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August 9, 2011 / Daniel

Turning the Other Cheek? A Rejoinder

Awhile back I posted some notes on Matthew 5:38-42, the text where Jesus teaches on the lex talionis laws of the OT.  His approach is non-resistance.  “Don’t repay evil for evil.”   Jesus clearly speaks against retaliation.  But the question is, Did Jesus always practice what He preached?    In Matthew 23, Jesus has some strong words for the Pharisees.   At various points, Jesus calls his opponents “vipers, hypocrites, and white-washed tombs.”    Did Jesus always turn the other cheek?  Does he return the insults of the Pharisees?

The solution to this problem is to realize that the difference is Jesus’ motivation.  Jesus doesn’t speak these words to insult the Pharisees, but to expose their hypocrisy to the Jewish people and to summon the Pharisees to repentance.  He speaks the truth in love.    He just uses strong, vivid language to do so.

This is also a strong indication that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:39-42 are illustrations of Christlike love.  They are not commands which apply in every circumstance. When Christ returns in His glory, He will not turn the other cheek.  He will not walk the second mile.  He will judge his enemies and bring eternal condemnation to those who rejected him (Matthew 25:31-46).

So in the meanwhile, God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He gives sunlight to the righteous and the unrighteous.  This is his common grace.  But God’s common grace doesn’t last forever.  Consider the Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30.  The master allows the weeds to grow and flourish until the harvest.   However, at the harvest, the servants (the angels) gather the weeds and burn them.

Perhaps the key to understand many of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon in the Mount is to realize that Jesus stands in the Wisdom tradition of the OT (i.e. Proverbs).  The key to the correct interpretation of Proverbs is to interpret each proverb with its appropriate “life” context.  Part of wisdom is knowing when it is appropriate to apply a proverb to a certain situation.  Proverbs 26:9 reads, “Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.”

So, there are appropriate times to turn the other cheek and appropriate times to strike back, though in the present time I believe that it is best if we allow the government or God to do our punching.  But what’s most important is the development of righteous character (submitting to Jesus’ sovereign rule over one’s life).



Leave a Comment
  1. Jordy Broberg / Aug 10 2011 12:57 am

    Truly love your post Daniel. Very thought provoking and biblical!

  2. Daniel / Aug 10 2011 11:22 pm

    Jordan, thanks for the encouraging words.

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