Doing What’s Impossible

  • Jeff Crotts

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

Is your life any different than anyone else’s?  Specifically, Jesus asks, when someone abuses you, do you retaliate in kind?  Please hear me when I say, nowhere in the Bible does God condone abuse or say we should live unprotected. The Proverbs alone speak to individuals walking in wisdom, not allowing people to take advantage of you.  In terms of families or households, parents are required to protect their children.  I likewise believe it is also important to say that an abused spouse should flee his or her abuser, finding refuge from others so that if possible, safety, possible repair and peace can be had. 

With that said, Jesus, with just a few words, speaks to how a Christian’s response to abuse is distinct and different than everybody else’s!  We all know people who are generally good and honest; those  sacrificially give and care for others in a way that exceeds the norm.  Likewise, we also know that these same people have their limits and when abused or taken advantage of will ultimately turn on their abuser.  When Christians are attacked, as a generally rule, there needs to be something “more” that marks them out as children of God.  That something “more” is was makes him or her different and even abnormal to a watching world. 

This section of Jesus’ sermon breaks down into two practical units of thought, both marking believers as being utterly unique.  Jesus says when attacked, you are to take abuse in a way no one else can (vv. 38-42).  Then Jesus takes things a step further, teaching that when you are attacked, you not only take the abuse, but you also love your abuser (vv. 43-48).  So, instead of retaliating, you love.  This kind of response is dramatic to observers and a clear witness and not only that, this kind of response will reshape your heart.   

C.S. Lewis in his classic, Mere Christianity explains this best:

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.  If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or “likings” and the Christian has only “charity.”  The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning. 

I was recently thinking about my conversion to Christ when I was a senior in high school and seventeen years old.  I was into my first month as a Christian, walking out of my local recreation center with a friend after a workout.  A gang of teen-agers approached and first assaulted my friend separating us only to swarm me as I was trying to get in my car.  As I turned to open my door, one of them punched me and having a metal object attached to his hand, split the skin just beneath my eye. 

I still remember looking in my rear-view mirror seeing blood pour down my cheek and at that moment having this single thought, “I need to forgive him.”  Being a new believer, this first thought quickly gave way to anger as wrestled with whether or not I could or would actually do that.  As circumstances would have it a few weeks later I met back up with this individual in the parking lot of this same recreation center.  We stood face to face but this time I had two rather large friends with me.  Suffice it to say, he nervously acknowledged what he had done and with his confession, I found my heart welling with compassion toward him.  I told him I forgave him for what he did.

His response was remarkable.  He kind of panicked looking away from me with an unsteady posture, crying out into the air, “So, you are one of those people!  I could tell he had been exposed to believers and was himself now wrestling with what he did in his conscience.  It was not two weeks later that during school it was reported to me that in a different school than mine, this same young man was fighting again, and that he had been body slammed through a lunch room table.  I did not wish this on him because it was obvious that he still was in need of the grace of forgiveness.  Being willing to forgive and to love without retaliation marks everyone who is a true follower of Christ.  This testimony is what Jesus puts in the hearts of those who are his.  He gives grace and power to live this way when we choose to follow his path.