What Does Matthew 5:39 Mean?

But I tell you, don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:39(HCSB)

Verse of the Day

In His amazing Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a list of the characteristics He expects from His followers - from those who would be subjects of the kingdom He came to establish. Kingdom citizens should be poor in spirit and pure of heart. They need to be men and women who hunger and thirst after righteousness, mourn over sin, show mercy to others, and are gentle and kind. And yet, He explains that the standard He expects from His people would result in them being persecuted for their faith and hated by the world.

Jesus uses sections of the Mosaic Law to set out the godly principles of behaviour He expects His disciples to follow. He deals with anger, adultery, divorce, murder, and lust in this manner, and in verses 38-39 He talks about retaliation: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but I tell you, don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."

Is Jesus criticising the Law of Moses? NO! Is He changing the Law that was given to Israel? NO! Is Jesus telling His disciples not to follow the Law? NO! Jesus was born under the Law and throughout His life, He kept the Mosaic Law. Indeed, He came to earth to fulfil the Law on behalf of all who would believe on His name. He took the punishment for our sin on the Cross so that all who believe on Him would not be condemned by the Law, but be declared righteous in the sight of God. 

Jesus was not teaching that we should never resist the evil in this world. He resisted evil on many occasions in His earthly life. Nor was He rejecting God's holy Law. He was rejecting the legalistic traditions of the arrogant, Jewish leaders, who interpreted the Law for their own interests. They stuck to the letter of the Law while ignoring the spirit behind the Law. They laid legalistic burdens on the people of Israel, by erecting man-made traditions around the Law which served their prideful purpose, but which altered the truth of God's Word. But throughout His teaching, Jesus was teaching the true meaning behind God's Word.

A correct exploration of the command, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' shows that the municipal government was to apply this principle when dealing with civil matters, but the Jewish leaders had turned it into a personal issue in individual relationships. Jesus, however, was teaching His disciples that accepting personal insults and injustices instead of taking revenge or retaliating against an offender was the godly response, that vengeance in all of our lives belongs to God, and leaving matters in His hands is the correct response for children of God. Jesus not only taught the true meaning of the Law, He lived out its principles in His own life - for He was despised and rejected of men, He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, He was falsely accused and led as a lamb to the slaughter, but He did not open His mouth. He did not retaliate.

It is not easy to be spurned and hated, insulted and denigrated for being a Christian and doing what is righteous in God's eyes. The human response is to retaliate, to 'get even', and to pay back evil with evil. But the Christlike response is to do the opposite. And Jesus taught an amazing truth that those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake are blessed. Those who believe in Him and follow Him are blessed, even when they are insulted, persecuted, or falsely accused because of Him: "Don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also... because your reward is great in heaven."

May we live a Christlike life, in thought, word, and deed. As the apostle Peter also taught: "Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead - for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing."

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, help me to become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, in thought, word, and deed. Help me not to repay evil with evil or insult with insult. Help me not to resist an evildoer or retaliate when I am abused or slighted for His name's sake. I pray that in the power of the indwelling Spirit, to seek after that which is good, and be ready and willing to turn the other cheek. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.

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