Every Christian reading this would agree that the teachings of Jesus are difficult to understand. His wisdom, being the God of Creation, is far beyond our own understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). In this blog series, we will unpack some of the most difficult teachings from Jesus, which come from Matthew 5-7 in the illustrious Sermon on the Mount. Each blog will touch on a different teaching from Jesus within His most famous sermon, in an effort to help you apply His teachings to your life as a Christian working in the sport industry.
In our fifth blog of the Sermon on the Mount series, we’ll help you better understand and apply Jesus’ teachings on how we should act towards our enemies in Matthew 5:38-48.
The Law of Retribution
In Exodus 21:24, the law of Moses commands retribution in the case of a serious injury, stating that, “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” In Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus brings about a greater truth behind this Old Testament law, “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 cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
The question that obviously arises is, “Did Jesus teach against the law?” Of course not. Similarly to Jesus’ teachings on the laws of murder, adultery, and oaths, He is taking a law that has been abused by the people and teachers of Israel and putting it to its proper use. He is not removing the law of retribution but bringing to light God’s desire for the law.
Jesus teaches a radically different approach to being treated wrongly by an evil person. Instead of seeking revenge or equal retribution, He commands that we should not resist the evil done against us but instead patiently bear the insult or harm. It is important to note that Jesus is not commanding that we should never resist evil actions. But, it does command us to bear with the offenses and insults that may come our way without seeking retribution.
Furthermore, Jesus commands us not only to avoid seeking retribution but to give to those who seek to harm us radically. In Matthew 5:40-42 He says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This is a very challenging teaching for our Lord, and even more so for those listening to Him teach this principle. In the Mosaic law, someone's outer cloak could not be taken from them, and if it was, it had to be returned by sunset (Exodus 22:26 & Deuteronomy 24:13). So, why would it seem that once again, Jesus is teaching against the law of Moses?
Jesus is not opposing His own law, but instead, He is teaching that evil should not be overcome with evil but rather with the choice to love. Paul commands something similar in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” If someone seeks to steal, provide them with more than they need. If someone asks you to serve them, go the extra mile. If someone asks anything of you, do not turn them away but give what they ask for.
Jesus gives us a blueprint for living in a way that reflects His own character and the character of God the Father. In His earthly ministry, Jesus was unjustly called many offensive names, such as a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:18-19), and did not retaliate. When He was unjustly taken to the cross, He did not seek retribution for the false accusations but instead remained quiet (Matthew 26:62-63). In this same way, we should seek to serve our enemies and give to those who seek harm against us.
Love Your Enemies
In our modern culture, it is seen as acceptable and strong to hate your enemies. We see people calling out their “haters” and “cutting people off.” It is an unfortunate cultural norm to hate those who seemingly oppose you.
In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus teaches how we should approach our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus continues with His theme of teaching the proper meaning of the Old Testament laws. In Leviticus 19:18, the law teaches Israel to love their neighbor. However, the teachers in Jesus’ day added another layer to the command which was to hate your enemy. But Jesus teaches something so radical and counter to that line of thinking. Not only should we love our neighbor, but we should pray for those who seek to persecute us.
For the Jews in attendance for this teaching, they had to be in shock. The Roman Empire occupied Israel and was considered a great enemy to the Jewish people. The commonly held belief by the Jewish people was that their Messiah would upend the Roman occupation and reestablish Israel’s political power in the ancient world. He was to be a war hero who dominated the enemies surrounding Israel. So, when Jesus taught that they were to love their enemies and pray for them, they had to be at a loss. Is this really the Messiah?
Furthermore, Jesus teaches that choosing to love your enemies is a way to exemplify God the Father. In loving our enemies, we act in accordance with our God. He causes the sun and rain to fall on those who are His enemies, the unrighteous of the world. By loving our enemies, we show others the character and nature of God.
Jesus also reminds us that it is easy and expected that we would love those who love us or greet people we are cordial with. There is no reward for doing such things because it is easy for any person to do them.
Lastly, Jesus closes with an impossible task: be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. If we could truly obey these commands from Jesus, we could be perfect, as God is holy and perfect.
However, the reality throughout Scripture is that man cannot be perfect, but rather is fallen in nature and unable to live in perfect obedience to God’s commands (Romans 3:23). So, why would Jesus command us to do something that is not possible? In teaching this, Jesus reveals two realities. The first is that we cannot be perfect, and the standard that is set is too impossible to achieve. The second is that if we are to be made perfect in His sight, we need to trust in His finished work on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin, which establishes a right relationship between us and God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Jesus’ teachings are challenging because they go against our broken human nature. This is why Jesus teaches Nicodemus in John 3:5-7 that to enter the kingdom of God, a person must be born again. In our natural fleshly tendencies, we are not able to have a right relationship with God because of our sins, and we are unable to please God because of our sins.
However, if we are born again by the Holy Spirit of God, then we are not only forgiven of our sins but are given the power to live according to the Spirit, as opposed to our flesh. Let that be your encouragement today that by the strength God has given you through Christ and the Holy Spirit, we can live in obedience to His will for our lives.
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