Mat. 5:39-40 – Christian Grace (2 of 3)

A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 17 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 wants you to be judged 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 wants to borrow from you.


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

s         Family member: Parent, Sibling, Spouse

s         Boss or business partner

s         Church member

s         Criminal, or maybe just a bad driver


As we saw last week, there is wisdom in avoiding offenses in the first place, and there are occasions when we must use force to defend ourselves and other helpless people while we are being attacked in a life-threatening way. But what can be done after you have been hurt by someone else?


First off, we must know what the standard of justice is, and Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:38 that the standard is the law of God: “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” (Lev. 24:17-22/ Ex. 21:22-25/ Deut. 19:15-21) God’s law demands that:

1.      Punishment must not be worse than the crime, but neither should anyone get away with a punishment that is not as severe as the crime.

2.      Judges/governing authorities should mete out justice, not private individuals. “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord. Offended parties must wait for justice to be served.


Next, Jesus addresses our heart attitude in v.39 (rather than just the outward actions) declaring that individuals “not ἀντιστῆναι/resist/stand opposed to” those who have harmed them. In other words, while we are waiting for justice to run its course, we are not to hate the one who hurt us and nurse bitterness against the perpetrator and wish misery upon them. If we love our enemy instead, we preach the Gospel through our actions and attitudes that there is forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus.


Now, Jesus gives us four scenarios of what this looks like in the following verses. Here’s how we flesh out His command not to resist – or be antagonistic towards – those who have hurt us:

Scenario #1 Turn the other cheek (39b)Threats to Emotions & Reputation

ἀλλ᾿ ὅστις σε ῥαπίσει ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα, στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην·

But rather, whichever one slaps/strikes you in the right cheek, turn to him the other also.


s         The Greeks had different words for hitting, and this word “rapizw” is a hit with the open palm of the hand, so “slap” is a good translation. This is not the kind of blow intended to damage but rather to sting and disgrace you. A different stance should be taken for blows intended to hurt or kill you.

s         The way I read this in Greek, the question is not “if” (ει) someone slaps you but “which” (στις) person is going to end up doing it to you. We live in a world where we’re going to get hurt; it’s inevitable. The question is not whether you’re ever going to suffer an insult like this but what you’re attitude is going to be towards the perpetrator when it does happen.

s         Jewish law said, “He that strikes his neighbour shall be fined a shekel” ~Misn. Bava Kama 8:6

s         Story of Irish boxer who became a preacher and got punched by some hecklers. He kept preaching until they hit him again. He stopped and decked the hecklers, then continued his sermon saying, “Jesus said to turn the other cheek after they hit you once, but He didn’t say what to do after that!”

s         Jesus says, Don’t antagonize those who have insulted you. Instead take an inoffensive stance – one that will even allow them to take another potshot at you if they want.

s         Of course, insults might not come to you in the form of a literal slap in the face. They might come in things people say or other ways they treat you.

o       “No more potent and excellent example of patience can be found than that of the Lord Himself; who, when smitten on the cheek, said not, ‘Behold here is the other cheek,’ but He said, ‘If I have spoken ill, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you smite Me?’ Wherein He shows that the preparation of the other cheek is to be done in the heart.” ~ Augustine, Moral Treatises on Lying, 27

o       “Augustine… employs much skill and judgment in showing that the design of Christ was merely to train the minds of believers to moderation and justice, that they might not, on receiving one or two offenses, fail or lose courage.” ~John Calvin, commentary on Matthew 5:39

o       No matter how we are insulted, Jesus wants our heart attitude to be in the right place.

s         EXAMPLES:

  1. Paul: In Acts 23:3, when Ananias the high priest gave an order for Paul to be struck on the cheek as he gave testimony in the Jewish high court, Paul didn’t hit back, he said, “God will strike you…” expressing his faith that vengeance belongs to God.
  2. Jesus

s         When Jesus was struck on the cheek during His trial before the Jewish high priest, He didn’t come back swinging, instead, He said, “…Why did you strike me?” (John 18:23) Jesus’ reply uses a different Greek word for strike which indicates that the blow had actually taken some skin off His face, by the way.

s         The Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle that later as Jesus hung on the cross and people hurled their insults at Him, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffer­ing, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23)

  1. David

s          (1 Samuel 25) David, before he became king had kept Nabal’s shepherds and sheep safe and then asked for a share of the wool at sheep-shearing time. Instead of saying, “Thank you for keeping my men and my animals safe,” Nabal had said, “You are a stranger; you are illegitimate; and I’m not going to give you anything!” It took Nabal’s wife Abigail coming out with a bunch of food and a very gracious apology to stop David from massacring everybody in Nabal’s house that day! But Abigail reminded David that taking vengeance into his own hands would bring “grief and a troubled heart” to him.

s         David learned his lesson with Nabal and Abigail that some insults had to be overlooked.

s         Later on, when David was king and Absalom tried to take over the kingdom, David had to leave Jerusalem and go into hiding, and there he encountered another opportunity to respond graciously to a very provoking insult:

s         2 Sam. 16:5-13 When King David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. Thus Shimei said when he cursed, "Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! The LORD has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed!" Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head." But the king said, "What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the LORD has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, 'Why have you done so?'" Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, "Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day." So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him… Well, Absalom got killed in the ensuing battle and his rebellion was ended, so David came back out of hiding to resume his kingship. One of the first Israelites to greet him when he came back was an embarrassed Shimei: 2 Samuel 19:18-23 …And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king as he was about to cross the Jordan. So he said to the king, "Let not my lord consider me guilty, nor remember what your servant did wrong on the day when my lord the king came out from Jerusalem, so that the king would take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore behold, I have come today, the first of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king." But Abishai the son of Zeruiah said, "Should not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD'S anointed?" David then said, "What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be an adversary to me? Should any man be put to death in Israel today? For do I not know that I am king over Israel today?" The king said to Shimei, "You shall not die." (NASB)

s         But that’s not the end of the story. Shimei continued to be unruly over the years, and eventually a policeman named Beniah had to execute him, but this was under Solomon’s reign after David has already passed away.

s         David provides us with a good example of suffering insults and leaving vengeance to God. We can respond like David did to that voice that says, “Get even now!” and say, “What have I to do with that? That’s God’s business; I’ll trust God to do His thing.”

s         This takes faith to trust that God really will judge the world justly – that He really will take up your cause and protect your reputation when other people say false things to make you look like a fool or a jerk.

s         Are you willing to exercise faith in God and leave their insults in His hands and let go of your reputation? Are you willing to hold your tongue so you don’t make a snippy comeback?

s         Are you willing to keep your fists at your sides and pray for God to bless them after they insult you? (Notice Jesus says to turn toward the person after the insult) God promises reward (Pr 25:22)

s         “[I]f a man in anger or scorn thus abuse thee, ‘turn to him the other cheek;’ that is, instead of avenging that injury, prepare for another, and bear it patiently: give not the rude man as good as he brings; do not challenge him, nor enter an action against him; if it be necessary to the public peace that he be bound to his good behaviour, leave that to the magistrate; but for thine own part, it will ordinarily be the wisest course to pass it by, and take no further notice of it: there are no bones broken, no great harm done, forgive it and forget it; and if proud fools think the worse of thee, and laugh at thee for it, all wise men will value and honour thee for it.” ~Matthew Henry

Scenario #2. If anyone wants to sue you… (v.40) – Threats to personal possessions

καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον·

And to the one who wants you to be brought before a judge and to take your underwear/tunic/shirt, release to him/let him have your outerwear/cloak/coat also!


s         Yeah, I wrestled with whether to use the word “underwear” in a sermon, but I thought it very simply communicated the concept of under- vs. outer-wear that Jesus was conveying without having to go into cultural differences between what we wear nowadays and what people wore in the time and place the Bible was written. Just like we wear t-shirts next to our skin, the ancient Jews wore tunics, and just like we would wear an outer shirt or a coat, so the Jews also had an outer cloak.

s         The implication of this scenario that Jesus paints is that this person is trying to rip you off in court; maybe he is trying to make a false accusation stick so that he can collect damages on something that never happened. Or maybe you already paid damages for an offense against him and he hasn’t forgiven you yet and he wants you to pay more.

s         The Jewish code said that, "If a man should pull another by his ear, or pull out some hair, or spit on someone… or uncover a woman's head in the street, he shall be fined 400 zuzim (a year’s wages) ~Misn. Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6.

s         One reason why he might be going for your undergarment in court is that the Mosaic law forbade taking a poor man’s outer garment because that might be all he had to sleep on at night or to keep him warm when it was cold (Ex. 22:26-27), so a good Jewish lawyer might figure your t-shirt is all he can get away with, even though he wants more than that. Of course a coat would cost more than a t-shirt, so Jesus is saying to give ‘em more than he’s asking for; more than he expected to get from you.

s         There’s a limit, of course, to this kind of generosity. Jesus didn’t say, “If he wants your wife, give to him your children also.” There are some things you can’t just give away without creating a bigger problem, but a change of clothes is generally something you and your family can survive without.

s         In many other cultures, the simple statement, “I like that,” will elicit the response, “here, do you want it?” I remember the first time I encountered this phenomenon. I had befriended a Jewish guy in college and found we had a common interest in music. One day I borrowed a tape he owned of the Jazz band Koinonea. After listening to it, I handed it back to him and said I really liked it. He immediately handed it back and said, “Here, take it.” I replied that this wasn’t what I meant, but he said that in his culture, it’s best to avoid coveting by just giving.

s         On another occasion in Uganda, I was in a church meeting, and an American woman on our team who didn’t have much cross-cultural experience complimented one of the Ugandan church ladies on her dress. I remember the startled expression on the Ugandan lady’s face, then her recovering and saying, “Let me give it to you tomorrow.”

s         Are we willing to hold our possessions so loosely that we’d be willing to let it go if we’re stolen from? I remember when I got my first car in college, I saved up all summer for a fancy car stereo. At the end of the summer, I installed that beauty and boy did that thing sound fine! Just before returning to college, I got another repair done on the car, and when I went to the auto repair shop to pick the car up, the stereo was missing. I talked with the staff and said, “What’s up? My car had a stereo in it when I dropped it off, and now the stereo is missing; give me my stereo back.” “We didn’t do it” they replied. “But,” I said, “it happened while the car was under your care; you are responsible to replace it.” “Nope; you’ve already paid for the repair.” That really ate me up. I struggled for week with how to punish those people for stealing my car stereo, but there was nothing I could do. I finally had to let it go.

s         Doing this takes a very un-American attitude of holding possessions loosely. Instead of considering things to be yours, we have to consider our possessions as ultimately belonging to God. Otto Koning’s “Pineapple Story” comes to mind about how a missionary in PNG fretted over the natives stealing his pineapples until he changed his attitude about his possessions and began to consider God as the owner of his pineapples, such that, when the natives stole pineapples out of his garden, he didn’t get angry, he just trusted that God would take care of things. At first he said, “Hey God, did you see that? They just stole one of your pineapples. Just sayin’.” The natives noticed the difference, however, and said, “Tuon, you’ve become a Christian! You don’t get angry at us and chase us out of your garden with your stick anymore!” He said, “That’s right. It’s because I don’t own the pineapples anymore.” The natives started getting concerned, “Wait a minute, who owns them now?” “I gave them to God!” said Mr. Koning. “Oh no,” they said, “we don’t want to steal from God; take ‘em back, Tuon. It’s better for us just to steal from you.” “But I can’t take the pineapple garden back now. I gave it to God.” Now Mr. Koning says he has pineapples coming out his ears.

s         John Gill: “rather suffer thyself to be stripped naked than engage in a litigious broil”

s         Are you willing to hold your possessions that loosely and consider them as belonging to God so that if they get unjustly taken away from you by evil men, you won’t lose your joy because you know you have a better and everlasting treasure in heaven that nobody can steal?

s         Hebrews 10:30-39 For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (NASB )


In both cases, it takes faith, which itself is a gracious gift from God:

  1. In the first scenario of being slapped on the cheek and being insulted, it takes faith to trust that God will vindicate you and preserve your honor.
  2. In the second scenario of losing your shirt in court or being stolen from, it takes faith to trust that God will take care of you and will bring justice to the evil, and furthermore that God’s rewards are greater in heaven than any possessions we can have on earth.

If we trust God in these circumstances then we can indeed turn a cheek toward those who have insulted us and graciously release more to an extortioner than he expected to get from us, and sharing the grace of God freely, just as His grace has been freely given to us in Jesus Christ.