“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ ”
(also Exodus 21:24, Lev. 24:20, & Deut. 19:21)
If someone pokes you in the eye is it your right to get even by doing the same to him?The Pharisees would say yes, but a careful search of the Old Testament will teach us that that isn’t the meaning at all.Beginning in Exodus 21, the Bible speaks of civil justice… guidelines are given to Israel for settling disputes in a court of law rather than taking it out behind the barn where the best man wins.“An eye for an eye” was not intended for settling personal problems between individuals but to ensure that in a court of law the punishment would fit the crime.
Why not just leave vengeance in the hands of the one who was offended?What’s so wrong about “getting even” with the person who hit you, or hurt your child, or cut you off in traffic?It’s wrong because God knew we couldn’t be fair in dealing out punishment for a personal grievance against our adversary.An officer of the court will look at things level-headed but we will have a tendency to go overboard with our personal revenge until it becomes a vendetta.So Jesus taught that you cannot fight evil with evil.To change the world it must be done by example, not vengeance.Do not resist evil by throwing more evil at the problem.
The Roman Empire occupied Israel during the time of Jesus.Among the cruel but legal practices by a Roman soldier was that of demanding a Jew to carry their heavy armor for a mile.The roads were marked by stone pillars or mile markers so that when the task was completed, the soldier would know that he could require no more of that person for that day.Jesus had that scenario in mind when He said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41)
Imagine that you recognized the soldier who forced you to carry his burden as the one whom last week, in a drunken rage, had killed your neighbor’s livestock, and brutally tortured and raped his wife.Today this same soldier called you out of your house and demanded that you carry his battle gear.Angrily you lift it on your shoulders and take off down the road mumbling to yourself that one day things will change and when they do, you will find this man and get even with him for all the cruelty he has committed.When you reach the mile marker you throw your burden down with disgust and turn back toward your home but not before making some crude comment.All you can think about is the hate that is in your heart and the vengeance on your mind.
How different would it be to engage the soldier in conversation as you are walking?Then when you reach the first mile marker, you just keep on going to the next one because you are enjoying your visit with a man who is away from his own family while serving his country in a foreign land.When you reach the second marker, he asks, “Why did you do that?You were only required to go one mile.”At that moment you begin to tell him about a better way of life which you have learned from Jesus of Nazareth.You see his stone heart being gradually softened by your actions and now he is willing to hear your words.
Beloved, we must trust civil justice to the courts.In personal matters vengeance does not win the day.While we may prevail in the battle, the war is never won by demanding an eye for an eye.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, when Your Son was reviled, He reviled not again; willingly He died for my sins.By giving Himself up to the courts of man, He suffered the indignities of death by the cross.Although my heart may cry out for revenge, let it become my practice to follow in His steps.Amen and amen.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:43, 44)
Choose one thing which sets Christianity apart from other religions:Is it the doctrine of the Trinity?What about Holy Communion?Is it our concept of the Church?I believe that what makes Christianity unique is “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES!”So important is the teaching to our faith that Jesus tackled this radical notion early on in His ministry, and it was a good thing that He did.The Jewish religion had really twisted the original teaching in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Six times in this fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, “You have heard it was said,” then He went on to show how the Pharisees had perverted the law to make it say what they wanted to believe.In this case, by omissions and additions to the original concept the Pharisees showed both their pride and prejudice.Let’s take a look; but first, it would be a mistake to believe that we DO NOT make the same mistakes today as the Pharisees did then.So let us heed the warning as well.
What did they omit from the law?They left out, “…as yourself.”What arrogance!Who would have the audacity to omit a part of the Word of God because he disagreed with it?But more than that, they left it out because they honestly believed that no one was as good as they.“It would be impossible for anyone to be loved as much as a Pharisee because the standard was set way too high,” they thought.That was their “pride” speaking out.
And what did they add to the verse?They added, “…and hate your enemy.”The problem is the word “neighbor.”As the Jews looked around they saw that some of their neighbors were Gentiles so they translated neighbor to mean other Jews like themselves.Their logic was that anyone who was not a Jew was their enemy, and everyone knows that it’s OK to hate your enemy.And that was their “prejudice.”Pity the person who limits love to skin color, culture or religion for that matter, for they will never see the kingdom of heaven!
Let me sum up what Christianity ought to be like.“Love your enemies” is exactly what Jesus taught as the standard for Christians, and without question it is the highest ethical standard set for anyone in the history of mankind.It’s just too bad that few ever live up to it.A love that permits pride and prejudice in precept and practice is narrow and impotent, a far cry from what Jesus intended.Let us seek to experience the kind of love which Jesus wants and expects from us.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, teach me to love not only those that are easy to love, but the unloved and the enemies. Teach me to love the people who hate me. Teach me to love the people who curse me. Teach me to love the people who would silence me, who would harm me, who would harm my family and those I love most dearly; but O God, teach me to hate the sin, to hate the unrighteousness that sweeps over the world, and give me a perfect hatred that calls for a righteous day, a righteous kingdom, with a righteous King to make things eternally right.Amen and amen.
Before getting too serious about the idea of living a perfect life, let’s have a little fun with the word.Here are a few quotes to get us started:
Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. ~ Harriet Braiker
No one is perfect... that's why pencils have erasers. ~ Author Unknown
They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they'd make up their minds. ~ Wilt Chamberlain
When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target.
~ George Fisher
There is an obvious disconnect between the English translation of the word and what Jesus meant when He said “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”But our Lord didn’t speak in English, He spoke in Aramaic and they wrote things down in Greek.My favorite English translation of this verse comes from The Message:“In a word, what I'm saying is, ‘Grow up.’ You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I will try my best to help us learn that marvelous word, its rich meaning from the original language, and its meaning for today.
~ A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed and made.In the powerful creation story we learned that we are created in the image and likeness of God.
~ It is the Christian who has worked hard to reach a mature level, not a beginner but someone who is advanced in knowing the character of God.The greatest characteristic of God was identified a few verses earlier in Matthew 5:44, and we are to progress toward that same quality.Here it is again: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
A perfect Christian desires to love people like Jesus loves people.Jesus said that if you only love the ones who love you back, that’s nothing!Even the tax collectors do that (5:46).And if your love extends only to your family, what good is that to the world?Then you are no better than the worst of the godless ones (5:47).Therefore, strive to love like your heavenly Father loves.For His love is perfect (5:48)!Beloved, you and I will spend a lifetime learning how to do this.Don’t beat yourselves up if you have not achieved perfect love… let’s just keep on growing toward it.The perfect Christian is that person whose heart is wholly devoted to God, who strives to be more like Him today than yesterday, and is not easily satisfied with mediocrity.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, help me to grow up, to learn to forgive as You forgive, and to love as You love.Amen and amen.