What does Jesus say about retaliation?
I was in my morning devotion time, reading through the Gospel of Matthew. As I was reading, these words caught my attention: "Do not resist the one who is evil." Wanted to share some thoughts from my time in God's Word.
Jesus cited Exodus 21:24 in Matthew 5:38 saying, "You have heard it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But then Jesus teaches, "Do not resist the one who is evil." See what Jesus our Lord teaches - Do not resist evil.
What does Jesus mean by the word "resist"? When Jesus says "do not resist", He is saying do not hold your ground, do not push back, do not withstand and do not oppose. Who are we not to "resist"? "The one who is evil." Jesus teaches us that we are not to hold our ground against those who are morally wrong or bad. We do not push back against those who are wicked. We do not oppose those who are harmful.
Instead Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:39-42 that if someone "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 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." Notice Jesus never says do what we would want to do, slap back those who slap us, sue those who sue us, resist walking with those who do evil to us, question those who ask us for money and expect back in full return from those who have borrowed from us. He never says any of those things.
Why would Jesus teach us not to resist evil? It seems to me that what He finds as evil is looking at life with the "eye for an eye" motto. What is Jesus teaching us?
1. Jesus is teaching us not to retaliate.
The CEV translates this Matt. 5:39 as to say, "But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you." When evil is done to us we do not repay the deed, why? The answer to that is Luke 6:33, "if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." If I am willing to do good to only those who have done good to me and not those who have done me wrong, how am I any different from someone who is not saved? I'm not. If I return evil for evil, I am not different than a sinner. A real Christian does good to those who does him evil. That is not easy.
2. It is a gracious thing in the sight of God to suffer for doing good.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:20, "For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God." We get no credit for being punished for wrong doing, but God is pleased with those who suffer for doing what is good.
Not only is it pleasing to God but to this we are called - "For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (2 Peter 2:21) We are not called to return insult for insult (1 Peter 3:9), God has called us to do good, even if it means suffering and Jesus has set the example for us! For if we would go after Christ as disciples should, we must take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24), even if it means suffering for doing good.
Jesus suffered and did no wrong. He committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22), yet "when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23) Thus when Christ was hurled insults, He did not retaliate; when he suffered, he did not threaten with revenge. What did Jesus do? He left His case to God, His Father; Jesus entrusted His life the Father who judges fairly. And this is what we are expected to do as well in the face of evil.
To me, this comes down to an issue of trust. The reason Jesus suffered as He did in the presence of evil without returning a threat or retaliating is that He trusted the Father's will, God' plan. When I do not trust God's plan and I am suffering from morally wrong people, if I do not trust God to judge fairly, I seek revenge, I retaliate, I threaten. It is our natural response, but just because it is our natural response does not make it the right response. I might claim to trust God but do I trust Him to handle my case when I am suffering? Do I trust God to be the fair Judge between me and another? As a Christian, taking matter's into my own hands show I do not trust God nor His judgement. This is not the example Jesus set before us.
3. The motive is love.
Jesus teaches we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors in Matt. 5:44. Why? He answers in Matt. 5:45, so that we might be children of God who shows His love on the evil and the good by letting them both enjoy another sunrise and enjoying the rain that falls from the sky. Because the Father is loving to both the evil and the good, He expects us to do the same.
The Father sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for the ungodly, me and you, a demonstration of love and mercy. We are to be redeemed people showing the love and mercy that God has shown to us. The only way people who do what is morally wrong will see the love of the cross is for us to not pay evil for evil or evil with threats and trust our lives to God. The wisest thing one can do when he or she is being wronged by another is wait on God for deliverance (Prov. 20:22). Not easy.
In conclusion, I'll say that Jesus is our best example in handling and responding to evil. When Jesus says, "if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also", He exemplified that. If you were to check out Matthew 26:67, you will find that Jesus was spit on in His face, struck and slapped. What was His response? Nothing. He did nothing nor did He say something, yet Jesus could have done anything. What an example Jesus is.
In our culture you're a push over if you do not push back when people do things to you. You are a wimp if you do not retaliate. You're not a man if you do not oppose those who oppose you. That is to say Jesus is all those things, and I do not think Jesus is any of those things. What we need to understand is how much self-control, discipline and strength it requires not to respond to evil with evil but to respond to evil with love. It is difficult but possible.