I had a friend ask me this question and thought it might be of use to the rest of y’all to read:
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said if someone slapped your face, instead of revenging, you should give the other side of face for that person to slap. I understand why we don’t want to avenge, but why should we ask for more hurt??
Disclaimer: Don’t take my word for it
First, I want you to know I will attempt not to answer just from my own interpretation, but from context clues found in other places in the Bible. God is sovereign enough that He was able to guide people by His Spirit to write the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
The term “God-breathed” means that God oversaw the writing of the Scriptures, as well as their preservation over the years. It is God’s sovereignty that gives the Bible authority, and it is His love that has given us His very words in a human language we can understand.
It is apparent God wants to be known by name — personally, intimately, and accurately — which is precisely why He gave us the Bible.
In a court trial, we can gather evidence for a crime. Fingerprints, weapons, logical implications. We can even gather the witness of many people (the more people who agree on what they saw, the stronger the witness). But if the criminal personally confesses to the crime, no more evidence is needed. He is present, and it is His words.
In the same way, we see evidence of God in nature, personal experiences, miracles, science, and other people’s experiences. These pieces of evidence can be powerful, but without specific language, we may mistake God for a different God — one who fits our limited interpretation.
The Bible offers a greater perspective than our beady human eyes do — it is hundreds of eyewitness accounts. It is the culprit Creator confessing to His acts of justice, love, mercy, faithfulness, and sovereignty. Not only does it span across 4,000+ years of human history, but it contains the very words of God.
If we cannot understand or know God, His oversight of the Bible was an utter waste of His time. If He didn’t mean for us to know Him, then it is waste of our time to try to know Him or persuade others to spend even a second trying to know Him. 1 Corinthians 13:12
Therefore, I am convinced we can understand everything in the Bible that God intended for us to understand and know —
no matter what time period we’re in, what cultural background we’re from, what amount of education we’ve had. His Holy Spirit ultimately helps us with this, but so do Spirit-led studies of biblical context, language, history, culture, and so on — and Spirit-led discussions on these passages.
In studying Scripture, keep in mind that your goal is not to collect facts, build yourself up, or tear others down, but to get a greater understanding of God’s heart.
(For more evidence of the Bible we read today being the original ideas of these authors, see this article, specifically Part 3: http://www.gospelway.com/bible/bible_preservation.php)
So why did Jesus command us to “Turn the other cheek?”
Human Society vs. God’s Society
I want to start by saying that the way human society works, and the way God’s society works, are completely the opposite.
• In our society, the strongest, smartest, and richest are praised.
• In God’s society, the humble, the meek, and the servant are praised. (Mark 9:35)
• In our society, we seek joy by gaining things.
• In God’s society, we find joy by giving things away. (Mark 10:21)
• In our society, we struggle to preserve our lives, and end up losing them in the end anyway.
• In God’s society, we give up our old lives to find them in Christ and live forever. (Matthew 10:39)
Human Morality and God’s Morality
Second, I want to contract human law and God’s law.
• Human law says it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse.
• God’s law says that a truly righteous person would even *think* about cheating on their spouse. (Matthew 5:28)
• Human law says it’s wrong to murder.
• God’s law says a truly godly person would not even hate a person in his mind.
• Human law says to love your friends and hate your enemies.
• But God’s love is so vast that He loves even the most evil people — and if we want to be like Him, He commands us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-44)
God’s ways are so much higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). This does not mean we can’t understand or know God. Rather, it means that we tend to set the bar low for ourselves to feel good about ourselves. But God’s standard is absolute goodness. In a godly society, there is no room for the slightest ounce of hatred, lust, impatience, greed, or pride.
This was once a society where humans lived. But something broke.
The Kingdom of God: The Way it Was Supposed to Be
The way Jesus calls us to live is completely different from how the world lives. Jesus didn’t come just so we could live a good life, but so we would belong to a completely different society — the society often called “Heaven” or “The Kingdom.”
When God created Adam and Eve (Genesis 1), He intended for us to live in a world without sin/evil. When sin entered the world, our good nature turned into a sinful nature. For God, it comes naturally to be good; it’s who He is. For us, it comes naturally to be impatient with people, to lust after someone, or to hate our enemies.
When Jesus commanded people to do radical things, he wasn’t trying to get them to be righteous on their own. He was trying to show them that, no matter how good they tried to be, their very nature was still broken!
When Jesus told people to “turn the other cheek,” there were people in his presence who sincerely thought they were righteous, and could follow the law perfectly by themselves (“self-righteous”). There were also people who *knew* they didn’t measure up to God’s perfect standards, and were convinced they would be separated from God forever.
Jesus addressed the hearts of both of these people simultaneously. Here’s how.
By giving this command, Jesus showed all these people that:
(1) The Kingdom of God is radical. When we are recipients of hate, we respond with love. Because this is what our Father does!
(2) The Kingdom of God is not attainable by the law. It’s going to be natural for us to want to retaliate when people are hateful toward us. God isn’t asking us to suppress our sin nature, but rather surrender it to Him so that His love, rather than our sin, would be apparent.
(3) The Kingdom of God is accessible to everyone who surrenders to Christ and receives His righteousness. Self-righteousness is just as much of a sin as adultery. Both are contrary to God’s heart, and both pull us away from God. Sin, then, is anything that is contrary to God’s heart, and that pulls us away from God. Trying to be righteous without God’s help is not only sinful, but futile and impossible! But even the most sinful people are not hopeless. Both the self-righteous and the adulterer can surrender to Jesus and receive His Spirit, His forgiveness, and His power to overcome our sin nature.
(4) The Kingdom of God is seen when we live radical lives. Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and the woman in front of you is really rude. She is mean to her kids and the cashier. She goes to pay, and all her credits cards are denied. You pray about what to do, and God prompts you to pay for her groceries. So you hand the cashier a $20 bill. She walks away, still angry. But the person behind you… he sees something that, well, doesn’t happen in our society. He asks you why you paid for her groceries, and you can say, “You really want to know the answer?” Ha. And then tell the man that it’s because you believe in a God who loves His enemies. You didn’t do it to feel good about yourself, or to “make up” for that time you were mean to cashier. You did it for no reason other than that God’s Spirit moved in you. What an amazing testimony to that man, who needs Jesus just as much as that mean woman… and just as much as you.
Jesus wanted to meet both of these groups where they were at. This required him both to humble the self-righteous to look beyond their own works (which fell short of God’s kingdom standards), and to give the wretched hope beyond their own works (which also fell short of God’s kingdom standards). This hope was Himself: the man who donated His perfect righteousness to replace the failed attempts of any person who would accept it.
Why did Jesus command these people to “turn the other cheek?”
In commanding people to turn the other cheek, Jesus was NOT:
- Implying that we be pacifists, walking ourselves or others into physical or psychological danger without reason (Proverbs 22:3)
- Implying that we ignore the cause of justice against oppressive authority. God Himself opposes the proud, and has opposed authorities who did not lead with justice and righteousness (James 4:6, Numbers 22:32).
- Telling us to subject ourselves to needless pain. We are called to love (that is, desire good for) our enemies, but this means exposing evil (Ephesians 5:11) — not being an object of its continuation. He commands us, with His divine strength at our backs, to “be at peace with all people” “as far as it is in your power” (Romans 12:18). However, sometimes this may mean leaving unhealthy and divisive relationships (Titus 3:10).
In commanding people to turn the other cheek, Jesus WAS:
- Giving us a glimpse of His heart to love everyone — even those who are hateful and unfair
- Giving us a glimpse of His kingdom — where there is no room for hatred because our hearts are filled with God’s Spirit
- Giving us an opportunity to introduce people on earth to the Kingdom of Heaven — giving evidence of what is yet to be fully realized.
For more on turning the other cheek, read this article on at topic at gotquestions.org: http://www.gotquestions.org/turn-other-cheek.html
What are your thoughts? Did this bring you any clarity on this passage?
What questions do you still have?