Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …
I like to watch hockey. Where else can you see people crash into each other at high speeds, regularly, repeatedly, for over an hour every night? And all for the goal to get this tiny, heavy puck into the other team’s net.
One of the tactics of the game is to antagonize the other players. Players use verbal insults, badgering, legal and illegal hits to get their opponents to focus on them instead of the game. When you get your rival angry enough to think about fighting you instead of playing their game, you have a much better chance of winning.
But the same thing happens at every game. The final period ends. The clock runs out and everyone goes home. It is just a game.
In real life, though, it is too easy to get caught up in revenge. When we are insulted, hurt, or otherwise offended, our first thought is to fight back. We need to “get even” for what they did to us.
And the conflict always escalates. You hit them once, they hit you back twice. They hit your arm, you hit their face. We see this on the road every day. One driver is too slow so another driver cuts them off. A small driving mishap can quickly turn into a deadly “road rage” incident.
We assure ourselves that we would never go as far as what we hear about in the news. We could never do the horrible deeds committed by these road warriors! But at our core, we are all like that. We all want revenge when someone hurts us. We all want to see our enemies suffer.
In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been teaching about the law. He did not come to do away with the law. Instead, He has been using illustrations to show that we should hold to a much higher standard than what has been written down (see here).
Now, His final two examples are about revenge and how to treat our enemies.
These are some of Jesus’ most famous words. Even those who don’t know the Bible, who may have no interest in Jesus Christ, tend to know that He said to “love your enemies.” Even if they don’t know what it means, most people have heard the quote to “turn the other cheek.”
These are some of the easiest words to remember, but some of the hardest commands to obey. But what was Jesus saying?
Was He teaching that, like Ghandi, we should use passive resistance?
Was he teaching that we should all be easy targets for any predators that may come
Should we be pacifists? Abandon the police force?
Should we (as many people do) simply ignore what He says?
Jesus teaches that, when confronted by persecution, we need to surrender our rights and to love our enemies.
How can we do that?
Surrender your rights
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
The Old Testament Law taught “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but the Jews in Jesus’ day took this as a personal license for revenge.
The law said “an eye for an eye.” We often interpret this as some form of barbaric torture (i.e. picture Muslims with their hands chopped off), but the purpose of this law was both radical and just. It meant that the punishment must fit the crime. The punishment was also to be carried out by the legal authorities, and was intended to prevent personal vendettas and escalations of violence (i.e. you were not allowed to kill someone who broke your arm).
But the Jews in Jesus’ day took this law as a personal license to get back at anyone who hurt them. They considered themselves obligated to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. They were therefore ignoring the part of the law that said it was to be carried out by the legal authorities and not by the injured parties themselves.
Jesus responds to this law and its misuse, drawing a higher principle. As followers of Jesus Christ and members of His kingdom, we are not to be concerned with our personal protection. This does not diminish the use of the government or the courts, but we are to leave our own honor and protection to God.
He gives four examples:
The example of insult
But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
This is the origin of the famous saying, “turn the other cheek.” As it is today, most men in Jesus’ day were right-handed. One of the most demeaning insult you could give to another man was a backhand swat across the face, which, for a right-handed man, would be a slap on the right cheek.
“Jesus Christ is saying, ‘If you are insulted to the maximum degree, stand and be willing to be insulted again.’” 6
“What Jesus is saying is that when someone treats you in a way that is less than you deserve, when someone takes the right to dignity that you have, don’t retaliate. Be slapped again before you would ever think to retaliate. Take as much as they want to give, but don’t retaliate. If you’re worried about dignity, beloved, someday you’re going to be a son of God in the image of Jesus Christ and you’ll stay that way forever.” – John MacArthur 8
The example of punishment
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
People did not carry money with them in that agricultural society, so lawsuits were generally awarded with changes of clothing. People tended to have a single cloak (the outer garment) but several tunics (the inner garment).
The Old Testament law allowed only the inner tunic to be awarded in court. The outer cloak could only be given as a pledge, but needed to be returned by nightfall (Exodus 22:26-27).
The example here appears to be when you are at fault and your accuser takes you to court (see also the example here). 8 When you are punished for your offense, and the court awards your tunic to your accuser, you need to respond with grace. You do not fight back but instead give back more than was required of you.
“The intention of this is to be willing to lose the power and the right to defend yourself, so do whatever is necessary to make it right.” – Stephen Davey 6
The example of imposition
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were ruled by the Romans. Roman law allowed a soldier to force any citizen to carry their baggage for up to one mile. The rebellious Jew would count the steps and then throw the soldier’s pack to the ground when their mile was finished. 6
But Jesus says that when forced to go out of your way for someone, to go beyond what is required of you. This was the origin of the term, “go the extra mile.”
The example of giving to the needy
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
The final example is how to act to those who are in need. Give to those who need it, whether they are begging on the street or if they need to borrow from you. This was part of the original law. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 commands the people to help their poor neighbors.
“The disciple of Christ is to be like his Master – willing to communicate. He may not be in a position to give all that is asked of him, or to lend all that one might want, but he is to be ready to comply, so far as possible, with requests for aid and assistance.” – H.A. Ironside 2
Jesus is saying through all of these examples that if we are truly to be His disciples, we need to die to ourselves! We must not be concerned with our personal rights, whether they be our right to protect ourselves from insult, from loss of our property, or from being imposed upon. 17 We must give to those who need it when it is in our power to help them.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
1 Peter 2:21-23
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Love your enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Jesus next quotes a common belief in His day, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. This is only half-correct:
The Old Testament law says clearly, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus Himself quoted this on multiple occasions. He quoted this to the rich young man as part of the law to keep (Matthew 19:16-22) and declared that this was the second greatest command to the lawyer who asked Him (Matthew 22:34-40). Scripture is clear that you are to love your neighbor.
But the Jewish tradition added on to this law with the statement, “and hate your enemy.” Scripture never teaches to hate your enemy. This was purely from Jewish tradition, where they expected that God was honoring their own self-centered wishes, and so they were justified in hating their enemies. The law and tradition had combined to form the belief that you should love your friends and hate your enemies. This tradition to hate your enemies also was against the clear teaching of the Old Testament law (see Exodus 23:4-5).
Jesus dismisses this belief with His final principle about the law: But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 18
This is the ultimate challenge for our lives! We are to love those who mistreat us. When treated harshly and unfairly, we are respond with love, and to pray for them.
Why would Jesus ask this of us? He gives several reasons:
We show our heritage by our love
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
We show that we are children of God the Father when we love our enemies. Loving our enemies does not make us His children, but rather, it demonstrates that we are His.
This is an echo of what Jesus said earlier about the peacemakers (see here):
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Our love for others — even our enemies — gives evidence of who we are.
God does not withhold His care from evil people
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Even the most wicked farmer still receives rain to water his crops. Even the most vile criminal can experience a sunrise. If God shows His care — even to the worst of humanity — who are we to indulge in hatred for them?
God rewards those who love the unlovable
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
It is easy to be good to our friends. It is easy to love the loveable. But that is nothing special. Even the worst of us do that.
The tax collectors were considered the worst of society. They were considered to be liars, cheats, thieves, and had sold out to the oppressive Romans. Jesus’ point is that even the worst people still love their friends. There is no reward for that. We need to answer to a higher standard.
We are to stand out from our society
And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Once again, it is easy to be kind to those who are close to us. The Jews despised the Gentiles. The Jews considered them to be the pagans and the heathen, who were so wicked that even God hated them.
Jesus’ response is that even the worst pagans still love their brothers. What are we doing more than them if we only love our close friends? No, Jesus wants us to be outstanding in our love for others!
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If you have any doubt, Jesus has just set down an impossible standard!
We are to resist hatred and anger and show forgiveness toward our brothers (see here).
We are to resist lustful thoughts and actions, and to live in purity (see here).
We are to resist the things that would damage a marriage and live in faithfulness (see here).
We are to resist lying and false promises, and live in honesty (see here).
We are to resist revenge, surrender our rights, and die to ourselves.
We are to resist hatred and love our enemies.
This is God’s standard. There is no way that we can do all this on our own. We need God.
But that is His point! We can only do this when we have life in Him, and are led by His Spirit:
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
“Man, according to the Scriptures, was meant to live entirely to the glory of God. He was meant to love the Lord God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and with all his strength. The whole of man was meant to glorify God. Therefore, any desire to glorify self or safeguard the interests of self is of necessity a sin, because I am looking at myself instead of looking at God and seeking His honor and glory.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones 14
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
“God has dealt with His children in grace. Therefore He expects them to manifest the same grace toward others.” – H. A. Ironside 2
“A Christian is not someone who keeps the sermon on the mount. The Christian someone who knows that he can’t.” – John MacArthur 11
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References / Notes
 Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 5:17-48, pages 99-106
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 5, The Principles of the Kingdom, Part 1
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, The Gospel of Luke, Address 21, The Book of the Golden Rule, Luke 6:27-38
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 5:17-48, Pages 19-21
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 6:27-38, Page 156
 Stephen Davey, Spitting Images, Matthew 5:33-48, 5/26/1991
 John MacArthur, An Eye for an Eye, Part 1, Matthew 5:38, 8/12/1979
 John MacArthur, An Eye for an Eye, Part 2, Matthew 5:38-42, 8/26/1979
 John MacArthur, Love Your Enemies, Part 1, Matthew 5:43-44, 9/9/1979
 John MacArthur, Love Your Enemies, Part 2, Matthew 5:43-48, 9/23/1979
 John MacArthur, Love Your Enemies, Part 3, Matthew 5:43-48, 9/30/1979
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 26, An Eye for an Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth, Matthew 5:38-42, pages 239-246
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 27, The Cloak and the Second Mile, Matthew 5:38-42, pages 247-255
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 28, Denying Self and Following Christ, Matthew 5:38-42, pages 256-263
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 29, Love Your Enemies, Matthew 5:43-48, pages 264-273
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 30, What Do Ye More than Others?, Matthew 5:43-48, pages 274-283
 Many people through history have used Jesus’ teaching in this part of the Sermon on the Mount as a case for pacifism, non-aggression, passive resistance, refusing to defend yourself, etc. The problem with these views is that they are counter to what Scripture teaches:
- Jesus is teaching how His disciples should react in the face of persecution. Therefore, He is addressing the individuals, not the government.
- Jesus’ commands here are directed to believers, and you cannot apply them to secular institutions (i.e. government, police force, etc.)
- Both Jesus and Paul protested illegal actions against themselves (John 18:22-23, Acts 16:37). 13
- Romans 13:1-7 teaches about the need for government, even teaching that one of the God-ordained purposes of government is to punish the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4). See also 1 Peter 2:13-17.
- Passive aggression is a nonviolent way to fight back. Jesus is commanding here to not fight back at all.
There are God-ordained times when you need to defend yourself. You would be wrong to not protect those who are in your care, and to ignore justice may simply be enabling your attacker. However, the main issue here is that you need to set aside your personal honor and convenience for the sake of Jesus Christ.
For more information, see these links:
 The KJV has an extended version of Matthew 5:44, but the newer translations (including ESV, NIV, and NASB) have omitted the section “do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you”, since this was not in the oldest manuscripts. This change also does not affect the meaning of the verse.