The radical teachings of Jesus revolutionized Hebrew faith and culture and are the basis for the body of Christ today. One such teaching is found in Matthew 5:39.
Matthew 5:39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
The word “resist” means to “to exert force in opposition” or “to withstand the force or effect of someone or something.” To resist an evil person, Jesus instructs us to exert force in the opposite direction. We overcome evil with good. Unfortunately, evil tends to draw us into sin.
Matthew 5:38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
The Scriptures that are most likely being referred to are Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21.
Exodus 21:23-25 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
The Mosaic Law was largely about actions to do and actions not to do. If a person harmed someone deliberately or accidentally, he was held responsible and would receive the consequences for his behavior. If a slave owner put out the tooth of a slave, the owner had to set the slave free. That consequence is much bigger for the owner than a lost tooth! Somehow this law became more of a “turn about is fair play” rule. Said another way, you take my toy, and I’ll break all of yours! This was not God’s intent.
Exodus 21:26-27 If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.
If we put ourselves in the place of the one offended under the law, we can expect that when treated badly we would receive some kind of recognition that the wrong was done, and even by losing a tooth could be a freed slave. When Jesus was mentioning the saying, he was reminding them of the law that protected the one offended to get his or her due.
As with the other topics, Jesus reminded them of the law, laid bare their tradition, and taught the law of love. When you read through chapter 5 of Matthew, it is evident that Jesus by adding love elevated the standard to well-known and important parts of the law. Christ’s teaching of new covenant of love improved the law concerning murder and rage, adultery and divorce, and relationships. Jesus’ fulfilling the law raised the expectations of our behavior to a much higher standard.
Read Matthew 5:39 again: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
The law stated that if you were slapped (so hard your tooth flew out), you would be compensated for the deed done to you. Jesus teaches if someone slaps you, do not resist him, and turn the other cheek to him also. We are not to look for restitution from a person who is acting in an evil way. We are to fight against the temptation to get restitution for the offense. This is a very difficult concept to embrace. Only by asking God to help us, can we possibly love in this manner. We are encouraged by the Apostle Paul, who stated in his very clear instruction to the body of Christ how we are to be in relationship with one another, that evil is overcome by good and not by restitution.
Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We struggle with damaged relationships between close family and relatives, co-workers and bosses that seem to “have it out” for us, people whose sole purpose that day was to annoy us with their driving or rude behaviors in checkout lines, and various multiple insults and assaults on our character and being. The sin that we commit is to allow ourselves to become engaged in getting the other person to see the error of his or her ways. Somehow, we think he has to understand how wrong he is and apologize for the hurt caused by his unrighteous judgments and actions. The tendency humans have is to stew and ruminate on it which causes a rage that starts to fuel more sin. Jesus said to let it go. Do not waste your time on evil people and their antics. They have their day now. We pray that those who do evil deeds will have a changed heart by accepting Christ and his way of living. Short of that, there is not much that can be done. Be alert. Do not let someone else’s evil deeds cause sin in your life. By turning the other cheek, the restitution that we receive is not being under the rule of sin and Satan. Instead, we are freed by Jesus Christ to live for him, both now and in the coming Kingdom.
The following verses from Romans are great ones to memorize to keep in our hearts so that we do not sin against God and can turn the other cheek in a loving, kind, and appropriate way.
Romans 12:9-20 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.