How many of you have someone you want to get even or seek revenge with? (Hands?! - I see you out there online!) Seems like I’ve got the right crowd then! If you’re trying to get even with someone today, let me ask you a question - how’s that working for you?! How do you feel? What if there was another option to pursue?!
This message today is actually for everyone who wants to live their life with more peace and less rage. And, if you’re especially struggling with revenge-seeking, you have a choice to make - you can choose regular revenge or radical love.
Radical love is the kind of love that a man named Jesus taught in one of the best sermons ever delivered, called The Sermon on the Mount. We’re unpacking that whole sermon all of this year. Radical love is going beyond the ordinary, human response to an extraordinary, heavenly kind of response. Jesus is going to teach us today there’s a different way or option to deal with the things people do to you; a third way...the way of radical love. And, this stuff we’re talking about today works, even if Jesus wasn’t/isn’t The Son of God. So lean in, and listen for the third way.
I just have to tell you right up front, as I read these scriptures this week, I am not doing this stuff. Just listen to them…Matthew 5:38-42, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
Probably no part of The Sermon on the Mount has been so misinterpreted and misapplied as these verses. Some interpret these scriptures to mean we are to be sanctimonious doormats as Christians and just let people walk all over us or abuse us. That’s not Jesus' intent here – trust me. These verses DO, however, call us to a higher level of thinking, living, and loving that seems radical, so much so that someone called these commands the RLC’s - the Radical Love Commands. So, we are entering some deep waters here to challenge our thinking. A kind that goes beyond the norm, but it is the Jesus way.
My simple thesis today is that Jesus wants us to practice radical love, when what we really want is revenge or pay back.
Have you noticed that getting/seeking revenge is popular in our culture? We have a whole genre of movies organized around the themes of justice and revenge. This is pretty much the plotline of every Rambo movie, The Punisher, and all 16 Taken movies. The newest movie on Amazon Prime is named "Without Remorse." And in all these movies, the hero is the one who is hunting down the bad guys to take revenge on his enemies. And often the doormat becomes the person of payback, because haven’t you heard, revenge is a dish best served cold.
And, the Old Testament did indeed teach justice – an eye for an eye. Jesus is speaking here about what is often referred to as the Lex Talionis (Latin for the law of the tooth/retaliation). It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament and it sounds gruesome to us because we tend to think about it in terms of personal interaction and retribution.
But, when you dig or think deeper about this, the intent of this Old Testament law was meant to avoid escalating the punishment. The purpose of this law was not to give you permission to take revenge on people who hurt you, but rather to limit the punishment that could be measured out so that the punishment fit the crime. It meant it is just an eye for an eye, and ONLY an eye for an eye, ONLY a tooth for a tooth.
It was to keep people who were wronged from going beyond that. It reduced unlimited revenge. ‘You knocked out my tooth, so I will just knock off your head.’ A guy named Lamech in the Old Testament put it this way, "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me" Genesis 4:23.
So, this teaching was meant to avoid escalating the punishment, but also to ensure the right person would dispense that judgment. This is also why they established what they called "Cities of Refuge" strategically placed in locations where someone could flee if they accidentally killed someone, where they could get a fair court hearing before the "avenger of blood" got them first. So, this law promoted justice, rather than revenge. The idea of the Law of the Tooth means it is God’s job to repay - not yours. Paul puts it this way in Romans 12:17-21, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." One guy said, I know revenge is God’s job, but I want to be his helper…
But, there’s another way - a third option. A higher/better way. A way that doesn’t say "I’m right and your wrong", a way that doesn’t produce just winners and losers or victors and victims. A way that would show the world in a stunning manner that Jesus is actually your Lord and Leader. An option that goes beyond just the minimum of the written word or law - where it’s not tit for tat or quid pro quo...the way of radical love over relational revenge. Jesus gives us four examples of what this radical love over revenge looks like:
The first is in the area of insults. He begins in verse 39 with this counterintuitive statement, "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." Jesus is speaking here of a backhanded slap across the right cheek of a person by striking them in the face. It was one of the most demeaning and disrespectful acts in Jesus' day. What does this particular Radical Love Command mean? Let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. Jesus is not prohibiting self-defense or us protecting others from harm. We are to stand up for ourselves, as well as the oppressed.
This is important because some have misinterpreted these words to say that we should not resist any evil at all. Years ago, Russian writer/philosopher Leo Tolstoy famously used these words of Jesus to argue that we should get rid of the military, the courts, and the police force altogether and just let evil play itself out. (Seems like I hear some misguided people saying this even today!) But, that is not what Jesus is saying here.
I think what he’s saying is, when someone hurts you, upsets you or offends you, instead of taking revenge in anger, return love to them instead of hate. After World War II, Germany was divided into East and West. The eastern side was under communist control and the western side was occupied by American forces and the capital city of Berlin was divided in a similar fashion. They erected a barrier - the infamous Berlin Wall. As the wall was going up, East Berliners were feeling resentful of West Berlin’s freedom, and in an act of antagonism, they filled a garbage truck, drove it into West Berlin late one night and dumped the trash all over the streets, and then retreated back to East Berlin on foot. A few days later, the truck was returned under cover of darkness. But instead of the filthy garbage the East Berliners expected to see in it, it was full of canned goods and food items. Attached to the food was a sign that read “Each gives what he has to give.”
Sounds like ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him… In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ Sounds like Radical love. Sounds like the third option! Sounds like turning the other cheek.
What would our world look like if we overlooked offenses and insults instead of being (and staying) perpetually offended?! What is your insult right now? When someone cuts you off in traffic, when someone gives you the universal hand gesture of displeasure…when someone slaps you or assassinates you online. Someday I will retire and I’m writing a book and say some things I’ve always wanted to say! I’m gonna write about some onery people I’ve pastored and get my revenge. I've got a list. And I’m naming names – unless they contribute to my Retirement Fund! Maybe not – maybe there’s a third option.
The second area where we practice this radical love would be in the area of lawsuits. In verse 40 it says, "And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well."
The shirt mentioned here was a type of undergarment worn under a coat, which was an outer garment that also served as a blanket at night. Most people back then owned only one coat and probably only one or two shirts. Some of you don’t even know how many shirts and coats you have, so this isn’t such a big deal to you, but it would have been a huge deal back then!
They even had laws back then that said if you borrowed this outer coat/garment, you had to return it to its owner before the sunset as that was the only covering for their body to stay warm. When a person in their day had no money or other possessions to cover a fine or fee, the court often would require the final judgment be paid by clothing. It was used in the legal and legitimate claim of someone who was suing you (which is why Jesus uses the word ‘sue’ in here).
We are such a highly litigious society. And good people can turn nasty when lawyers and court cases get involved. This is not a slam against lawyers. We have many in the church here – thank God! Sometimes a lawsuit is required (I know this), but what if there was a better way among believers? What if there was a third way to pursue reconciliation and mediation if possible. Now you again have to right-size this with other scriptures and use your God-given common sense in applying it. You do have a scriptural obligation to take care of your family and to protect your finances/estate. So if someone is suing you or your business and your livelihood is at stake, you should use the courts to vigorously defend yourself, but do that out of responsibility and security for your family, not out of personal animosity to the person who is suing you. But, don’t go beyond the legal requirements. Don’t gouge even though you could. It sounds radical, but just because you can litigate, (like our teaching on divorce talked about) doesn’t mean you have to.
There is also a sense here where Jesus is lobbying for us not to take matters into our own hands, but to trust other formal and probably more objective people. He uses the word ‘sue’ which implies a legal entity being involved. As best you can, let the government or proper authorities deal with resisting evil in society. It’s their job to punish lawbreakers, protect our country, and arrest criminals. Romans 13:1-4 says, "So it’s their job to seek justice, not yours." This is pursuing the third way – the way of radical love.
The third area of demonstrating radical love has to do with forced actions and going the 2nd mile. In verse 41, it says, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles." This is where the phrase comes from in our culture – going the extra mile. And, this is fascinating - the Jews in Jesus' day were under Roman occupation and the Roman soldiers could stop you at any time and force you to carry their belongings, but only for a prescribed distance. For example, the soldiers pressed a man named Simon from Cyrene (a man of color) to carry the cross of Christ. (We had some teaching on this at one of our Extensions not long ago.) It was bad enough to be forced to do something you didn’t want to do, but it was the ultimate offense in their day as a Jew, to carry equipment for the enemy who occupied their homeland.
The Roman mile was 1000 paces or about 4800 feet, just shy of a modern mile. Jesus says if someone forces you to go one mile, just double the distance. One mile is Never Enough. Show a radical love that goes beyond what is required. And when your two miles are completed, that Roman soldier in a sense, owed you an extra mile - so you’re walking a mile for someone else who doesn’t have to do it now. You’re kind of paying it forward showing radical love over revenge. What opportunities this week could you find to ‘go the extra mile’ for someone? You’ll find them if you look for them.
It is Mother’s Day, and I heard about a single mom who was hurrying to the pharmacy to pick up some medication for her children. When she got back to the car, she found she had accidentally locked her keys inside. She found an old rusty coat hanger on the ground, looked at it, and said "I don’t know how to use this." So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within two minutes, a motorcycle pulled up driven by a bearded man, all tatted up wearing a skull rag. He got off the cycle and asked if he could help.
A little hesitantly, the woman said, "Yes, I’ve locked my keys in my car and I have to get back home, can you use this hanger to unlock my car?" He said sure, walked over to the car, and in less than 60 seconds the car was open. She thanked him and said out loud, "Thank you God for sending me such a very nice man." The man heard her prayer and said, "Lady - I’m not really that nice of a guy. I actually just got out of prison yesterday. I was in prison for car theft." The woman thanked the man again and said, "Thank you, God. You answered my prayer and even sent me a professional!" You will have lots of opportunities to go the extra mile this week if you look for the third option. Radical love says – I’m gonna go beyond what’s required today. What would that look like at work, school, church, or home with your spouse or kids, or mother, or mother-in-law?!
The fourth (and last) area of showing radical love has to do with requests - giving to the one who asks you. Verse 42 says, "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." This one is a problem for me, as you know, because I told a sketchy guy one time who I gave money to because he asked me, "If you’re lying to me - may God strike you dead." Clearly, I have the gift of mercy and pastoral care.
But, this last example synchs well with Proverbs 3:27, 28 where it says, "Do not withhold good from those whom it is due when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, come back tomorrow, and I’ll give it to you when you already have it with you." Donna and I have some awesome neighbors on both sides of us and one of them, Eric and Jennifer, are active here at Whitewater – kinda hoping they’re not here today to hear this so they don’t ask me for anything!!
Jesus says that their asking you for a favor should not be an opportunity for refusal, but rather an opportunity to show radical love. Now once again, we must balance this with all the other scriptures. If someone comes up and says, "Hey - I think you should give me your house, or your car, or something really valuable" like my new Taylor-made driver, it does not automatically mean you are mandated to give it away.
My dad and mom returned from dinner with friends one evening to be greeted by a man on their front porch who claimed to be Jesus Christ, who proceeded to tell them they were obligated to give him some money since he was Jesus. Dad was pretty quick on his feet and said, "Great, let me see your hands and feet. My Jesus has nail-scarred hands." No money was exchanged. (Dad’s response seems a lot more spiritual than my "May God strike you dead.")
We are to be generous and loan freely, but we are also supposed to be wise and discerning. There are examples when it is not wise or godly to give someone what they ask for, especially if you know it will hurt them in the long run. We call it "helping that hurts", and we want to avoid that. But sometimes you discern that you should give and do this if someone asks. Maybe you’ve got two coats (or microwaves!)
I was walking through the building a while back and saw a leader in The Landing who was leading a group with some other guys in the building that night. I asked him, "Do you need anything?" He replied, "Actually, I need a microwave." If a man has two microwaves… Choose the third option.
So as I close, let me give you 3 RLC (Radical Love Command) applications:
- Practice mercy, rather than revenge. James 2:13 says, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." And remember what Jesus said (and we learned a few months back), "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy." Our society is seeing an ever-increasing, intense sense of justice right now, but without the Christian cure of forgiveness, has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. Practice mercy rather than revenge. This week, I want you to say these 3 little words – "Here’s my chance!!"
- Go beyond what is required. We’ll talk about this more next week, but we’re seeing in all four of Jesus' examples today - turning the other cheek, giving your coat, going the second mile, and giving freely if asked, is that we are to practice the third option of extending undeserved and unbelievable generosity. It’s what Moms do every day when you think about it! So, go beyond what is required sometime this week and watch what happens. When the opportunity comes say, "Here’s my chance!"
- Trust God with the ultimate results. 1st Peter 2:23 says, "You can trust God with the results because God is good, just, and powerful and He will see that ultimate justice is done." That’s HIS job. It’s not on you. It’s not your burden to bear.
As Christians today, we are called to radical love over revenge, every single time. It’s in the bloodline of our Savior and His royal blood should flow through ours, too. Jesus modeled all of these things in his life with his response to his critics and enemies. The insults, requests, and burdens he carried the extra mile for you right up Golgotha’s Hill. The only person in human history who had a right to retaliate showed love to the oppressor. He chose the third way. Jesus chose the way of radical love. Because He WAS the way. And, we have to choose this as well, if we claim to know and follow Him. Don’t think the world won’t notice this right now!
You know, selfish overreaction is the natural result of sinful human behavior. The person who is non-defensive, non-vengeful, and never bears a grudge in his/her heart, is the person who has died to self. To fight for one’s rights all the time is proof that self is still on the throne of the heart. But you say, "David, I know my rights, I want my rights." That’s because you’re a US citizen.
Wanna know the only real right you have in God’s Kingdom? The right to die. To deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow the one with nail-scared hands who laid down his rights and privileges and turned the other cheek and died for you. Those who follow Christ and change the world, have died to self and therefore embody a supernatural sweetness of disposition that is humble, bold, beautiful, and beneficial. This is the truth that Jesus is teaching us in this profound passage today. There is a third way – choose it – pursue it!
It is the radical spirit a man named Abraham manifested when he gave the best land to his nephew Lot and his son, Isaac to God. It is the radical spirit seen in a man named Joseph who embraced the brothers that had betrayed and treated him so wrong. It is the radical spirit of a woman named Esther who boldly appeared before a King to save her nation at the risk of her own life and said, "If I perish, I perish." It is the same spirit that would not let King David take advantage of an opportunity to take the life of Saul, who was actively seeking to take David’s own life. Even though David was encouraged by his closest friends to kill Saul, he said, "I will not touch the Lord‘s anointed."
This radical power of love (demonstrated this week by you) will move you from revenge to forgiveness, and to a second mile mentality that will change this world and your world.
And, if you’re not a Christ-follower today, there’s a better way. The Jesus way. I mentioned the 'city of refuge' earlier. And I encourage you to go to that city of refuge. And today, it’s not just a place – it is a person. His name is Jesus Christ.