Don’t Take Revenge, as do the Scribes and Pharisees

The next item on Jesus’ list of grievances was a Pharisaic perversion of a very well-known verse in the Old Testament. We have already considered this passage in the chapter about biblical interpretation.

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 him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matt. 5:38-42).

The Law of Moses declared that when a person was found guilty in court of injuring another person, his punishment should be equivalent to the harm he caused. If he knocked out someone’s tooth, in fairness and justice, his tooth should be knocked out. This commandment was given to insure that justice would be served in court cases for major offenses. However, once again, the scribes and Pharisees had twisted it, turning it into a commandment that made obtaining revenge a holy obligation. Apparently, they had adopted a “zero tolerance” policy, seeking revenge for even the smallest offenses.

God, however, has always expected more from His people. Revenge is something He expressly forbade (see Deut. 32:35). The Old Testament taught that God’s people should show kindness to their enemies (see Ex. 23:4-5; Prov. 25:21-22). Jesus endorsed this truth by telling His disciples to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile when dealing with evil people. When we are wronged, God wants us to be merciful, returning good for evil.

But does Jesus expect us to allow people to take gross advantage of us, allowing them to ruin our lives if they desire? Is it wrong to take a nonbeliever to court, seeking justice for an illegal act committed against us? No. Jesus was not talking about obtaining due justice for major offenses in court, but about getting personal revenge for petty, ordinary infractions. Notice that Jesus did not say that we should offer our neck for strangling to someone who has just stabbed us in the back. He didn’t say we should give someone our house when they demand our car. Jesus was simply telling us to show tolerance and mercy to a high degree when we daily encounter petty offenses and the normal challenges of dealing with selfish people. He wants us to be more kind than selfish people expect, and to be unselfish with our money, generously giving and lending it. To that standard, the scribes and Pharisees didn’t come close.

Why are so many professing Christians so easily offended? Why are they so quickly upset by offenses that are ten times smaller than being slapped on the cheek? Are these people saved? The disciple-making minister sets an example of turning the other cheek, and he teaches his disciples to do the same.