“Mister, them there’s fight’n words!”

Have you ever said that, or reacted in some manner less comical? Do you feel entitled to revenge or “payback” because of things said or done to you?

Some people do.

For example, when we lived in Mississippi, I went to a service station to get a vehicle inspection. A group of African-American men working there ignored me so I interrupted their conversation and asked for a vehicle inspection. They continued to ignore me. I asked again and they rudely said I would have to go somewhere else. I told my African-American colleague about this incident and he explained it to me, “Oh, that’s payback for the way they have been treated by people who look like you.”

In an aggressive, angry world, where people want retaliation, we surely need the grace of God and His Spirit to allow this message to change our hearts. The ‘hatred spirit’, envy, and vengeance have not only crept into the work place, government, and the streets, but also into Christian homes and churches!

Seeking forgiveness and apologizing is passé. Punching, stabbing, and shooting are today’s trend!

We are bombarded on all sides with violence and vengeance. People have become numb to the whole idea of crime. It is anticipated. It even entertains us.

Yes, there is considerable appetite for blood. It’s not only the movie industry that manufacturers such stuff; but even video games are violent and entertain players with killing police. The entertainment media can adversely affect the minds of people, and now we see people acting out their imaginations and taking vengeance on totally innocent people because they look like someone who was unfair to them or is wearing a uniform—a symbol of authority! 

Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-48 “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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Offer the other cheek! What does Jesus mean by this?  In summary, it means to suffer injustice! That doesn’t sit well with us, but that is what it means to be a Christian.

In the natural realm, if a person does not hit back, it is because he is a coward. But in the spiritual realm, it is the very evidence of the Son of God in him if he does not hit back. When you are insulted, not only must you not resent it, but you must make it an opportunity to exhibit the Son of God in your life! A personal insult becomes an opportunity for a disciple to reveal the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.

However, you cannot imitate the nature of Jesus—it is either in you or it is not.

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not, “Do your duty,” but is, in effect, “Do what is not your duty.” It is not your duty to go the second mile, or to turn the other cheek, but Jesus said that if we are His disciples, we will always do these things. A disciple realizes that it is his Lord’s honor that is at stake, not his own honor.

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Our flesh is always looking for justice, yet the essence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is: never look to receive justice, but never cease to give it.

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or insult for insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called, so that you may inherit a blessing.

Peter, who is writing the above, was a short tempered, impulsive character. But at this point, he is no longer the same man who drew the sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, but a stable, self-controlled man, who has been transformed by the Holy Spirit and possesses the character of Jesus Christ. He went on to say in vs.17, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 

It is one thing to remain silent when you are falsely accused and attacked, but it requires the grace of God to offer the other cheek. Let me point out here, without the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot do this! People who neglect church, Bible reading, and prayer will not have power to win over their enemy and their flesh. Therefore, make every effort to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without Him, we can do nothing but sin.

1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written, “Be holy because I am holy.”

No psychologist can offer us such a transformation; this is possible only with JESUS!

It’s easy to punch the person in the face. Flexing the muscles is no big deal; it reveals our weakness.

But enduring an insult, rejection, and injustice requires the power of the Holy Spirit! This power must be in us before the insult occurs, because insults often come when you least expect them.

For example, while working as a district forester for a forest products company, I went into a country general store to buy something needed for the job. A local farmer was in the store and he got right in my face in one of the aisles, and proceeded to tell me what an arrogant blankety, blank, blank I was. He told me to step outside where he would take me down a notch or two.

I was astonished, but God the Holy Spirit took control. Surprisingly, I said, “Mr. White,* obviously I have offended you. Without Jesus Christ, I can be everything you said. I’m sorry. I won’t fight with you. Will you please forgive me for what I have done?”

He didn’t say anything, but he left the store. I picked up the item I came to purchase and went to the cash register to pay. The clerk had seen the incident and said, “How did you do that? I wanted to punch his face for the things he said to you.” I told her it was by God’s grace, alone.

A week later, I saw Mr. White at the store and I spoke to him, but he lowered his eyes and did not return my greeting. One day I saw him sitting in his yard as I drove by his house. I turned around and stopped to visit with him. He seemed apprehensive, but I did not mention the incident at the store. We visited and I learned he once in the same area I did, so we had a good, long talk about the history of the area.

A few months later, I stopped at his home again and we discussed an old fence he had. Again, I was astonished. My enemy had become my friend. Would that have happened if I retaliated for his insults or fought him in the street?

Romans 12:20-21 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the phrase, ‘turn the other cheek.’ Some people take this verse to mean that you CANNOT defend yourself. This is an area where we need to be sensitive not only to the Scriptures for guidance but especially the leading of the Holy Spirit, because there are different types of confrontations that we will experience in life.

PERSECUTION is being rejected because of our faith, ethnicity, or some other difference we have. Often, it is subtle and comes from a lot of misunderstanding. Sometimes it comes out as a direct insult. When we are persecuted, we should endure it and work to change people’s hearts and minds. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

ABUSE, on the other hand, is illegal. Obviously, one slap on the cheek is not abuse. However, things like spouse abuse, child abuse, work place abuse, and bullying are situations where we should NOT turn the other cheek. We should either resist it, put a stop to it, report it to an authority, or at least flee. The abuser needs help and deliverance. By our not allowing the abuse, the abuser has a chance of getting the help he needs. We should do everything in our power to put an end to any kind of abusive behavior, especially if a person who cannot defend himself is being abused. In that case, we should not hesitate to come to his or her defense.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE is being harassed every day, but it is spiritual not physical. Spiritual warfare has many faces. Maybe someone is spreading rumors about you. You can’t stop them, but you can pray for those who are being used by the devil and break their curses in the Name of Jesus. 

Spiritual warfare includes resisting temptations. Everyday Christians are to put on the whole armor of God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and resist the devil. When it comes to spiritual warfare, we are to stand and fight with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

In summary, we are to forego personal vengeance and retaliation motivated by animosity, hurt pride, and resentment. We are allowed to resist evil, and abuse, and to protect the oppressed. 

So it depends on whether it is persecution, abuse, or spiritual warfare whether we ‘turn the other cheek’ or not. In order to apply “turning the other cheek” properly, one must be in constant touch with the Holy Spirit. As usual, Jesus provides us an example of being led by the Spirit.

Matthew 26:52-53 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

The crowd came to arrest Jesus although He had done no wrong. Notice a very important attitude. “I could call for twelve legions of angels.” This is a most important point. He was in no way afraid or intimated. He could truly have called for the angels and wiped the crowd out. But He chose not to use His power or His right to defend Himself for the sake of the kingdom of God and the will of the Father.

The fact that Jesus had the right and the power to resist and win, but chose not to, makes this a trait that we should possess by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. When we turn the other cheek, we are not doing it from cowardliness. We are doing it from the standpoint of strength and choosing not to use our strength.

In summary, we are to suffer any wrong that is not abusive, for the sake of peace. Commit your concerns to the Lord's keeping. Christians must avoid retaliation.

If anyone says, “Flesh and blood cannot let such an insult pass,” remember: Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God! So don’t give in to your fleshly desires.

The Lord Jesus teaches that we must love God and one another, including our enemies. We must pray for them.

While the world will render good for good, we must render good for evil; and this will speak louder than all our words.

Others salute their brethren, and embrace those of their own kind, but we must not confine our respect to our friends.

It is the honor and the joy of Christians to desire, to aim at, and to be conformed to the character of our heavenly Father.

Luke 6:34-36 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Jesus never defended Himself when He was brutally beaten and tortured. He not only offered the other cheek but gave His life for us on the cross! Can we at least make a decision not to mimic the world, not to retaliate, and ask God to give us His grace to obey His teachings and live like Him?

1 Peter 2:23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Forgive the people who have wronged you, no matter what agony they caused. Do not retaliate.

Our cause is more God's than it is our own. It is for Him to vindicate us, and He will. He may permit a temporary tribulation to rest on us for some wise purpose, but ultimately, He will bring out our righteousness as a light in the darkness.

Proverbs 20:22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.

Stand up for the true, the holy, the good, at all costs. Think very little of standing up for your own rights. Leave it to God to vindicate you.

Hebrews 10:30-31 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Are you willing to give up your right to retaliate and trust God to make things right? Will you repent of your hard feelings, anger, grudges, and do what He says—Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? What Jesus commands is for our benefit. His way will lead to peace and possibly making friends out of our enemies.

But most of all, if we refuse to forgive, there are dire consequences for us that won’t hurt our enemies in ANY way.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Again, forgiving, and not retaliating, are impossible to do without the grace of God. You cannot do these unless Jesus Christ is your Lord and you are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, if you have not made Jesus your Savior, I pray you will today—for your sake. Confess publicly that you believe Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all sinners, of which you are one. Repent of your sin and give your life to Jesus by dying to yourself and your rights in a watery grave called baptism. You will be raised to a new life, born again by the Holy Spirit, who will give you power to love your enemies and be a witness of Jesus Christ in a world that is becoming blind and toothless by taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

*Not his real name.