Matthew 5:38-42 Beyond the Limits WC McCarter
It is never easy to say, "It is well with my soul." You have had difficult times in your life when you struggled to say that: struggles in your marriage or your finances, a death in the family, and many other things. The Lord Jesus acknowledges that life is not easy and teaches that life as a Christian will be that much more difficult. In today's text, the Lord teaches how to deal with those high-pressure situations caused by others in the world around us. Maybe a hard-nosed police officer goes beyond his call to single you out, or the woman at the register in the grocery store is harsh in her words toward you, or your employer is causing your work life to be miserable. What are you to do?
This passage helps us to learn how to make it through difficult circumstances. Specifically, Jesus wants to teach us how to manage those times when others are misusing us. You may be in a situation just like this at the moment or it may come your way in the near future.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
You have heard
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is surprisingly a well-known verse in America. It is odd that such a verse is so often quoted. This command is given in Exodus in reference to harm that is done to a pregnant woman and her child; the context of the command in Leviticus is of a man who injures his neighbor; and in Deuteronomy false witnesses are to bear the penalty they tried to bring on the innocent. It appears that these laws were given to restrain the retaliation of a victim’s family and probably the courts as well. If everyone was allowed to take the law into their own hands we would live in chaos. Therefore, the Lord placed retribution in the hands of the courts, but with limitations.
Remember that what Jesus is about to teach is not opposed to the Old Testament teaching. The “eye for an eye” passages in the Mosaic Law were to be sentences passed by the judges of Israel. The people were not to take revenge for themselves. This is what I have determined: Jesus says in essence, You have heard the laws concerning how the courts should rule, now let me tell you what you are to do. Thus, we will have to learn not only how to deal with high-pressure situations, but we will also learn lessons in godly patience and humility.
But I tell you
Let us first say that Jesus is not giving directives concerning the courts, the Mosaic Law we just cited did that, and His commands are not in reference to war or self-defense. This teaching is targeted for individuals. Jesus teaches that His followers are not to resist evil people. Christians are not to retaliate according to what they think is right. The Apostles also picked up this lesson and taught it to the churches. In Romans 12 Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil,” and again in 1 Thessalonians 5 he says, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” Peter teaches in 1 Peter 3, “. . . not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling. . . .”
Jesus ends this section of His teaching with four illustrations of how we are to respond to persecution, harassment, and pressure. In each of these four examples of real life situations we will both learn a lesson and receive an actual application to our own lives.
#1 Whoever slaps you
In a society that was all about honor and shame, it was a great humiliation to be slapped. If a man was slapped, he would return the same in a tit-for-tat fashion that would typically turn into a full fight.
#2 If anyone wants to sue you
The Old Testament Law did not allow for someone to sue for another’s outer garment (or cloak). It was used as a blanket at night. So, the inner garment (or tunic) could be taken away.
#3 Whoever compels you to go one mile
Where do you think that little phrase, “Going the extra mile” came from? Here it is. A Roman soldier had the right to demand private citizens/subordinates to carry their military supplies and often did in a cruel manner.
#4 Give to him who asks you
What does this fourth illustration have to do with non-retaliation? Consider those times that you asked to borrow something and were told “no” and you told that same person “no” the next time they asked to borrow from you. That is retaliation, which Jesus is teaching against. We are to give to those who genuinely have need. Often times we have a hard time deciding if someone truly has a need. It would be better to be duped than to neglect a true need. Give what you can and not expect anything back.
Jesus has taught that those who follow Him, those who are called by His name, are those who do not seek retaliation. We are not those who pursue revenge for ourselves. Though I have not always obeyed it perfectly, a passage that has really spoken to me through the years is from 1 Corinthians 6. I think the directness of this passage may add another illustration to what Jesus taught and may help us to better understand. In the context of the Apostle’s scolding the Corinthians for using and abusing one another by taking one another to court Paul says, “Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” We are left with that simple, straightforward question, why not let yourselves be cheated rather than seek retaliation?
Yet, Jesus takes us much farther than that. As a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is not enough to simply not retaliate. We are to go beyond the limits to selfless sacrifice. For example, when a first century Jewish Christian was approached by a Roman soldier and forced to carry his bags for a mile, it is not enough to obey the soldier and not retaliate. The Christian was commanded to go beyond the limits. He was to go two miles with the soldier’s belongings.