When Should I Turn The Other Cheek?

Jesus rocked the Jewish world (and the world of every reader for the last two thousand years) in His unsettling commandments about loving and serving our enemies.  God Himself is just and His written Law originally stated “An eye for an eye” which is still the current objective of modern judicial systems (Ex 21.24).  Jesus, however, came to pay the punishment for our sins and thus introduced the before unheard of notion of unmerited grace.  God was always merciful and forgiving, but it was through Jesus that we could be forgiven without retribution or sacrifices of atonement looking forward to His redemption.

Because God offers us such complete forgiveness and grace, He expects us to turn around and offer the same to others.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

In the same measure we have been forgiven we should forgive others.  That means every single offense, every single time we are asked, no matter the gravity.  Jesus goes so far to say, in fact, that if we do not forgive in that manner we prove ourselves to not be forgiven by God.  It is by receiving God’s grace through forgiveness that we are completely changed and cannot help but love and forgive one another in the same way.  If we cannot forgive someone, it is because we have not yet been forgiven.  These words of Jesus are poignant and convicting:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

– Matt 6.14-15

And if this expectation of forgiveness weren’t enough, Jesus sets the bar even higher!  We are commanded to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5.44), bless those who persecute us (Rom 12.14), to offer the other cheek when the first has been hit (Matt 5.39), give more to the person who steals from you (Matt 5.40), and if someone forces you into slavery of any sort, we are supposed to serve them and even do more than they demand of us (Matt 5.41)!

Jesus, of course, gave us the highest example of all of this by submitting Himself to the will of God by going to the cross.  He never argued against His accusers, He never fought back when He was beaten, He never even tried to defend Himself but rather healed one of the men who sought his life when Peter cut off his ear (Luke 22.50-51).

Does all of this mean that Christians should be pacifist door mats who let people trample them and take advantage of them?  Should we ever stand up for ourselves?

I would argue no, Jesus is not teaching blanket pacifism, and that each situation depends primarily on obedience to Scripture, guidance of the Spirit and wisdom.

What do I mean?  Consider Jesus.  On at least one occasion (many scholars believe twice), Jesus became angry against the sin of sales within the temple, threw over the tables, made a whip and chased the vendors out of the temple – to defend the house of God and righteousness.  He had holy anger that was exemplified through authority and aggression.

Jesus also was hated and pursued many times throughout His earthly ministry by people seeking to kill Him, and instead of allowing them to kill, harm or harass Him, Jesus “slipped away”, often noting the fact that His “hour had not yet come” (John 7.30).  Only once, in fact, did Jesus submit Himself to the wickedness and abuse of man – which ultimately led to His death.

The Apostle Paul also regularly and consistently was chased out of town by people who hated His teachings.  Paul did suffer much persecution, including beatings, stonings and other tribulations, but he regularly fled town when he could no longer continue the work of the Gospel.  It was only when the Spirit directed him to go Jerusalem and prepared him that he would suffer intense persecution and death there that Paul gave that ultimate pacifistic response.  Even so, Paul defended himself in court for the purpose of preaching the Gospel all the more!

Ok, so what does all of this mean?  The key is understanding the heart and intention of the commands of Jesus.  Why do we turn the other cheek?

“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.”

– Matt 5.39

The implication is that we will all encounter evil people – people who will hit us, who will use their authority to take advantage of us, people who will steal from us.  And we should not resist them – we should never return evil for evil, but always return good for evil.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.21

It is a godly response to feel anger towards sin and unrighteousness.  God Himself is angry at unpunished sin, and this is why Jesus was not only justified but right to respond to the desecration of the temple vocally and even by chasing the vendors out.  Jesus, therefore, also rightly responded to those who sought to trick, tempt and deceive Him with seemingly harsh words calling them names like “brood of vipers” and stating that they were of the devil (Matt 12.34, John 8.44).

It is also imperative that we remember it is God’s place alone to exact vengeance, and He will.   All sin is primarily against Him and He alone is fully righteous.  He, therefore, will exact perfect and right vengeance and we would only dishonor it by trying.  It is by remembering this promise that we can endure wickedness.

“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.”

– Rom 12.19

If our goal, therefore, is to overcome evil with good and to do so by loving our enemies, we can make better decisions in the moment of suffering.  If someone is persecuting, hating or offending us, can we impact the kingdom by loving them with the response of turning the other cheek?  By going the extra mile?  Or by knowingly letting ourselves be taken advantage of?  Or will we more rightly overcome evil with good by exiting the situation, like Jesus and Paul did so often?

Unfortunately there is no cut and dry, “always do this” answer, because that is not how life works.  Even if we look at the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot apply the instructions as exclusive and normative.  For example, we do not always pray when we are alone in our closet (Matt 6.6).  We are instructed to pray when we gather corporately, and the elders are commanded to pray over a sick person for his healing (Matt 18.19-20, James 5.14-15).

Therefore, as in all decision making, we should stop and pray.  We should seek first the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom.  God promises always to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1.5).  We should seek godly council and weigh our response against Scripture.  If our choice is in line with Scripture and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then we can always act confidently – whether that be to give more money to someone who has stolen from you, or to escape the situation, or to demand that someone work in order to earn his wages and food (2 Thess 3.10).

The Devil Memorizes Scripture

devil

It is always a difficult tension to know how much attention to give to the Devil.  Jesus is our Lord and we know that He has already defeated the Devil and Death and we want to spend our energies and time getting to know Jesus, letting His Word transform us and make us more holy, and not spend all of our time studying a defeated enemy.  At the same time, Satan is still the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4.4), the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2.2), and he is in his death throes, taking down as many people as he can with him.  On our own, Satan is infinitely more powerful than we are.  But we know that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4) and if we are in Christ we have overcome Him.

However.  We must not be ignorant to Him, His schemes and His abilities.  When we are young, we imagine the devil dressed up in a red suit with horns, a spiky tail and a trident.  He is mean, scheming, and his plans are obvious.  As we mature, fortunately, we begin to learn and realize that his ways are not always clear.  We learn that sin is fun and enjoyable for a season – otherwise no one would partake in it!  And we learn that Satan is clever to disguise himself in attractive ways.

Perhaps his most cunning deception, however, is a false assurance of salvation.  If he can convince people that morality leads to Heaven, if he can trick people into saying a “sinners prayer” but never repenting, then he has achieved the greatest trickery.  Few people would follow him in his ugliness to Hell, but many people are deceived by his lies and promises that ultimately lead to Hell.  And the way he can craft such a scheme is to know the Scriptures, to know the truth, and to twist them just enough to still sound promising but to be lies.

We see him try this very tactic with Jesus when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4.

“and [Satan] to [Jesus], “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning you’;
and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone..’”

– Matt 4.6

Notice that Satan knew exactly who Jesus was.  He knew the Scriptural promises made to and about Him.  And He attempted to draw Jesus into sin by asking Him to prove Himself and to test God’s provision.  But Jesus, being God and knowing Scripture with belief, answered Satan with Scripture that led Him to obedience and to honor God.

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

– Matt 4.7

So what is the difference?  How do we know if people or Satan is using Scripture incorrectly?  How do we know if we are being obedient, if we are on the path to salvation, or if we are being deceived?  We have to have the Spirit living in us.  We have to be in the process of being transformed into His likeness.  His Word must abide in us.  Satan can memorize Scripture, but the Scripture does not abide in Him.

“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

– 1 John 2.14

If the Word of God is abiding in us, we have overcome the evil one.  We can discern the Spirits.  We understand when we are being tempted to use Scripture and God for our own sordid gain, and we understand when we are living lives that honor and glorify God.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

– John 15.7

If we abide in Jesus and the Scripture abides in us, whatever we ask of Jesus will be done for us.  But He qualifies it in the previous chapter (14.13) that whatever is asked in His name will be done in order to glorify the Father.  If His word abides in us, we will ask and desire things that glorify the Father and when we ask them they will be fulfilled.  But memorizing the Scripture alone is not abiding.  The Pharisees had Scripture memorized and Jesus said that His words found no place in them (John 8.37).

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.

– John 5.38

We must believe.  We must be transformed by the Word.  The Word gives life.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

– John 6.63

So let us be alert and aware.  Satan’s tactics are slimy and deceptive.  He knows the Scripture better than you or I ever will – because He has been around throughout the entirety of history and the writing of it!  He knew all of the major players.  He saw each book as it was written.  He knows it inside and out.  And He will try to use it to lead us astray.

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

– Matt 7.15

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

– 1 John 4.1

Let us be diligent students of the Word, let us test every teaching against the rest of Scripture, let us pray, let us petition God for wisdom and seek Him.  He is faithful to make clear to us His heart and ways if we only ask and abide in Him.

Don’t be a fool.

Are you a disciplined person?  Do you like structure and order or are you spontaneous and unpredictable?  Both personality dispositions are glorified in different situations and according to different value sets, but what about when it comes to taking advice?  Do you let others speak into your life?  Do you have people that you respect and to whom you will listen and from whom you will take instruction?

Part of the American Dream is pulling ourselves up by our boot straps.  It is having the personal and individual fortitude to understand our situation, make wise decisions, be financially successful (on our own) and have fun in the mean time.  But we learn from Scripture that it is the mark of wisdom to receive instruction, discipline and help.  It is a fool who will not heed advice:

“A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

– Prov 15.5

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”

– Prov 15.12

How often do you receive advice?  When was the last time you brought a decision before someone older, wiser, more mature or Spiritually sound to hear what they would have to say?  We do not even offer advice unless it is heavily solicited, and we typically frame it with the sentiment, “This is just my opinion” and “do what you want to do”.  But issues of right an wrong should not be diluted.  Warnings against error should not be moderated because the hearer might need to “learn the hard way”.  Sometimes people do need to learn the hard way, but we should seek their best by offering admonition to obedience.

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  He who neglects discipline despises himself, but He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

– Prov 15.31-33

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If you are offering or receiving advice, make sure it is settled squarely and firmly in the fear of the Lord.  In the teaching of His word.  In the humility of the Spirit.  Let’s grow up.  Let’s listen to those wiser.  Let’s stop being so independent and identifying ourselves by individuality and rely on those whom the Lord has put in our lives.

Don’t be a fool.

discipline

A True Friend

I saw this post on my facebook feed yesterday and my heart just broke for the egotism and immaturity expressed therein:

“A true friend doesn’t care when you’re broke, being a bitch, what you weigh, if your house is a mess, what you drive, about your past, or if your family is filled with crazy people.  They love you for who you are.”

Yes, a true friend accepts you, and they will not be found or won based on how nice of a car you drive.  Blanket acceptance and tolerance is what we preach and value in the United States today:  you do you, I’ll do me, we’ll live in perfect harmony…as long as you don’t tell me I am wrong or offend me in anything that I do, and as long as you function within the laws of the land.  Well, the important laws anyway.

Oh Christian, this is a lie from Hell.  Accountability is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us.  “A friend loves at all times” (Prov 17.17), but love is not blanket acceptance, irregardless of sin.  Love is pushing one another on to holiness and good deeds (Heb 10.24).  Love is helping one another to know and honor God better every day, not to settle into sinful tendencies and enable one another to backslide.

I have a good friend whom I have known for 6 years now.  She is not an accountability partner, but she is a friend.  A true friend.  I was going through a struggle about a year ago, in which I had been grievously sinned against.  A third party became innocently (and possibly unknowingly) involved and my emotional reaction towards the third party was terrible.  This friend, in whom I was confiding, called me out in love.  She said, “Alison, you need to check your heart” and straight up denied some of the statements that I had made in my frustration and hurt.  She caught it at the very moment it entered my heart and came out of my mouth, and because she stopped me in my tracks so quickly, truthfully and kindly, the sin of bitterness had no opportunity to take root in my heart.  Solomon advises in Ecc 8.11 that it is best to address sin at the moment of conception: the longer it is left unchecked, the easier it is to get rooted in someone’s heart and mind:

“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”

A true friend does care how you are acting, about your past, about habits and tendencies that easily entangle you – and helps you to navigate victory over these things through the power of the Holy Spirit.  A bad friend is one who enables you to “just be you” and let your sinful side reign.  We have seen enough Intervention shows, and had enough exposure to rehab stories that we know the difference between an enabler and a coach or sponsor.  When we want to continue to live in our sin, we consider enablers friends.  But it is no secret that those who truly love and those with whom we bond the most are our sponsors.

God disciplines those whom he loves (Heb 12.5-6).  And he gives us families to discipline and train us as we are growing:

“A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

– Prov 15.5

He gives us community to push us on to holiness and good deeds.  The Bible calls the person who does not listen to sound advice or to someone who would hold him accountable a fool.  A fool!  And he who neglects discipline despises himself.

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”

– Prov 15.12

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  He who neglects discipline despises himself, but He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

– Prov 15.31-33

Let’s not buy the lies.  God wants you to be happy and friends do love at all times.  But true friends love through the trials to see success on the other side.  They help conquer sin, they help fight temptation, they help care for temporal issues.  Be a friend.

He who neglects discipline despises himself.

“A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

– Prov 15.5

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”

– Prov 15.12

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  He who neglects discipline despises himself, but He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

– Prov 15.31-33

The book of Proverbs is one of the most gut-wrenching books of the OT to apply to life.  For me, anyways.  The conviction that flows forth from each verse reminds me of God’s holiness and goodness and my constant need for grace and mercies that help me attempt to apply these statutes for my life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Hebrews makes the admonition to “not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines and He scourges every son whom He receives.” (Heb 12.5-6)  Who likes to be rebuked?  Who likes to hear that he is wrong?  Who likes to receive criticism?  Proverbs says that the wise man does.  That he heeds rebuke, discipline and reproof and applies it to his life.  And not only that, but the mark of belonging to the Lord is to be disciplined by the Lord.  Let us press on to be humble, receive and apply reproof, for only then can come honor.