When I was a young man, we used the phrase “just suck it up”. We used it a lot. We didn’t like whiners and complainers. If things were tough or people were giving you a hard time, you had what we politely know of as self-control.
“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. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” | Matthew 5:39–40 (NASB)
One day in high school I was in the cafeteria eating my lunch. Since I brought my lunch from home, I sat down before the others going through the line. As I was sitting there, I saw trouble coming. The class bully was coming to my table. He sat across from me. He had a goofy smile on his face as he already knew what he was going to do. My paper sack lunch bag was on the table. He raised his fist and smashed it, smushing everything inside.
I lost my cool and showed no self-control. What to do? My immediate reaction was to tip his lunch tray into his lap. That is not something to do to the bully. I was in trouble. He challenged me to a fight outside. It didn’t end well. I clearly had a lot to learn about self-control.
In the Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 5 – 7), Jesus teaches not to retaliate but to have self-control. This is a tough one to get.
The original law was a fair one; it kept people from forcing the offender to pay a greater price than the offense deserved. It also prevented people from taking personal revenge. Jesus replaced a law with an attitude; be willing to suffer loss yourself rather than cause another to suffer. Of course, He applied this to personal insults, not to groups or nations. The person who retaliates only makes himself and the offender feel worse; and the result is a settled war and not peace.
In order to “turn the other cheek,” we must stay where we are and not run away. That takes a ton of self-control. This demands both faith and love. It also means that we will be hurt, but it is better to be hurt on the outside than to be harmed on the inside. But it further means that we should try to help the person who is missing God’s goal (aka sinner). We are vulnerable, because he may attack us anew; but we are also victorious, because Jesus is on our side, helping us and building our characters.
Psychologists tell us that violence is born of weakness, not strength. It is the strong man who can love and suffer hurt; it is the weak man who thinks only of himself and hurts others to protect himself. He hurts others then runs away to protect himself.
Jesus proved that a person could be in the will of God, be greatly loved by God, and still suffer unjustly. There is a shallow brand of popular theology today that claims that Christians will not suffer if they are in the will of God. Those who promote such ideas have not meditated much on the Cross.
Our Master’s humility and submission were not an evidence of weakness, but of power. Jesus could have summoned the armies of heaven to rescue Him! His words to Pilate are proof that He was in complete command of the situation. Jesus had complete self-control. It was Pilate who was on trial, not Jesus! Jesus had committed Himself to the Father, and the Father always judges righteously.
We are not saved by following the Messiah’s example. We all need a Savior, not an Example. But after a person is saved, he will want to “follow closely upon His steps” and imitate the example of Jesus.
- Matthew 5:39–40 (NASB) — “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. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”
- 1 Peter 2:18–23 (NASB) —Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since the Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 24). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.