38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV)
Which is more difficult? To turn the other cheek, or to do unto others what you would want others do unto you? (Mat. 7:12; cf Jam. 4:8; John 13:34-35)
In today’s Men’s Corner, I want to discuss the concept of “turning the other cheek.” It is often misunderstood by some as a “pacifist” doctrine: the idea that we are never to retaliate when others wrong us, and thereby be seen as “wimps.” The Bible clearly does not advocate this view. Jesus Himself told the disciples to defend themselves and arm themselves with swords (Luk. 22:36). The deeper non-literal meaning of “turning the other cheek” must therefore be in how we respond to being wronged. God knows that we often have the burning desire to avenge the wrongs done to us. Instead of “getting back” at someone who has wronged us, which is the concept of an “eye for an eye,” and is synonymous with worldly retaliation, we are to stand up for our faith in Christian retaliation.
Here I suggest three ways of how, after being slapped, we still might be able to (and should) turn our other cheek:
Remember that Silence is Golden
Remember What Would Jesus Do
Remember to Leave Vengeance to God
1) Remember that Silence is Golden
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. Isaiah 53:7
If there was a step-by-step on “How to turn the other cheek” book, one surefire way that is almost guaranteed to be effective must be to try as much as possible to remain silent. We do not have to fall into the temptation to respond verbally to every attack. Silence can be powerfully deafening, and speaks volumes about our self-control. It gives us time to think, reflect, and manage our emotions. It is not easy, but often it is the best way to defuse a situation, and may even cause the other party who has wronged us to look at themselves in the mirror and realize the absurdity of their actions. It is definitely not easy, and takes a lot of practice, but the discipline of keeping angry words from bursting out of our mouths will eventually pay off even in this earthly life, let alone the Heavenly one to come. Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” It is not the fool that we are trying to avoid being here, but rather, the belligerent angry man that the world expects us to be. The important point is to distinguish vengeance from anger, and time allows us to better differentiate the two. In addition, keeping silent will give us some time to think about WWJD:
2) Remember What Would Jesus Do
Jesus, being the Son of God, was more than capable of sending twelve legions of angels to exact judgment on members of the Sanhedrin who reviled and crucified him. Yet, He chose instead to pray for them who persecuted Him. This should be first and foremost in our minds as we seek to emulate the example of Christ our Saviour. We emulate Christ in his love toward mankind. We also should strive to learn from how He dealt with what could have only been described as the most despicable of all personal attacks: an attack on a pure and innocent being. We see that by the grace of God, the very same people who sought to crucify Jesus later asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37-41). Had Jesus retaliated the way worldly men would, these conversions would not have happened. This also highlights the contrast between worldly vengeance, which is spiteful, and Godly vengeance, which is redemptive and comes from a place of justice: God seeks to bring the lost and the sinful back to the fold. This brings us to the third, and perhaps the hardest way in which we can turn the other cheek:
3) Remember to Leave Vengeance to God
Proverbs 20:22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee. (KJV)
In a tribute to Jesus’s sermon on the mount, Paul exhorted Christians in Rome to “give place unto wrath” (Rom. 12:19). Perhaps Paul was telling them to give not just place (or distance), but also time: as we have learnt in Point #1, keeping silent gives us time, and time heals all grievances. Paul goes one step further here and says in verse 20 that when we treat our enemies in a way that is contrary to what is expected of us, when we feed our enemies when they are hungry and give them drink when they are thirsty, we will be heaping burning coals on their heads. Is this the sense of shame that someone who has wronged us might experience when we return good for evil? Regardless, I believe that Paul is advising those who are angry and seek immediate earthly recompense to give place unto their wrath and to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). Instead, we need to put our trust in this, that God’s complete sense of justice will prevail (Rev. 6:10).
The difficulty lies not just in knowing rationally that God is all powerful and will judge all men, good or evil, but also in trusting and leaving judgment in God’s hands. He created all of us, and it is only right that judgment remains His. His ways may not be our ways, yet we should always trust that the Creator will exact vengeance that is not borne out of anger, nor inappropriate, but always right, and perfectly just.