The last blog post I published on my other blog two weeks ago titled, “Demonstrating Grace,” was on the topic of extending grace instead of dispensing justice even when justice would have been justified. I’ve thought a lot about that topic since I wrote that last blog post, and I was given another opportunity to “turn the other cheek” again a few days ago.
After that second opportunity occurred so soon after the first, I humorously emailed a friend stating that 2020 has already given me two opportunities to “turn the other cheek,” and I had now run out of cheeks to turn and February has only just begun. The subject of forgiveness can get pretty bogged down as we live in a fast paced society today where insults are spewed all over social media at break neck speed, and a general lack of hospitality and civility has infected even the most seemingly innocuous interactions we have with others.
For instance, doesn’t it just rankle you when someone sweetly says, “Bless you,” but you know they don’t really mean it, and it’s given as an insult with a nice smile cover-up? Seems our society runs on short fuses most of the time today. No wonder I feel like I’ve run out of cheeks to turn in such a short period of time since 2020 burst upon us just over a scant month ago. All of those insults can wear a person down.
Apparently, doing good isn’t fashionable today. No gold stars or brownie points are given out for doing good or turning the other cheek. Laughter and insults are often the response, and they are often disguised as “nicey-nice” expressions, but they don’t hide the hate. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a society where we can so freely express our hate for each other on a regular basis by disguising it by using nice words and a fake smile?
Social media has also had a big part in programming us in that direction whether spewing hate out in the open and in your face, or hiding it behind “nicey-nice” words and smiles that mean nothing. Slinging mud while disguising it in pretty words and an insincere smile might make it seem not as bad as actually spewing the “F” word, but it all means the same thing.
It was Jesus who said we should turn the other cheek and not return evil for evil. So what exactly did he mean by turning the other cheek? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:
In Matthew 5:38–39, Jesus says, “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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” The concept of “turning the other cheek” is a difficult one for us to grasp. Allowing a second slap after being slapped once does not come naturally.
In the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He commands us to turn the other cheek, He addresses the need for true transformation, versus mere rule-keeping. It’s not enough to obey the letter of the law; we must conform to the spirit of the law as well.
Much of the material surrounding Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek complements the nature of His coming, which was characterized by mercy, sacrificial love, and long suffering toward sinners. At the same time, Jesus affirms the “last is first” principle upon which the kingdom of God is based. For instance, He tells us to go the extra mile for someone who abuses us (Matthew 5:41) and to love and pray for our enemies instead of holding enmity against them (verse 44). In summary, Jesus is saying we need to be pure inside and out and as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world.
A word about the “slap” that Jesus says we should endure. Jesus here speaks of personal slights of any kind. The slap (or the “smiting,” as the KJV has it) does not have to involve literal, physical violence. Even in our day, a “slap in the face” is a metaphor for an unexpected insult or offense. Did someone insult you? Let him, Jesus says. Are you shocked and offended? Don’t be. And don’t return insult for insult. Turn the other cheek.
Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse is helpful: “Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort” (Concise Commentary, entry for Matthew 5:38).
Turning the other cheek does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in danger. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is simply a command to forgo retaliation for personal offenses. He was not setting government foreign policy, and He was not throwing out the judicial system. Crimes can still be prosecuted, and wars can still be waged, but the follower of Christ need not defend his personal “rights” or avenge his honor.
There was a time in history when a man would feel compelled to protect his honor against one who slandered him or otherwise besmirched his character. The offended party would challenge the offender to a duel. Swords, firearms, or other weapons were chosen, and the two enemies would face off. In most cases, senseless bloodshed ensued. Samuel Johnson wrote in favor of the practice of dueling: “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” The problem is that “invasions of character” are exactly what Jesus told us to tolerate in Matthew 5:38. Turning the other cheek would have been a better option than dueling, and it would have saved lives.
Retaliation is what most people expect and how worldly people act. Turning the other cheek requires help from on high. Responding to hatred with love and ignoring personal slights display the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and may afford the chance to share the gospel.
Jesus was, of course, the perfect example of turning the other cheek because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him. Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). (Quote source here.)
In an article published on January 29, 2018, titled, “Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean ‘Get Walked All Over’?” by Chris Nye, pastor of leadership development at Awakening Church in the Silicon Valley and the author of “Distant God,” he writes:
I have sometimes heard well-meaning Christians counsel those going through difficult circumstances that “this is your cross to bear” or “Jesus told us we would suffer” or “you’ve got to deny yourself.” Some cite Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:39 as a proper response to the people in our lives who have hurt us. Sometimes these well-meaning people tell us to stick around in unhealthy relationships because isn’t that what Christ would do? He was crucified, after all, and aren’t we supposed to follow in his steps?
But does turning the other cheek and denying ourselves really mean we should endure unhealthy relationships and circumstances, no matter what? Should we stick around in relationships we sense are damaging us because we need to “deny ourselves”?
Here are four observations that might help as we consider such questions.
1. There is a difference between laying your life down and someone taking it.
Scripture instructs us to “lay down our lives” for Christ’s sake and to take up our cross (1 John 3:16; Matt. 16:24). But notice the active agent in that sentence: you. There is a difference between voluntarily laying down your life and someone taking your life from you. Jesus said he laid down his life so that he “may take it up again.” He went on: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
There were many times Jesus could have allowed his life to be taken, but he escaped because “his time had not come yet” (John 7:30, 44; 10:39). We need not pity Jesus for his death—he was accomplishing his mission, on his terms. And we need not pity ourselves, out of a false martyrdom complex, when we allow dangerous or unhealthy people to dictate our lives. We must be certain that we, like Jesus, are laying our lives down on our own accord and not having them taken from us by life-sucking individuals.
2. We are to pick up our cross, but not every cross.
When Jesus teaches us to daily pick up our cross, he uses the possessive: it’s our cross to bear (Luke 9:23). What is this cross? It will likely be different for everyone, but you’ll know when it’s yours. We cannot carry every cross and burden we see in our sights. As Paul tells the Galatians, “For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal. 6:5). But wait, doesn’t Paul also say in that same passage to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)? Which is it? Should we bear our own burdens or others’ burdens? Yes. Both.
We are called to discernment—to wisely assess if such burdens are ours to carry. Can we handle it? Is this our battle to fight? Am I getting involved to show love or to prove a point? Am I getting involved to serve another or to serve myself?
3. Jesus set limits and boundaries on his ministry.
There were so many people Jesus disappointed; so many in the back of crowds who never got close enough to touch the hem of his garment. One interaction stands out: a young man asks Jesus to settle a legal dispute between him and his brother. Jesus responds: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). It’s a good question. Jesus understood when he was being asked to do things outside of the focus of his ministry. He knew his calling, he knew his ministry, and he protected these things while remaining remarkably compassionate.
4. You are just one part of the body.
In certain kinds of churches, two or three people shoulder all the burdens. It’s common for one pastor to do most of the weddings, funerals, and hospital visits. But I do not see any evidence in the New Testament to support this kind of organizational structure. Paul speaks of the “body of Christ,” of which all of us are differing “members.” When someone carries a backpack or lifts something up, the weight is distributed to many different places on the body. While one area will bear the most (you can hear your dad saying, “Lift with your legs, son!”), your whole body feels the pressure. Likewise, you should entrust your burdens to the body of your church. You’re not the only one who can visit a hospital, offer relational counsel, or pray for the hurting.
Again, Jesus set limits on his ministry. We forget all the people he passed by, all the sick who left unhealed simply because he couldn’t get to them. We forget how he evaded crowds and escaped the masses. We forget that while many stones were thrown at him, he dodged them all so that he might pick up his cross.
Jesus was not walked all over, and no one took his life. If you are to imitate him and become like him, no one should take yours.
Disciples of Jesus would be wise to follow him specifically in this area by setting boundaries. You don’t have to text that person back right away. You can answer your emails during an allotted time. The tasks ahead will always be infinite, but you are finite. Especially for those of us in full-time ministry, we must learn the art of wise dismissal, of letting people down, and saying “no” so that we might say “yes” to the fullness of life in Christ Jesus. (Quote source here.)
Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:38-39 that we are not to resist an evil person, and that we are to turn the other cheek. So what is the best way to not resist an evil person? Paul stated in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In a brief article titled, “Explain ‘Do Not Be Overcome with Evil, But Overcome Evil with Good’,” by Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; host of The 700 Club, and CEO of Regent University, he writes:
There is only one way that evil can overcome a Christian, and that is if the Christian returns evil for evil. If someone insults you and snarls at you, you are not overcome. You are overcome if you begin to snarl right back. Then the unpleasant person has become your role model. You are copying evil and evil is overcoming you. If someone hates you and you hate him back, then evil is getting the victory. If someone strikes you and you strike back, then you have become like the evil one.
The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If someone reviles you, you are to smile back and say, “God bless you.” The person will not know how to react to that, and you have overcome him. You have won. That person has not changed you, but you have gone on the offensive with the most powerful weapon in the world–love! If someone strikes you on the cheek, Jesus said you should turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29). And that will leave your adversary totally confused! And then on top of that you should say, “I love you.”
If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well (see Matthew 5:40-41). Do so graciously, cheerfully, even assertively. God has given you the spiritual weapons to discern who your enemies are and then to conquer them by making them your friends. (Of course, as long as there are vicious criminals and international tyrants in the world, there must be a system of restraint through local or international police. In Romans 13, police and legitimate armies are considered by the apostle Paul as “ministers of God” to bring vengeance on lawbreakers.) (Quote source here.)
Turning the other cheek may not be a popular response in our culture today, but it is the only right response according to Jesus. And how do we do that? We do it by…
Overcoming evil . . .
With . . .
Good . . . .
YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lacrae: