“Turn the other cheek,” I heard you say. So, not striking them in return, I did, Quietly hoping the slaps would end. But I’ve been slapped again twice, instead. The red on my cheeks does fade away. The hurt that remains is deep inside; my heart feels bruised, misunderstood. Is this all I should do? Just hide? Silence, for now, is my one resort. How can I win over evil with good? My hope is in you, my counselor. How can I show love like I should? It is yours to avenge. That you have said. And you will repay. You gave your word. My job is to wait, to promote peace. So I will practice what I have heard. (Mat 5:39; Luk 6:29; Rom 12:19-21; Prov 12:20)
I’ll bet you’ve been in a situation like that, too. You “turn the other cheek” and react peaceably, but the problem persists. Why did Jesus ask us to not retaliate when someone insults us?
When I was crying out in distress to the Lord and wrote this poem, I was in that kind of sensitive dilemma. I had actually tried to address the issue earlier, when it was another person in the community who was getting “slapped,” publicly, repeatedly, by this same person. The victim was not responding, since the culture where we were working dictated silence when rebuked by someone over you, even when the rebuke was shaming, not kind. I had tried to intervene, but it was continuing, and now it had been my turn.
I have always been hypersensitive. My mother used to tell me, “Linn, you are wearing your feelings on your shoulders – don’t be so sensitive!” Over the years I felt that I had made progress, but this new situation involving “slaps” from someone I had mentored was like a sword slicing my heart. I responded by letting it go, then it happened again. Tears welled up; I could no longer control them. I thought there was no hope of change.
But a short time later, my much-loved coworker found a moment when we were alone and asked me, “What am I doing wrong? I seem to be hurting people; I don’t get it!” That gave me an opening to explain again the power of words to encourage or to hurt, especially in a public context. It turns out that he had grown up in a family where every disagreement was handled with loud harsh words. With new understanding, and given time, we began to see him practicing a more careful approach to speaking out in disagreement, using words with more attention to the topic and less disrespect of the person. The Lord was at work!
When Jesus said, “Do not resist the one doing evil,” but instead allow that person to do that wrong thing to you again, he was once again explaining how Kingdom values were different than what would be assumed to be appropriate by the world. Dallas Willard calls this “the great inversion,” where Kingdom character would express the opposite of what would be considered normal. Instead of resisting a personal insult by insulting back, instead of returning “harm for harm,” those acting like children of God should react with regard for their adversary and do what would promote peace. When “we have already heard and received the word of the kingdom, and . . . anger, contempt and absorbing desire have been dealt with so that our lives are not being run by them,” then our normal reaction becomes to do what is good and loving, not allowing an injury to become the dominating factor.
Because translations usually say not to resist “an evil person” or “one who is evil,” I used to find it tough to apply this principle to a fellow believer. The NET and CSB versions use “evildoer,” which is broader. We are often not shocked to be treated abusively by those outside the Family, but as we all know, there are times when a brother or sister in Christ will lash out in a way that truly hurts. Applying Kingdom values in those situations is just as essential as when the other person does not know the Lord.
The Law of Moses was given to God’s chosen people, Israel. Their judges were advised to administer justice when there were disputes among these brethren:
If a man inflicts an injury on his fellow citizen,just as he has done it must be done to him – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth – just as he inflicts an injury on another person that same injury must be inflicted on him. (Lev. 24:19 NET)
This kept the judges from demanding unjust settlements from the offender, such as a payment greater than the injury inflicted, but still required retribution. “It thus had the double effect of defining justice and restraining revenge . . . But the scribes and Pharisees evidently extended this principle of just retribution from the law courts (where it belongs) to the realm of personal relationships (where it does not belong). They tried to use it to justify personal revenge, although the law explicitly forbade this: ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people.’ (Lev. 19:18)
Charles Wood has summarized Jesus’ teaching this way: “Christ completely reverses the interpretation of the Pharisees. Instead of the spirit of self-centeredness which insists on rights, and demands retaliation, you should have the opposite—selflessness, the ability to abide wrongs and to give of self.”
This does not mean that there should be no consequences for doing wrong. When it comes to a court hearing, justice must be upheld. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fill in its complete Kingdom meaning (Mat. 5:17). Here he is talking about how a disciple is not to respond out of anger to a personal injustice, but out of consideration for the other person.
Reacting that way is being like Jesus, who urged his followers to be willing to suffer while following him, to “take up their cross” (Mat. 16.24). When he was being tried and then crucified, he was verbally and physically abused by the very people he came to save, most of them members of his chosen people. But he did not resist them, did not answer their insults (Mat. 27:12). There had been other times when he had corrected their interpretations of God’s law or his ministry, and he had stood up for those being treated unjustly. But when it came to this very personal abuse, he did not retaliate. “This is how Peter put it: ‘Christ … suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps … When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.” His Kingdom values were rather to accomplish what his Father had sent him to do, out of love for the very people hurting him (and all the rest of us).
As Paul explains in Romans 12:19, vengeance is not our job, but God’s. Leave it to him.
Some have taken the instruction to not resist a wrongdoer but “turn the other cheek,” to mean one should never participate in any defensive movement, especially war, or even to not defend an innocent person under attack. Christ would not have asked us to break the commands given so often in the Scriptures, such as in Isaiah:
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isa. 1:17 NIV)
As John Stott explains: “True love, caring for both the individual and society, takes action to deter evil and to promote good. And Christ’s command was ‘a precept of love, not folly’. He teaches not the irresponsibility which encourages evil but the forbearance which renounces revenge.”
What is essential here is care for the well-being of the offender who is acting against me personally; I am to promote peace by exemplifying it.
When my coworker realized he was hurting his own well-being by his public accusations of others and the injuries that resulted, peace became his goal as well. He began to care more about their well-being, measuring his words. We may not always see results, but that is when it is important to remember that the King is the one in charge, and commit the problem to him.
Jesus gave three examples of how to put this into practice:
40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile,go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you,and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:40-42 NET)
Non-retaliation would mean reacting to illegitimate demands by responding with grace. This is a high calling beyond our natural abilities, but by his gracious gift to us, we who follow Jesus have the Holy Spirit equipping us to live this out. The fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23 NIV) May we rely on him to produce this fruit in us!
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. (HarperSanFrancisco: 1997), 178.
 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 104–105.
 Stott, p. 107.