Mat. 5:38-42 – Christian Grace (1 of ?)

A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 10 July 2011

Nate’s Translation:

38. Y’all heard that it was declared, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

39. And I myself am saying to you not to stand opposed to the evil man, but rather, whichever one slaps you in your right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40. And to the one who intends to sue you and to take your underwear, release to him your outerwear also!

41. And whichever one compels you for one mile, keep going with him two.

42. Give to the one who makes requests of you, and do not turn away the one who intends to borrow from you.

Introduction: Huck Finn and Road Rage

In the book, Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, a boy named Huck is travelling up the Mississippi River on a raft. At one point he lands at the Grangerford estate and stays at their house for a while as a guest. During his time there, he learns that there is a feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdson family nearby. Huck asks one of the Grangerford boys named Buck what a feud was. "Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way:  A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills HIM; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the COUSINS chip in—and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud.  But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."

Mark Twain’s fictional story of the feud between the Grangerford and Shepherdson clans was based on the true account of the feud between the Hatfield family and the McCoy family in Kentucky the late 1800’s. But we don’t do that anymore in America, right? Wrong.


“There was some sort of disagreement on the roadway,” New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey said… “Phillip Parrish became irate at a woman driver after she wouldn't let him change lanes… He pulled beside the car and pointed a 9 millimeter handgun at the driver.” That happened two weeks ago near Louisville, KY. What’s worse is that three years ago, Phillip’s wife did the same thing. Got ticked off at a motorcyclist, chased him down in her SUV, and when he got off his motorcycle and walked up to her car, she shot him. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mr. Parrish may have to serve time there too.


Have you ever struggled with bitterness and a desire to get even with someone who has hurt you?

s         Road rage – I can actually identify with Mr. and Mrs. Parrish and their road rage to some extent. For some reason, I really get bent out of shape when people flagrantly break the law while driving or drive inconsiderately, and I am tempted to want to show them that they are in the wrong and wish they would get into a wreck to serve them right for their lawless or rude behavior. One thing I hate is people tailgating me when I’m going the speed limit. How dare they try to force me to drive faster than the speed limit and act like I’m the one with the problem on the road?!! Once when someone was tailgating me, I did a very stupid thing, I thought I’d teach them a lesson by suddenly throwing on my breaks, just to watch them panic and try to keep from rear-ending me. If they rear-ended me, it would be their fault as a traffic violation. But what I wasn’t thinking about was the revenge cycle. I went on driving smugly along thinking I had taught them a lesson when all of a sudden, the car in front of me slams on their brakes and sends me into a panic to try to keep from wrecking into them. As I careened around them, I saw that it was the same driver that had been tailgating me earlier. I learned a lesson that day about vengefulness. But strangers aren’t the only ones we get bitter with…

s         Parent – Some parents do evil things to their children, and the children bear scars from abuse and from abandonment. Often the children of these parents never have the opportunity to bring their parents to justice before the civil magistrates, so what can they do about the injustice and suffering? Many of these children respond with rebellion, bitterness, and hatred, and it only hurts them more.

s         Sibling – Is there anyone here who hasn’t been hurt by a brother or sister? (You must be an only child.) Brothers and sisters can be mean and cruel to each other. Sometimes even by accident. It seems like there was a time in the life of all my little boys when they discovered the power of carrying a big stick. It seems that about that time, they were also in the process of discovering what happens when you hit things, for instance, one of your brother’s heads. Pretty soon I have an older or younger brother in tears, sobbing about being hit on the head with a stick, and I have to give the offending party a lesson in NOT doing unto others as you would NOT have them do unto you! What do you do when you get whacked on the head by your brother – or when your sister steals your special doll?

s         Boss – Say you’re at work, and your boss promotes someone over you who totally doesn’t deserve it. Or maybe your boss blames you for something HE did wrong and you end up taking the hit financially. Or maybe you are fired for a reason that doesn’t make sense at all. Don’t ask me how I know how hard it is to get over those kind of situations. After one particularly painful job situation, I spent almost every morning for a year trying to figure out why my boss turned against me and dreaming of him apologizing to me. Yeah, that was a pipedream. How do you handle that? Or maybe you’ve gone into business with a partner and your partner took unfair advantage of you or caused you to lose a bunch of money because of a foolish decision on his part. That can burn you up.

s         Spouse – Of course, the most painful hurts are the ones from those you love the most, and nothing is worse than offenses that fester between a husband and wife. The more he pouts and treats her coldly, the more she henpecks and insulates herself against him. When you ask what’s wrong, it’s always the other person’s fault. So when she makes a mistake, the temptation is to really rub the consequences in and make her feel it – or vise versa.

s         Criminal – Some of the greatest offences are perpetrated by criminals and terrorists:

o       My brother-in-law was robbed of his wallet and beat up by thugs in Boston a couple of years ago.

o       A friend of my parents was raped as she was driving through downtown Birmingham.

o       Friends of mine in the Middle East – a husband and wife with their three little children – were kidnapped about two years ago. Two of the little girls were rescued after about a year, but the parents and the baby boy are still missing – they might be dead; no one seems to know. How should the daughters feel toward those who captured and perhaps killed their parents and little brother?

o       A doctor and some nurses with whom I was acquainted in the same country were murdered in cold blood about 10 years ago by an irate patient. How should victims of such terrible crimes respond?

s         Church split – And then there’s church splits. Man alive, what a hornet’s nest of hurt feelings and petty vindictiveness can erupt in the church itself! In one situation I encoun­tered, on both sides of the split, church members were trying to cause people on the other side of the split to lose their jobs. In another situation, the property of the church was seized by one side so that the people who wanted independence would have to pay dearly for it.


What is it that makes us want to get back at people for inconveniencing us? What is it that makes us get so blindly angry? What can be done about injustice?


First off, we must recognize that our feelings of outrage at injustice come from real violations of an ultimate standard of justice, and we must understand what that standard is. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus references that standard – the law of God written by Moses:

Eye for Eye = O.T. Law (v.38)

᾿Ηκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος.

Y’all heard that it was declared, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

Three places where Moses records this standard of justice:

1) Lev. 24:17-22 “If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.” (NASB)

s         According to God’s standard, justice requires the payment of human life for the taking of human life, and the payment of animal life for the taking of animal life, because human life is created in the image of God and is to be held as valuable and sacred.

s         However, God gave the court system – the civil authority, not the injured party – the job of determining this sent­ence and carrying it out. God instructs the judges and governors as to what should be done when a human being made in the image of God is injured by another person.

s         This principle was originally stated in the book of Exodus, where even the life of an unborn child is considered worthy of the same protection as an adult:


2) Exodus 21:22-25 "If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NASB)


s         Notice that the punishment is moderated by “judges” who “appoint” the sentence, not by the relatives of the offended party.

o       This fits with what Paul wrote in Romans 13:4, that governing authority “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” The sword is the symbol of capital punishment.

s         Notice also that the punishment is to be exactly equal to the crime, never more severe to “teach the offender a lesson.”

s         Later on in Deuteronomy, when Moses reviewed the law of God, he added that even the intent to bring physical harm to another person unjustly, is worthy of the very harm intended:


3) Deut. 19:15-21 “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days.  The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely,  then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.  The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.  Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (NASB)

s         Sometimes, by the way, a financial payment could be arranged agreeable to both parties instead of a physical punishment, although no ransom was to be used in the case of murder (Num 35:31)

s         Once again: judges are leading in this matter, and it is to be exactly fitting to the crime, no more no less.

s         This concept is called in Latin the jus talionis – the law regarding retaliation. God’s law prevents:

o       Offended parties from taking revenge into their own hands,

o       Retaliation done in the heat of the moment when people are angry,

o       One-upmanship in retaliation that makes the punishment worse than the crime,

o       and the corrupt practice of going easy on privileged persons.


Abuse of jus talionis in Jesus’ day

s         Josephus wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews (l. 4. c. 8. sect. 35.) 70AD “he that shall blind a man's eyes, shall suffer the like… he must be deprived of that, which he has deprived another of, except he that has his eye put out is willing to receive money”

s         R. Sol. Jarchi (In Exod. xxi. 24.) “He that puts out his neighbour's eye, must give him דמי עינו, the price of his eye”

s         Maimonides (Hilchot Chebel. c. 1. sect. 2, 3.), “if a man cuts off his neighbour's hand, or foot, he is to be considered as if he was a servant sold in a market; what he was worth then, and what he is worth now; and he must pay the diminution which is made of his price; as it is said, ‘eye for eye.’”[1]

Apparently, however, there were some Jewish teachers who twisted this “eye for eye; tooth for tooth” principle and took it out of context to mean that private persons could take revenge without waiting on the civil government, and even that individuals must take revenge and never forgive an offense – never accept an apology, but rather demand tit for tat. They held grudges with a vindictive attitude and even tried to punish the offending party more harshly than would be fair.


How should we deal with situations where someone has wronged us? We certainly have the option of pursuing justice through the proper government channels – whether home or church or civil – and if the leaders of that government are just, there will be a fair penalty imposed upon the perpetrator, and that is a high calling for every leader – whether parents in the home or elders in the church or judges in the civil government. But what should the attitude of our heart be personally towards the one who has taken advantage of us? Jesus tells us:

Do not resist an evil person (v.39a)

᾿Εγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ·

And I myself am saying to you not to stand opposed to/resist the evil man


The Greek word here is anti + histami the same word we get the word antihistamine for medicine that makes our body stop fighting skin irritants with mucus production. It literally means to “stand against” or “stand opposed to.”


“The evil man” has the definite article (tw) in front of it in the Greek text, indicating a particular evil man. As I showed last week from a comparison of this passage with other Bible passages in I Peter and James, this evil man is not Satan because we are commanded to resist the Devil. So this particular evil man is the one who hurt you – that boss, that parent, that sister, that church member, that jerk with whom you have become preoccupied with making sure he/she gets his/her due. That one.


Don’t be an antihistamine with him. Don’t take the attitude that you are her enemy. “I don’t get mad; I just get even…” Don’t let yourself dwell on the pain of the hurt he caused you and deepen your bitterness toward him. Don’t wish her harm; don’t wish he were dead. Jesus said that the attitude we should have toward our enemy is that of love – we’ll get there in v.44.


What this does NOT mean:

1.      Covering up evil and allowing the perpetrator to continue doing evil and hurting people. You can bring him to justice out of love for him. You can call the police out of a desire to see him come to his senses and repent and enter into the blessing of walking in righteousness.

2.      This also does not mean that you should stand back and let an evil man perpetrate an act of violence against yourself or another helpless victim. That is cowardice. Jesus told His disciples to carry swords, and the reason you’d carry a sword is so you can defend yourself against an attacker.

o       Jesus spoke out against the injustices of the corrupt rulers of His day;

o       He called the Pharisees hypocrites,

o       He stopped an unjust sentencing in its tracks when some men dragged to Him a woman allegedly caught in adultery.

o       Jesus even reprimanded the high priest for injustice after the high priest’s servant had struck Jesus on the cheek. (John 18:22)

o       Jesus resisted evil, and we should too.

3.      Causing trouble: Sometimes when we get hurt, it’s our own fault. We stuck our hand into the hornet’s nest, and the hornets are hardly to blame for stinging us.

o       I let myself get irritated at the tailgater and slammed on the brakes to further upset him. If I had been wiser, I would have graciously pulled off the road and let the hot-rodder pass me without further antagonizing him.

o       John Calvin wrote that we should “ward off injuries through inoffensive conduct.”  


What it does mean:

“What the New Testament precept is, as to the complainant himself, his duty is, to forgive the injury as done to himself, and no further to insist upon the punishment of it than is necessary to the public good… We must not be revengeful; but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them… The law of retaliation must be made consistent with the law of love.” ~ Matthew Henry


Some things to remember when you are hurt: (By Matthew Henry)

1.      “[O]ur recompence is not in our own hands, but in the hands of God, to whose wrath we must give place – and sometimes in the hands of His vice-regents, where it is necessary for the preservation of the public peace”

o       Prov. 20:22 Do not say, "I will repay evil"; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you. (NASB)

o       Prov. 24:29 Do not say, "Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work." (NASB)

o       Prov. 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. (NASB)

o       Rom. 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NASB)

o       We need to hold our rights loosely. We must leave room for the wrath of God. We can’t hold our rights to our possessions and our health so tightly that we feel we have to be rewarded for our loss in this life. We need to hold our rights loosely and be willing to wait until judgment day for some offenses to be sorted out. I want to expound more on this point next week.

2.      “[I]t will not justify us in hurting our brother to say that he began, for it is the second blow that makes the quarrel.”

o       No feud would never come into existence if the first person who was offended simply forgave and overlooked the offence. We don’t have to demand a tooth in return for a tooth; we could just live with the chipped tooth and let it go.

o       “[He] who repels one outrage by another… makes himself precisely what the other is, a wicked person.” ~ Adam Clarke

3.      “[W]hen we [are] injured, we [have] an opportunity not to justify our injuring him, but to show ourselves the true disciples of Christ, by forgiving him.”

o       The late David Wilkerson, pastor of Times Square Church in New York City started his ministry several decades ago as a country boy fresh from the stix trying to preach the gospel in the tough ghettoes of New York City. He encountered some frustrating situations like thieves taking the wheels off his car right where he had parked it to go on a pastoral appointment to some lost people. He got held up and his wallet stolen. One time he had to come home without his shoes after being challenged by a boy who had no shoes and who accused him of being a hypocrite. But instead of retaliating and giving these tough, inner-city folks up for lost, David Wilkerson kept spending time with the lost in New York City and preaching the gospel to them. In time, they came to respect him because he did not hold grudges like they expected him to. He forgave them and was gracious to them, and they saw what Jesus was like through him.

o       When we are gracious and forgiving instead of carrying hateful vendettas, the world sees Christ in us. I am also reminded of the true story of Elizabeth Elliott whose husband was murdered by Waorani Indians in the Amazon jungle while he was trying to share the gospel with them. In the Waorani tribe, they were good at revenge, so after they killed Jim Elliot and his three missionary buddies, the Waorani men lived in fear that an army of white men would come back and kill them to take revenge for the killing they had done. So when Jim Elliot’s wife moved into their tribal village to live with them, they were perplexed. Why would she want to live with them after they had killed her husband? As Elisabeth learned the Waorani language, she shared with them that she forgave them for killing her husband because God had forgiven her and that she wanted to share God’s ways with them. This was a powerful testimony to those savage jungle people, and God used it to bring many of them out of their former life of brutal killings and into a life of peace with each other and with God through faith in Jesus.

o       God could use your willingness to forgive in a similar way to bring salvation to that person who has hurt you.

What does it look like to love your enemy & do good to those who abuse you?

s         Trust in God and the authorities He has set in place to take care of justice rather than getting even

s         In the circumstances where you hold authority over others, familiarize yourself with God’s law so that you know what is fair and just – don’t overpunish and don’t go too light either.

s         Patiently bear suffering rather than retaliate in anger in the heat of the moment.

s         Seek what is best for the one who has injured you. They need to repent and they need to learn that God can save and forgive them, and they learn that by seeing His graciousness through your actions.

Jesus gives four scenarios of what this looks like in the following verses, and I want to step into those scenarios next week.


John Calvin: “It is the duty of every man to bear patiently the injuries which he receives… believers should learn to forget the wrongs that have been done them… they should not, when injured, break out into hatred or ill-will, or wish to commit an injury on their part… the more the obstinacy and rage of wicked men is excited and inflamed, they should be the more fully disposed to exercise patience.”




[1] These quotes from Jewish teachers were located by Bible commentator John Gill, who has done the Christian world a great service in explaining Jewish traditions in his commentary.