Turn the Other Cheek
A Message by Pastor Eric Chang
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
All of you know that this teaching is really the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. I think even the non-Christians are very familiar with this passage in the Bible, if they are familiar with almost nothing else. They have all heard about this passage. It is so famous. They know that this is something really unique in the teaching of Jesus.
What Does it Mean to Turn the Other Cheek?
What is the meaning of this passage that is before us today? How are we to understand this? Well, when we look into the opinions, we hear many people saying, “Well, this means that Jesus is saying that we should not retaliate.” Is that all that Jesus wants to say - that we should not retaliate? If He meant that, why did He not just say, “If somebody strikes you on the cheek, do not hit him back.” That is non-retaliation. Why does He say, “If he strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek”? That seems to be a lot more than non-retaliation, is it not? So what then is the Lord Jesus saying? How are we to understand this passage?
Thus, when we look at this passage, we are bound to ask many questions. We want to ask: What is the merit, what is the spiritual value of being hit on the face and presenting the face for him to hit also on the other side? What kind of meaning is there in all this? What is the point of this teaching? What is meant to be achieved by all this? So we need to pursue into the meaning of this. And then, as you look around, some people suggest: “Well, what this means, in a deeper level, is that you must die to yourself.” That is coming very much closer to the Lord’s teaching here: to die to yourself.
The only problem is: Whatever does “die to yourself” mean? In the church, we are used to using terminology, the meaning of which we only vaguely understand. We are not terribly clear exactly what this means: “die to self”. Whatever does that mean? You remember, in the Friday Bible studies, I often cross-questioned those who gave their ideas to ask them precisely what do they understand by what they have said. [I would ask:] “What exactly is the meaning of this?” We often use terms that we think we understand when we do not. The trouble is that in the church, we have this great problem. Many people think they know the Word of God - that they understand the Word of God - but when closely cross-questioned, they break down under cross questioning because they find that they do not really understand what they are saying. We do not want to be in this kind of position. We want to know what it is that the Word of God is saying to us. And we do not want to be content with this vague type of knowledge, which is very dangerous because we think we know when we do not really know. If I cross-question you when you say, “We need to die to self”, I wonder how far you would get along with cross questioning, as to how you understand what this means.
Hitting with the Left Hand - to Add Insult
When we continue on into understanding this, I must point out a few matters of technical points - if we might call them that - to help us understand the passage more accurately. Notice what it says: “If anybody hits you on the right cheek....” Look at the other person and see how you are going to hit him on the right cheek. Think about it for a moment. His right cheek is over there. If I am going to hit him, I hit his left cheek, not his right cheek. The only way I can hit his right cheek is to turn my hand around to hit him this way. Did you notice that? The Word of God is really wonderful! Nothing is wasted; there is always a perfect point there. You want to hit his right cheek? You try it. You cannot hit him this way; you have to turn your hands backward to hit it. You use a backstroke, that which you use for badminton, or tennis or whatever - a backhand stroke. Thus, to hit him on the right cheek, you have to hit him backhanded. Is there any significance in that? Very much so! The backhand stroke was a very insulting stroke, a very offensive stroke. Even today among the Arabs, to hit a person with a backhand is a supreme insult.
Under Jewish law, [this topic] is very interesting. I was checking out the Jewish law on this point. It said that if you insult any person and slap him, you are guilty of a fine. You will be fined under law of 200 zuz, which is 200 denarii in Roman terms. If you slap him with the palm of your hand and he takes you to a court of law, that is, to the Jewish tribunal before one judge or three judges, the minor court of the Jews, you will be fined 200 zuz. That is a lot of money. 200 zuz can buy you a very nice overcoat. (I am telling you this because zuz means nothing to you.) Speaking of it in terms of modern language, you can buy a very, very expensive and fine overcoat for 200 zuz, in terms of what they could buy in those days. You will be fined that sort of money. I do not know how much an overcoat costs in Canada. I have not been really shopping around. I suppose it costs maybe $100. I am not very sure how much a coat costs. But anyway, it is very considerable, a very high fine.
However, for the backhand slap, you will be charged, i.e., you will be fined double under Jewish law. You will be fined double, that is, 400 zuz for slapping a person with the back of your hand. So you see, in understanding the NT in its details, often it is very important to understand something about Jewish law because it helps us to understand many things much more clearly. Unfortunately, many of these technical works are not available to leaders, but we must go into the details to help us understand the Word of God clearly.
So we can see that the backhand slap was regarded as a double insult - an insult worthy of a double fine. So to slap a person is to damage his dignity, and under Jewish law, that is a very considerable assault on his person. You have damaged his dignity; you have humiliated him. But by slapping him with the reverse hand, you have inflicted double damage upon him. So we see here a point that we need to notice as a matter of technical interest.
The Principle of Justice - An Eye for an Eye
Now it says here in v38: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. What is that? That is the principle of justice. This principle of justice is mentioned also in the Law of Moses. It is not part of the Ten Commandments but is in the Law of Moses. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Is that fair or not fair? Surely you must have justice. You take somebody’s eye; you lose your own eye. If you chop somebody’s hand off, you get your own hand chopped off. If you kill somebody, then you also die. A life for a life! That is the principle of justice. That is fair. It is just. Well, it has to be! There must be some way to establish justice in the world. We cannot live in this world without justice. I mean, you can see that society must have justice. Just think for a moment if there is no justice in this world.
Think for a moment if there was no police force. I heard that the police in Montreal went on strike at one time. Incredible! The police can go on strike. I have never heard of it before. But anyway, if the police go on strike, then you know what happens. Immediately there is robbing and there is killing. There is a lot of robbing, of course, because this is the chance to hole in, just by breaking shop windows, while there is no police around. Immediately you have chaos because there is nobody to enforce law.
The whole principle of law founded on the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is not always literally carried out, but the equivalent of the damage [is sought]. Say, for example, that you are driving a car and you damage somebody; you injure that person. Well, what does the court of law do? It says that you blinded that person in one eye; you will pay out a fine of $50,000. Whoa! You almost wish they would take out your eye. Your eye is cheaper. You cannot afford $50,000. They might as well take your eye. You break his leg, they charge you another $50,000, $100,000 or whatever amount they charge you. I do not exactly know how much they charge you for these fines. And so you find that that is why everybody has to take on insurance because you cannot afford to pay this kind of fine. You do not have the money to pay. So instead of taking your eye - it is still an eye for an eye, a leg for a leg, a hand for a hand - but instead of that, they charge you a fine which they think his leg is worth. What is it - $50,000 or $100,000? His leg is worth that much. So the principle still operates. It is the whole basis of law. That is the way it is.
There is no question of forgiveness in law. There is no use saying to the judge, “Oh, judge, I am so sorry! I’ll never do it again. I am really sorry” and you think the judge will say, “OK! OK! You are so sorry. Forget it!” [Instead he will say:] “His leg is damaged. I do not care how sorry you are. You are going to pay damages.” That is the principle of law. There is no forgiveness in law. There is only justice. “Justice right down to the last farthing,” as Jesus mentioned. [Mt. 5:26]
Law Is Necessary for the Control of Sin
So law is for the control of sin. Since society is a sinful society, therefore you must have law to control sin. Otherwise, sin will run wild. Human nature let loose is indescribably evil. I have already reminded some of you before what human nature can do once the restrictions of law are taken away. This is the reason why soldiers going to a foreign country and fighting in a foreign country behave like wild animals - because they are no longer under the law either of their own country - because they are abroad - or of the country in which they are, because it is a state of war.
Soldiers will perform every sort of evil, if given half the chance, unless the Supreme Commander is extremely tight in his control and inflicts severe penalties upon soldiers. However, normally the command is quite loose. They let the soldiers have a certain amount of freedom, and then what happens? Massacres, robberies, rapes and murders - everything is done or will be done because the restriction of law is released. This is the reason why Japanese soldiers behaved like wild animals in China, but it is true of so many other countries as well.
So, this being so and that law is necessary in a society, then why do you say that you should turn the other cheek? That is contrary to law. It is the abolishing of law, is it not, to say, “Well, if law requires”, but then you do not abide by the law; you say, “I don’t mind. You slap me some more, I am quite enjoying this. Carry on!” What is this? What is going on here? It seems to be a sort of sadism in reverse, so that you enjoy suffering when you are having affliction inflicted upon you. What is this kind of teaching then? Well, is Jesus teaching anything like that? Not at all - as you may already have suspected. But then how are we to understand this?
Turning the Other Cheek - Divine Reasoning vs. Human Reasoning
To understand this passage, we must understand a spiritual principle. What spiritual principle? The spiritual principle of the difference between human reasoning and divine reasoning. And this is the point that we must, I hope by God’s grace, make clear to every person here - the vital difference between human reasoning and spiritual reasoning. So God’s way of thinking and our way of thinking, i.e., man’s way of thinking, are utterly different. As Isaiah did say, as God spoke to Isaiah and said, “My thinking - My thoughts - are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways.” [Is. 55:8] Do you understand what that means? Just look at the passage and you will see how different is God’s ways from our ways. It is entirely different! And the essence of becoming a Christian is to have your whole thinking renewed, transformed and changed.
The trouble with the church today is that we have a church full of people whose minds have not been changed. Their thinking is still the old thinking. They are dressed in new dress, but the inside is old. They behave like non-Christians; they think like non-Christians; they talk like non-Christians, and yet they allege themselves to be Christians. For the past week, my heart has been exceedingly heavy and painful because I noticed that our church is, as in any other church, full of people whose thinking is the old way of thinking - carnal thinking, human thinking. We have not entered into the new way of thinking. I cannot hide my disappointment and my disgust at the whole thing. I frankly say to you that sometimes it makes me so sick and fed-up, that I just want to resign. I just want to quit. I confess to you my weakness. I sometimes feel so frustrated I just want to quit. I want to say, “Look! If you people don’t want to be changed, if you don’t want to be new creatures, then you carry on. You run this church in your way, and I am getting out. You are either going to do it God’s way; or you do it your way, then count me out.” When there is judging, and criticisms and carnal thoughts - we cannot go on in a church like this. We cannot go on in a church like this, brothers and sisters. We have to be renewed.
I am here to do just one job. I am not here to build the church just for the sake of building any kind of church. I am not interested in this. I am here to build disciples. The Lord Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all men.” [Mt. 28:19] And what are disciples? Disciples are people who have a completely new way of thinking. That is what the whole Sermon on the Mount is here to teach us, not to give us a code of ethics. It is here to tell us how we are to behave as new people. I am going to ask you: Do you want to be new people? This includes the leaders of the church. Do you want to be new people, or do you not want to be new people? If you do not want to be new people, then you carry on by yourself and count me out because I cannot be bought and I am not intending to go any other way but God’s way. I do not care if I step on everybody’s toes and offend everybody here. As I have said before in Liverpool, I will preach God’s Word and I do not care if I offend everybody that everybody wants to leave. They can all go. I will keep on preaching God’s Word without compromise. The funny thing was this: they still did not want to go. In Liverpool all the people still kept coming, even though I offended them. For some of them, I offended them for two solid years, having hammered them every week. Sometimes I wonder how they could have stood it for so long. It really puzzled me. They came back the next week to be hammered again and the week after that. I thought, “How long can they stand this before they break or they leave?”
Two things will happen in this church, brothers and sisters. A person will either leave this church completely, or he will change. There is no other way in coming to this church. There is no kind of person who can sit here for very long and endure this kind of teaching. Either he is going to turn around and say, “I have had enough of this guy. I don’t want to hear him anymore”, or else God is going to use the Word of God to change his life. In Liverpool, some people, as I said, managed to stand it for 2 or 3 years. Finally, either they stopped coming (which is what I expected in the first place, but I wondered why they did not stop earlier), or else they were transformed. So remember, brothers and sisters, only 2 things are going to happen: either God’s Word is going to change you, or you will not want to hear it any more. So this is what the whole Sermon of the Mount is speaking to us about - the transformation of the mind. Rom. 12:1-2 should be better known by all Christians.
Renewal of the Mind — Function in Spiritual Logic
Let me read Rom. 12:1-2 to you again. Especially if you are young Christians, and you do not know this verse, I would like you very much to know it. This is what we read here: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” - your spiritual service. “Do not be conformed” - notice v2 - “to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Be transformed by the renewal of your mind - that is what becoming a Christian is all about. I am not interested in how much Bible you know; I am not impressed with that. I can say with great confidence that I know the Bible more than anybody here. I am not impressed with anybody’s Bible knowledge. Do not go and tell me, “I have read a lot of Bible commentaries.” If you want to boast, then as Paul says, “I can boast and make a fool of myself, too.” [2 Cor. 11:16] I spent 6 years in basic study of the Bible and theology. I have done a lot more years of research on top of that. And let nobody come and wave his Bible in front of me. It is not a question of how much you know. It is a question of how much you have been changed in your thinking. That is what matters! So we must understand this. The Word of God is telling us here - the Lord Jesus is saying - that if we are to understand this passage, our minds must be utterly transformed. How is it transformed? In what way is it transformed?
Let me notice first the old way of thinking - the earthly way of thinking. I have used the terms ‘earthly logic’ and ‘spiritual logic’. Logic is a system, a way of thinking. Human logic makes very good sense. Given their set of values, it makes very good sense. We have just seen that it makes very good sense: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It is sensible. It must be so. The logic, given that set of values, is perfect. It cannot be attacked; it cannot be criticized. How can you imagine there would be no law? How can you imagine there would be no police? How can you imagine there is no government? That would be dreaming. Tolstoy made that great mistake. He made the mistake to think that this world could just take the teaching of Christ and follow it. You cannot follow the teaching of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus here is for disciples, not for the world. It is for people who have been ‘born again’, as they say. It means to be changed, transformed. Do not use terms like ‘born again’ - nobody knows what it means.
‘Born again’ means precisely that your whole life, the whole direction of your life has changed. Your whole character, your whole nature is changing. You become a new person. “The old has passed, the new has come.” [2 Cor. 5:17] And the teaching of Jesus is for the new person; it is for the new man. It is not for society. How can you expect the world to live this kind of teaching? Of course they cannot live it. And Jesus did not give this as a teaching for the world to practice. It is for the kingdom of God. Thus, there is no question of saying, “How can people practice this?” Nobody said they can practice it, if they are not born again, if they are not new creatures. They cannot practice this teaching. It is not for the world; it is for the kingdom of God. So there is no problem here.
But understand this - that within the system of this world, the way of thinking of this world makes perfect sense. The logic is perfect. We understand that there must be law. Human beings must have rights. If a human being had no rights, he will be stamped upon. He will be trampled into the earth. He must have rights. Thus, you must have law. And if anybody violates your right, inflicts any injury upon you, then it will be required of him in the same way that it was inflicted on you. That is perfect logic and perfectly understandable.
Spiritual Logic Operates on a Different Plane from Worldly Logic
So let us then, as we pursue this, consider this. We see how coherent in itself is the world’s thinking. For example, it is very coherent and very logical to say, “I need to get a job; I need to work; I need to buy a house; I need to get married; I need to have children; I must have a succession in the future”, and so on and so forth. In its own system, it is perfectly logical. Of course you need to do these things. It is natural. And you say, “Well, I need to go to work; so I need to buy a car; I need to have education”, and so forth. It is all perfectly logical. When you graduate, of course, you do not go look for a bad job; you look for a good job. The better the job, the better it is. It is perfectly logical. I mean you do not have to be a genius to see that. Within the system of the world’s thinking, the logic is perfect. So where does the spiritual logic differ? The spiritual logic differs in that it operates on a different plane - understand this! It operates on a different level altogether and you will find that within the level of spiritual logic, everything makes perfect sense, too.
How is it possible that both make perfect sense at the same time? It is because they both operate on a different level. It is a different type of logic. It operates on a different level of thinking. That is why if you are a spiritual person and you think in terms of spiritual logic, you will find it very difficult to speak to a non-Christian because he thinks on a purely human logic. He does not understand what you are talking about. He would say, “I don’t understand what you say. Why do you do these things?” He does not understand your actions, your way of life, because your logic, your way of life is operating on a different level altogether. Yet he cannot find fault with it. He knows that somewhere, there is sense in what you are doing, but he cannot understand it because man’s ways are not God’s ways. They say, “I cannot understand. I can see there is some reason in the way God does things, though I can’t fully understand it.” But if he is utterly sold on the world, that is to say that if his thinking is only limited to the world’s thinking, he not only cannot understand your thinking, he may attack your thinking. He will not only criticize your thinking, he will assault you. He will say that you are mad, that you are beside yourself.
It is not surprising that Jesus was accused of being mad. What is surprising about that? They could not understand His way of thinking. Paul was also accused of being mad. John Sung was also accused of being mad. They are all mad as far as this world is concerned. All mad! It is because the world cannot understand the things of God. As Paul said, as he understood so well, the carnal man cannot understand the spiritual things. They cannot understand the spiritual way of reasoning. So we must understand that there are 2 ways of reasoning and both are complete in themselves. Now, as a person who used to be in the world, you are able to understand the thinking of the people in the world. You should be able to understand. Often the great mistake of Christians is not to distinguish between the two types of logic, and so they use spiritual logic to argue with the non-Christian.
The non-Christian does not know what you are talking about. You do not communicate to him because you are talking from a completely different level of logic. For example, your parents do not know the Lord and you talk to your parents about Christ. They look at you and think, “Well, I don’t know what happened to him. We thought he went to Canada to study something sensible and he comes back and talks this kind of rubbish. I mean, we don’t understand him at all.” For them it is rubbish; it is nonsense, because it operates on a different level. In fact, you understand why they think it is nonsense because once, you used to think in the way they thought. So there opens up a communications gap and it takes a lot of spiritual skill to close that gap by which you know why they do not understand. Sometimes it is very sad to see a Christian and a non-Christian arguing. Why? You would think that the fault is with the Christian. He should understand by now that the non-Christian cannot understand this and therefore you must take a different approach to close the communication gap.
The Character of the Spiritual Man
1) The Spiritual Man Desires to Give Rather Than to Take
Let us quickly then notice the characteristics of this new way of thinking which every true Christian must have. We have a totally new way of thinking. What is this new way of thinking? What is the character of this spiritual logic?
First, notice this. As we look at this passage in the Lord’s teaching (that is, since we must be careful in our exposition and not wander to somewhere else), let us look at this. Read it again. If anybody slaps you, present to him, that is, give him your other cheek. If anybody takes your shirt (i.e., inner clothes - here incorrectly translated as coat), let them take your cloak. I do not know why the English translators use this kind of terms. We do not use cloaks today. To translate to ‘coat’ and ‘cloak’ is meaningless. Do you wear a cloak? You do not wear a cloak. So what it is the point of translating a word like cloak? I must say sometimes that I do not understand the translators at all. Why do they not just say your shirt and your jacket, or your sweater, your cardigan or your overcoat? This kind of language we understand, but coat and cloak? We do not wear cloaks. There is no point using words like this. The point here then is this: if anybody wants to grab your shirt from you, do not say, “Wait a minute! My shirt is a very good shirt. This shirt is worth $15.” No, no! If he wants to grab your shirt from you, you take your jacket off and say, “You have this as well.” He wants to take it - you give it to him. You give him the other one as well.
Let us say somebody wants to grab you and says, “I’m going to force you to walk one mile”, because this is the Roman law of subjugated people, that is, subjugated people were required, i.e., were conscripted to carry government baggage a certain distance. If someone forces you to carry it for one mile (which was the law at that time; he could not require you to do more than one mile), you gladly of yourself go a second mile. Give him a second mile.
If a beggar comes to you and begs from you because of his need, do not refuse him. Give to him what he needs. Give it to him. Notice what is said here? Have you noticed now? No? The character of this world’s thinking is to take. The character of spiritual thinking, of God’s thinking, is to give. Notice then the first difference of thinking. The world wants to take, take, take! Get as much as you can! Get it! The spiritual thinking is to give - give beyond all reason. There is no more sense for you to give; you have nothing to give but you still give to the maximum. Give! Give! That is the way of the spiritual man. You give even what is not required of you to give. You still give it. Why do you do it? Because your thinking is changed. Your reasoning is changed. You delight in giving.
Examining Ourselves - Do We Like to Give or to Take?
Here I would like you to examine yourself. We come down to concrete points. Do you delight to give? You say that I may have been unfair when I said earlier that the church is full of carnal Christians, full of people who have not changed in their thinking, even though outwardly they may be Christians. You say, “Maybe he is being unfair, making sweeping statements.” Okay, let us see if we are fair or not. Let me ask you, “Do you really like to give or do you like to take?” Be honest with yourself, do you like to take or do you like to give? If I had a questionnaire here and asked you to tick it, which one would you honestly tick? Give or take? If you would be honest with yourself, when asked, “Do you delight to give or delight to take”, which would it be? I fear that the answer would be that you delight to take.
My heart sinks in me when I hear a Christian say, “Oh, God is so good to me. You know why? I went on this holiday and I had to give nothing. All my expenses were taken care of.” I would like to say, “Brother (or sister), all was taken care of, huh? Somebody had to pay the bill.” He delights in taking, and he thinks this is God’s blessing. The Christians today say, “God, how much can You give me?” That is, how much can I take from God? “That is what I am here for. God give me this! God give me that!” I was talking with a brother and what I cite in this instance is a perfectly true case of what I thought was a very good brother. He said, “You know, God is so good to me” and I said, “Yeah? How was He good to you?” He said, “It cost me next to nothing on this holiday, you see.” “Really? How is that so?” “All my expenses [were covered]. You see, all these people looked after me and provided all I needed”. So good, huh? Did it not cross his mind that it was they - it was they - who had to provide all the costs for him. It was they who had to give so that he did not have to pay. But that is so typical, I thought. It is so typical of Christian thinking. If you can go out to a meal and somebody else pays for the meal, you say, “Praise God! How good God is to me. I got a free meal.” Did it cross your mind that somebody had to pay for that bill?
What are you congratulating yourself for? If you had the money in your pocket, you did not pay it and somebody else paid it, and then you say, “God is so good to me”, this is what I call carnal thinking dressed up in religious dress. There is hypocrisy revealed. But, of course, it is all done in good faith. They did not know it. They did not know it. In that sense, you cannot say it is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means deliberate action, but you will see that it does not mean that when we come to expounding the Lord’s teaching on that. But you see here then that our whole logic is still the logic of the carnal man. How much can I take? The delight is in taking, not the delight in giving, [as to think]: “How good it is that I could give! It is so good that I was able to have an opportunity to give!” Did you ever feel happy? You say, “Why did I have to pay for the meal? Why didn’t these three guys, these two guys, whoever it is, why didn’t they pay for it?” That is how our thinking is governed. Now take the test and see how spiritual your thinking really is.
The Character of Sin - Always Take!
So we can examine our thinking and see the character of the carnal man. But take it one step further and understand this - understand that the character of sin is always to take and not to give, and then you will know why the spiritual man gives rather than takes. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [Acts 20:35] You know why? It is because the character of sin is always to take. Look at the Ten Commandments. Does it forbid you to give something? Where does it forbid you to give? The Ten Commandments, every one of those commands, forbids you to take something. Each forbids you to take something that does not belong to you because it is the character of sin not only to take, but also to take what is not rightfully its own.
The character of sin is always to take. So you shall not covet; you shall not rob; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not do these. These things are all we want to take, what we have not the right to take. Sin’s character is always to take. To take beyond measure, that is what becomes sin. But if you already have the desire to take, it does not take a very big step to go further, and take even that which is not necessarily rightfully yours. There are some things which you may not take. If you work in an office, the things that belong to the office, may you take them? You say, “Well, I work in this office.” Does that give you the right to take what is in the office? When do you go over the border from taking to stealing? Where do you cross the line? It is precisely there when we think that if we take the small things, it is not stealing. Only taking the big things is stealing. But what is the difference between taking a rubber, which may cost only a few cents, or taking a typewriter, or taking something else, which costs a lot more? Is there any difference in principle? In either case, you have taken what is not yours.
It is the character of sin to take. You must understand this. Therefore, if we stay away from sin, when we have changed and we have been changed from our sinful nature, we are no longer so interested always to take. We are much more interested to give. The spiritual man’s attitude has changed. You want to slap me; I give you my other side to slap. It is not because out of spite, by saying, “Oh, you want to slap me? Come! Come! Hit me on the other side!” That would be spite, you see. I saw a wife quarrelling with her husband. The husband slapped her across the face. Ah, she was even more angry! She said, “Okay, kill me! Kill me! Go on! Take a knife! Kill me!” “Wow,” you say. “She is fulfilling the teaching of Jesus. She is going the second mile! She not only turned the other cheek; she even asked him to take her life as well.” That is why I said that it is not what you do; it is also the attitude in which you do it that is very important. Do you understand? It is the attitude! It is not to say, “Here! You slapped me. I’m not strong enough to slap you back, so okay, go on! Go on, slap me on the other side then.” That is not the attitude. So we must see that the Lord’s teaching is not fulfilled in this way. It is the inner attitude of spiritual thinking.
We will take this still deeper but we started at an elementary point. The first step is that the spiritual man is interested to give rather than to take because he has come to see that the character of our sinful nature is always to take and not to give, and therefore when I am changed, I reverse the whole process. I seek to give rather than to take.
2) The Spiritual Man Waives His Rights
We must press on to the second principle of the spiritual man. We have altogether only three points here for today. (The second and third points perhaps we have to deal with more quickly for lack of time.) The second principle is this: in v38 it [implies] that justice requires that a like requirement will be given to the offender; that is to say, “’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” “But I say to you...” - what is He saying? Have we not the right to demand justice? Sure, you have the right. If he slaps me with a backhand slap, he is guilty of 400 zuz! Fine! Have I not the right to take him to court and say, “Look! This guy has slapped me. Put the fine on him.” You have the right. You have the right. So what is Jesus saying? He is saying, “Relinquish your right. Waive your right! Give it away!” That is what He is saying, isn’t it? He slapped me. I can demand justice, but I put aside my right. Oh, that is so difficult. Now, do you see what “dying to self” means? You see, here we are talking about “dying to self”. “Dying to self” means nothing unless it means a transformation of our whole thinking. It is the ‘giving’ rather than the ‘taking’ - the giving away of our rights. If he did that to me, I have the right [but I will not demand my right].
Sometimes I feel when you fulfil these things, you feel like an utter fool. In this world, you really are a fool! When I was in London, I was involved in an accident with a lady. I do not know whether she was a bit drunk or had swallowed too many tablets that confused her mind or what it is she did. I was driving down the road in London and this lady came out of a side road in front of a line of traffic. She just shot out from the side road and hit me straight side into the car. Bang! She smashed in my door. So I drove on and stopped there to see what was going on. She promptly came up behind me and bashed me once more in the back. So now the car was smashed in the side and the back. I got out and I said to her, “Madam, what exactly are you doing? What’s going on here? Don’t you see that you’re on a side road? We are on a major road here; you shoot out of a side road; and you smashed in my door? I stopped down here to talk to you and you smash my back in as well.” “Oh,” she said, “you see, my brakes failed.” She was very nervous. She was shaking all over. “See, my brakes have failed.” I said, “Okay, madam. Fine now! Just wait here for a minute while I get the thing properly sorted out”, that is, there is a special procedure you must take in case of an accident in England.
The police came and she said to the policemen, “You see, my brakes failed.” The policemen got into her car, tested her brakes, and her brakes were perfectly all right. There was nothing wrong with her brakes at all! Apparently, in her confusion, she stepped on the clutch instead of the brake. I think many of you know what a clutch is. It disconnects the engine when you have gears. Most cars in England do not have automatic machines; they run on gears. So in her confusion, what she obviously had done, was that she stepped on the clutch instead of on the brake. That is not so bad. Some people step on the accelerator instead of the brake. I have actually seen that happen when a person caused a serious accident by stepping on the accelerator, having confused it with the brake, and was a ‘learner’ driver, of course. But in this case, she was not a learner driver, and she did a thing like this. The police tested her brake and found nothing wrong with it.
The damages to my car were very, very considerable. It came to a very big sum, as you can easily imagine. But I found out that she was a Jewess. I talked to her and she seemed so pitifully nervous and confused. On top of that she was a Jew. I felt very sorry for her and I did the stupidest thing in my life - I claimed no damages against her. It was stupid from the point of view of the world! I wanted her to know that I did this simply for the sake of Christ - I talked to her about it. The result was, of course, that my insurance shot up, paying the damages for her because I waived my right - my right to claim on her insurance. Sometimes, a Christian really seems in this world to behave in a stupid way. But if my testimony meant anything to her, then all that I paid was worth it because my concern is for her salvation, not for my car, which is another point. For the moment we are sticking to the point, in this second point, that we waive our rights. We have rights but we waive them. We can insist on them, but we can also give them up. Becoming a Christian, then, is to be renewed in our minds that we are constantly waiving our rights. But we have rights! We have rights that we can insist on - legally to insist on - but we do not need to insist on them.
We Have Rights, But We Choose to Waive Them for Christ’s Sake
Paul said something that touches my heart very much in 1 Corinthians Chapter 9. In that passage (we do not have time now to read it, but which I recommend you to read in full, perhaps later on) in 1 Cor. 9:3-15 it is all about his rights. In this passage, Paul says, “Do you think I have no rights as a servant of God? Do I not have the right to go out and earn my own living? Do you think servants of God don’t have this kind of right - that only you can make money and I can’t make money? Do you think a servant of God has no right to get married?” Paul is saying this and he was not married. “I also have the right to be married. Do you think only Barnabas and myself are somehow condemned to remain unmarried?” He continued, “But the fact is that we did not use our rights. It’s not that we haven’t got rights. The fact is that we didn’t use our rights. Am I being criticized for not using my right?”
You know the servants of God are in a very strange position. If they use their rights, they are criticized; if they do not use their rights, they are criticized. I was sharing with a brother just last night that it seems that a servant of God can never do anything right as far as people are concerned. If you use your rights, you are also criticized. If you do not use your rights, you are criticized. As a servant of God, have I no right to go on holiday? Only you may go on holiday, but I may not go on holiday? Then when I go on holiday, why am I criticized? Must I drop dead at my work? May I not be allowed to recuperate physically? What is the thinking?
A servant of God has no rights. But if I do not use my rights, as I did not very often, then people say, “You don’t look after your health. You are destroying your health. You are irresponsible in relation to your health.” Huh! A servant of God can do nothing right! Paul - does he not have rights? He says, “Have I no right to get married?” If he doesn’t get married, they say, “Why don’t you get married? It’s so abnormal! Everybody should get married!” Especially among the Jews, it was expected that every man shall be married. Did you know that? That is why Paul was under a lot of pressure because he did not want to get married. They said, “You are a very abnormal man, a strange man.” [They thought,] “Maybe there’s something sexually deficient with this man. Maybe he should go to a doctor and have himself examined. Maybe his glands are not functioning properly, hmm?” Paul said, “Do you think I have no right to get married or do you think I have not the right to remain unmarried? Do you think there is nothing I can do that is right?”
Then Paul refused to take money from the Corinthians. The Corinthians were annoyed at him, “Why you don’t take money from us? And you go out to work instead?” Paul did not want to take money from the Corinthians because they were so carnal. He knew that their thinking had not yet reached the stage that disciples should have. He did not want to take their money, lest they should have occasion to boast. But they were annoyed about this. “You don’t want to take our money? You like to go out to work? The time you spent working out there, you could be teaching us! But instead, you go out to work and earn your money. The time you are working, you are not teaching us! You are just earning your own living.” Now Paul did not always earn his own living. And do not quote that Paul spent all his time [working]. He accepted gifts from the Philippians, and from the Macedonians, who were very poor Christians. He accepted gifts from them, but he did not accept from one church, i.e., from Corinth. From them, he refused to accept anything. That is why he said, “Do you think I rob the other churches to serve you?” They were not happy about this. Of course, sometimes the gifts in those days [did not arrive on time]. The postal service was not so efficient, so the money did not arrive. Paul then had to go out to get some money, to earn his money while waiting for the money to arrive. But the people were not happy with him.
If I went out today to work and earn more money, have I not the right to do this, brothers and sisters? Have I broken some kind of law as I go out to work? Am I somehow condemned to live on whatever it is that the church considers in charity to give to me? Is this the way the pastor must be condemned to live? The pastor has no right? But you see, the point here is that the spiritual man waives his rights. That is what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians Chapter 9, “I have the right, but I don’t have to use it. I have the right to do these things, but I don’t have to do them!” Many servants of God have waived their rights. If they did not waive their rights, they would not be serving you. If brother William did not waive his right to work as an electrical engineer, he would not be preaching the Gospel to the people today. The only way he did it was to waive his right. He too can go out and earn a lot of money. He too can go out and make a good living and preach the Gospel in his spare time.
Every one of us has the right to do that. “Are only we - only Barnabas and I,” Paul says, “condemned to this?” Of course not! The reason we serve is because we have waived the right to a better life, to a better this and that. I live in a house that does not belong to me; it belongs to my mother. If I sold that house today, 99% goes to my mother. I drive a car that does not belong to me. Have I no right to drive my own car? So I live in a house that I do not own. Do I own the house? In name, but not in fact. Do I own a car? In name, perhaps. But not even in name; I am just using it. Have we no rights? But do we mumble? Do we groan about this? No! “We want,” as Paul says, “the people to understand that I also have rights, though I don’t use them.” The spiritual man, therefore, has rights, but he chooses not to insist on his rights. Do you see that? So you have the right but your spirituality will be seen in how much you are willing to waive those rights. When a person goes out to preach the Gospel, it is often not a question merely of calling, as they like to claim. It is a matter of whether they like to give up the rights to this and that, to better living, better this and that.
Take Henry Choy, for example, my dear brother in China who helped me so much spiritually. In a way, he was a spiritual father to me. He refused to get married, as I have mentioned to some of you before. Has he no right to get married? Of course he has the right to get married. But he did not want to get married. He waived the right to get married. I do not think he did not want to, in the sense he did not want the comforts of a home life, but he waived the right to be married, in order that he might serve God with undivided devotion. He waived the right to get married because he knew the Communists were coming. There would be a lot of suffering ahead and he wanted to suffer it alone. He did not want to inflict suffering on his wife and his children. That is what bothers us who are married. It bothers us that we have to suffer and make somebody else to suffer. It would be better to suffer alone. Of course in the pastoral ministry, which Henry was not engaged in, [it is different]. An evangelist is often better to remain single because he has to move around a great deal. He has to travel about. When he has a family, he has to leave his family behind an awful lot of the time. It causes his family to suffer; it causes himself to suffer.
So we have rights but we do not have to stand on them. Henry had the right to get married. He was an attractive man, a handsome, intelligent man, a man of lovely character, but he determined to remain single for the Lord’s sake. He had the right; he put it aside for the sake of the Gospel. Of course, in the pastoral ministry, sometimes, you cannot remain single because it could result in a lot of misunderstanding. A single man seen talking to girls and things like this will result in an awful lot of misunderstanding. It is in pastoral work often that it is undesirable for a man to be single. But as an evangelist, it is often very desirable that he should be single, as we have noticed.
So the spiritual man waives his rights. If the Lord Jesus did not waive His right to His heavenly glory, where will we be? People like Henry Choy had the right to leave China when the Communists were coming. Did he not have the right to leave? Could only the other people run for their lives? He also had the right to leave. He waived the right to leave; he stayed in China. And I have shared with you before, too, how grateful I am that he stayed. Where would I be if he had not stayed? So we thank God for those who waive their rights, even as Jesus waived His rights.
Waiving Our Rights Is the Essence of Forgiveness
Understand this: Why do we waive our rights? Because that is the whole essence of forgiveness! Look! If we did not waive our rights, when would we ever forgive? If somebody stepped on my shoe, he put his dirty, muddy mark on my shoe, and I just polished my shoe and he made a great dirty mark there, I can say, “Look here, polish it!” I have the right. Of course I have the right to make him clean my shoe, haven’t I? But you see, the whole point of forgiveness [is waiving one’s right]. That is why the spiritual man carries out the waiving of rights. (Waiving, by the way, does not mean ‘waving’ as waving in the air - that is to leave out the ‘i’ - in case you are not familiar with the English word. To ‘waive’ means to put away one’s rights, to relinquish, to throw away one’s rights, to set it aside.) The whole purpose, the whole point of forgiveness is the waiving of rights. I have the right to make you clean my shoe when you have stepped on it. But when I say, “I forgive you”, it means I do not stand on my rights. I say, “Forget it! That is okay.” That is the whole point of forgiveness. The spiritual man learns to forgive. That is why he does not stand on his rights, do you see? If you slap me on the face, I have the right to take you to court, and demand that you be punished with 400 zuz? But I waive the right - I forgive you. I forgive you for Christ’s sake. So I do not stand on my right.
Now why do we forgive? Because God forgave us, that is why. If God stood on His rights, where will we be? We will all be finished. We have insulted His divine majesty; we have lived a life not under His law; we have disobeyed Him everyday; we have not given Him the glory that is His due. If He stands on His right, on one single point, brothers and sisters, not one of us will be left to talk about it. We will all be finished. God did not stand on His right. That is why Jesus said, “I didn’t stand, God did not stand, on His right. Therefore you also must forgive.” We must follow His example. How dare we stand on our rights when our own sin - our own debt - has been forgiven? Sin is debt in the Bible.
So the first point we note is what? That sin is always to take. And the strange thing is that the more you take spiritually, the more you go into debt. Have you noticed that? Secondly, forgiveness is the forgiving of those debts. “Forgive us our debts” - that is what the Lord’s prayer is saying - “as we forgive our debtors” [Mt. 6:12 KJV] The spiritual man learns to think spiritually; he waives His rights. He does not stand on his rights because his own debt has been forgiven, that is why.
3) The Spiritual Man Is Constrained to Love - To Save Others
What is the third point? Why should we do all of these things? Why should I turn the other cheek, and not only to turn the other cheek, but to present the other cheek to him? What are we doing? We do something more than non-retaliation, did you notice? It is overcoming evil with good! That is what we are doing. We are using the most powerful spiritual weapon that is put in our hands - the weapon of love. Do you know that love can break the hardest hearts? It can smash through every hard resistance to God? It can tear down every hardened thing. Paul says, “The weapons of our warfare are extremely powerful.” [2 Cor. 10:4] What weapons? The weapons of God’s divine love - it will break the hardest heart in due time.
When Stephen was dying, was anything he said wrong? Was anything he said unscriptural? Nothing he said was unscriptural. Nothing that Stephen said was unscriptural! Then why were they putting him to death? It was contrary to law to put him to death. It was illegal. Stephen could have appealed to his rights against the mob - but he did nothing. He could have said, “You people! God curse you all!” Did he say that? Not at all! What did he say? “Forgive them all!” Forgive! You see, the moment you say, “Forgive”, you have waived your rights away. You do not stand on your rights. The Christian does not stand on his rights because his thinking has changed. Changed in what way? He does not want to take because he is concerned about the other person. He wants the other person to be saved, that is why. As God forgave me, so I, for Christ’s sake, forgive you. I want you to be saved. I want you to receive the love of God. That is why I waive my rights. I overcome the evil with good so that you may be won. We saw before how important it was a factor - Stephen’s death was a vital factor - in Paul’s conversion. It was a vital factor. If Stephen had stood on his rights, where would his witness be to Paul? You think about that.
If I stand on my rights, where would my witness be to other people? After all, I do everything that every non-Christian does. They all stand on their rights; I stand on my rights. “How can love be expressed? How?” I ask you. This lady smashes my car and I say, “Okay, I take you to court. Come on, let’s go! I want every penny of mine back.” Now, every non-Christian would do that. So where is my witness going to be to this lady? Where is my witness when I say to her, “God loves you”? Where is my witness? Empty words! I have to prove it to her and I have got to prove it by waiving my rights. In the eyes of the world, I am a fool for not getting my money, but I am not interested in the eyes of the world. I am interested in what God’s eyes are, in what I should be doing as a disciple of Christ. So I can waive my rights because I want to win her for Christ. Is my money - my several hundred pounds - worth more than her salvation? I weighed it together and I decided that her salvation is more important than my money, so I waived my right. If a man slaps me on the face, I can take him to court. But I weigh it up and say, “What is more important? His being fined and restoring my dignity, or his salvation? Which is more important?”
Thus the spiritual man considers how to win the other person - not how he can get restitution for himself - but how he can win the other person for Christ. We can now see, brothers and sisters, that the teaching of our Lord Jesus is so perfectly logical, isn’t it? Why is it so logical? In the context of spiritual values, it is so perfectly coherent and logical. If you think spiritually, you must think in this way. But if you think carnally, you will think the other way - in terms of human logic. It is very logical to say, “She smashed my car. She should go to court to pay for it. Next time, she’ll learn to drive better.” That is logical, yes, but my logic is different if I think spiritually. I said, “Let her be changed! Let the love of Christ change her and she will never do things in that way again, because she will become a new creature.” Which is the better way? Which kind of logic do you think on? Examine your own mind. Has your mind been renewed, brothers and sisters? Is your thinking a new kind of thinking? Have you become a new creature in Christ?
Here is the test - see whether you are a new creature or not. Are you concerned for the salvation of the other person rather than your own right? Why do you find this teaching so impossible to follow? It is because you want to stand on your own rights. If you were concerned that that person should be saved, that the love of Christ should transform that person, you would not be so concerned whether you have restitution or not. It does not matter if you slap me. If you can be saved through my love, then slap me some more. Wonderful! If Christ can die for your sins, if Christ can die for my sins, can I not endure a little bit of slapping in order that someone might be saved through it? “The love of Christ constrains me,” Paul said [2 Cor. 5:14], “so I am slapped, I am beaten so many times. I’ve been beaten and beaten and beaten. What for do I endure all this? So that they might be turned to Christ, that they may be won, that they may become new creatures too, that they may become a new kind of person, that they will not behave like this anymore. You can lock him away; you can beat him up; you can revenge yourself on him, but that does not change him. We have the powerful weapon by which they will be changed. Is your thinking like this?
So we conclude. We must finish since our time is more than gone. But I share with you the truth of God’s words here. We summarize and we see these three points: the spiritual man has seen the character of sin, that is, it is to take rather than to give. Therefore he has been changed. Note how different it is - it is to give rather than to take. And we see that a spiritual man does not stand upon his right because he has come to understand that forgiveness, the very essence of forgiveness, is the waiving of rights. When there is no waiving of rights, there is no forgiveness. And because we have been forgiven, so we will forgive. And thirdly we saw that the spiritual man is motivated by the love of Christ; he is concerned for the salvation of the other. And that is why he does not insist on his rights, because he is concerned not for his life, but for the other person. He knows that love is the most powerful weapon by which you can win another person.
It is not talk, preaching, hammering your Bible - everybody can do that. It is in your life and conduct that people can see what kind of a Christian you are. If you get slapped and you drag the person to court, every non-Christian does that. But if you get slapped and turn the other cheek in love , in that attitude of love, as to say, “If my being slapped can help you to your salvation, then slap me some more. If my giving you my coat can help you to be saved, then take my coat. If my walking a second mile can help you to be saved, I will walk the second mile, even a third mile, if necessary. That is the attitude of the spiritual man, do you not see it?
So in conclusion, then, let each one of us examine our hearts and our lives before God and see whether we have truly been changed. This kind of teaching is impossible to practice unless we have first been born again and unless we have been filled with the Holy Spirit; then we have the power to do it. So do not go out of here and say to yourself, “Okay, I understand Jesus’ teaching now.” If you understand it, then you need to do it. Being a Christian is not just understanding it. Some people say, “I know the Bible.” I say it makes no difference. You can know it all, but the better you know it, the greater your responsibility. See to it that it is done and do it in His power because He knows we cannot do it in our strength. He did not expect us to do it in our own strength. He gave us the Holy Spirit precisely so that we can live this Christian life. But by the kind of Christian life that most Christians live today, you do not need the Holy Spirit to live it, because it is no different from any non-Christian. That is why they do not see the need for the Holy Spirit. But once we realize that the Christian life that God has called us to live is something so different from that of the world, we will shine as light in the world because we are so different. But to live in that way, you need power - the power of God for it. May God speak to every one of our hearts!
Note: The information on the fines for slapping someone with the palm of the hand or with a backhand slap is gathered from Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the New Testament from Talmud and Midrash (title translated from the German), 6th unaltered edition, 1976 (first published in 1926), a 3-volume commentary available only in German.
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