Exposition of Matthew 5:38-42

It has repeatedly become clear to us in these es­says on Jesus’ interpretation of the law, that He is speaking of the real righteousness of grace, which is the establishment of the law in the hearts of the sons of the Kingdom. These latter are the light of the world, a city on a hilltop, and light on a candlestick. The sons of the Kingdom come to manifestation in their being a different people than those of this world; theirs is indeed a righteousness that is more abound­ing than that of the Pharisees and the Scribes.

In view of stimulating us to holy fear, as sons of the Kingdom, and also to work in our hearts the true faith revealing itself in a life of good works of sanc­tification, Jesus warns us to beware against think­ing that He has come to destroy the law and the pro­phets.

Christ did not come to destroy the law and the pro­phets, but to fulfill them!

They must be fulfilled to the last jot and tittle. This does not mean that they must simply be fulfilled as a legal precept, but it means that the law of loving our neighbor as ourselves must come to manifestation as being written in our very hearts, upon the tables of flesh by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Such is the general perspective here in this expla­nation of the meaning of the law.

Such is also the viewpoint in the passage, which we will consider in this essay. This passage reads as follows: Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you. Resist not him, that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And who­soever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

Jesus here establishes the principle, that we are not to live by the motive of revenge, resentment and evil retaliation for wrongs done to us. As the meek of the earth we are to walk in the wisdom, which is from above, which is gentle, easy to be entreated, without partiality and full of good fruits. We are to live the life of the peace makers, who shall be called the children of God. See verse 9. And when we are persecuted, it must not be for our wrong-doings (I Peter 3:19-21) that we suffer injustice, nor must we become ensnared in the evil itself that is being done to us. In this passage we are told the way of heaven’s wisdom which it to be as wise as the serpents and as harmless as the doves.

Let us try to understand Jesus’ instruction in this our behavior as newborn sons of the Kingdom.

There seems to be a contradiction in the teaching of Jesus here. At the surface, but only at the sur­face, there seems to be a paradox. Does not Jesus place His teaching over against the clear injunction of the law of Moses? In Lev. 24:19, 20 we read: “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him, breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done.” Now, is this not a seeming contradiction when compared with the teach­ing of Jesus in this passage? For Jesus says: But, I say unto you, that you resist not him that is evil. Is this a real contradiction?

I think not.

What then?

The truth of the matter is, that Jesus is not speak­ing of the execution of justice here by those who are called upon to do this in God’s name, but He is here speaking of our personal attitude of heart and mind toward those who do us injury. We must not avenge ourselves and thus give Satan a place in our lives. We must so walk that we remain pure in an evil world, even when this evil world of men do us injury and in­justice. We shall not take justice into our own hands, but we shall always exercise kindness and goodness, abounding in a walk of righteousness, our whole life being full of the love of law, so that we fill up the law and the prophets to the last jot and tittle.

The error of the Scribes and Pharisees was, that they applied, what was meant for those who executed righteous judgment in the name of God, to the personal execution of the individual. And thus the very thing that the law of justice meant to prevent, in just punishment, was encouraged. There was simply more confusion and injustice wrought; injustice was increased many times over in “eye for eye” and “blow for blow.” Then there is no end to unrighteousness. It is an endless, vicious circle of unrighteousness. The wind is sowed and the storm is reaped; thus there is no end in sight. Ye have heard this law of retalia­tion proclaimed in the name of Moses, says Jesus. But this is wrong. That is not the meaning of Moses. It is simply a distorting of Scripture to their own destruction. A very common practice indeed. See I Peter 3:16. Do not listen to this teaching, this corruption of Moses. With this righteousness of Phariseeism you will in no case enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Be not deceived!

Jesus has understood the intent of this command­ment perfectly. He is proclaiming this great pre­cept of “doing good” to the sons of the Kingdom. Says He: “But I say unto you, Do not resist him who is evil.”

There is a question about the meaning of the word in the original Greek, which in our text is translated: “Him who is evil”. In itself this might be taken to mean: simply evil, evil of any kind? It might also re­fer to: The Evil one, that is, Satan. We believe that the rendering: him that is evil, is a good one. It thus refers to the evil that is done to us by someone, and in this doing he is evil. He may simply be doing this out of weakness, or he may be doing it out of sheer meanness. But in either case he does not do me well. He does evil to me, he does not treat me according to the Golden Rule of doing unto me as he would have me do to him.

Not what must I do?

I must not do to him as he does to me, but I must do to him as I would have him do to me. I must not re­taliate in personally afflicting. If it is a matter that becomes one of the legal court, then too it must be no matter in me of personal meanness and evil retalia­tion, but love for justice and equity.

To bring out this point very clearly, that it may not be personal, evil retaliation, Jesus cites four in­stances by which He would show us the proper con­duct over against him who does evil to us, who does not practice the Golden Rule to us.

The first illustration is that of the assumed case in which a man strikes us a ringing blow upon the right cheek. In the face of this smarting, humiliating and offending blow, what are we to do? Hit him back? Jesus says: Turn the other cheek to him. Is this not folly? Is it not inviting trouble? No it is not. For thus the second blow will be slow in forthcoming, if at all. The man will be put to shame. The evil is not resisted with evil. The evil is overcome by a quiet and meek spirit. This is the power that is stronger than he who taketh in a city. Righteousness shines forth, the dignity of meekness. It is meekness that does not stoop to the level of low and mean retaliation. It gives great peace and serenity in the soul. Here is not the exacting justice of eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in the wrong sense. It is the answering of the fool according to his folly!

The second illustration is that of the imaginary or real case, where one will take me to law to take away from me my coat to pay my debts. Anyone who will take away my coat from me, the necessity to cover my nakedness and to protect me from the cold, is not a man who does good to his neighbor out of a mer­ciful heart. This is, of course, only one example, al­though a very telling one, of the conduct of the evil man, who shows no mercy. It is the mercy of the wicked which is cruel. In this case, when we should be hailed before the judge, what are we to do? Are we to retaliate and try to take the man’s coat also? Not at all. We shall then give our cloak also. We shall give full measure of justice and graciousness, be­lieving that God is the Lord, and that He hears the poor man’s cry. For He is the Lord Sabaoth, who sends His angels hastening to our help. Faith in God’s helping the needy is a mighty tonic to the fal­tering spirit. So just give him your cloak also. Do no resist evil with evil. Yes, you will call his atten­tion to his evil, but you will not place another evil over against it. More confusion is not the solution to confusion.

The third illustration is that of the assumed case, where one is compelled to go a mile. In this case give double portion, and do it cheerfully. Go with him two miles. This illustration calls for just a word of explanation. The word: to compel to go is the trans­lation of the Greek “aggoreuoo.” This word signifies: to employ a courier, to dispatch a mounted messenger. The “aggoroi” were public couriers, stationed by ap­pointment of the king of Persia at fixed localities, with horses ready for use, in order to transmit royal messages from one to another, and so convey them the more speedily to their destination. These couriers had authority to press into their service, in case of need, horses, vessels (ships) even the men they met. Hence, “aggoreuoo” denotes: to compel one to go on a journey to bear a burden, or to perform any other service. Compare Thayer, W. P. or A. T. Robertson, Lenski.

If anyone would wish us to perform a service for them, such as a soldier in the army, and when we must suffer hardships, we must give full measure. Such is the law of the righteousness of the Kingdom. Do not ever live by the law of retaliation. God is the judge.

When one comes to borrow from you, or asks from you do not run away from him. Have a liberal heart. The mean man, who retaliates is also the small man. Have a heart full of the bowels of mercy. Sow plentifully and you shall reap plentifully. God is not mocked. Here too God gives an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, only here it is the reward of grace. Those who have, receive more, and have abundantly. The full cup of joy is the portion of the just, who cares for the poor. Then there are two men happy, the man who gave and the man who received. Such is the abundant harvest of grace. But if you turn away then both the one, who turned away, and the man who was not given ought, are unhappy. Then we once more come in the place where men are tempted to retaliate evil with evil.

Now the righteousness of the Pharisee is to give an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in the evil sense, but such is not the righteousness of the King­dom of heaven. And it is the latter, that Christ has come to fulfill in us. I can hear Him say: I tell you these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full. John says: let us love each other. Not as Cain loved his brother and slew him. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.

Wherefore resist not the one doing evil to you. For the Lord is a just God.