What About My Rights?
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42
We are graciously saved as Christians by a wonderful act of self-denial by our Lord Jesus Christ and that sets the frame for what we want to discuss here this morning. Christ did not sin and he had not sinned and he never will sin and he could not have sinned because he was holy God in human flesh and yet he was harshly treated while he was on earth and he was culminating that, I guess you could say, at the cross of Calvary where he was abused and crucified on our behalf and 1 Peter 2 helps us see that from, maybe you could say from within his own perspective and the way that he viewed it as it instructs us about the nature of our salvation. 1 Peter 2:21 says that "Christ 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 here's what I want you to see, this is what is particularly pertinent for what is ahead this morning, "and while being reviled, He did not revile in return." You remember how they mocked him at the cross and he answered him nothing and they said, "If you're the Son of God, come down," and he stayed in silence, he did not respond to the false accusations at the trial, and all of the shamefully dishonest and lying accusations made against him, he received them in silence.
He did not revile in return, "while suffering, He uttered no threats." Those that nailed him to the cross did not find that they were on the receiving end of any kind of imprecations from Christ or cursing from Christ, of course, that would be impossible, but he suffered in silence as it were on our behalf. He humbly submitted to the will of God for that time in his life, humbly submitted to the Father's will to be the sin sacrifice for sinners like you and me.
So he did not revile in return though he was being sinned against, he didn't threaten in return to the suffering that he was facing but look at the end of verse 23, "but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." Entrusting himself to God that through the temporary injustice of what he was going through, that he would trust God to see him through it and to see it through to the end and Peter says this is an example to you.
And he goes on in verse 24 and shows that as Christ submitted himself to the cross, he was carrying out a judicial act of God that allowed for your forgiveness. Look at verse 24, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." Christ on the cross was acting as a substitute, as a representative for you so that your sins which you had committed would be laid on him and then he would feel the stroke of divine punishment for them so that for those who put their faith in Christ, God would accept that sin sacrifice on their behalf and you would never feel the divine punishment for your sins; that Christ bore that punishment on your behalf so that you could be forgiven and that God would never have to hold your sins against you. That is at the heart of Christian salvation. Not by works but by faith in Christ. And what we want to see this morning in the way that Peter frames it in that text is that that great incomprehensible act that provided everything necessary for your salvation came about through a spirit of self-denial of Christ on his own behalf; that Christ did not revile, he did not resist, he did not resent, he did not strike back at those who were wronging him.
This was the greatest crime, the greatest atrocity against justice that in one perspective when sinful men laid their hands on holy God in human flesh and crucified him, you want to see what men really think about Christ, look at the cross. What do men do with God when they have him in their hands? They kill him. That's what men think about God. That's what they would do with him now if they could get their hands on him. God, of course, appointed that great crucifixion. God, of course, appointed redemption for us to come through a cross; that as Christ is crucified in apparent weakness, the strength and power of God in salvation would be unleashed on souls going forward. But through it all as he was enduring the time of that injustice, Christ entrusted himself to God. He did not retaliate and he did not threaten and thereby secured a favorable verdict before the justice of God on your behalf. That's a wonderful truth, isn't it? You are declared righteous, you are accepted in the beloved because of what Christ has done for sinners there at the cross.
Now, that's all very humbling, isn't it? That softens your soul. It quiets your heart, doesn't it, and you realize the great gratitude that you have toward Christ welling up within you and the sense of gratitude, the sense of thanksgiving mingled with a sense of holy reverence at the one who most had the right to call down myriads of angels to defend himself and said, "I won't do it. I'll go through this entrusting myself to my Father's hand." This is how you were saved. This is how we find the forgiveness of our sins is by trusting Christ, trusting that great work, trusting the resurrection that showed that God by power and declaring him to be the Son of God through the resurrection from the dead. This is it.
Now all of that just kind of by way of introduction. Since all of that is true, how then do we live? Since Christ was like that and did that, since Christ, speaking to you as Christians here this morning, since Christ is your Master and Lord, how then shall you live? How shall that which gave you spiritual life affect you in the midst of your physical life in the short window of time that God gives you here on earth? Well, beloved, when you start to understand this, you realize that this utterly transforms and utterly changes the whole perspective with which you respond to those times when you are wronged. There will never be a wrong done to you that is comparable to the wrong that was done to Christ when they crucified him but you will suffer lesser injustices. There will be people who wrong you, there will be people who take advantage of you and the question is what do you do then? How does the whole spirit of Christianity, how does the spirit of Christ as he walked through the crucifixion, how does that affect the way that you respond to life and, beloved, to the inevitability of the injustices that will come to you in this fallen world? You must see these horizontal injustices from a vertical perspective. You must work through in your mind what the suffering of Christ and that he uttered no threats and that he did not retaliate in return, you must work through this to understand how Christ would now sanctify you as one of his children, how he would conform your character to be like him.
We all know what it's like with children, they are cute but let's face it, they are still little reprobates at the time, still little sinners, and no one needs to teach them to try to hit back when they are hit. That's the kind of heart that you're born with. You're born with a heart that is wired toward retaliation because you're born with a sinful heart and the question is how does salvation change that? What would God take as God takes you and receives you in your sinful state, causes you to be born again, how would he change that aspect of your life and what would that look like? That's what we're going to look at this morning as we turn to Matthew 5 and I invite you to turn there with me now. 1 Peter was just an introduction of sorts.
In Matthew 5, our text is verses 38 through 42 here this morning. We're going to find that the leader of the free world has completely misunderstood the meaning of the passage that we are going to look at here today. Matthew 5:38-42, I'll read it and then we'll expound it. Verse 38,
38 You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 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. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Now, in this great text, Jesus is dealing with and Jesus is addressing that natural sense of retaliation that dwells in the human heart, that sense of striking back, of resisting, of "You hit me, I'll hit you back!" You know how it works. A guy hits someone with his fist and the other guy pulls out a knife and it escalates and the other guy pulls out a gun and somebody gets shot all because there is this spiral of escalation that takes place because people are responding to the wrongs done to them. What Christ is saying in this passage here in the broadest sense is that that spirit of retaliation that is so central to the sinful human heart is something that you as a Christian are designed to put to death; that you are not to nurture that, indeed, you are to go in the other and opposite direction.
So let's take a look at what Jesus is saying here as we look at this. In verse 38 he quotes a passage that occurs multiple times in the Old Testament: in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19. The Old Testament says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Now, so very important to understand the context and why that was in the Levitical or in the Mosaic law, I should say, at the time. This principle was a principle of civil justice. It was written into the judicial code as a way of restraining and giving direction to punishment that is given to wrongdoers by the state. That's so very important. It gave a formula that allowed for an appropriate punishment when a crime was committed to be meted out to the one who had committed it and rather than giving the death penalty to somebody who had simply broken a bone, let's say for example, the idea was is that the injury inflicted on the wrongdoer would not exceed that which was given in punishment; that the punishment would not exceed the original crime. And what this did was, it contained and it gave a direction of justice in the hands of an impartial judge so that it would contain the conflict and not escalate it; that society would not spin into a blood-thirsty call for justice that always wanted more than the original harm was committed.
Flash forward from Moses to the day of the Pharisees. This is where the key of this all comes in. The Pharisees in that day, who were the religious leaders, hard to imagine with what we're going to see about them, the Pharisees had taken that and had perverted it and what was intended for courts and what was intended for judges to use to give them guidance in punishment in these kinds of matters, the Pharisees had twisted that. They had misappropriated it. They took that and they used it as a justification to have a retaliatory spirit toward those who harmed them personally. So we are going to look at this whole passage as a contrast between the Pharisees' love for retaliation and the way that Christ puts an end to it in his disciples, Christ puts an end to retaliation in his disciples. And let's just look for a moment at the Pharisees' love for retaliation. That's what Jesus is addressing here in verse 38.
Look at it with me again. He says, "You have heard that it was said," by which he is referring to this is the prevailing teaching among the Pharisees of this generation, that first century generation that listened to and followed the Pharisees, and they would teach an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and Jesus said, "You've heard this taught. Let me explain to you what this means." So what the Pharisees had done, what they had taken that which was intended for public justice and turned it into a matter of private right, a private matter for them to justify striking back at those that had harmed them. They used it to justify retribution on a personal level, to justify taking vengeance into their own hands, and they did it in a way that says, "This is what the law says to do, therefore you hit me, I'm going to hit you back. I'm going to do it myself." It was their tool – watch this, it is so very wicked – it was their tool to exercise revenge against others. It was their tool to strike back and to hit back when someone had wronged them. They took what was intended for the state and made it a matter of personal entitlement, "I get to do this and I'm going to do it!" And in the name of God's law, in the name of God's word, they were men who were full of bitterness, full of vengeance, and they cleverly and conveniently ignored the fact that the law actually forbid private vengeance. We are never to take our own vengeance, we're never to take our own retaliation and in Leviticus 19:18, we won't turn there but Leviticus 19:18, the law says, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."
So the Pharisees had totally perverted the whole system of justice that God had put into place. In a public realm, this was to guide the way the judges handled the punishment that was to be issued: an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, restrain the punishment so that it fits the crime. On a private level, God says you are to love your neighbor, you are not to take vengeance into your own hands. You are not to do that because we are all too prone to justify ourselves and to overestimate the nature of the wrong done to us. The Pharisees neglected all of that. They twisted it and being the religious leaders, you can get a sense of the wicked spirit of the kind of religion that they must have been teaching when they were like this as individual men, and here they are, supposedly the keeper of God's law, the keeper of God's word. Well, Jesus steps into that prevailing situation and says, "Let me tell you what kingdom righteousness is like. Let me tell you what the righteousness of my kingdom requires." Stated differently, "Let me tell you what the character of my disciples is to be like."
Now, this is something that is pretty astonishing when you step back and think about it. Jesus Christ is commanding us and telling us what our character is to be like. Do you realize, have you ever considered the breathtaking assertion of authority that that is for Christ to say, "This is what your heart will be like, this is what I require your character to be"? This is a breathtaking assertion of authority by the Lord of heaven and earth, that he is not only Lord of creation but he is Lord of your inner man, and as you think about it, those of you that have entrusted yourself to Christ, you call him Master and Lord and so he is, Christ is saying, "This is what you must be like as my disciple."
Now, it's important to realize, go back to verse 20. We've pointed this out many times. With that context, it helps you understand again and afresh the sense of what Jesus was saying in verse 20 when he said, "I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Then he goes on and he gives multiple illustrations of how the righteousness of the disciple of Christ should exceed that of the Pharisees. We have covered this many times. Here in verses 38 through 42 he is giving his fifth illustration and he goes to that spirit of retaliation, that vengeful spirit that says, "I have to get you back for the wrong that you have done to me," and Christ says in this passage, "That is to be put away." So, you see, the Pharisees loving the sense of retaliation and Christ saying, "For you, if you want to be someone who is on the path to heaven, if you want to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, you have to understand what the standard of righteousness is." And what he's saying is you cannot be like the Pharisees with that private, vengeful, critical, assassinating spirit in your heart if you have any desire of hope of going into heaven.
So he puts an end to retaliation with these verses that follows and he's showing the moral force of the command of God here. He says don't even desire it and he uses four pictures to show how it works out, verse by verse, 39 through 42. He shows how it works out and it's very searching. It's very penetrating. It addresses us at the very core of who we are in what he says here, and all of these things, all of these examples that he uses are things that your first impulse might be to say, "That's not right, I'm going to strike back! I'm going to defend myself here!" And Jesus says, "No, that's not the way it works in my kingdom." And later on as we saw from 1 Peter, later on we see how our Brother and our Savior and our Lord and our Master lived this out to perfection in his own life at great personal cost to himself. So he gives us four examples here to help us see how much this spirit of retaliation must be put to death.
The first example that he uses is that we could say is to yield your dignity. Yield your dignity. Look at verse 39. The counterpart to retaliation would be, we could call it, a yieldedness, a submission, not to the wicked person doing it so much as a submission and a yieldedness to the God who has called you to be this way, the God who is in charge of all of your circumstances, the God who appoints these things for your own spiritual good, and the first example is yield your dignity. Look at verse 39. Jesus says, "But I say to you." In contrast to this teaching that teaches you to strike back, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, in contrast to this teaching, let me tell you that I teach something different, and he's really recovering what the true intent of the law was all along. He is rescuing the meaning of the law from the perversion that the Pharisees had imposed upon it with this contrast when he says, "But I say to you." It's not just the assertion of authority over our characters that he describes here, Jesus is also showing the independent authority that he has to finally and with authority determine what the real meaning of God's law is and Jesus says, "I say to you."
Now, step back for a moment, bring it into this room for a moment. Beloved, speaking to you, speaking to you as those who have received Christ, who love him, who follow him, whose desire is to do what he says, understand that Christ here is speaking with authority therefore and says, "I say to you." This is his authoritative instruction for the kind of person you are to be and he says in verse 39, "do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Now in that day as it is in ours as well, a slap in the face was more than the physical assault that it represented. A slap in the face was an insult as well, it was an insult to dignity. So if a Pharisee was slapped, man, he'd turn and slap you right back. "You don't do that to me. I'm going to defend my dignity with what you've just done here." And what Jesus is saying here is he bans that kind of retaliation. He says, "You're not to be that way." He says it is better for you to endure the insult of the slap rather than to fight it and to strike back.
Now, this is so contrary to the spirit of every age and every culture that has ever been. This is a direct assault on the tendencies of the sinful human heart and you know them from your own personal experience. When someone gets in your space, you want to push them back. Now, what Jesus is saying is when someone assaults your dignity, you do not respond in kind. You don't fight back in that way. And you say, "That can never be. That can never be." And you go back to Christ, you go back to Christ at the cross and you realize that this is what he did when he was in the hands of sinners and, beloved, he saved you so that you could be like him in all things.
Now the question comes up, it's so crucial to understand that Christ here is talking about a spiritual principle against retaliation. He's not saying for a wife to call the cops when her husband is beating her, you don't just let someone do that and commit criminal acts of assault against you. That's not the point. The point is the spirit with which you respond to an assault on your dignity. When you have been insulted, how do you respond? The slap representing an insult, Jesus says don't slap back. Don't insult back. Don't return evil for evil. That's the standard of righteousness in his kingdom.
Now he goes on and he makes further application of this. He says yield your things. Yield your dignity, yield your things. Chapter 5, verse 40, he says, "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." Now, the translators here have given us English words to help us kind of relate to what's going on but the shirt here refers to the Jewish inner garment called a tunic and the coat refers to the Jewish cloak which was the outer garment that they used to keep warm. And what Jews would do is sometimes they would give that outer garment as collateral for a loan and in Exodus 22, those who received that as collateral were required to give it back at the end of the day. How is a man going to keep warm at night if he doesn't have his cloak to stay warm? Again, it was an act of directing human relationships so that the needs of people would be cared for and that there would not be this overbearing sense of domination from one person to another. "Here's my coat as collateral for my loan. I'm going to pay you back." "All right, I accept it. It's the end of the day, the work is done, here's your coat back. I'll see you again tomorrow." That's the spirit in which these things were supposed to work. There was no right for the person to keep the cloak as collateral. It was the only way for a man to keep warm.
Now what Jesus is saying is, and he kind of brings up this whole spirit of litigation and says, "If someone comes after you and they're going to sue you for your shirt," so to speak, for the outer garment, he says your inner response and this is what he's after the whole time along is about the inner way that you respond to this, he says, "Don't be bitter and don't strike back." He says, "Let the spirit of retaliation be so far from you that if someone sues you for your shirt, give them that which they are not even legally entitled to." He says, "That spirit of self-denial is at the root of the kind of person that he calls you to be." So if someone slaps you, you are immediately worked up and you want to get back at them. Someone sues you, "I'm going to countersue you back." Jesus says, Jesus is addressing the spirit of retaliation, the spirit of self-defense that says that is what you have to put to death, that sense that says, "I am going to demand my rights here. I must have what I am entitled to. You took away my dignity, I'm going to take yours. You sue me for this, I'm going to sue you back." And it is that sense of fighting response that Jesus is really after here.
Beloved, we can't say this enough, we can't look to Christ enough in the midst of this and realize that as they stripped Christ in order to crucify him, Christ did not demand justice, Christ did not strike them back, Christ didn't pull at their garments. He humbly submitted to what the Father had appointed for him and went all the way to the cross and you should be very glad that he did because that is the basis upon which you could be saved. Now the key thing here to see is that that spirit of self-denial, that spirit of refusing to retaliate that animated Christ at the cross, that is to become the spirit that animates the way that you live life.
Jesus gives a third example. Having said to yield your dignity, to yield your things, now to yield your time. Look at verse 41 with me. To yield your time. He says, "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two." Now this one is a little bit outside of our experience. In ancient times in that first century culture, the government or the Army had a right to commandeer private citizens and their possessions to accomplish the things that needed to be done. They could impress, they could take your horse in order to make government deliveries. They could impress men and force men to carry luggage and carry baggage for the Army going forward. It's the same thing that was going on, if you remember, in fact let's turn back there to Luke 23. You'll get a sense of this. You'll remember that there was a man named Simon as Jesus was walking from the trial toward the place where he would be crucified, and in Luke 23:26 you'll see an example of how this worked out. This is often the case in biblical background material, you'll find places in the Gospels that illustrate it. So in verse 26 of Luke 23, "When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus." So the Army took Simon and said, "You must carry this cross," and he had to do it. It was the nature of the law, it was the nature of authority at the time that the government could take a man and press him into their service without his consent, with no recourse and it was a practice that was surely abused and it irritated the Jews on a daily basis that the Roman Army could force them to do things that they didn't want to do.
Imagine you're going about your day, you're doing your daily thing, and then a foreign occupying army from your perspective tells you that you have to do this. "I've got work to do." It doesn't matter, you don't have that right of objection. You are forced into doing this. Well, none of you would like that. I wouldn't like that but that was the spirit in which and that was the culture in which they were living in that day and Jesus takes what would have been a common, ordinary, daily occurrence for them and says, "Here's the spiritual principle that applies to it. When that is happening to you, don't resist against it. Don't be angry against it. Don't be bitter against it," he says. You say, "Sure. In fact, I'll go further than you ask. I'll do more than you request." This is completely countercultural. This is completely contrary to the spirit of the Pharisees. This is a direct assault on the sinful tendencies of the human heart. Jesus says don't resist it, do even more than they ask with a cheerful spirit. Jesus says, "That is the standard of my kingdom."
And he gives one more in verse 42 when he says, yield your money. Yield your money. In verse 42 he says, "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you." He is calling his disciples to have a generous spirit that responds to legitimate needs to give without regard to what's in it for you.
Now, what we want to do here, having given this overview of it, is to kind of take that and see the common theme that is running through this whole passage. We must understand that Jesus is doing more – this is so very important – Jesus is doing more than simply saying, "Here are four sets of circumstances and this is what you do in this silo, this is what you do here and here and here." Jesus is doing something far more significant than that. He is using these four things of time and dignity and money, he's doing more than saying, "This is how you must respond in these individual circumstances." There is a greater point that he is making and this greater point is what we have to see that he is calling us to. He is saying that you yield these things and the response of the natural man is this, "What about my rights? What about my rights? What about my rights when I am struck on the cheek? What about the wrongful use of litigation against me? What about the wrongful use of government authority? What about someone taking advantage?" Understand that his point is greater than the illustrations that he uses. Christ says the whole point of this is that that spirit of self-protection, that spirit of retaliation, of self-defense, is to be mortified. It is to be put to death in the true disciple of Christ.
That's the greater principle and when you ask the question, "Well, what about my rights?" That question actually shows somebody that's missing the point altogether because the point of this is that you have no rights. You are a slave of Christ. You belong to him and there is a surrender, a complete surrender of will to him that is content to live in whatever circumstances and whatever situations that the Lord brings into your lives in a way that says, "I am content to be in the hand of God. I am content with the fact that my God is an sovereign control of my circumstances so much so that I am content to let him defend me. I am content to let him defend me against the wrongs that occur to me. I am content to let God defend me against the things that people accuse me of, against the wrongs that they do to me, rather than having to take matters into my own hand." That's the spirit of what he is saying.
Now I would understand, especially if you're newer to the Bible, I would understand completely if someone said, "That's insane! That makes no sense!" From a human perspective, that's right. From an earthly perspective, that's exactly right and that is the point here this morning. We're talking about something different. We're talking about the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ and the spiritual realm over which he lives and it is his kingdom and he says, "This is the way my people live. This is what I call my people to do and to be." And Jesus made this very evident in his call to salvation. In Luke 9:23 he said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." To be under the Lordship of Christ means that you have come to an end of asserting yourself in your personal situations. It means that you've come to an end of demanding that which is yours and instead as Christ did in 1 Peter 2, the spirit of your life is lived from a perspective that says, "I will entrust myself to my God and whatever he brings to me. I will trust him for that. I will not fight for what's my own. I will not retaliate against those who wrong me. I'm going to put that spirit far from my heart."
Now, this is really really practical and this gets to the real core of where we all live so let's talk. Let's talk about life. Let's let who Christ is cause us to examine ourselves and search ourselves. How do you respond when someone treats you poorly? How do you respond when someone cuts you off on the freeway? You get it. In your marriage, with your parents, with your coworkers, with your boss, with the government, and you feel like you've been wronged, what's going on in your heart when that happens? Is there anger? Is there self-justification? Is there vindication? Do you start to say things in anger? Do you start to strike back? Beloved, do you understand that that is what Christ is talking about here? It is that inner spirit even more than the external reactions that Christ is after. When that spirit of retaliation comes upon you that says, "I must strike back. I must defend myself here. That person, they're going to learn that you don't mess with me." That is the spirit that Jesus says is contrary to the fundamental spirit that animates his kingdom. That's what he's after. The four illustrations are just pointing to a greater principle that is at stake.
Now think about it with me here. Let's go back and think vertically again for a little bit. This is where we always need to go back to. Think about the greatness of God, the goodness of God, and the fact that you have sinned against him in innumerable ways throughout the course of your life. How has God dealt with you, Christian friend, Christian brother and sister? How has God dealt with you in response to your sin? Did he do what he could have done and immediately judge you? He didn't even do that with Adam, did he? He said, "You sin, you'll die. The soul that sins, it shall die." Is that what has happened to you? Is that how God has dealt with you? Did you die when you sinned? Apparently not if you're here. Isn't it true that in exchange for your sin Christ has given you grace unbounded? Christ has not only forgiven you and he has not only blessed you in this life, he has far, infinitely greater blessings in store for you in heaven yet to come? Hasn't God given grace to you in exchange for your sin, your wrongdoings against him? Haven't you found his goodness poured out on you instead rather than his judgment? Isn't that how God has dealt with you? That's a question to answer. Isn't that how God has dealt with you? Yes, it is.
Now then, having seen that vertical dimension of it, having seen that God's grace was dispensed to you – watch this, oh watch this, beloved – that grace was dispensed to you through the cost and through an act of self-denial and refusal to retaliate at the cross of Christ so it's not just that God was gracious to you, the means by which it was dispensed to you came in the form of the Son of God refusing to retaliate when they crucified him in order to pay the price of your sin. This is incalculable. In response for your assaults on the law and the dignity of God, God responded to you with grace mediated through self-denial at the cross that you now stand in. You see, what we're looking at here is something that is absolutely fundamental to the way that you think about God, Christ and your life among men. If I have received such grace, then I cannot be a man who is marked by a character of vengeance, of retaliation, of striking back. There should never be anywhere a Christian who is known as someone, "You don't mess with him because he's going to get you back." That is the utter contrary reality to what the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of Christian life is to be. So when you are wronged in your marriage, when you are wronged in your work, when you are wronged in different places, what is the spirit that wells up in your heart? Can you look at that with the same measure of grace and here's the thing, the impulse of grace, the first impulse of your heart is, "God has been gracious to me, I can be gracious to them too."
Beloved, having said all of this, we admit that this is not natural. This is supernatural. This is not natural to the fallen man. It is only through the power of the indwelling Spirit that we are able to respond this way. This is a characteristic of God. This is what God is like and we need the help of our Christ and the indwelling Spirit to respond in a manner like this. But what I want you to see, what I want you to walk out with today is with a fundamental sense of looking at life, looking at the way that you respond to the inevitability of being wronged by your boss, by your spouse, all of those people who are in a position to do it, is it a spirit of anger? A spirit of frustration? A spirit of striking back that defines your response? Or are you responding as one who says, "I'm a recipient of grace, I'll give grace." And when your heart starts to protest, "But they don't deserve it," you say, "Precisely, that's the point, my heart. I'm on the receiving end of grace I didn't deserve, of a geometric, infinite, greater order of magnitude. I received grace that I did not deserve from my heavenly Father through my Lord Jesus Christ and I want to be like Christ. That's what matters to me. That's the most apparent thing to me is that my heart and my character would become something like what Christ is like. That's the goal and aspiration of my heart, not that I would cling to my time and my dignity and my money and my things here in this life. Those things are incidental to me. What matters is what kind of person am I becoming." So that you renounce that spirit of retaliation in principle and then find ways to live it out in the life that comes.
Well, let's bring a final bit of application to this text in light of the full counsel of God, understanding that Christ here is talking about the inner righteousness that marks his disciples. These are matters that are so easily misapplied and misunderstood that we want to bring the fullness of some other illustrations to help you apply it properly and I'll do this by way of three questions just by way of application.
You could say it this way: did Jesus mean in this passage that we are absolutely never ever to confront evil? Is it his pattern that evil would never be confronted, that sin would never be confronted, and that we just let everything go? Is that what he intended to teach in light of the full counsel of God? The answer to that and letting Scripture interpret Scripture is: no, that's not what he meant. That couldn't have been what he meant based on other things that he taught in his word. For example, in a realm that applies to all of us here in this room, Christ very specifically told his church to confront sin in Matthew 18, verses 15 through 17: if your brother sins, go and confront him. If he doesn't repent, take two or three with you, one or two with you. And if he doesn't do that, then tell it to the church. In doing so Christ said that evil and sin and deception in the church is not to go unchecked. The church is to be a place where there is accountability, where sin is addressed and the wickedness and the sinfulness that sometimes bubbles up in the life of a church, that is to be addressed. That evil is to be confronted, not allowed to take over. So Christ didn't mean that. Think about what he says elsewhere in Scripture. The government in Romans 13, bears the sword in order to punish wrongdoers. The Old Testament had all kinds of penalties for sin that were attached to it. There is no way that Christ intended evil to just go unchecked through the church, through society, and it would just be a race to the bottom that the most wicked person could win and prevail. It's a kingdom of righteousness, not a kingdom of sin.
So this passage does not teach that. This is not a passage that teaches pacifism. It's not a passage that forbids people being in the military. It is not a passage that prevents a nation from rendering a just war against an aggressor. None of that is at the core of what Christ is talking about here. Christ in Matthew 5 is talking about the inner character of his disciples in their private lives and what he wants us to be as his people that follow him. We must understand that and as I alluded earlier, I'll go so far as to say that if a wife is being beaten by her husband, she's not to simply just let him continue to do that and this is a pattern of life, the thing to do there is to pick up the phone and call 911 and say, "Send an officer. My husband needs to be arrested for assault. Thank you." We don't let evil go unchecked that way. That's a complete misapplication of what Jesus says here. The point is that you don't calculate wrongs into your personal relationships and you guard your heart against that spirit of retaliation that wants to strike back and take matters into your own hands.
Secondly, someone might ask, "Can I assert my legal rights? Is there ever a time to assert my legal rights in light of what Christ said here?" The answer to that is: yes, of course that's appropriate. The Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar in Acts 25 when his accusers were about to carry him into a different jurisdiction so they could assassinate him. Paul said, "I appeal to Caesar." The response was, "To Caesar you shall go."
Thirdly and finally on kind of a practical matter: should we always give to beggars? When you pass somebody on the street or you see the guy at the end of the freeway ramp, "Homeless. Need food. God bless." It's always God bless, right, to kind of add to the guilt that they try to impose on you on that. Should we just give to anybody who asks for anything at all? Is that what Jesus is teaching here? Would that be the full counsel of God that whatever you are asked for, you are absolutely bound under any and all circumstances to give it to them no matter what? No. That's not biblical at all. In fact, let's look at a passage that will make that very clear to you in 2 Thessalonians 3. And we say these things, we point these things out in order to try to bring the right application out of the text and to do away with the extreme objections that would excuse you from receiving what the text is designed to teach. The text is designed to instruct you on the way that you respond when you are wronged and to put away that sense that, "I'm going to fight back." Well, by answering some of these questions, you see, people ask questions like this in order to make the passage look ridiculous and therefore dismiss it from any application whatsoever by dealing with some of the more extreme things and say this is not the teaching of Scripture, then we are left to deal with the question: what kind of person am I in the presence of God?
So should we always give to beggars? No. That is not the teaching of Scripture. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul says, "even when we were with you," actually let's go back a little bit further. Verse 6, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 to give the full context. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you" – watch this – "nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this," as apostles he means, "but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example." Verse 10, here it is, "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." You've got a lazy bum in the church who refuses to work and expects the church to support him when he is an able-bodied man, the teaching of Scripture is don't do that. If he doesn't want to work, then let him not to eat.
You say, "But I thought Christ said that we are to give to everyone who asks?" Well, when you interpret Scripture by Scripture, you can see the way that these things work out, that there are parameters in which these things are to be exercised and having dealt with the more extreme examples that are sometimes raised up against this passage, we are able to say, "Okay, it's not talking about a ridiculous sense of giving to absolutely everyone no matter what. It's not defining in every sense the way legal rights are used. It's not saying that we just let evil run unchecked." There have been foolish people who have taught that over the years. You say, "Okay, if it's not all of that then what is it?" Beloved, you see, it's so much more than all of that, isn't it? Jesus is saying, "This is the kind of person that I want you to be. I want you to be somebody who trusts me rather than defending yourself." Here in Matthew 5, Christ is cleansing us from our sinful tendency to strike back at those who irritate us or who wrong us. He is pointing you to the fact that Christ has been gracious to you in your sin and therefore you be gracious when others sin against you. It's a call to surrender your rights and to entrust yourself in every detail of life to Christ.
Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, we are very mindful that a passage like this really touches us where we live and I know even as I look out on faces here this morning, Lord, that there are some that are suffering under injustices that are being perpetrated against them, things that are just so unfair and situations that you would never condone but yet somehow you have appointed them for us. I pray that you would grant grace to those that are in that circumstance, wronged by a spouse, wronged by an employer, and grant them grace, Father, that they might trust you through the injustice. Grant them grace that they might avoid the retaliatory spirit, the angry spirit in response to that as they look unto Christ, the author and perfecter of their faith, and to extend grace where they have been wronged, to extend mercy, Father, where it is completely undeserved, and in that, Father, to grow and to become more like the gracious Christ who wondrously saved them from sin. Father, we look to you when injustice is perpetrated against us in those inevitable times when people lie against us and when people wrong us and take things and all of this stuff that goes with that, Father. We step back from all of that and confess to you this morning that we know that we can trust you through it all and that we do not have to take justice into our own hands. We'll leave room for you to do what you think is best and we'll trust you for the outcome, Father. Grant us grace and be merciful and helpful to us as we seek to live this way in response to your word. We pray these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.