One of our members wrote, “If you have any devotional messages about turning the other cheek, I would really appreciate it. I’m praying for the strength and guidance not to sink to the level of the person whose actions are hurting me and not to take a wrong course in reaction. I realized how much I was looking forward to seeing tomorrow’s message and hoping it would help in some way.”
The teachings of the New Testament about retaliation have to be some of the very hardest for all of us to understand and obey. Actually, they are fairly easy to understand, but sometimes seem impossible to obey. You might want to read Matthew 5:10-12, 38-48; Luke 6:27-36, 23:34; Romans 12:12-21; I Peter 2:19-25, 3:13-17, 4:12-19.
Paul instructed us to leave vengeance to God. Let Him repay those who deserve it. (Romans 12:19) Peter agrees and even cites Jesus as the best example. “He left His case in the hands of God who always judges fairly.” (I Peter 2:23) Okay, the message is clear. Don’t try to get even. Don’t pay back evil for evil. That’s tough, but maybe I can tighten a jaw, clinch a fist and walk away. But there’s more.
It’s one thing to read those instructions, but it’s a whole different thing when we keep reading and see that Jesus takes it even farther, and Paul and Peter do the same. They call for us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give the shirt and coat, love your enemies and pray for them, and even be glad when you are persecuted. Who can possibly do all that?
Only One did it perfectly. While they crucified Jesus, He prayed for their forgiveness and searched for a good reason. The best reason seems flimsy to us — their ignorance. (Luke 23:34) So, how are we imperfect sinners supposed to do anything even close to this? With great difficulty, no doubt, and only with the help of God Himself.
Jesus spoke of two motivations for taking this very high road. “A great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12; cf. Luke 6:35) Take the long view to see far beyond the immediate hurt, he advised. He also called us to raise the bar to love enemies because when we do, we are imitating God Himself. We are His true children, perhaps more than at any other time, when we are kind to the unthankful, when we do good to those who hate us, when we pray for the ones who hurt us. (Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:35)
Do these motivations speak to you? Maybe not? Some of us have tried to take revenge ourselves, out of selfish pride, even enjoyed the immediate rush, but later regretted it. We wish we had put our eyes on things above and not below, but we seemed unable. We discovered that looking beyond the pain requires divine help. We found that being God’s true children and imitating His unconditional love demands His assistance. Peter promised, “Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you.” (I Peter 4:14)
I seriously doubt many of us will ever achieve perfection in this area, or any other area. But the Lord’s goal for us is clear and divine help is available. We must keep giving it our best, get back up when we fail, imitate Christ and pray like crazy for God’s help.
“Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21) (Scriptures are quoted from the New Living Translation.)
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.