Scripture – matthew 5:33-42 (NASB)
33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
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.
Engaging the Word
The Lie within Mankind
The first portion of this passage that we are engaging today is the context of oaths within the lives of the disciples. In this passage our Lord is addressing historically a discussion that has surfaced amongst the people of Israel. There had surfaced a debate as to the significance of oaths and whether when and if it was acceptable to use oaths. The religious men and woman of that time had used scriptures like that of Numbers 30:2 where it says “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” to deliberate the truth as to when and how to use oaths amongst the people of God. So then, why does our Lord speak of taking an oath in Numbers, yet here He calls us to not take an oath? You see the mosaic law that was given to the Israelites in the Pentateuch was given for the purposes providing a structure to address the decadent heart of man. We in our sin live a life of lies, to which the truth does not reside within us. This instruction given to Israelites was for the purpose of addressing the sin of untruth within the heart of man. It was given to man to instill the importance and significance of truth in times of need. However, we see here in this text, that our Lord quickly points out to his disciples that truth should not be revealed by any oath, but rather should be an out pouring of who we are as believers. In fact, our Lord illustrates in verse 37, that anything more than this comes from evil. Untruthful hearts are born from the evil within our sinful hearts, where its fundamental deceit is revealed from the father of lies who desires to destroy all that is good in God. As we discussed last week, if divorce is the result of human hard-heartedness, then swearing or oaths are from human untruthfulness. Both of these failures before God, are permitted by the law of our land, however before our Lord, neither bring forth a blessed life.
The Truth within God
So understanding this truth, that oaths have been given to mankind to hold us to the truth so that we might not sin in the lie that to too often we embrace. How then do we deal with the Genesis 22:16 where it says in the word that our Lord swore to Abraham that He would bless Abraham? We need to understand as believers that God is truth, He did not need to provide an oath to reveal the truth of who He is, rather in this scripture there are three truths provided.
- God provides oaths for those who do not embrace God’s Truth.
- Our Lord desires that we live a life of Truth and not of oaths.
- God is truth and He provides oaths to his children so that we might embrace Faith needed to reveal his Truth.
You see here in this passage of Genesis, an oath was required in the life of Abraham not because truth was required but because faith was required in the life of Abraham.
Experiencing the Truth of a Blessed Life
So, is there ever an oath required in the life of the believer? How should we embrace the oaths of this world? According to scripture and more importantly the word of our Lord; if we are to ever embrace the truth that is revealed in a Blessed Life, oaths should never be entertained. Swearing or oath taking, is a really a confession of our dishonesty as sinners. Our lives should always reveal the truth that is Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives. Our lives should illustrate the truth that was revealed in the life of the Essenes. Josephus wrote of the Essenes that “they were eminent for fidelity and the minsters of peace. Whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath. But swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury for they say that he who cannot be believed without (swearing by) God is already condemned.” This is what our Lord calls us to in this scripture, a life prostrate before God in truth and peace. A life blessed in presence of God in his truth.
As we come to the end of this chapter within Matthew, our Lord’s instruction becomes one which men struggle with more and more. Whether you are talking about marriage and divorce, or the lie in which men and woman embrace or here a calling from our Lord to embrace mercy and love in our worst of moments. It is as if our Lord was saving the best for last, but an instruction to which each of need to not only hear but live. It is in this next few verses that we need to understand that the instruction from our Lord given here, can only be revealed through the infilling of the Holy Spirit within our lives. It is not human nature to turn the other cheek. It is not human nature to give the coat off of our backs. It is only experienced in a Godly nature. So knowing this, how do these few verses speak in to the life of the believer?
Godly Nature versus Man’s Law
So, let’s for a moment consider what is the context of this instruction from our Lord here. As with the prior portion of this chapter, the people of Israel had formed their nation upon the law of God. Which instructed out of Exodus 21, Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19, if in society the harm was experienced between individuals called for and life for a life, an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc. Remembering what we discussed many weeks ago, that our Lord did not come to remove the law of the prophets but rather to fulfill them, how do we grapple with this understanding across all scripture. The truth that our Lord revealed on that day was not spoken to remove the law that had been given rather our Lord spoke these words specifically for the hearts of mankind. The law that was given to the prophets was for the purpose of the nation that was in the midst of forming, so that they may form the righteous nation that they were called to. However, knowing that the heart of man is wicked our Lord gave these mosaic laws so that they might be able to respond to those actions born out of the sin of man. As Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” These laws were given so that mankind could constructively function as a nation, however it was not given to define what the heart of man should search after. Instead our Lord here is calling each believer to a life that is born out the mercy that provided salvation for all mankind.
A Walk Over or Godly Character
Here in this passage it is evident that the people of God had begun to debate whether it was okay to respond in measures of revenge or evenness to those who had wronged. However, our Lord points out that we are not even to resist the evil one who is before us. So what does it mean to not resist the evil one? The Greek word for this non-resistence is the opposite of resistance (anthistemi) which basically means to resist, to oppose, to withstand or set oneself against someone or something. The evil that is being defined here is not the evil found within hell. In fact our Lord tells us in James 4:7 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This instruction from our Lord is calling for us to not resist the evil individual who seeks to do wrong upon us. For some of us this may be a very foreign concept, one of which you may not want to embrace or even understand. You may even look upon it as a weak perception of how to handle adversity in your life. Yet this is specific instruction from our Lord, one of which even Peter who died upside on a cross confirmed when he wrote in 1 Peter 2:21-23. “21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” You see here in Peter, as well as Matthew 5, it becomes very evident that living a blessed life is not normal. It cannot be done in our own strength because it requires that we reside in the presence of the one who has saved us so that that we may experience eternity now. When we experience of the eternity of our Savior in these moments not resisting the harm, the evil that is done to us, is not the weak or illogical response. Rather it is the eternal response so that not only do we experience purpose of blessedness in this life, but that we may reveal to those around us the blessedness in Christ.
Office versus Heart
So some of you may be wondering, how do justify such a perspective within the concept of the police or armed forces? How can you live such a truth as a believer and still be able to be a policeman or in the armed forces? This command from our Lord to not resist evil men should not be seen as a way to justify weakness, moral compromise, political submission or even total pacifism. Rather our Lord call us to live a life of mercy not justice which is never governed by the desire to cause harm to those who would do us wrong. Martin Luther put it this way, “there is a distinction between the person and the office, between the individual and institution. The Christian is wholly free from revenge, not only in action but in their heart as well, however they may find themselves entrusted with the authority given by God to resist evil and punish the evil of mankind”.
Living a Life of Mercy
So what does this mean to you and me as believers? It means that there may be those in this life who will seek to do us harm. Using the verses illustrated in verse 39, we see that for some it may be physical harm, for some it may be emotional or psychological and we as Christians are called to live a life of forgiveness. There will come times in our lives where we will be reviled, where our lives in Christ will strike truth into those around us and in their sin and lost state will seek to hurt and spit upon the one who lives in us. In some situations it may mean that we remove ourselves, but in all cases we are called to live a life of forgiveness and mercy. Experiencing forgiveness in a moment of revilement brings forth a blessed life God desires.
In verse 40, we see that for some it may mean that we let go of that which God has blessed us with, our stuff so that we might reveal to those who seek to take away from us, that the goodness of God is sufficient. This may mean giving to those who seek to use the institutions of this world to destroy; to go forth in forgiveness, giving to them more than they could ever imagine so that they can see Jesus in us. Reliance upon the provision of God in those moments of trial brings forth the blessed life God expects.
In verse 41, we that for some of us it may mean that there are those out there who seek to bring strife into our lives and for those we are called to go even further than they could ever imagine. This may mean going the extra mile for a friend, for a brother, a sister, a wife or husband, or even a child. This is not so that we can think higher of ourselves but so that we can live the blessed life our Lord has given us in His Spirit. Embracing spiritual endurance concretes the blessed nature God character.
Finally, in verse 42, we see that there will come times in our lives where we will be asked of ourselves or be called to let go that which we would rather not. Whether it is calling upon our finances, our time or our efforts, our Lord calls us to live a life of a servant. Giving of our energy or time when we would rather just relax. Giving of our money when we would rather not. Giving of our resources when we would rather use those resources for other purposes. These are all measures to which we as individuals are called to give of ourselves so that the hand of God might be revealed in our lives. Living as a Christ-like servant reveals the heart of a blessed life.
Today we have discussed two very important truths of which each of us as believers are called to embrace. The first is the understanding that we as believers are called to live a life of truth. This is not revealed in the words that we speak, but the actions that we take and the thoughts that we think. If our lives are to experience the blessed life our Lord desires, we are to called to engage a life that is spoken in truth.
The second truth that we are called to as believers is a life of mercy. Although mercy can be revealed in those large moments of reaching out as a helping hand in times of trouble; mercy is more succinctly revealed when we live the life our Lord calls us to in verses 39-42. This is a life which bears forgiveness in times of revilement. This is life the relies on God’s provision in times worldly selfishness. This is a life that embraces spiritual endurance during times of trial and turmoil. This a life that embraces Christ-like servanthood when our will desires other.
This is a blessed life. This is what our Lord calls us to. This is impossible on our own. This is only possible in the Spirit of God. If we desire to live a Christ-like life that is revealed in these passages, this requires that we submit to his presence. This requires that we let go of whatever prevents the fullness of His spirit revealed in our lives. This requires a bended knee and bended heart.