God’s Word for You
Luke 6:29 Turn the other cheek
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 18, 2018
29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other too. If someone takes away your coat, don’t stop him from taking your shirt as well.
Behind this command from Jesus is the truth that punishment belongs in the realm of two of the Commandments: the First (divine punishment) and the Fourth (for civil punishment and discipline within the family). If you are not in a position of authority over someone, do not punish them. Shame the man who strikes you on the cheek by offering him the other one. Heap burning coals on the head of the thief by offering him more than he took. If he is a poor thief who is starving, he will thank you. If he is a criminal, you might—might—stun him into wondering why you would behave so unexpectedly, and so there might be an opening for sharing the gospel.
However, wouldn’t a literalistic obedience to this command lead to more sin; more wickedness? Won’t there be some men so cruel that they would use the act of a Christian turning the cheek as a means to still more cruelty? Think of what Jesus did before such men. Struck by the priests of God’s temple, he asked why, and asserted his innocence (John 18:22-23). So what Jesus is teaching us here is forbearance; not to take matters of revenge, retaliation or retribution into our own hands.
There is a story of a Quaker (I don’t know where this story comes from), who was struck. After turning the other cheek and letting himself be struck again (therefore keeping Christ’s law) he turned on his assailant and flogged him. He missed the point. We have the better example of Jesus: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Someone might object: What about the command God gave to Moses, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”? The answer is not in philosophy, but in the text. God did indeed say that to Moses. And the context was if someone caused serious injury, such as men fighting who struck a pregnant woman such that she gave birth prematurely—they had to pay “whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury,” Moses continued, “you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:22-25). The key words to remember here are “the court” in the first phrase. The “eye for an eye” command was not about personal vengeance, but a guideline for the courts. So once again we come back to the first point we made, that behind this command from Jesus is the truth that punishment belongs in the realm of the First Commandment (it is God’s place to punish) and the Fourth (he allows the government to punish when there is proof and cause to punish).
Luther draws the picture vividly in his Large Catechism: “Because the word and command of God are so lightly esteemed, as though some babbler had spoken it, let us see whether you are the man to oppose him. How difficult, do you think, it will be for him to recompense you! Therefore you would certainly live much better with the divine favor, peace, and happiness than with his displeasure and misfortune. Why do you think the world is now so full of unfaithfulness, disgrace, calamity, and murder, but because every one desires to be his own master and free from the emperor, to care nothing for anyone, and do what pleases him? Therefore God punishes one knave by another, so that, when you defraud and despise your master, another comes and deals in like manner with you. In fact, in your household you must suffer ten times more from wife, children, or servants.” (Para. 152-154).
Let’s remember that the object of government is to make our sin-infested world a comparatively safe place in which to live. The government’s means for enforcing laws are fines, imprisonments, and Capital punishment. But the care of the Church is outside the power of the government. If the government were to meddle in the affairs of the Church, it would be usurping the prerogative of Christ (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Luke 20:25). And in the same way, the church should not be meddling in the affairs of the government the way that so-called Evangelical Christians or “the Christian Right” is doing today. This only causes confusion, and harms the real cause of Christ. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). The role of the Church is not to try to legislate people into looking like Christians. It’s to make Christians by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do your duty to the government, which means not taking the law into your own hands. If someone hurts you, be patient with them, and be kind. Yes, God knows how difficult this will be for you. But do it for the sake of the gospel. After all, you are God’s servant as much then as at any other time. What an opportunity we have when persecuted, harmed, bullied, and when any injustice comes to us! Don’t run toward these things, but don’t run from them either.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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