“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.
Have you ever noticed in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount how he gently prepares his audience to accept something new? He starts off by letting them know who is blessed and why (Matthew 5:2-12). He then goes on to point out that if they are going to follow Him, their behaviour will have to be different than those around them (Matthew 5:13-16). He enforces this by letting His listeners know that He is the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). He then goes on to begin almost every topic with a variation of this set of words: "You have heard that is was said...but I tell you," referring to the laws of the Old Testament (Torah). In fact, for the rest of Matthew five that is how he begins each topic. He did this to contrast the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law with His fulfillment of its intent. And once again we see in the verses above that Jesus gets to the intent of the law and in the process shows us what grace is all about.
The principal of retaliation was taken from Exodus 21:24 as a means to end disputes. The judicial penalty of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was a common practice among the Hebrew nation as well as other nations of the time. But Jesus realized those who enforced these laws were using them as a license for revenge. This is why he started this topic off with, "You have heard that it was said," because now He was going to tell them a new way to live and the proper interpretation of Exodus 21:24. Rather than give in to anger and revenge against your neighbour, Jesus proposed a better way on how people were supposed to react when confronted with evil. And by evil I am talking about the sin nature that is present within all people. It doesn't disappear as some Christians are taught to believe. Just because you have been forgiven by God and saved from eternal punishment because of Jesus' sacrifice for you, doesn't mean your sin nature (your ability to sin) has disappeared. It will be present with you until the day you die. This is why Paul voiced his displeasure at the war that raged within his body (Romans 7:13-25). Instead of responding with anger, violence or revenge (giving into our sin nature) Jesus wanted people to follow His example and rise above it. Therefore we need to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). As God showed grace to us, we are to show grace to others. Jesus then goes on to give us five examples on how we can extend grace to others.
Five Ways We Should Respond in Difficult Situations
The passages above do not mean that a man or woman should not defend their family when threatened or defend their country. But rather they should not attempt personal vengeance, to compensate for a personal injury. Jesus' life is the best example of how to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21) and how to live life with grace. It is one every Christian should try to emulate.
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