Turn the other cheek while standing firm on God’s word for our behavior

Like me, you have probably come to the conclusion that life isn’t fair. Inequality isn’t right but it is part of the human condition. At some point, sooner or later (and probably sooner), someone is going to do you wrong, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

“Back in the day,” as they say, men were expected – actually compelled to protect their honor and the honor of their wives and families. If one man slandered or insulted another, the offended party often challenged the offending party to a duel. The weapons of choice were likely firearms or swords, the men took their paces, faced one another and went at it, sometimes to the death.

On July 11, 1804, in the most famous duel in American history, Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shot his long-time political adversary, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, one of America's Founding Fathers and the first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, died the next day.

Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. President, killed Charles Dickinson in a duel in 1806. Jackson, not yet president, was a well-known hothead and Dickinson had accused him of cheating on a horse race bet and then insulted Jackson’s wife, Rachel. The two men had feuded for a long time, but the feud ended on that fateful day.

Sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In December 2022, two Mississippi teenagers got into a fight over fake Nike Air Jordan shoes. The fight turned deadly and one of the boys shot the other, who eventually died. Such an incredible waste of a precious life. The shooter’s mother had tried to intervene in the fight but broke her leg in the process.

So sad, and so far away from what Jesus has commanded us to do in the world’s most famous sermon, His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7.

“You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” Matthew 5:38-39.

For many of us, it’s hard to walk away. Who wants to be thought of as a “wimp?” Retaliation is considered manly and strong, and “turning the other cheek” is considered a sign of weakness. In reality, responding to hate and ugly words with love is an act that requires the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Because flesh rises when it’s tempted.

But if a response of humility, with the right heart and the right attitude is accomplished, it may allow us to share the gospel in a way that many have not seen before.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44.

Like me, you have probably come to the conclusion that life isn’t fair. Inequality isn’t right but it is part of the human condition. At some point, sooner or later (and probably sooner), someone is going to do you wrong, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The examples are all over the place. Perhaps your parents mistreated you or favored another sibling over you. Maybe you were blindsided when you discovered your spouse cheated on you. Or what about the way your boss treats you on your job? Bottom line – everybody gets it, one way or the other.

Yes, we can choose to respond to people who hurt us by hurting them. That’s an easy answer and in our humanity, sometimes it just feels right. Our feelings can get us in the worst kind of trouble with God. He said, “Vengeance is mine,” and retaliation tit for tat is not what He calls us to do.

Responding in love to mistreatment is not the easiest thing to do. But it keeps the other person from taking up rent space in your head. You can’t control when another person treats you unfairly, but you can control whether you get bitter in the process. You can control your response to wrongdoing.

Please don’t hear what we are not saying. We are not saying that, as a Christian, you should be a doormat and put up with abuse and mistreatment. Absolutely not! No, you likely cannot “love” the other person into seeing the error of their ways.

Think about these scenarios and how turning the other cheek would simply enable bad behavior and foster worse consequences:

  • your spouse is physically abusing you.
  • your child is subjected to bullying at school and comes home crying every day
  • your boss is sexually harassing you
  • your sibling runs hot and cold with you, only using you when it’s
  • convenient for them

We cannot be foolish and pretend that we can love them out of their bad behavior. Those actions all have consequences, and they need to be addressed. We are called to speak the truth but speak it in love. There is nothing wrong or ungodly about having tough conversations.

Turning the other cheek means standing firm in the face of mistreatment and operating from a position of strength. In a prime example, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood firm in the face of the abuses he encountered through non-violent protests and a posture of peace that ultimately changed America. Dr. King’s eloquence and brave acts of defiance allowed his enemies to show exactly who they were. He is an enduring figure in American and world history, and very few would describe him as “weak.”

As followers of Jesus, we are to anchor ourselves in the truth of God’s word, of who we are in Him, and who He is in us. Unfairness and injustice are part of the human condition, but through it all, let’s respond in love.

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