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August 5, 2011 / Daniel

Non-resistance in the NT epistles

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples to turn the other check.  “Do not resist the evil-doer.”  Is this idea unique to Jesus?  Or does the rest of the NT support Jesus’ approach to vengeance and retaliation?

In Romans 12:14-21, Paul alludes to the Sermon in the Mount.   His source appears to be closer to Luke’s version of the Sermon (Luke 6:28).

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it  to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Peter also picks up this theme.  Although we don’t have a clear verbal allusion, his argument is conceptually related to the Sermon on the Mount.  (It does look like Peter is aware of Paul’s words in Romans 12.  Or Jesus’ teachings could be a common source for both authors).

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

This is what made the testimony of the early church so powerful.   Just as Jesus suffered on the cross and did not retaliate, the persecuted church imitated its Savior.    When they were mistreated, they did not seek revenge.  Instead they trusted in the justice of Jesus’ in-breaking kingdom.   They left room for God’s wrath.   And as a result, God uses their testimony to bring conviction into the hearts of their persecutors.

This reminds us that Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down kingdom.  Even though the kingdoms of this world might advance by violence and bloodshed, Jesus’ kingdom advances through the sacrificial love of its citizens.

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