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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Column: First Truths from the First Gospel by David Hall

Cases of the Extraordinary

January 13, 2015 •

Jesus’ teaching is not only piercing but it is also crystal clear. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, he gives four cases that illustrate the main point.

1. If an evil person strikes you on the cheek, don’t resist him, but turn to him the other cheek also. In the face of this insulting and demeaning personal attack, the Christian is not to retaliate but to love his enemy. Two comments are in order here. First, the person is a recognized evil person. There is, however, no blanket justification for avoiding insults just because they arise from an evil person. It is not a nice person who is slapping; that is part of the test. Even so we are commanded to turn the other cheek. Second, we must interpret this as an example of the main point. The main point of this paragraph is to be loving of enemies not to enjoy masochism or abusiveness. We must not be overly literalistic (as the Pharisees and some pacifists are) who claim that this verse absolutely forbids retaliation. Now that is too extreme and contradicts other scripture passages. Other scriptural sequences make it plain that there is a time for peace, a time for war (Eccl. 3); also, there were clearly cases in which God told his people to go to war. The final book of Scripture includes such. This verse is not a contradiction of all previous and posterior teaching but is just an example of the main principle. If one disciple was slapped, as Jesus was just prior to crucifixion, he was to love his enemy and not seek retaliation. If a disciple is insulted, as Jesus was called a glutton, wine bibber, and associate of harlots, then we must not lash out at our adversaries. This believer adopts the attitude of “I’m not going to fight you or hate you.” That is an extraordinary work of the Spirit.

2. A second example is given. If someone sues you for your inner garment then give him your vital outer cloak garment as well. Ancient Jewish clothing consisted of two parts. An outer cloak was large blanket-like robe used for clothing by day and cover at night. Jews would only have one inner one-piece under-garment “tunic.” Jesus had several changes of these. The Jewish law actually forbade the permanent taking of the outer cloak (Ex. 22:26-27). But, Jesus says, as a way of illustrating his principle, that we are to allow even our essential covering to be taken if it will help us witness to this enemy about the love of God. That’s pretty extreme. The main point here is love your enemy; don’t seek an eye-for-eye vengeance. Don’t file a countersuit for outer garment. No possession is to be more valued than loving God and our neighbor, even if that nearby person is our enemy.

3. Jesus provides a third example of this main principle. If conscripted by the Roman army (which was legal) to carry things for one mile then Jesus says: go the second mile. The Roman army could impress or compel a Jew to carry his baggage or provide food because Palestine was an occupied country. The purpose of this is to demonstrate to unbelievers or enemies this special God-given love. Rather than rebelling or having a sit-in, we are not only to carry the military wares of our enemy but also to go the second mile. Our principle is not to hate them but to show love to them. Again there may be some limitations to this in war-time, but the scenario portrayed by Jesus is one during peace or martial law. And this will not occur without the working of the Holy Spirit in the reborn person’s life.

An earlier commentator shed this light on the practice: “It was the custom in Persia and in other Eastern countries to send important government dispatches by couriers pressed into service. This custom was adopted by the Greeks and Romans, and the word used here in the original signifies impressment for such service. The courier first impressed was required to run with all speed for a mile—the distance prescribed by law; he then impressed another into service, and he another, and so the dispatches were delivered with the utmost possible speed. No courier was compelled to run beyond the prescribed distance. It might easily happen that he would find no suitable person at the end of his appointed race, but a true and loyal subject would run on further in order to promote the interests of his king, and insure the more rapid delivery of his message.”[1]

Again don’t absolutize the examples, just absolutize and practice the principle. What is taught here is that Jesus’ disciples may often undergo personal abuse and self-sacrifice to follow him. We are called to extraordinary love. That’s an early gospel truism.

4. The fourth example here is that if begged from, then give. This example does not teach us to give indiscriminately or without regard for the effects. Jesus does not teach us to encourage laziness or unemployment. What he does teach is that we are not to be selfish and we are to give to those truly in need. We as Christians, the Salt of the earth and the Light of the world are to be extraordinary in that we do not withhold from those in need. Our love will go beyond the Law. We will not say, “He gets what he deserves,” but with compassion we’ll give to those in need saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Jesus’ teaching in all of this is that true disciples will go beyond the expectations of our enemies. Our enemies expect us to retaliate, counter-sue, fight back or resist. We are called by Jesus, who perfectly practiced this even unto death on the cross—to go beyond their expectations and to have something extraordinary in our life. What this extraordinary quality is, is love for enemies. And we cannot do this by nature or in our own strength. Every disciple of Jesus undergoes a “transvaluation of values” when they enter fellowship with him. One such transformation in our mode of operation, then, becomes an extraordinary love to those who don’t like us. The ordinary person responds in kind—like for like, dislike for dislike, love for love and hate for hate. There is an economic exchange based on earnings. One unit is returned for one unit given. But the extraordinary Christian responds in grace to give love to the enemy who slaps us, insults us, commandeers us, or sues us. The Holy Spirit does this, and works above and beyond what we normally expect.

John Stott put it well:

The principle is love, the selfless love of a person who, when injured, refuses to satisfy himself by taking revenge, but studies instead the highest welfare of the other person and of society, and determines his reactions accordingly. He will certainly never hit back, returning evil for evil, for he has been entirely freed from personal animosity. Instead, he seeks to return good for evil. So he is willing to give to the uttermost—his body, his clothing, his service, his money—in so far as these gifts are required by love.[2]

Christians are to die to self and rid ourselves of the spirit of retaliation. Evaluate your own Christian maturity: Is your normal mode of response to retaliate? Or do you leave room for God?

[1] J. B. Shearer, The Sermon on the Mount: A Study (1906; rpr Greenville, SC: GPTS Press, 1994), 80-81.

[2] John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Wheaton, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1978), 87.


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