An Eye for An Eye – Matthew 5:38-42

I have been blogging from the book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is actually a copy of his sermons and well worth reading. Today we will cover this familiar text and see what Jesus says about it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt. 5:38-42)

This Mosaic teaching about an eye for an eye, etc., was from Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. According to Lloyd-Jones, the main intent of the teaching was to control anger and the desire for revenge, and to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Now the Pharisees taught that it was the right and the duty for each person that was violated to get his own revenge. However, it is important to understand that God gave the prescribed punishments to the judges to dish out and not to individuals. They were the ones to make sure that the punishment fit the crimes. Also, we are not to understand that the judges were always to take God’s prescribed punishment, “an eye for an eye,” etc. literally, but was meant only to teach fair judgments.

So, the Pharisees taught that we should enact our own revenge toward anyone who is evil toward us. That if they strike us, we should strike them back with the exact same force. But what does Jesus teach in regard to how we should act toward someone who is evil toward you? He says that we are not to resist them. What does that mean? Here are the points that Lloyd-Jones gives us:

1. The teaching is only for Christians. We can’t expect a non-Christian to act like a Christian in this way of not resisting evil. They will not understand it, nor do they have the Spiritual power to do it.

2. The teaching here applies to the relationship one has with another person, not to the government.

3. The teaching is directed toward my own attitude toward myself. Jesus tells us that we should not take personal revenge or have anger toward another for whatever they do to us. We should leave revenge to God and to the authorities. I should not be concerned with losing personal possessions and even damage to self. Our attitude as a Christian must be to deny self, to be dead to self.  

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