Adding Insult to Injury
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
II. Attitude Toward People: Love Your Enemies (6:27)
A. Three Exhortations (6:27-28)
B. Three Examples (6:29-30)
1. Turn the cheek
2. Give your tunic
3. Do not seek repayment
To him to strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him to takes away your goods do not ask them back.
When my parents moved from Missoula to Bigfork, they put their house in Missoula up for sale. It was on the market for a several months when my mother received a call from another Christian who attended a certain church in Missoula. He informed my mother that he had been praying, and God had revealed to him that my parents were supposed to give their house to him. "I am calling," he said, "to ask you to obey God and give me your house." What did my mother do? Rather than turn him down outright, she said that she would pray, and talk with my dad, and see if God told them the same thing. That is what they did. They prayed. They talked about it. After doing this for several days, wouldn't you know it, God told them…nothing. So they called the man, and told him, "Sorry, we are not going to give you our house." He, of course, got upset and told them that they were disobeying God and God would judge them and destroy the house and all their possessions because of their greed.
Who was right?
We come to a passage today that says we should give to the one who asks us, and if they ask for our cloak, give them our tunic as well. Were my parents wrong after all? "YES!" That person in Missoula says, "They were wrong. Jesus says to give to anyone who asks you and not ask for it back." But if my parents had given him the house, what is stopping him from asking further for their house in Bigfork, and their car, and access to their bank account? What's stopping him from coming and taking all of your possessions and my possessions? Maybe we should beat this guy to the punch and ask him for all of his possessions before he asks for ours, that way, he can't ask for them back. But then, once I have all of his possessions, what's stopping one of you, or someone else to come and ask for all of my possessions?
Do you see how ludicrous this is getting? Obviously, Jesus' statements cannot consistently, literally, legalistically, universally be carried out. Chaos would result. But Jesus has to be saying something. He is not just spouting gibberish and nonsense. He is not just saying shocking statements for shock value. I want to sort through all of this for you, and we will do that by looking at the text and by letting the rest of the Bible weigh in on this subject. The attitude Christ wants us to develop is found in verse 27. He wants us to love our enemies. He then gives three exhortations on how to love our enemies. We have looked at these previously. Jesus now turn to provide us with three examples.
B. Three Examples (6:29-30)
1. Turn the cheek
The first example is to turn the other cheek. In verse 29 we read, "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. Striking a person on the cheek does not refer as much to physical injury, as to insults and indignity. In Jewish culture, the greatest insult, the most demeaning and contemptuous action possible, was a slap on the cheek. It was an ultimate and deliberate gesture of disrespect. There is some indication that this was the way Jewish synagogue leaders put people out of synagogue - especially Jews who had converted to Christianity.
A contemporary parallel would be if someone spit in your face, though even that is not quite equivalent. The slaves in Jesus' day would rather have someone strike them on the back then slap them in the face and insult them in such an embarrassing and undignified way. So the slap on the cheek refers to receiving a deep insult. Turning the other cheek means that when you are severely insulted, don't trade insults. When you are slandered, keep silent, and let them insult you again.
What normally happens when someone insults you? You insult them right back. Generally, the insult you retaliate with is greater than the insult they served to you. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Have you seen the television commercial where the two men are standing over a grill trading insults about colleges they had attended and girlfriends they had dated? Finally, the man grilling the steaks picks one of them up and throws it on the ground saying, "Your steak" and then points to all the rest of the steaks on the grill and says, "My steaks." That's trading insults until it gets to the point where the man's meal is ruined. When you get into an insult war, a lot more can be ruined than just a meal. Lives can be destroyed. Homes wrecked. Jobs can be lost.
Jesus says that it is better to take an insult quietly than to say or do something that might eventually destroy a person.
And though we only have two cheeks, Jesus not giving a limit to the number of times we let ourselves get insulted. David Jeremiah tells a story about a boxer, a prize fighter, who became a Christian. He decided God wanted him to pastor a church in the worst part of town. He arrived and was beginning to get going in his ministry when some of the rough, violent men of the town decided to welcome him to the neighborhood. They showed up on his doorstep one night and rang the doorbell. When he answered, one of them stuck out and gave him a heavy blow across his right cheek. It sent the pastor reeling across the room. He calmly straightened his clothes, and walked back to the men standing in his doorway. Just as he got there, a second man lashed out with his fist, and gave the pastor another blow on his left cheek. This one was harder than the first and sent the man crashing to the floor with his face bruised and his nose bleeding. He got up, calmly took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, assumed his boxing stance and said, "Gentleman, you hit me once, you hit me twice…I have no further instructions from the Lord."
That is not what this passage means either. Jesus is not saying, "Let them hit you once, let them hit you twice, and then have at 'em."
What is Jesus saying? When you are at odds with someone else, and they insult you, refuse to retaliate. Be the peacemaker. You can either trade blow for blow, with each insult and injury getting worse and worse, or you can be the one to break the cycle of retaliation and stop the downward spiral into hate and hurt.
This is practical stuff. If you are married, and you've been married for any length of time, you have probably had some pretty serious arguments with your spouse. Sometimes, as the argument progresses, you aren't really arguing any more, you're just trading insults. Then it becomes more about winning the fight than solving the disagreement or saving the relationship. You want to hurt them as much as they hurt you. When this happens, you have a choice. You can either keep the retaliation cycle going and continue to lash out at your spouse with a verbal backhand, or you can break the cycle and choose to be the one to take a blow. Someone has to stop caring about winning the fight and focus on saving the relationship. Someone has to absorb the blow.
You say, "I don't want to appear weak" but I'll tell you that it is only the strongest person who can take an insult and let it go. It's the weak who retaliate because they can't take it. The strong roll with the punches. Has it ever occurred to you how many slaps in the face God takes every single day? There are countless millions of people around the world shaking their fist at God, cursing God, rebelling against God every single day. Even us, His own children, when we sin, slap God in the face. And yet, we're not incinerated. We're not squashed like a bug. Lightning doesn't come out of the sky and fry us. Why not? It's not because God is weak, but because He is so strong. He can take it. He doesn’t feel the need to retaliate at our petty insults. He just keeps on loving us.
Apply this to your own life. What is more important? Getting your retort in, or getting your wife back? What shows more strength? Making your witty but cutting remark, or rebuilding a relationship? Be someone who is willing to take the blows. Someone who refuses to retaliate. Someone who serves rather than slaps. If you find yourself in an insult contest, the only way to win is to be the one to lose. This is the first example. When someone insults you, let them insult you again if it will bring peace.
2. Give your tunic
Christ's second example is just as challenging and thought provoking. Still in verse 29, He says, And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. The cloak is the outer garment while the tunic is the inner garment. It would be like saying, "If someone takes your coat, give him the shirt off your back also."
But there is something specific Jesus had in mind. Under Roman rule, the Jewish people did not own much. Most of them were quite poor. There was one thing, however, that almost everyone owned - a cloak. A cloak was a very important piece of clothing. It was the way they kept warm in cold weather. It kept the sun off in the hot weather. It served as a blanket or pillow at night. Their cloak was so important that in Exodus 22:26 God commands that if a man takes another man's cloak as a pledge, the cloak must be given back before nightfall so that he can have something to sleep in. Then Jesus comes along and says, "If someone wants your cloak, give it to him, and while you’re at it, hand over your tunic as well. Give him your coat and your clothes."
He is teaching a principle almost exactly similar to the slap on the cheek. He is not saying that we should stand on the street corner and let someone rob us. When it comes to disagreements and arguments, someone is going to have to absorb a blow. Sure, you can go through the law courts, and sit through a trial, and allow some judge to decide which one of you will absorb the blow. But why don't you save yourself all the time and headaches, and just absorb the blow yourself? If there really is a disagreement, and it's hard to determine who is wrong and who is right, and what sort of restitution is necessary - be the bigger person, be the peacemaker and give them what they want. Give them more than what they want.
Jesus is not teaching that we should allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. He is not telling us to be doormats, or to allow people to steal our houses and cars and bank accounts. Let me give you an extreme example. Should a Christian father passively watch as a thief plunders his house, and carries away his children? Does God require us to stand by idly, saying, "God bless you, brother. Here is a blank check for you to empty my bank account. And by the way, please read this gospel tract"? Never!
The Bible is very clear. We must stand up to evil. If we are the victims of criminal activity, it is ungodly to tolerate the attack. The difference is one of restraint or retaliation. "Restraint opposes the evil being done while still hoping for a positive outcome for the enemy. Retaliation's intent is to hurt the offender." God wants us to do everything within our power to restrain evil. But it is not our responsibility to retaliate.
How difficult this is when we live in a day when it seems that the only people who have any rights are people who do wrong. The ones who try to live right are the ones who get bruised and beaten in the process. The criminals and those who are irresponsible or are trying to cheat the system are the ones who seem to have everything going for them. If you work hard, if you are responsible with your money, if you are honest at work, it seems that you are the one who gets the short end of the stick. When you find yourself in such a situation, Jesus says there is a way for believers to deal with injustice in our lives, and that is not to get caught up in the trading of hostilities and lawsuits that the rest of the world operates by. There are ways to work though our differences rather than resorting to litigation and lawyers, where the only true winners are the lawyers.
Of course, having said all of this, it may be that sometimes, it is to your benefit spiritually to help the thief and give him what he wants and more. If you have read the book Les Miserables, or watched the movie, you remember that near the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean steals the silverware from a church bishop. When Jean Valjean is arrested by the police, the Bishop makes it appear that he gave the silverware to Jean, and gives him two silver candlesticks as well. It is this act of kindness that causes Jean Valjean to turn from a life of stealing to a life of helping other people. So there are instances when helping someone out when they try to steal from you may be exactly what they need to become a better person. Life had been hard on them, and they may need a little help from you.
Did you hear about this high speed chase through Kalispell two weeks ago? Apparently, a man went into ShopKo and shoplifted several items, then led ShopKo employees and police on a high speed chase through town before he was arrested. I don't know the whole story of this man, what his situation was or why he stole the things he did, but one of the things the Daily Interlake reported he stole was a child's snowsuit. It makes me wonder. Does this man have a child who needs a snowsuit for the winter? Had he all of a sudden become so desperate to provide for his family that he had to resort to stealing? I don't know. The article also said he had drug paraphernalia and a suspended license, which tells us he had several other problems as well. All I'm saying is that if there is someone in your life or my life who genuinely has a need, Jesus says it is our responsibility to meet that need. Don't let people rob you, but if they try to take things from you out of desperation, you might want to let them have what they want, and give them a little extra.
The issue is not property rights, but the enemy's eternal life. Do not chase the thief to kill him. Chase him to save him. I'm sorry I can't lay down hard and fast rules on how this works. I have no guidelines on how to know if a person has a genuine need or not. It's a situation by situation decision that you and God will have to work through together. Maybe what Christ says next will help us understand this a little bit more. The first example was to turn the other cheek. The second example was to give your tunic. The third and final example is to not seek repayment.
3. Do not seek repayment
This third example is found in verse 30. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. There is a lot of historical background to this statement that we must understand as well. Much of it has to do with God's credit system. Did you know that God set up the ideal system of borrowing and lending? Our system in America doesn't work. It let's people borrow and max out their credit cards until people must either declare bankruptcy or live forever under the weight of interest payments and out of control debt. But God had a better plan. In the Old Testament law, God instructs his people that it is okay to take out and give loans, but with certain conditions as laid out in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. The basic principle is that no one should be in debt or in need for very long. Deuteronomy 15 really brings this out. There we read that every seven years, all debts are cancelled.
So understand what would happen. Imagine that you are a rich land owner, and the seventh year of canceling debts was next year. But a poor man comes to you and says that his crops failed, his wife got sick and he cannot feed his children. Can he borrow money from you. He will pay it back, he promises. You are skeptical. And besides, the seventh year of canceling debts is almost here. If he does not pay it back by next year, you will have to forgive him his debt. You would have to take the loss. But Deuteronomy 15 goes on to say that in such situations, you should give generously to the one in need, even if he never pays you back (15:7-11).
As you might guess, the Israelites had a lot of trouble living this out - just as much trouble as we have living out Luke 6:30. But Proverbs 19:17 explains why God wants us to do this. "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed." Every time you are helpful to the poor you are loaning to the Lord, and the Lord is obliged to pay you back. He says, "You give that person the resources he needs, and I will take care of your needs."
The follower of Christ is a person who gives generously and freely to those who have genuine needs. What Jesus is not calling you to do is give indiscriminately to all. Some people think this way, because Jesus says, "Give to everyone who asks you." But let's be sensible. If you literally had to give to everyone who asks you, you would have to give to homosexual activists, pro-abortion lobbyists, and people on the street who are just going to spend the money on drugs or alcohol.
William Law, an excellent pastor and the author a little book called A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life was set on following all of Christ's commands literally. He and two rich friends agreed to live together and spend as little as possible on themselves while giving away as much as possible. They gave money to everyone who asked them and did not turn away anyone. The results was that they attracted quite a crowd of idle and lying beggar. Some of them were criminals and thieves. Others just lazy and not willing to get a job even though they could have gotten one. For a long time William and his two companions tried to shut their eyes to the evil which he and his friends were supporting and paying for. But finally, the law makers, policemen and neighborhood citizens came and told William and his two friends to be more selective on who they gave their money to.
You see how Christ's third example can be misapplied. God does not truly want us to give to everyone and anyone who asks us. He wants us to use our money and possessions to accomplish the most good. God has given us the finances and material wealth we have in order to support those causes that will further His kingdom. Give to those people who are genuinely in need. If our giving makes allowance for another person to sin, God is not pleased with our giving.
Be creative in what you give and how you give it. When Wendy and I were living in Chicago, there were numerous homeless people on the streets asking for money. We never gave them any money, because we didn't know what they were going to spend it on. But we frequently went and bought them a meal and were then able to share the Gospel with them as well. In this way, we were able to give to those who asked of us, and not seek repayment, and give them more than what they want, and all of it accomplished good, not evil.
Do people request to borrow from you? Let them, and don’t seek repayment. These are some hard teachings, but as followers of Jesus Christ, our behavior and conduct in this world must be radically different. He has given us three examples about loving our enemies. As always, Christ practiced what he preached, though some believe He did not in one instance.
When Jesus is placed on trial right after his arrest, Annas the High Priest questioned Jesus, and Jesus responded by saying, "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed, they know what I said" (John 18:20-21). When He had said this, one of the officers standing near Jesus gave him a blow. When this happened, Jesus did not turn the other cheek. Instead, He said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?" What a surprise! When Jesus really had an opportunity to turn the other cheek, He didn't do it.
Or did He? While He didn't literally turn the cheek of his face to take another blow, he did allow Himself to be arrested. He allowed Himself to go through a terribly unjust trial. He allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, cursed and spit upon. He allowed Himself to be nailed to that cross and killed. This is the ultimate turning the other cheek. 1 Peter 2:23 says that Jesus, "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously." Was this because He was weak? Hardly. Jesus could called down fire from heaven, or a legion of angels to protect him. With a snap of his fingers, He could have obliterated earth. He had the power to retaliate.
It takes true strength to restrain yourself when others insult you. It takes true strength to break the cycle of revenge and retaliation. He was the anvil. He was the punching bag. Why? So that He could restore a relationship with us. This is what 1 Peter 2 goes on to say. The reason Christ did not retaliate is so that we, who were his enemies, might live for righteousness. So that we might become his brothers and sisters.
Do you have an enemy? Don’t retaliate. Instead, seek ways to be reconciled. We are a fight back generation. We know our lawyers phone numbers better than we know Scripture verses on self-restraint. We are quick to get mad. Quick to fight back. Quick to retort and retaliate. Quick to demand our rights. But when was the last time you deliberately took it on the chin, turned the other cheek and kept your mouth shut? Try it. Such behavior may be so shocking, the other person will want to know why you are so different. Then you will have an opportunity to share what Christ has done for you when you were still His enemy. Maybe you will be reconciled to your enemy, and better yet, he may be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20).