Resisting Revenge – Matthew 5:38-42 / Luke 6:29-30

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

June 22, 2014

Resisting Revenge

Matthew 5:38-42 / Luke 6:29-30


Some years ago a man named Lucien had served the state of Kentucky “beyond the call of duty.” One day he discovered that an old boyhood friend named Sam was serving time in the State penitentiary and had eight more years to serve. Lucien went to the warden and got permission to visit Sam. For two hours Lucien and Sam talked ending with much laughing over some of the things that had happened in their youths. A month later Lucien visited the Governor and said: “I haven’t been able to sleep. Sam, my boyhood buddy, is in prison. He was a good boy, Governor, and since you told that if there was anything Kentucky could do for me to name it, I came here to ask if a pardon might be granted. I’ll take him into my business and into my home, for he has no family, and I have a big house.”

A week later the Governor sent for Lucien and said: “Here’s the pardon, but it’s yours under one condition; that is, that you sit down in the warden’s office and talk with Sam for two more hours. Then if you think you should give him the pardon, take Sam home. I will parole him to you.”

Lucien hurried over to the penitentiary and again they sat down in the warden’s office. Lucien said, “Sam, when you get out of here, will you go into business with me? I might even get you out of here sooner than you expect.”

Sam got up and walked around awhile, looked out of the window, then said, “I don’t believe I could accept that invitation, for I’ve got something to do when I get out of here, something very important. I’m going to do it just as soon as I get out of here.”

“What is it, Sam?” Lucien asked.

Sam turned around, the fire glinted from his eyes, hatred filled his whole face as he said, “I am going to get two men together – the judge who sent me up here and the witness – and I’m going to kill them both with my bare hands.”

Lucien left and tore up that pardon.

Such is the desire for revenge in man. Sam lost the opportunity for a pardon because his heart was full of hatred desiring only revenge. But revenge comes in less graphic forms as well, such as in the story of the pious but somewhat cranky old lady that had been inadvertently forgotten to be invited by her neighbors for a picnic. On the morning of the event they suddenly realized they had forgotten her and sent a little boy to ask her to come. “It’s too late now,” she snapped, “I’ve already prayed for rain.”

In our study this morning we will find Jesus speaking against this spirit of revenge as we continue our examination of Jesus’ pointed illustrations of true righteousness verses the self righteous teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees. Please turn to Matthew 5:38-42 and follow along as I read this section of Scripture.

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 him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

Setting the Context

This is one of the most commonly misinterpreted passages of Scripture because of the tendency for people to take a passage out of its context and then try to determine what it means. These verses have been used to promote pacifism, conscientious objection to military service, lawlessness, anarchy, that Christians should be pious doormats and a host of other things. The thesis of Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes from his misinterpretation of this passage. The result was that he advocated the elimination of police, military and other forms of authority as the path to the utopian society. He believed that even crime should not be punished based on a partial quote of Jesus’ saying, “resist not evil.”

We must be very careful for the interpretation of any passage depends upon the context in which it is set. The context of this passage is the contrast of true righteousness with self righteousness. Jesus is not giving new commandments which if kept would make someone righteous. He is marking out the character of a changed heart. Jesus is not changing the Old Testament Law, but He is emphasizing the spirit of the Law that had been lost in Rabbinic tradition. In each of these specific areas, Jesus contrasts His teaching with that of the Scribes. These also become examples of the characteristics of the beatitudes demonstrated in specific situations. (See: Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount The Law, Righteousness & the Kingdom)

Jesus’ teaching about anger and hatred as opposed to the Scribes teaching about murder shows the result of being poor in spirit and merciful (See: The Dangers of Anger). His teaching about adultery and divorce shows the demonstration of purity in heart (See: The Heart of Adultery & The Dangers of Divorce). Our examination of what Jesus says about keeping promises and not lying displays what a person hungering and thirsting after righteousness will do (See: Integrity and Righteousness). Today’s text presents the actions and attitudes of those that are meek. They submit to God’s will instead of seeking to fulfill their own desires.

The Scribes and the Law – Matthew 5:38

The Scribes had again twisted the Mosaic Law. The phrase, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” is found in the Hebrew Scriptures in three places: Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. In each of those passages the context is the just punishment that should be given by the civil justice system to someone who has committed a crime. This law code was a restriction requiring that the punishment match the crime. Take note that I said this is a restriction.

The purpose of the law was two fold. First, it prevented excessive punishment based on personal revenge and retaliation. Man’s basic sinful nature is seen in his desire to revenge. If he receives an ounce of injury he wants to get a pound for revenge. You see this even in little kids. One child bumps into another one and the second one strikes the first one and from there it escalates. Nations do the same thing. One nation is offended and the other retaliates with greater offense until often it can become outright war. Second, as mentioned in Deuteronomy 19, it was to curtail further crime because, “the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.”

The principle of an “eye for an eye” was an equitable law because it matched the punishment to the crime. It was a just law because it restricted men from their tendency to seek vengeance beyond what the offense deserved. It was a compassionate law because it protected society by restraining wrongful conduct.

The Scribes had twisted this law into meaning that when someone offended you, then you were required to take revenge upon them. They committed two errors in this. First the restriction on revenge was turned into a mandate to retaliate. A negative directive was turned into a positive injunction. And second, they advocated that matters to be taken into one’s own hands rather than referred to the civil authorities.

Jesus and Righteousness – Matthew 5:39-42 / Luke 6:29-30

What Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:39-42 is in contrast to this teaching of the Scribes, and it is only by keeping that in mind that we will understand His message to us.

Do not Resist: Depending on your translation, Jesus says, “do not resist him who is evil” or “resist not evil.” The reason for the difference in translation is the ambiguity of the grammar at this point. It is unclear by the grammar alone whether Jesus is referring to an evil person (some say the devil, others say evil people) or to the principle of evil (Tolstoy’s view as mentioned earlier). We get our answer by examining the four specific examples in the text and by looking at what Jesus and the Apostles do and teach throughout the rest of Scripture.

First, it is not a reference to the devil because both James 4:7-9 and 1 Peter 5:9 specifically tell us to “resist the devil.” Second, it is not the general principle of evil because we find that Jesus and the Apostles resisted evil with every means and resource. For example, John 2 records that when Jesus found the Temple was profaned by the merchants and moneychangers, He overturned their tables and drove the evildoers out with a whip. The apostles resisted evil when it occurred in the church. 1 Corinthians 5:13 is Paul’s instructions concerning immorality that occurs within the congregation. He commanded that the wicked person was to be removed from among them. This is comparable to the Old Testament command in Deuteronomy 13:5. Jesus presented the process by which a person who sins and refuses to repent is to be removed in Matthew 18:15-17. This was to be true regardless of the position a person held. Paul said in 1 Timothy 5:20 that an elder that continued to sin was to be rebuked “in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.” Galatians 2:11 records that the apostle Paul opposed the apostle Peter to his face because Peter had compromised with the Judaizers. Jesus and the apostles resisted evil.

But someone might say that all those examples are in the church, what about society as a whole? God gives specific commands to civil governments to resist evil. Romans 13:4 states, “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it (civil government) does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” 1 Peter 2:13-14 adds, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” When you think about it, the main problem we have with the governmental institutions in our own land is that they have forgotten why they exist. At all levels of government there is often a failure to restrain evil. This may be due to corruption in receiving bribes or political considerations to overlook the evil. It also occurs because the evil matches the beliefs of the government officials so they will not enforce the law. As immoral lawmakers gain power, we are also seeing the opposite occur. Government is restraining good while promoting what God says is evil. The result is an increasing lawlessness throughout the land. History has shown that governments that fail in their God given responsibility to restrain evil will collapse – sometimes suddenly.

In light of all the verses mentioned, it is obvious that individuals, the church and civil governments are to resist evil. What then does Jesus mean not to resist evil? Remember again that Jesus is contrasting the teaching of the Scribes which taught that if someone did something wrong to you personally, then you were obligated to avenge it as “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus’ four specific illustrations demonstrate what He means. The evil we are not to resist is the personal evil inflicted upon us by the ungodly.

Attacks on Personal Honor – Matthew 5:39 : First, there is evil committed against us in attacks on our personal honor –“but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” The fact that it is the right cheek would at first seem to be just that common form of speaking in which the right is generally before the left. However, it is interesting to note that in order for the right cheek to be struck, either the left hand would have to be used or the back of the right hand. If someone used the back of their hand to strike you it even adds more weight to the reason that someone would slap your face. Remember, a slap is not meant to cause bodily injury. If the evil intent was to do physical harm then it would be a hit with a fist, not a slap. Among the Jews, and even in contemporary society, a slap to the face is not to physically harm but to demonstrate contempt for the person and demean their honor. It is a sign of extreme disrespect. At the time of Christ, to be slapped like that was considered a terrible indignity. Even slaves would rather have been beaten with a whip than slapped in the face.

Jesus’ instruction to us is that if you want to demonstrate the righteousness that is from the heart, then even when you are personally insulted, maligned and treated with contempt, you will “turn the other cheek” which symbolizes the non-avenging, non-retaliatory, humble and gentle spirit that is in their heart. That is the demonstration of both mercy and true meekness. We see this example in the life of Jesus. While He strongly resisted evil that was directed at others, He never resisted by vengeance any evil directed at Him personally. Before He went to the cross, He was treated with great contempt by those in the court and later by the soldiers. They mocked Him, beat Him, spit upon Him, and pulled His beard, yet He did not say a word against them. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is the example Peter gives in 1 Peter 2:20-23 that we should follow in that, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

When someone attacks our dignity, we are to be like Christ and not defend that honor by retaliation. We are to place ourselves in God’s hand remembering who we are before Him and His love for us.

Before I go on to the next point though, I do want to point out that Jesus and Paul both did defend the law itself when they were being reviled. Both were struck while in court which was against the Mosaic Law. A prisoner could only be struck after the trial was over and was found guilty. Both Jesus and Paul rebuked the one striking them (of note is that the word strike here is the same as in our text of striking on the cheek – to hit with the open hand). But even Jesus’ rebuke is gracious. He responded saying, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?” Even in this there is no retaliation. It is just a pointed reminder and upholding of the Law. Our personal honor before men is of no consequence. It is our honor before God that is important. That is why giving a rebuke in defense of Him and His Word is appropriate, but giving a rebuke in defense of ourselves is not.

Personal Protection – Matthew 5:40: The second illustration concerns personal protection that was afforded by the law. Jesus says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” The shirt was the inner garment and the coat the outer garment.

If someone had a claim against you and wanted to sue you, the court could require the debt to be paid off with your clothing if you had no other resources. However, in Exodus 22:25-26 the Mosaic law provided that the outer cloak could be taken as a pledge, but it had to be returned by evening because for the poor man it was “his only covering.” The court could require you to give up your inner garment, but it could not require you to give up your outer garment.

In this example Jesus tells us that a person who is truly righteous of heart is dependent upon God, so that they would willingly give up that which the court would otherwise protect in order to satisfy the debt and not cause offense with an adversary. Too often we find even Christians quick to abdicate their proper responsibility and declare bankruptcy or if forced into it to be glad about it. The ramification of what Jesus says here means that even if you are forced into bankruptcy by creditors and the judge divides your assets to pay off those creditors and then declares you not responsible to pay off any more of the remaining debt – you go to those creditors and tell them that you still intend on paying off the debt and back that up by giving them assets that the judge had protected. How can anyone do that? Only if they are truly righteous and are meek for this requires trusting God to provide instead of relying on your own assets. The meek desire God’s glory rather than their own material wealth or comfort.

Even if you feel the claims are unjust, Jesus tells us that if you are taken to court and lose the case, then demonstrate your righteousness by not showing anger and seeking revenge. Instead, offer to settle the dispute even with that which is not required. It is better to be defrauded than to be resentful and spiteful. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 Paul states that this is to be true among Christians. Instead of Christians suing each other in court before the unrighteous and bringing shame to Christ’s name, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Personal Liberty – Matthew 5:41: Jesus’ third illustration involves attacks on our personal liberty. “And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.”

As Americans we have enjoyed so much personal freedom that we will either have a hard time understanding personal freedom being taken away or we might feel extra resentful of any attempt to do so. We can go where we want when we want to do what we want with whomever we want.

Imagine working in your yard, or going about your daily business, or even just walking along the street when a solider grabs you, thrusts a heavy pack in your arms and says, “carry it.” And you had to leave whatever you were doing and carry that pack for a mile. Imagine how even more resentful you would feel if that soldier were from an occupying army – your enemy. That is precisely what happened to civilians in the territories occupied by Rome. An example of this is Luke 23 when Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus.

Jesus says that a person who is truly righteous will not seek revenge or even complain along the way. Instead they will carry even a despised burden willingly and with grace. Forced to go one mile, the righteous will go two – it is from this verse that we get the idiom “going the extra mile.” And remember this really means a total of four miles because for every mile out it is a mile back. When we are robbed even of our cherished liberty, it is better to surrender even more of it than to retaliate.

A more recent example of this is in the testimony of Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, who said, “I have seen Christians in communist prisons with 50 pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold, – and praying with fervor for the communists . . . Afterward, the communists come to prison too. Now the tortured and the torturers were in the same cell. And while the non-Christians beat [their former torturers], Christians took their defense. I have seen Christians giving away their last slice of bread (we had at that time one slice a week) and the medicine which could save their lives to a sick communist torturer who was now a fellow-prisoner.”

Again, it is only someone who trusts God that can willingly give up the food and medicine they need for themselves in the care of someone who was formerly an enemy. Only the righteous who have become meek and merciful could do that.

Personal Possessions – Matthew 5:42: The final example our Lord gives in illustrating this point is of personal possessions. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Jesus is not telling us to lay aside our minds and become easy marks for those that do not want to work. Scripture is clear that “those that do not work, neither let them eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But Jesus is attacking the material possessiveness that dwells so deep in the heart of man. When someone comes to us with a need and we have means to meet that need then that is what we are to do. In fact, 1 John 3:17 tells us that they should not even have to ask – “whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” The answer – it does not. If we see needs, then we meet needs. If someone has a real need and wants to borrow then we do not turn them away.

Again the issue is the heart. What is more important to you – the things you own or serving God? It is important to remember that you do not own anything anyway. While you are to be diligent in work and wise in finances, the reality is that you are simply a steward of what God has entrusted to you. You are to use your finances and possessions with it firmly in mind that you are God’s steward who will given an account to Him. Again, Jesus is not saying that you are to be the patsy for people who do not want to work. But you are to assess the needs a person has and meet the real need that is there. Keep in mind that the real need may not be the thing for which they are asking.

Let me quickly give you a couple of quick tips on this. 1) When you are asked for money, find out what is wanted and then offer them that item. Many times I have run into people begging for money, but when I offer them what they say is the reason they need the money such as food, gas, medicine, etc., they have turned it down. 2) Find out the real need and seek to meet that need, not what is requested. I had a fellow ring my doorbell at 11:30 one night. He wanted money so he could stay in a motel. He needed a place to stay, not a motel. I offered him a sleeping bag and my camper and I would take him where he needed to be in the morning. He turned it down and left. 3) Do not reinforce ungodly and unwise habits by continually removing the consequences of what a person does. Someone who keeps returning with the same needs, they need more than a handout. They need to be taught how to deal with what is causing their problems. 4) In keeping with the command in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that if a person is not willing to work, then neither are they to eat, instead of giving them a handout, offer them a job they can do to earn what they need. Of course in our litigious society you will need to be careful about what job you offer and make sure you have liability insurance to cover any possible injury. 5) Keep in mind that the real need is Jesus Christ and following God. Make sure they know any help you give is because of your love for God, and if they do not know Him, they need Him, and if they do know him, they need to thank Him. There is a blessing in giving in the name of the Lord – Mark 9:41.

Do not let a love for personal possessions rob you from serving God with them. Do not let being taken advantage of by someone in the past keep you from continuing to be giving in the future. Give what you give in Jesus’ name and let those you give to know that they are responsible to God for what you have given them.


The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21, “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 upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is not easy because it is contrary to our natural bent to retaliate and hurt those who hurt us, but it is possible and becomes the reality of life for those that have become righteous through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. A true Christian seeks to follow the example Jesus gave while walking on this earth and be a blessing to all instead of taking offense and seeking revenge. As mentioned a few months ago, it is an example that is lived out by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been persecuted in horrible ways, yet their desire is to meet their persecutors that they might share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. May each of us have similar attitudes and respond in similar ways when wronged to show our trust and love of God.


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “revenge” “vengeance” or “avenge” godly” is said. Talk with your parents about how to resist the desire to retaliate and instead be a blessing.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context for Matthew 5:38-42? How does knowing the context help you properly interpret this passage? What was the purpose of the law given in Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21? How had the scribes twisted the meaning and application of this law? Why is Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:38 “not to resist evil” not a reference to either the devil or a general principle of evil in the world? Explain. Why is Matthew 5:39 a reference to attack on personal honor? How should a Christian respond to such an attack? Why? Matthew 5:40 is a reference to personal protection. How should a Christian respond to such an attack? Why? Matthew 5:41 is a reference to personal liberty. How should a Christian respond to such an attack? Why? Matthew 5:42 is a reference to personal possessions. How should a Christian respond to such an attack? Why? What are some ways to make sure you are meeting actual needs of people and yet not being taken advantage of ungodly people for ungodly purposes? Summarize Romans 12:17-21 in your own words? How can you apply it to a situation you are currently facing?

Sermon Notes: Resisting Revenge

June 22, 2014 – Matthew 5:38-42


Setting the Context

Matt. 5:38-42 is one of the most commonly misinterpreted passages because it is taken out of ___________

The Sermon on the Mount _______true righteousness with the self righteousness of the scribes & Pharisees

Jesus’ teaching also illustrates the characteristics of the _________________displayed in specific situations

The Scribes and the Law – Matthew 5:38

“Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” ( Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20 & Deut. 19:21) ________________punishment

The law _________________excessive punishment based on personal revenge and retaliation

The law _________________further crime because by creating fear of the consequences

The ________________ of an “eye for an eye” is equitable, just and compassionate

The scribes twisted this restriction on revenge into a mandate to _________________

Jesus and Righteousness – Matthew 5:39-42 / Luke 6:29-30

To understand what Jesus means, you must remember that Jesus is __________His teaching with the scribes

Do not Resist: The grammar is __________________leading to contrasting interpretations

It does not refer to the ____________ since James 4:7-9 & 1 Peter 5:9 command us to resist the devil

It does not refer to a general __________of evil since Jesus & the apostles resisted evil (John 2; 1 Cor. 5:13)

A God given purpose of civil government is to ____________ evil – Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Attacks on Personal Honor – Matthew 5:39. A slap on the cheek is a demonstration of ______________

________________________ exhibits mercy and grace as did Jesus – Luke 23:34, 1 Peter 2:20-23

Neither Jesus nor Paul defended their personal honor, but they did defend the _____(John 18:23; Acts 23:3)

Personal Protection – Matthew 5:40

Exodus 22:25-26, you could be compelled to give up your inner garment to pay a ____, but not the outer one

The righteous in heart will ___________ even what is not required in order to satisfy a debt and not offend

The meek desire God’s ____________rather than their own material wealth or comfort – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Personal Liberty – Matthew 5:41

Under Roman law, a soldier could compel a civilian to carry his gear up to a ____________

“Going the extra mile” means to go beyond what is ______________ and being a blessing

Only those who ______________ God can be meek and merciful to “go the extra mile” for an enemy

Personal Possessions – Matthew 5:42 – we meet needs, but not in ____________of other Biblical principles

1 John 3:17 – if we have the ______________ to meet another person’s need, then we should do so

The heart issue is whether you _____your possessions than in serving God – trusting Him to meet your needs

1) When asked for money, find out what is ____________and offer that instead (refrain from giving money)

2) Find out the ___________ need, and meet that need, not what is requested

3) ___________ reinforce ungodly and unwise habits by continually removing the consequences of behavior

4) If possible, offer them a way to ______________ what is being requested – 2 Thess. 3:10

5) ___________and following God are the real need – give in His name and proclaim the gospel – Mark 9:41

Do not let a love for personal possessions rob you from __________________ God with them

Conclusions – Romans 12:17-21

Resisting revenge is possible for those who are made righteous by ____in Jesus and walk by the Holy Spirit

A true Christian strives to follow _______________ example

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