffer terms a ‘visible participation in his cross.’

“Christ…suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

A. Three Eastern Illustrations of Jesus’ way

1. Turn the other cheek – back-handed slap was a double insult

POINT: “Even if a man should direct at you the most deadly and calculated insult, you must on no account retaliate, and you must on no account resent it” (Barclay, 166).

“The true Christian has forgotten what it is to be insulted; he has learned from his Master to accept any insult and never to resent it, and never to seek to retaliate” (Barclay, 167).

2. Tunics & Cloaks – By right a man’s cloak could not be taken permanently from him according to Jewish law

Against the Jewish law to take cloak as pledge: “If ever you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge (cloak), you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep?” (Exod. 22:26-27)

POINT: “There are people who are for ever standing on their rights, who clutch their privileges to them and who will not be pried loose from them , who will militantly go to law rather than suffer what they regard as the slightest infringement of them…People like that have not even begun to see what Christianity is” (Barclay, 167).

“The Christian thinks not of his rights, but of his duties; not of his privileges, but of his responsibilities. The Christian is a man who has forgotten that he has any rights at all; and the man who will fight to the legal death for his rights, inside or outside the Church, is far from the Christian way” (Barclay, 168)

3. The Second Mile – regarding forced labor in an occupied country

POINT: “Don’t be always thinking of your liberty to do as you like; be always thinking of your duty and your privilege to be of service to others. When as task is laid on you, even if the task is unreasonable and hateful, don’t do it as a grim duty to be resented; do it as a service to be gladly rendered” (Barclay, 169).

“There are always two ways of doing things. A man can do the irreducible minimum and not a stroke more; he can do it in such a way as to make it clear that he hates the whole thing; he can do it with the barest minimum of efficiency and no more; or he can do it with a smile, with a gracious courtesy, with a determination, not only to do this thing, but to do it well and graciously” (Barclay, 169).

SUMMARY: “In this passage, under the guise of vivid eastern pictures, Jesus is laying down three great rules — the Christian will never resent or seek retaliation for any insult, however calculated and however deadly; the Christian will never stand upon his legal rights or on any other rights he may believe himself to possess; the Christian will never think of his right to do as he likes, but always of his duty to be of help” (Barclay, 169).

Love for Enemies

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

“Agape does not mean a feeling of the heart, which we cannot hep, and which comes unbidden and unsought; it means a determination of the mind, whereby we achieve this unconquerable goodwill even to those who hurt and injure us. Agape, someone has said, is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us” (Barclay, 174).

Agape does not mean “we allow people to do absolutely as they like, and that we leave them quite unchecked…If we regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that we must punish him, that we must restrain him, that we must discipline him, that we must protect him against himself…It will always mean that all Christian discipline and all Christian punishment must be aimed, not at vengeance, but at cure” (Barclay, 175).

“This commandment does not only involve allowing people to do as they like to us; it also involves that we should do something for them. We are bidden to pray for them. No man can pray for another man and still hate him. When he takes himself and the man whom he is tempted to hate to God, something happens. We cannot go on hating another man in the presence of God” (Barclay, 175).

“Be perfect” = Not without flaws, but rather fully realizing the purpose for which it was planned, or designed, and made.

“Man’s purpose is to be like God — i.e., crated in the image of God. The characteristic of God is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable goodwill, this constant seeking of the highest good of every man…The one thing that makes us like God is the love which never ceases to care for men, no matter what men do to it” (Barclay, 178).

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