In 2008 it was estimated that somewhere around 1,200 kids were skipping school in the European country of Albania. But they weren’t skipping school to hang out at the mall, or go on a road trip. They were skipping school ALL YEAR LONG because they were afraid they might be murdered if they left their homes. These kids were targets, and many still are, because their families are involved in what is called a blood feud.
Now, most of us probably aren’t real familiar with that term, “blood feud”. So, let me tell you what it’s all about. Or at least how it works in Albania.
A blood feud is based on the idea that a family’s honor must be protected. When someone disrespects your family in a certain way, your family’s honor is dirtied and must be cleansed. But a family’s honor can only be cleansed by the shedding of blood. That blood doesn’t have to be the guilty person’s blood. It can be any male member of his family.
There are a few other rules usually observed in a blood feud. One of them is no entering an enemy’s home. That’s why many Albanian kids are imprisoned in their own homes.
When you strip away all the tradition and nonsense about honor, blood feuds are nothing more than responding to evil with more evil. This is nothing new. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, man’s instinct has been to repay evil with more evil.
But the Bible teaches us very plainly that this is not what God wants. If you’d like to follow along, you can turn to Romans 12 verse 17. There Paul writes,
“17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul learned this from Jesus. And Jesus taught this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount.
We’ve been studying the Sermon on the Mount for a number of weeks now. The part of that Sermon which we’re going to look at today is the fifth time that Jesus says, “You have heard it said …but I tell you”.
The people had been taught one thing by the religious teachers of their day, but Jesus says, “listen up, here’s the truth about how God wants you to live.”
If you want to follow along in your own Bible, the sermon text is found in Matthew 5, verse 38. It’s also printed in the bulletin. Jesus says,
“38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV).
We’ve all heard those words before, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. But where do they come from? They come from the Laws that God gave Moses to use in governing the ancient Nation of Israel.
Turn to Deuteronomy 19, verse 18. This is the place where the phrase comes from. This is part of how God instructed Moses to make the Israelite court system work.
“18The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 20The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:18-21 NIV).
It was God’s will that crimes be punished justly. Punishment for a criminal should correspond to his crime. That’s what an “eye for an eye” means, justice.
But the Pharisees taught that this was how God wanted all people to react to each other. The Pharisees were teaching the people that when someone did something evil to them, they should do the same. They should fight back. They should “put up their dukes” (raise your hands to fight).
But in verse 38, Jesus says,
““38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person…”(Matthew 5:38-39a NIV).
Jesus uses the word “resist”. In the Greek what that word means is “to stand – opposed”. We might say, “To put up your dukes”, to get ready to fight.
Jesus says, “No. When someone does something evil to you, your response shouldn’t be to put up your dukes, your response should be to put out your hands in love.” Then Jesus goes on to explain exactly how we SHOULD react when confronted with evil in verse 39
The examples that Jesus uses here are ordered in a downward stair-step. He starts with the situation that is most difficult to respond well to. Then he steps it down to a slightly easier situation, and so on.
Verse 39, Jesus says,
“…If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39 NIV).
What would your response be, if I were to walk down out of the pulpit, come over to you and slap you across the face.
That’d be pretty shocking, wouldn’t it? What would your reaction be? I’m thinking that most of us probably wouldn’t react with a slap back. Maybe we would. But probably not. Probably our first response would be a look of anger and shock. Maybe more anger than shock. Maybe more shock than anger. I’m not sure how each of us would react.
But probably we’d be shooting some serious daggers with our eyes. And our heart probably wouldn’t be filled with warm loving thoughts, or even just completely with righteous anger. That might be there, some righteous anger. But there would also be some sinful, hateful anger as well. We’d be embarrassed, and we’d be hurt. Slapped in the face!? If there’s one thing we understand, you don’t mess with people’s faces.
It’s very difficult to respond to a slap in the face with anything other than anger and hatred. But Jesus says, “Your response in that situation should be to offer your other cheek to them.”
When violence is done to us, Jesus says our response should be TOLERANT PATIENCE. That’s hard.
Jesus steps it down in verse 40, there He says,
“And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:40 NIV).
The tunic was the shirt that touched their skin. The cloak, was their outer, more expensive garment, like a jacket. Jesus is saying that if someone wants to sue you and take something from you, you should ALSO give them something more valuable than what they’re already stealing.
He says, if someone comes to take something of yours, don’t put up your dukes and fight for your stuff. Don’t respond to evil with more greedy, hate-filled, violent evil.
Jesus says that our response to theft is to give more was expected. Boy, that’s hard too.
Jesus steps it down once more in verse 41, He says,
“If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:40 NIV).
Someone forces you to do something. Jesus says, “Don’t put up your dukes and say, ‘I don’t want to do this, so I’m going to drag my feet and fight you ever step of the way.” Jesus says, instead voluntarily serve them. Make your service a gift, and make it double what was expected.
You see how Jesus steps down from physical violence (don’t put up your dukes), to theft of possessions (don’t put up your dukes), to the forced taking of our time and effort (don’t put up your dukes). Whether it effects our BODY, our POSSESSION, or our TIME and EFFORT, we aren’t to respond to evil with evil.
With His next words Jesus moves down one last step to a slightly different subject. In verse 42 Jesus says,
”Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 NIV).
Here Jesus switches from an evil person forcing you to do something, to a person who is simply asking for something.
Jesus says, if you have it, give it. In fact, Luke 6 verse 35 records an additional word from Jesus about lending things. He says,
“…love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35 NIV).
Jesus says don’t lend things at all. Give them. When you lend, don’t expect to get that thing back.
Jesus was teaching the people not to close their hearts to evil people but to voluntarily serve them in love. And He says to do the same thing to people who simply come asking. Don’t close your heart to them because of greed, or selfishness or for any other reason. Maybe because you don’t like them. Don’t close your heart to them, Jesus says, but openly give. Openly lend, not expecting to receive anything back.
Now some people will say, “Okay pastor, so Jesus wants me to give every time that someone asks for something?” No. That’s not what Jesus is saying here. He doesn’t want us to practice these commands of His like robots. When it comes to our health, our resources, our time and effort, there will be times when we can’t say yes to the person who asks because we have other God given responsibilities.
Jesus never tells us, “When someone asks you to feed their drug habit, feed them. When someone asks you to feed their irresponsibility, encourage that attitude.”
Remember, Jesus is addressing the misapplication of an “eye for an eye”. The point that Jesus is making here comes back to the teaching of the Pharisees. They said when someone does something bad to you, “put up your dukes”, resist them, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
Jesus says, No! Don’t do that! Don’t respond to evil with evil, instead, respond by doing good. That’s Jesus’ main point. These examples serve to show us how God would have us do this. Of course we shouldn’t neglect our other God-given responsibilities to do these things.
Of course, we aren’t good at doing these things at all, are we. Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile. We aren’t good at responding to evil with good. We’ve failed many times in the past. Blurted out insults when people have insulted us. We’ve clawed and fought over stupid possessions. Grudgingly, unhappily done what someone simply asked us to do. Our response to good and bad alike has often been evil.
But God’s response has been very different. God has responded to our sinfulness with patience, and love. And ultimately God responded to our sin, by commissioning Jesus to save us. Through Jesus, God repays our evil, with forgiveness and salvation.
On the way to the cross, where He Jesus experienced a cosmic beating for our sins, Jesus was slapped many times. But over and over He turned the other cheek. He didn’t put up His dukes. He didn’t retaliate. When beaten. When scourged. Even when tortured to death for no good reason. Even when He experienced borrowed guilt and horrific punishment for sins that He did not commit. For the sins that we committed yesterday and this morning.
Instead, Jesus turned the other cheek. Instead He gave us the priceless coat of His righteous life. Instead He went the extra mile, all the way to death. And because He did, our sins stand forgiven.
All our petty get-back-at-you comments, all our eye-for-an-eye deeds, they’ve been suffered for and forgiven us, because God’s response to our evil, was to send His Son to be our Savior.
Do you ever think about what really made it possible for Jesus to do what He did? Sure, He was God, but He was also truly man. And as a man it was very difficult for Him to experience what He did. When He saw His suffering approaching, Jesus prayed fervently in the garden of Gethsemane that there might be some other way. But when the Father gave no other path, Jesus moved on boldly to the cross.
What made that possible? How could the man Jesus go there? I’d suggest to you, that Jesus was able to march boldly to the cross because He trusted absolutely in the Father’s goodness. He trusted absolutely that God the Father would make all things right in the end. He trusted that at the end of His pain, and suffering and death, the redemption of sinners would be done, and then His Father would raise Him from death, to glorious, eternal life.
Trust in the same Father God is what makes it possible for us to live like Jesus. Trust in that our Father above will give us all we need in this life. Trust that our Father will not abandon us, especially when we are laying it all on the line in an attempt to follow His Son’s teachings.
Trust in God is what made it possible for Christians to die for Christ. To lose their possessions gladly in His service. To give their hours and years freely to the doing of God’s work.
There are SO MANY reasons to repay evil with good.
When we repay evil with good, we are WORSHIPPING God through our interaction with others.
When we repay evil with good, we are EXPRESSING OUR FAITH in a way that others can plainly see.
When we repay evil with good, we LEAVE DOORS OPEN for the Holy Spirit to work on the people we come into contact with. Who’s going to listen to the Christian who’s no different than the unbeliever? Nobody. We’re called to be different in Christ. Forgiven by Him and then changed by Him. We are called to re-learn how to respond to the evil world. We are called to respond like our Savior did.
Evil always wants to spread. It wants to rub off from one person to another. Evil wants to drop seeds that sprout up and blossom into more evil. Evil wants to leave splinters that fester with bitterness until they burst into outward sin. That is Satan’s goal when evil is done to you. SATAN WANTS THE EVIL DEEDS DONE TO CHRISTIANS TO CAUSE AN EVIL RESPONSE. In that way, Satan can control God’s people.
Don’t let Satan use you like a puppet. Listen for your Savior’s voice, and just like Him, repay evil with good.
In Albania, blood feuds exist because generations have been taught to respond to evil with more evil. But there is hope for the future in that country. One article that I read said that the youth of Albania is not absorbing the old ways so well anymore. Too many of them have been affected by the foolishness and evil of blood feuds. The hope is that the next generation is learning a better way.
And that’s what we need to do too. We need to learn a better way. We need to absorb Christ’s way. We need to re-learn how to respond to evil. Let’s pray.
Prayer: Father in heaven, first we pray for all the grieving families in countries that still practice blood feuds. By your followers, show them a better way. Comfort them by your love and teach them to know and give the forgiveness that comes from Jesus.
Teach us also Lord. We need to re-learn so much. Help us to get out of the sinful habits that we have fallen into. Help us to see them, and to change. Help us to grow in Christ .
Thank you Jesus, for responding to all our evil with dedicated love. Great Savior, lend us your Spirit so that we can praise you and worship you with all that we are. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.