The words of Jesus stopped me cold this morning, making me think. They are about loving instead of retaliating, that part about choosing to “Turn the other cheek.” My inner dialogue went something like this. “Yes, Lord, those are nice thoughts for kids on a school yard playground where not much is at stake except hurt feelings, but You want me to put away my weapons in this crazy world? And who is going to protect me?”
Here is the full text – “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 someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV) IF we accept Jesus as Lord, if we want to live as He desires, we cannot just read those words with a bemused smile and dismiss them as impractical. They are not a suggestion; they are His command for those who follow and love Him. So, let’s understand what He is asking of us.
Jesus asks us to consider the destruction that results from the endless cycle of revenge and/or retaliation. Human relationships suffer terrible things when we decide to ‘make them pay.’
How many marriages have been destroyed because a thoughtless act was returned double, until two people who once loved each other have built up such walls that they no longer can stand the sight of each other? How many families have been torn apart by a refusal to forgive, sides taken, until brother turn against brother? Too many church congregations have disintegrated when sides are drawn up over some difference, followed by the inevitable escalation as one side responds by ratcheting up pressure on the other. I hear you saying “Yeah, but …” and I understand. My mind argues with this radical command, too. We all like to think that our situation is unique. It’s not!
Paul teaches Christians the same principle, as he is inspired by the Spirit. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my 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.” (Romans 12:18-21, NIV)
Yes there are issues of justice. If I see a man beating another man, I cannot just walk away and pray, I must intervene appropriately. But, my goal cannot be to destroy the offender. As Jesus saved me, my aim must be redemption. We seem to forget that last part so often these days. We pursue justice, as we ought to do, while failing to include the aim of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration. It is much simpler to dismiss another person from our life as being beyond redemption (another way to say ‘worthless’) than it is to try to bring about restoration. Peacemaking is hard work. Confronting evil with love requires much more of us than getting bigger, more powerful weapons for our arsenal.
In our chaotic nation right now, I am seeing a reflexive reaction among many who I know love the Lord. They are resorting to power because it is so natural to take that path when confronted by evil. People on all sides of the issues are saying, “We gotta make them pay.” The words are full of venom, fed by fear and loathing. Christian, this is not the way of Jesus.
No matter your perspective, no matter your skin color, no matter the injustice done to you, or the danger you perceive coming your way, He asks us to break the cycle of retaliation, to advocate for justice and restoration. It is hard work, costly to our comfort, requiring patience, perseverance, and prayer. The devil is delighted when we go to war. Evil flourishes when the guns come out, the hard words are spoken, and the advantage of power is sought. Oh that we would remember this wisdom: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV)
Will we trust God enough to go to fervent prayer for the nation? Daily, I am praying for wisdom and insight, asking God to help me to be part of His plan to overcome evil with good. We cannot be simplistic or unthinking in our application of Jesus’ words. That is folly. But, we must be intent on obedience to them, starting with our own heart’s attitudes.
Here is a word from the Word. “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:30-31, NIV)
So, “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21, NLT)
(a new song by Rebecca St. James, so timely)
Why so heavy oh my soul
Did you forget who’s in control
If He calls the wind and waves to still
He holds you now and always will
The battle is the Lord’s
Take courage in the fight
The weapons of this war
Are praises lifted high
My confidence is sure
My God has gone before
I’ll sing into the night
The battle is the Lord’s
Come be still oh anxious heart
Find rest here in the Father’s arms
In His presence there is perfect peace
In His power there is victory yeah
Your presence here now
We are set free now
Hands lifted high in worship
Fear has to leave now
Your kingdom’s here now
Yours is the power and (the) glory
Yours is the power and glory
Heath Balltzglier | Rebecca St. James | Seth Condrey | Tedd Tjornhom
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