This instruction shows us the heart of the Christian ethic for individuals. A common error is that we take the biblical requirements for individuals and apply them to states, and also apply the requirements for states to individuals. We do not understand governments, and as a result we commonly do not understand the instructions given to us in the Bible. This accounts for P.J. O’Rourke’s observation that numerous individuals want to save the planet, and no one wants to help Mom with the dishes.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . . Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:38-48).
What is the attitude Christ requires? First, note the context. Moses required “eye for eye,” etc. in order to put a stop to the taking of personal vengeance.
1. No longer a “life for an eye, life for a tooth.” God required strict justice.
2. The justice was to be administered by a civil magistrate, or according to civil law.
But by the time of Christ, this phrase was then turned into an excuse to justify the taking of personal vengeance, and Christ assaults this twisting of the law. He is teaching us that, among His followers, there is to be no spirit of personal retaliation. There must be none of it. But in Christ’s day, not only was the law of God being disobeyed, it was being quoted to justify that disobedience.
Jesus then gives a series of situations which illustrate the attitude or demeanor He requires. The situations vary, but the attitude must be constant. If the attitude is absent, then this kind of obedience is never possible. If the attitude is present, then the applications will be obvious. But such obvious applications will not be obvious if we do not know the Bible, and if we do not understand government, whether individual self government, or delegated government.
1. Do not resist an evil person. There are times when we must do this. There are times when we must not (Matt. 23).
2. Turn the other cheek. There are times when we must do this. There are times when we must not (John 18:22-23).
3. Capitulate in lawsuits. There are times when we must do this. There are times when we must not (Matt. 18:15-20)
4. Go the second mile. There are times when we must do this. There are times when we must not (Acts 16:35-38).
5. Give and loan money. There are times when we must do this. There are times when we must not (2 Thess. 3:10).
So, love your enemies. Again, popular wisdom sets the law of God on its head. Love your neighbor acquired the additional hate your enemy. But Jesus then gives a series of injunctions which are a sheer impossibility for anyone in the flesh. There can be no mistake about the personal demeanor required of Christians.
1. If someone is your enemy, then you must love them.
2. If someone curses you, then you must bless them.
3. If someone hates you, then you must do good to them.
4. If someone spitefully uses you, and persecutes you, you must pray for them.
We then come to consider the comparison between common grace and redemptive love. We are to imitate our Father in all things. We are to treat everyone we know, and meet, lawfully, from the heart. This is what our Father does — He pours out common blessings on the just and unjust alike. We are to do the same. If we were to find a wallet with money in it, it should make no difference whether the wallet belonged to a personal friend or enemy. This is our imitation of the Father’s common grace.
However, there are other aspects of our lives which are to be imitations of the Father’s redemptive love. For example, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church — they are to bestow love upon their wives, and upon no others. This is a distinction which is easy for us to master in our own dealings with our friends, acquaintances, and enemies. We must pray that God grants us an understanding of how this reflects His dealings with His bride, and His enemies.